A class of 10-year-old primary school students have challenged Immigration Minister Michael Woodhouse to change his mind and grant China's grieving shidu parents lifelong visas to visit their children's graves.
The year six Bayfield School pupils posted letters to the minister on Tuesday, expressing their anger, frustration and disappointment at his refusal to offer long-term visitor visas to Chinese parents who lost their only child in the 2011 Canterbury earthquake.
In the letters, the 27 students asked the minister to show "mercy", questioned how he would feel if he lost his only child in a disaster in a foreign country and said they felt "ashamed" over the way the shidu parents had been treated.
"I know your job is hard, having to make a lot of difficult decisions, but on this one you are making a mistake," 10-year-old Maya Brophy wrote.
Eva Simmonds, 10, said: "I'm ashamed. This isn't the country that the shidu parents trusted and that we trusted."
Last month, a Herald investigation uncovered the plight of China's shidu parents - those who lost the only child they were ever allowed to have in the CTV building, the sole building that completely collapsed in the Christchurch quake due to engineering deficiencies.
These parents pleaded for the Government to grant them lifelong visas to they could visit and clean their children's graves every year, as per the annual Chinese tradition of tomb sweeping.
This request was declined by Woodhouse, who said he felt sympathetic for the families but was not considering providing special assistance to them by way of a lifelong visitor visa. A spokeswoman for Woodhouse's office told the Herald yesterday the minister had "nothing to add to the previous statements he has made in regards to this matter".
Immigration New Zealand area manager Darren Calder confirmed the law does allow for exceptions to visa policies under compassionate or humanitarian grounds.
Bayfield Primary School teacher James Graham assigned his class to read the Herald story and write to the minister because he thought the exercise would "stir emotion, compassion and empathy" in his students.
He said he was both surprised and impressed at the level of maturity the students had demonstrated in their letters.
"You don't want writing to sit in kids' books and be put away at the end of the day. It's always best if learning can have an end result and our end result is sending these letters. The kids feel really impassioned by that because they know someone will be reading them and that their ideas and opinions will be heard."
The best result for the students would be receiving a letter back from the minister, Graham said.
"It would really make these kids be aware that even though they are young, they still have a voice," he said.
Chinese citizens are eligible for long-term entry visas, allowing them to visit New Zealand multiple times over three years. But, speaking through a translator, the shidu parents told the Herald they did not know how to apply for these visas and some did not own a computer and could not afford the application fees.
They wanted to be granted an annual visa exemption to avoid having to undergo the bureaucratic and financial barriers every three years.