A caregiver who has worked at Kaitaia's Switzer Residential Care for the last 11 years appears to have exhausted all options for gaining residence.
Juliet 'Julie' Garcia's final hope was that Associate Immigration Minister Kris Faafoi would intervene on her behalf, but he has declined to do so.
Garcia and her husband, who is also employed in Kaitaia, have been told by Immigration NZ they they will have to leave next year, a decision which exasperates, and infuriates, her employer.
Switzer general manager Jackie Simkins said Garcia arrived in New Zealand from the Philippines in July 2007 in an effort to secure a better future for her and her family.
She had spent 11 years trying to gain residence, and now it seemed, had ultimately failed.
In 2007, she successfully applied to the Claud Switzer Memorial Trust for a position as a health care assistant (HCA), and had never left.
The trust provided rest home, hospital and dementia-level care in a poor rural town, which, despite high unemployment, had always struggled to find staff locally. The introduction of pre-employment drug and alcohol testing some years ago had reduced applications for HCA positions even more.
"Julie has worked hard," Simkins said.
"She is diligent, reliable, caring, honest, and well-liked by her peers, colleagues and residents. She and her husband have made Kaitaia their home. They contribute to and participate in the community. Julie has passed her English language test."
Over the last 11 years she had been required to renew her work visa on an annual basis, at a cost of $7150 and huge stress and anxiety. Every third year she had paid $500 for a mandatory medical examination.
"As her employer, every year we have had to advertise her position with Work and Income on its national framework, on Facebook, on Trade Me, in local and sometimes national media.
"Applications are rare, and the exercise is costly."
The last time her position was advertised, in April 2017, it attracted 362 viewings, two inquiries and one application. The sole candidate was not suitable in any way, lacking the required attitude and aptitude, qualifications, skills, knowledge or experience.
Meanwhile, in 2016, Immigration required a Level 4 qualification in diversional therapy, which would have given Garcia the points she needed for residence.
She already held a Level 3 qualification in health and wellbeing, which included the skills and knowledge she needed to work with people with dementia. With the support and encouragement of the trust, she gained the Level 4 qualification just before her next work visa application was due.
"We were very hopeful that she would have sufficient qualifications and points to be successful," Simkins said.
"She was not. NZ Immigration changed the minimum income threshold for work visas under essential skills. The bar keeps changing, getting higher and higher. It is out of reach for those without tertiary education."
In April last year, the couple were given 48 hours to leave New Zealand, but an urgent application from the trust resulted in the granting of an interim visa until a final decision could be made.
That decision had been delayed because they had travelled to the Philippines to be with their terminally ill son, who had now died. They had returned to New Zealand, to be told that they would have to leave permanently next year.
"I understand that last year the Government announced a new policy to provide a one-off pathway to residency for about 1600 migrant workers and their families who had been living in the South Island for more than five years, provided they stay in the same industry and region," Simkins added.
"Why was this same offer not made to regions such as the Far North, where we struggle to employ sufficient people with the right attitude, aptitude, skills, knowledge and experience to care for our increasing aged population?
"The aged care industry has to meet a significant level of legislative compliance, including the training and qualifications that staff have to achieve. No longer is it acceptable for staff to have experience alone, they must have HealthCert auditable qualifications.
"We have a secure dementia unit where we care for 15 people who require that level of care. The Ministry of Health requires that people who work in that unit have both experience and a qualification in dementia care.
"Therefore, we need to be able to retain those staff who have completed the qualifications and have the essential skills and knowledge in order for us to be able to deliver a service at all.
"How can we meet the Ministry of Health standards if we are not able to employ people with the qualifications we need to provide a high standard of care?
"It takes considerable time, effort and funding to achieve the qualifications that are required to operate a residential care service safely and to a good standard.
"It would be most helpful if the minister of health, who needs to ensure that aged care providers can employ the right number of people with the right skills to care for an ageing population, would talk to the minister of immigration, who seems intent on making sure that we cannot provide a service."