The 2-year-old New Zealand born girl who earlier this week faced deportation is officially safe today, after Immigration New Zealand issued her a visitor visa until 2020.
Zara Lambojo, born to Filipino parents who are here on temporary visas, was told in January in a letter from Immigration NZ that she is unlawfully in New Zealand and could face deportation if she didn't leave immediately. The letter was sent in response to a request for a visa for Zara that was lodged after her interim visa had expired.
After the Herald exposed the deportation letter addressed directly to toddler Zara on February 13, Immigration New Zealand (INZ) apologised for the tone and nature of the letter.
Yesterday, INZ Assistant General Manager Peter Elms also vowed to "expedite the processing and assessment" of the Lambojo family's visas via a phone call with Zara's mother Aileen Lambojo.
But today Zara Lambojo was official issued a visitor visa as a result of her parents being approved work visas today. All three visas are valid until February 15, 2020.
"INZ would like to reiterate its apology for the tone and nature of the original correspondence the family received about Zara's immigration status," Elms said in a statement today.
"INZ is reviewing the content of these letters and ensuring they are sent to parents or guardians of children aged 17 and under. The new process is expected to be in place by next week."
The family were also told that they did not have to pay the application fees for Zara.
"I guess this is their way of saying sorry about the letter," Lambojo said.
A devout Christian, Lambojo said she "cried tears of joy" after yesterday's phone call with Elms.
One of the first things Lambojo did was give thanks to God and called her pastor at Christ New Creation International to share the good news.
"I am just so thankful that there is some stability now, and that our family won't be broken up," she said.
Both Lambojo and her husband, Arnold, were on interim visas when Zara was born, which meant she was deemed to have the same status as her parents.
Zara's mother, a nursing support worker, came to New Zealand first on a student visa in 2014. She was joined by her machine operator husband, Arnold, 41, two years later after she got her work visa.
A law change in 2006 meant babies born in New Zealand no longer had automatic rights to citizenship.
A request for a visa for Zara was lodged after her interim visa had expired, which by law, made her unlawful in New Zealand.
In a letter addressed to the child declining the visa request, INZ said: "You are now unlawfully in New Zealand and must leave New Zealand immediately. If you do not leave New Zealand voluntarily you will be liable for deportation."
Elms said the agency would be reviewing the standard letters about deportation liability for children under 18 as a matter of priority.
He said it would also be ensuring communications are sent to parents and guardians.
"We will have the wording of the revised letters finalised and in use by next week," Elms said.