A cancer-stricken mother of eight is terrified her eight children will be left as orphans in New Zealand if she dies and her husband is deported.
Sauiluma Mulitalo broke down as she talked about her "biggest worry", as she believes she doesn't have long left to live after the cancer spread to her liver.
Her husband, Aminiasi Lomu, 32, has been declined an interim visa despite an Immigration and Protection Tribunal finding that there were exceptional humanitarian circumstances for him to remain in New Zealand.
Lomu, the father of the couple's youngest child, has been the primary caregiver for Mulitalo, 43, and the children, aged between 3 and 18.
Immigration New Zealand manager Michael Carley said no one is entitled to an interim visa as a matter of right.
"The decision to grant an interim visa is at the absolute discretion of the Minister of Immigration or the Immigration Officer and under the Immigration Act, the decision maker is not required to give reasons for the decision," Carley said.
Mulitalo, originally from Samoa, first moved to New Zealand more than 20 years ago with her previous husband, a Tongan, who died in 2012.
She met Lomu, who was the family mechanic, when the family returned to live in Tonga and they have been together since October 2017.
"Aminiasi took pity on me raising my seven children as a single mother, and he stepped in to help," Mulitalo said.
"The relationship first started between him and the kids, but soon we fell in love and became a couple."
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Mulitalo said Lomu had been "the rock" in the family and her pillar of support since she was diagnosed with colon cancer in September 2017. The cancer has spread to her liver and she fears she doesn't have long to live.
"I have done a will appointing Aminiasi as the guardian to care for the children if I die, but I'm thinking what's the use of that if he can't get a visa to stay," she said.
Lomu's first work visa application was declined and an appeal was made to the Immigration and Protection Tribunal (IPT) last February.
The tribunal found Lomu's case had exceptional humanitarian circumstances and that it would be unduly harsh to deport him. It directed that he be granted a work visa.
Immigration NZ confirmed that a 12-month work visa was granted as a result of the tribunal decision, but that expired on June 29.
A further work visa under the partnership scheme was lodged by Lomu in May, but the agency refused to issue him an interim visa which would allow him to remain lawfully in New Zealand while the application is decided.
Lomu, who speaks little English, told the Herald he had found a job as a lead mechanic but was not able to work without a visa.
"I want to provide for the family, but I can't," said Lomu, who had been the family's sole breadwinner.
The family's immigration lawyer, Soane Foliaki, said the couple had suffered significantly over the past two years, having also paid the "expensive but necessary" Immigration (INZ) application fees.
"Aminiasi has been Sauiluma's support throughout her cancer and for the care of the children," Foliaki said.
"Sauiluma needs her strength to combat the cancer during her treatment and the manner that INZ has dealt with her family has left her emotionally weakened and fragile."
Foliaki said INZ's refusal to grant an interim visa meant the countdown has begun and Lomu could be deported from the 43rd day of him being here unlawfully.
"We are not in a position to appeal to the IPT again as that is no longer a legal option," he said.
"If he is deported and his partner died from the cancer, the eight children will be left as orphans."
Carley said Lomu's current partnership work visa application was being prioritised and Lomu was contacted through his licensed immigration adviser on Monday to request additional information.
The agency needed to establish their relationship was genuine and stable, he said, and that the couple were still currently living together.
"This is standard approach for partnership-related applications where information provided ... is insufficient for INZ to make a decision," Carley said.
A residence visa application under the partnership scheme received from Lomu last September was also currently going through the verification process, Carley added.