A paraplegic who faces being deported from New Zealand on health grounds is appealing for an immigration policy change to stop discrimination against disabled people.
Brazil-born Juliana Carvalho, 38, has been refused NZ residence under an immigration rule barring anyone with health conditions likely to cost more than $41,000 while the health condition persists - which in Carvalho's case is the rest of her life.
But she is fighting to stay here and has gathered more than 9000 signatures on a petition asking the Government to let her stay and to "change the immigration policy that discriminates on disability and health grounds".
The policy has come under fire recently, notably when award-winning Auckland University maths professor Dimitri Leemans left the country in 2016 because his autistic stepson was refused residence on health grounds.
Last year a Bangladeshi family appealed because their autistic son was refused residence, and another family left the husband in Ireland looking after their daughter who was barred because of Down syndrome while the mother took a high-tech job in Auckland.
Paraplegia, autistic spectrum disorders, physical and intellectual disability are all listed in the Immigration Manual as "deemed to impose significant costs and/or demands on New Zealand's health and/or education services".
However Immigration Minister Iain Lees-Galloway said the Government was not reviewing the policy, which has been in place since 2003.
"While we feel for everyone who suffers healthcare issues, it is not unusual for governments to have a policy along these lines because of the cost to the health system that would be placed on the taxpayers of New Zealand," he said.
Carvalho had a healthy childhood in Brazil but was diagnosed with lupus when she was 18 and suffered a sudden inflammation of her spinal cord a year later which initially left her paralysed from the neck down.
She later regained the use of her arms and created a TV show in Brazil "to give disabled and underprivileged people a voice".
She visited New Zealand in 2012 to see a brother and a sister who had moved here, "fell in love" with the country and moved here later that year. Her mother and another sister now live here too.
Carvalho obtained successive one-year work visas, working for the Health and Disability Commissioner and then for Drake Medox, organising caregivers for people with disabilities and health conditions.
She plays wheelchair rugby, drives her own car and does not receive any regular personal care.
But she was refused permanent residence in 2015 because of her likely cost to the health system.
She appealed to the Immigration and Protection Tribunal, which found that Immigration NZ had not given enough weight to countervailing factors such as her family links here and her "potential contribution to New Zealand".
But the tribunal referred the case back to Immigration NZ, which again concluded last year that her likely health costs outweighed the other factors. The agency has also refused to renew her work visa, which expired on September 12.
She will be liable to be deported from October 24 unless her appeal is still outstanding then.
She said she started the petition to bring awareness to the discriminatory rule.
"I'm not the only one facing this kind of discrimination. It's really unfair to see kids going through this," she said.
In an open letter to Lees-Galloway, she says the rule made her start "doubting my self-worth as a human being".
"I cannot accept that so many others and I are less worthy and a burden just because they/I have an impairment," she says.
"The policy is also unwise - talented people like Van Gogh, Thomas Edison, Franklin Delano Roosevelt, Beethoven, Stephen Hawking and Frida Kahlo (to name just a few) would not be accepted to live in New Zealand following the current immigration instructions."
Her lawyer John McBride said letting her stay would not "open the floodgates" for other people needing costly healthcare, because Carvalho was "an absolute one-off".
"My take on the health policy is that it doesn't actually shut out people who have a disability, it only shuts them out if they require fulltime care, and Juliana clearly doesn't," he said.
"A normal person in her position probably would. She is not a normal person. She is truly exceptional."
Disability Rights Commissioner Paula Tesoriero said the differential treatment of people with disabilities in the immigration context was wrong and "inconsistent with New Zealand's obligations under the United Nations Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities".
Disabled Persons Assembly president Gerri Pomeroy said Canada "got rid of rules that barred most would-be immigrants on account of their intellectual or physical disabilities" last year.
A member of the Auckland District Law Society's immigration law committee, Simon Laurent, said his committee asked Immigration NZ in 2016 to remove a clause which prevents a medical waiver even being considered for anyone requiting fulltime care. But he said there would be "a lot of pushback" against any broader change.
"It does involve a significant cost, which is not a good look for the Government when we are already struggling with funding for district health boards," he said.
National Party immigration spokesman Stuart Smith said individual cases were up to the Government of the day but National supported "the principle that prospective residents have an acceptable standard of health and shouldn't pose an undue burden on our public health system".