A South African couple hired to help with New Zealand's desperate teacher shortage have been refused residence here because their pay is too low.
Chané and Chris van Tonder, who both completed four-year teaching qualifications in South Africa last year, are earning $47,980 each as beginning teachers on one-year work visas at South Auckland schools.
But they can't get NZ residence because they earn below the minimum income of $52,000 a year, or $25 an hour, required for the skilled migrant category.
They have saved a deposit for a house, but can't buy one because of the new law banning house sales to non-residents, so they are staying with relatives.
And they can't get public health care because their visa is for less than the required two years.
They may now have to return to South Africa because Chané, 24, who is teaching Year 2 children at Clevedon School, has been suffering from severe headaches and doctors don't yet know the cause.
"I couldn't register or enrol with a doctor so I can only go to the emergency unit [after-hours medical service]. That's $85 each time, I've been to them four times.
"I went to a specialist, who recommended that I should go for an MRI [magnetic resonance imaging]. I would have to pay about $2000 just for the MRI. "I can't have a scan , it costs way too much money. I'll probably just see if things get better on its own."
Her husband Chris, 27, who is teaching at The Gardens School in Manurewa, said the couple might be forced to return to South Africa if Chané's health worsened.
"We are talking about it. It's obviously a very, very difficult decision to make," he said.
"We are both such that when we make a commitment we want to stay and see it through, but if things get to a point where my wife's health progresses and we can't afford it, then there will be no other option but going back."
Other teachers hired in a worldwide Government drive to recruit 900 overseas teachers to fill gaps in NZ schools have also been hit by the same problems.
"A colleague of mine from America has a similar issue," Chris said.
A South African teacher at another Auckland school, Samantha, said she also completed a four-year teaching qualification in South Africa before coming to NZ 18 months ago, but was still being paid a beginning teacher salary.
She has a three-year work visa because she has obtained a permanent teaching job, so she qualifies for public healthcare. But she can't get residence because of her low pay and the fact that she lives in Auckland. The skilled migrant category provides extra points to migrants outside Auckland.
Clevedon School principal Julie Schumacher said Chané was desperately needed.
"We secured Chané to fill a position that we couldn't get anyone to fill," she said.
"We are welcoming people from overseas, and it seems a bit strange that there is no welcoming mat in the Immigration Service."
Schumacher suggested that Chané could qualify for residence by saying that she worked only 25 hours a week in the classroom. That would make her pay $37 an hour, above the $25 an hour threshold for residence.
But Chané said Immigration NZ ruled that 25 hours was not "fulltime", which was defined as a minimum of 30 hours.
The Government has added teachers to the "essential skills in demand" list from May 27, but that will help only for work visas, not residence. The van Tonders could only get one-year work visas because both their schools hired them on one-year contracts.
"That's understandable, if you employ someone from a different country it's a big risk," Chris said.
"I don't blame anyone. If you design a very complex and intricate system, there are bound to be cracks . It's not just my wife and I who find ourselves in this situation."
Immigration NZ (INZ) manager Michael Carley confirmed that the service declined Chané's expression of interest for skilled migrant residence because she did not earn enough criteria points.
"The SMC works on a system that awards points for several factors including a skilled job offer, experience, qualifications and age. Extra points are also awarded for migrants living outside Auckland."
He said the couple could "apply for a further temporary work visa to remain in New Zealand, while they work towards gaining enough points to apply for residence under SMC again".
Teachers are going on strike next week to seek better pay. NZ Educational Institute president Lynda Stuart said the fact that the beginning pay rate was below the threshold required for residence dramatised the need to lift salaries.