An Immigration New Zealand letter threatening to deport a 2-year-old, New Zealand-born girl has left her family shocked and heartbroken.
Zara Lambojo, born to Filipino parents who are here on temporary visas, has been told she is here unlawfully and could face deportation if she does not leave the country immediately.
Mother Aileen Lambojo, 44, was in tears when she told the Herald about the January letter and said she was turning to prayers and her church pastors to help her understand what was happening.
INZ assistant general manager Peter Elms said children born in New Zealand to non-citizen and resident parents were deemed to have the same immigration status as their parents at the time of their birth under New Zealand law.
"When [Zara] was born, her parents held interim visas, so she was deemed to also hold an interim visa," Elms said.
"Going forward, Zara needed to be included as part of her parents' subsequent visa applications to maintain her lawful status."
Zara's mother, Aileen, 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.
They have another daughter, Zia, 8, and a son, Aaron, 15, who have also come as dependent children of worker visitor visa holders.
"We didn't think Zara needed a visa at birth to remain with us because she's born in New Zealand ... she didn't have a passport and wasn't travelling anywhere," Aileen said.
A request for a visa for Zara was lodged after her interim visa had expired.
In a letter declining the request under section 61, which provided for people who are in New Zealand unlawfully to get back on to a lawful visa, Zara was told she had to leave the country or be deported.
"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," the INZ letter said.
Elms said INZ was legally obliged to advise Zara of her immigration status, which included her liability to be deported.
"We would acknowledge this letter can be confronting for parents."
He apologised for the tone and nature of the correspondence and said INZ would look at making the letters more appropriate for children "as a matter of priority".
But Elms said the agency was not actively considering any deportation action or commencing any deportation action against Zara.
"Both her parents have current applications with INZ," he said.
"When a decision is made on those applications, INZ will discuss options for Zara with her parents based on the outcomes of the parents' visa applications."
Aileen said reading the letter left her "confused" and "shocked".
"They want Zara to go home but where is home, because Zara is born here and she has never left New Zealand," she said. "We have family back in the Philippines, but they have never met Zara. We can't go back because we are working here."
Aileen said they had turned to pastors at Christ New Creation International for guidance and support. "We are in a dilemma ... the thought that Zara may be taken from us is breaking our hearts," Aileen said.
"She is the youngest of our three children. We are at a loss on what to do."
A law change in 2006 means babies born here no longer have automatic rights to citizenship.
Elms said that if INZ was required to deport a child, they would always be accompanied by a parent, guardian or appropriate adult.
Born in NZ
• You're a citizen if you were born before Jan 1, 2006
• One parent must be an NZ citizen or have permanent residence if you're born after Jan 1, 2006
• Children born outside NZ can register as a citizen by descent if a parent if an NZ citizen by birth
• Children born to parents on temporary visas can remain in NZ on a dependent child visa, but certain conditions apply
Source: NZ Government, Immigration NZ