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Firefighters’ Long Wait For Residency

Firefighters’ Long Wait For Residency
Fijian fighters working for the Southern Rural Firefighters were deployed last year with their New Zealand colleagues to Australia to fight bush fires. Back row: Crew leader Warren Heslip and Vuniani Qoro (both Heslip Forest Contracting). Front row: Joesevata Natuikata (Heslip Forest Contracting) and Andrew King (DOC Stewart Island). Photo: Southland Times
March 06
08:54 2015

They fight fires across the Tasman, but three Southland-based Fijian men are now preparing to wage their own battle to gain New Zealand residency.

The trio; Vuniyani Qoro, Napolioni Qasevakatini and Joe Natuikata have lived in Mataura with their families for about 10 years, but said they only now felt confident enough to apply for residency.

They said they had gathered the credits required by Immigration New Zealand and had the experience needed so were reasonably confident, but there was still a bit of uncertainty.

The Southland Times has highlighted the battles migrants working in both urban and rural areas of Southland are facing to gain residency in jobs which Immigration New Zealand deem to be unskilled, such as dairy farm workers.

For the past decade the trio has worked in Southland for Heslip Forestry Contracting as silviculture forestry workers and is part of an elite band of New Zealand rural firefighters.

Owner Warren Heslip said his three Fijian workers were fantastic as crew bosses and he was trying to get some more Fijian workers to join his crew, but was concerned about the uphill battle they faced to gain residency.

“They feel like second-class citizens. It’s okay to take your tax money, but you get nothing in return for it. They’re at the same level as a waiter and they’re out there felling trees and fighting fires.”

While on working visas, their children could be sent home when they turn 18, Heslip said.

They had been deployed to Australia to fight bushfires three times and had responded to several national fire call-ups as well as numerous local fire callouts, he said.

“They are representing New Zealand and they do a fantastic job over there.”

They were planning to lodge their applications in the next two months with the assistance of an immigration consultant.

It was going to be a unique residency case as they fell between two categories – silviculture forestry workers and firefighters – and had not applied before as it was made clear to them it would have been a waste of time and money, he said.

Mr Natuikata and Mr Qasevakatini were hopeful if they were granted residency that they could reunite their families in New Zealand – both men had children who had had to return to Fiji when they turned 18. There had been a lot of tearful, long-distance phone calls, Mr Natuikata said.

He said they had individually spent more than $10,000 on working visa fees over the years and residency costs would total between $4000 and $5000 each.

Hanning Immigration licenced immigration advisor Anne Hanning, of Invercargill, is working with the men on their applications.

She said there was no way they would have succeeded if they had applied earlier as silviculture and forestry in general was not considered to be experiencing a skill shortage in New Zealand – despite widespread evidence of worker shortages.

The men now had the required 140 points to be considered skilled migrants and the residency application would classify them as rural firefighters and forestry crew bosses, she said.

“We have a possible shot at this. We’re aiming at getting these boys recognised.”

 

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