A recent article in the NZ Herald highlights the situation of parents who are sponsored to come to New Zealand by their NZ Resident children, only to be abandoned when those children move on to another country.  The article quotes figures to indicate that people from China make up a significant proportion of those who are affected.  One gets the image of ageing mothers and fathers sitting in rest homes, unable to talk to anyone because they are too old to learn English, with nothing to go back to in China because they packed up to come here.  And the One Child Policy means that if their New Zealand child sponsored them, they have no other children to call upon to help them.

An immediate reaction would be, “Scrap the Parent Residence Policy”!  After all, New Zealand is going to be left with the burden of these retired people .  The scenario looks like a convenient way to dump your parents on a country which has no choice but to care for them somehow.

Losing Skills

This scenario needs a little more thought, though.  One of the reasons it was retained, when the policy was reviewed in 2011 – 2012, was to provide an incentive for skilled migrants to apply for Residence.  If there was no way to provide for their parents by having them come to live here later, then there was a fear that a number of people would simply not apply to settle here.

This has been borne out in some cases we have seen where parents have been refused Residence.  We have often had discussions with children who must weigh up whether they should go home to care for their parents as they grow older – and some do just that, giving up their career and prospects in New Zealand.  In some cultures the imperative to care for parents is paramount, especially for the eldest child or eldest son.

What is also not often discussed is that the NZ Resident child takes on a number of obligations when they sponsor their parents.  These last for 5 years after the parent gains Residence, and include meeting the costs of accommodation, daily living and flying them home if they somehow become liable for deportation.  The Herald article  cites figures for the numbers of sponsors who have left the country since 2013, and by implication points the accusing finger at them.  But 2013 is less than 5 years ago.  Why aren’t these sponsors being held to account, if there is a problem?  The Government has powers under the Immigration Act 2009 to recover costs to the State from sponsors.  We have so far heard no accounts of such recovery action being taken.

A Language Barrier

But the issue is probably not so much financial as moral.  While the children may have provided for their parents’ upkeep, we do hear stories of the elderly migrants being left on their own in this strange land.  A key barrier for many would be to understand English and our customs.  I do however have to pose the question about the parents’ responsibility to prepare themselves for coming here.  If they don’t speak English then they must “pre-purchase” English tuition, which should be a clear warning to them that learning English is an important part of coming here.  If that is so, and they fail to bring up their English standard in the first 5 years, then it becomes more difficult to be sympathetic to them if they are later left to fend for themselves.  After all, their children are not their slaves.

Here too, though, is something odd.  It is a condition of getting the Residence visa that the parent has good enough English, or pays tuition fees in advance in order to learn enough English.  Why, then, is it not a condition of keeping their Residence that they must sit and pass an English test?  This would be an additional little earner of tax dollars for the burgeoning export education sector.  It would also perhaps make children think again about the need to look out for their parents’ interests in bringing them here at all, if there was a risk that they might be deported if they could not finally get up to speed with their English.  After all, some may just be too old to learn a new and difficult language late in life.

Call me hard-hearted, but it seems to me that if you’re going to do something as significant as uproot yourself to come and live in a very foreign country, you should be prepared to put in some hard yards to make yourself truly at home there.