Red tape denies dad trip home for Christmas
By LYN HUMPHREYS - Taranaki Daily News | Tuesday, 23 December 2008

A dad's Christmas present will sit unopened under the tree after Immigration New Zealand has denied him a trip home to visit his family.

Electrical engineer Joseph Habr, currently working in Kuwait's oil industry, has been turned down for a 30-day visitor's visa because Immigration says he could abscond.

"It comes down to basic humanity and decency. It's Christmas after all," their angered New Plymouth lawyer Nik Marinovich said

Lebanese-born Mr Habr and Catherine Serhan, originally from Syria, are both highly-qualified engineers in their 40s.

The couple have been living and and working in New Plymouth with their daughters, Katy Jo, 12, and Kelly Jo, 15, for five years. During that time both Mr Habr and Ms Serhan, a structural engineer, were granted visas as skilled workers.

After escaping the war zone of Lebanon they say they have loved living in the peace and safety of New Plymouth. They applied to stay here permanently and more than once Immigration led them to believe they would be accepted.

But those plans were shattered in November when Immigration told them their application was declined because their older daughter did not reach an "acceptable standard of health". She had suffered minor brain damage and has been left with poor eyesight after being born premature.

The family is offering to pay the costs for any special needs at school and say she will be a productive worker when she leaves school. "Our life is here. I cannot think of my children living anywhere else," a tearful Ms Serhan said yesterday.

"In New Plymouth, my daughters go shopping and they go to the movies on their own. They cannot do that in Lebanon. In Lebanon our house was shaking. They put a bomb in a car and it explodes," she said. "This is our home now. We will fight it to the end."

Mr Marinovich is appealing the decision before Christmas and will also approach Associate Immigration Minister Kate Wilkinson who has the power to intervene on individual cases.

Meanwhile, the family will spend Christmas without Mr Habr, who has been working in Kuwait and has not seen his family since February.

When he recently applied to the New Zealand Embassy in Dubai for a 30-day visitor visa, he was declined. The Immigration official told him he was not trusted to return.

The decision has devastated his wife and daughters in New Plymouth.

"His present is sitting under the tree for him," Ms Serhan said.

Mr Marinovich says Mr Habr should have been allowed to come home for Christmas. He would never abscond.

The family had earned and deserved the right to live in New Zealand, he said. The decision made no sense when the country was crying out for highly-skilled engineers and was "bleeding" 45,000 people a year.

"We have a thriving oil industry in New Plymouth and here we have a guy who wants to work in that industry and wants to live here. Commonsense needs to prevail."

Many people in New Plymouth who knew the family were in no doubt that they would make ideal New Zealand residents, he said.

"They are all prepared to jump in and back them 100 percent."

New Plymouth MP Jonathan Young said he was unaware of the case, but now alerted he was keen to meet the family.

Should he find they were indeed valued members of the New Plymouth community then he would advocate on their behalf with the minister.

"I would like to do that, that's for sure. That's part of my work."

A spokesman for the minister said yesterday she would not speak on individual cases.

However, people can write to the minister to ask her to intervene. Each case would be given due consideration and a decision would be made on the merits of the case.

From here.