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Immigration New Zealand is holding on to close to $3 million in fees paid by the parents of residents who have been trying to get into the country for years.
Despite the fact the parent visa category has been temporarily closed since late 2016, almost 6000 applicants have yet to receive a refund on the funds they paid.
Immigration New Zealand (INZ) Immigration Manager Michael Carley said the cost of a parent visa expression of interest was $490.
He said the 5730 applicants who had applied for the visa had collectively paid $2.8 million.
"These funds are stored in our memorandum account," he said, adding that the fees covered the cost of processing and did not accrue interest.
"The ability for applicants with current expressions of interests to choose to withdraw and request a refund is currently under consideration by the Government."
INZ's does not offer automatic refunds if someone withdraws their visa application, but Carley said people may request a refund in writing and this can be granted in "cases where it is considered to be appropriate".
However, it was unclear how many people had requested a refund since the visa category was temporarily closed.
This comes as a petition for the Government to lift the moratorium on applications for the parent visas surpassed 6000 signatures.
Despite this, there remained little clarity as to what the Government intended to do with the visa category.
A spokeswoman for Lees-Galloway said the minister would not be commenting while the category was under "active consideration".
Last week, a spokesman for Lees-Galloway said he had received more advice on the visa category at the end of last year and "that's something that still needs to go before Cabinet".
"I anticipate that we'll be making a decision around that in the first half of this year."
The spokesman said the minister would make no further comment until the issue had been before Cabinet.
The parent visa category, which enabled parents to join their adult children in New Zealand if they were a resident or citizen, was closed by then-Immigration Minister Michael Woodhouse.
He said it was meant to be a temporary measure while the backlog of applicants was cleared.
But, despite officials saying at the end of 2017 they expected a decision on reopening the category to be made in June 2018, the applicants on the list have been left in limbo.
The uncertainty has drawn criticism from Woodhouse, now National's Immigration spokesman, who called on Lees-Galloway to make a decision to give clarity to those on the list.
Former Immigration Minister Tuariki Delamere also lobbied the Government and told the Herald the visa category should be scrapped.
David Barker – the man behind the petition to lift the category's temporary closure and the moderator of a Facebook support group for retired parents looking to immigrate to New Zealand – said he has been lobbying MPs to make a decision on the visa category.
In early December, he emailed all sitting MPs, pleading his case and asking them to support his petition.
"The Government then and now have ignored the fact that these people [applicants for parent category visas], many of whom are in the twilight of their years, have been placed in a limbo; not knowing if their remaining future can be spent with their loved ones, who have made New Zealand their home, or not," the letter said.
The petition, which has attracted 6400 signatures, closes on January 31.
Barker, who obtained a parent category visa fifteen years ago, said he did not hear back from a single MP – bar that of a generic automated response.
He said people on the waitlist for the visa had been "kept in limbo" since the category was temporarily closed in October of 2016.
"To some, this has had a devastating effect. Lives have been put on hold, not for a month or two but for nearly two and a half years."
The children of parents who had applied for a parent visa but have been left in limbo have expressed their frustration at the Government's lack of clarity.
Inna Ershova, a former mental health nurse and a single mother from Russia who has lived in New Zealand since 2008, is seeking answers from the Government on what is happening with the visa.
She said when her baby was born, she was forced to quit her job.
"Mental health is a 24/7 industry; because no one was around to help with the baby I had to leave my job."
Her mother applied for the parent visa to help with the baby but, because of the "temporary closure" of the category, has not been able to come to New Zealand.
Ershova has since been on the benefit.
"When I used to work, I had a good life; I had money and managed to save $30,000 on my KiwiSaver … for a house to make a good future for my child."
She said if her mother was able to come to New Zealand to help, her life would be "much better," for her, and her child.
"If we knew it was not going to reopen, at least we could make plans [around] that."
Yelena Khalevina, a digital insights manager at NZME, has a similar experience with her mother.
Her mother, originally from Kazakhstan, locked in her expression of interest in April, 2016. She did not learn that the visa category had been closed until she read reports in the media at the time.
She said neither she nor her mother received any warning the category would be shut down and have had no correspondence explaining what was going on with the status of her application.
"It's pretty upsetting – we obviously can't do anything at this stage."
She said her mother paid the expression of interest fee, but did not receive a refund after the category was put on ice.