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Balclutha migrant Maia Matubis may have marked her 21st birthday yesterday but there were few celebratory smiles to be seen.
Instead, she and her family spent the day coming to terms with an Immigration New Zealand decision which will effectively lead to her deportation in August.
Her application for residency was refused as she "did not meet [necessary] health requirements".
Following a diagnosis of biliary atresia as an infant, Miss Matubis received a successful liver transplant aged 1, and since has relied on immunosuppressant medication and check-ups costing about $3200 a year to remain healthy.
Despite her family offering to continue to pay her medical costs, as they have done since her 2016 arrival in New Zealand, multiple appeals to Immigration NZ for residency have fallen on deaf ears.
The latest decision appears to have sealed the promising young academic’s fate.
As her family is unable to fund remaining avenues that might allow her to stay, she will have to return alone to the Philippines on expiry of her visa in August.
Miss Matubis arrived in New Zealand from the Philippines on a dependant’s student visa in 2016, joining her permanent resident mother and stepfather, Jesselou and Salvador Gamis, in Auckland.
There she gained NCEA level 3 with excellence at Albany Senior High School.
In 2017 she was offered a scholarship-funded place for media studies at the University of Auckland.
However, she was unable to take her place due to her visitor visa status at the time.
In pursuit of more affordable property, the family migrated south to Otago in 2017 where, just before Christmas, they realised a dream of moving into their first home, in Balclutha.
But what should have been a joyful birthday celebration yesterday was blunted by "flawed" bureaucracy that went against "natural justice", her mother said.
"Maia has been in limbo almost since she arrived, due really to technicalities that seem flawed and unfair.
"We’re government employees and so we’ve only ever wanted to do the right thing, and be treated fairly in return. Sending a daughter who’s still a vulnerable dependant back where she’ll have no family support is against natural justice.
"We’re frustrated and broke, and don’t know where to turn."
Both Mr and Mrs Gamis work at the Otago Corrections Facility, as a corrections officer and nurse.
Since Miss Matubis’ visa status after leaving school has meant she cannot do paid work or study, she has spent her time providing live-in childcare for her 3-year-old half-sister Zara.
Mrs Gamis is expecting her third child — a sister to Maia and Zara — in June.
The Otago Daily Times contacted INZ for comment yesterday afternoon, but the agency was unable to respond by deadline.
Clutha Mayor Bryan Cadogan, who alerted the ODT to Miss Matubis’ story, described the decision as "callous and punitive".
"This highly capable young lady is poised to get stuck into life but, frustratingly, has never been allowed to move forward.
"In a brutally unconscionable act last week [INZ] decided that she, and only she, must leave New Zealand.
"Clutha is desperately short of people to fill a glut of jobs and realise our potential. Our local economy and the nation’s economy need people like Maia.
"This isn’t a decision reflecting the values upheld by most New Zealanders."