6 Jun 2018

Immigration accused of racist ruling over marae worker

3:59 pm on 6 June 2018

Former Immigration Minister Tuariki Delamere says a woman who works at a marae has been unfairly denied a work visa, because the immigration officer is anti-Māori and racist.

Minalben Prajapati has to leave the country because her role at Awataha Marae did not require planning a menu.

Minalben Prajapati has to leave the country because her role at Awataha Marae did not require planning a menu. Photo: Supplied

Minalben Prajapati has to leave the country because the officer said she didn't do the work of a restaurant manager at Awataha Marae, such as planning a kitchen menu for guests.

Mr Delamere said it was racist to think a marae didn't plan a menu and has lodged a formal complaint.

It has been an anxious few days for Ms Prajapati and her partner, who were struggling to come come to terms with the fact that she was now an overstayer.

After two years of working at the Auckland marae and four years in New Zealand, her bid to keep working a bit longer has been denied.

"This is spoiling my life," Ms Prajapati said.

"I don't want to go back - obviously I have spent lots of my time here. What about my future? I don't know what I can do now."

Ms Prajapati held the role of restaurant manager at the marae, a business which runs cultural ventures and has a commercial kitchen that caters for up to 300 people.

She said in her application for a work visa that she planned the kitchen menu with the chefs, but the immigration officer didn't buy it.

In a letter, the officer believed the business offered a "taste of Māori cuisine" and the menu was already set by the employer.

Last week, Mr Delamere, working as an immigration consultant, stepped in and explained to immigration officials that the marae kitchen catered for people most days of the year and that the menu was not set.

But two days later, the letter arrived denying Ms Prajapati's work visa.

"They were saying it is not really a restaurant, you can't be a restaurant manager and have a menu, because it was just Māori food - Māori cuisine," Mr Delamere said.

He sent a letter back saying the decision shows a racist attitude and was insulting Māori culture.

"When the first reason you give is because it is just a Māori business, with Māori culture, and a taste of Māori cuisine, there is not too much room for doubt as to where this officer is coming from," Mr Delamere said.

Yesterday, Mr Delamere filed a complaint to the Imigration Minister Iain Lees-Galloway and associate Minister Kris Fa'afoi saying the officer needs to be sacked.

Awataha Marae chief executive Anthony Wilson said assuming that they did not plan a menu was offensive, and could come across as racism.

"We have so many different visitors from different ethnic backgrounds, from different religious backgrounds, who come to the marae. They have different dietary requirements," Mr Wilson said.

"For us not to be able to plan menus, or the assumption that 'oh you only get a pork bones and puha when you come to the marae', it is just not on."

The main reason Ms Prajapati was not granted a work visa was because immigration did not think she was performing the core tasks of a restaurant manager, but her boss Mr Wilson disagreed.

"I would highly recommend her as a restaurant manager to anyone, if she doesn't end up working for us, which would be disastrous for us," Mr Wilson said.

"She is one of our best workers we have ever had. I tell ya, we are a bit disappointed with the whole attitude of Immigration New Zealand over her case."

Mr Fa'afoi has passed the complaint over to Immigration New Zealand. Ms Prajapati has 42 days to lodge an appeal against the decision with the Immigration and Protection Tribunal.

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