Australian law change gives student loan access to Kiwis

Expat Kiwis Patricia and Saufo'i Amiatu
Expat Kiwis Patricia and Saufo'i Amiatu NZ Herald

AS their eldest child nears the end of secondary school, the Amiatus have had more on their mind than his grades.

Raven, 16, moved from Auckland to Sydney with his family in 2005, the same year student loan support for new Kiwi arrivals was scrapped, following wider welfare and support restrictions in 2001.

Next year will be Raven's last year of school, and his mother Patricia and father Saufo'i were considering remortgaging their home to pay for their son's university fees, or sending him to live with his grandparents in Mangere.

"He was looking forward to studying medicine and I don't want to put a stop to it and say it's too expensive," Mrs Amiatu, who works as a technical officer at a genetics laboratory, told the Weekend Herald.

"He had one more year [of school] next year. We kind of told him -- you don't worry about it, we'll sort it out. But we had to ask him if he was willing to go to New Zealand."

If Raven did study in New Zealand he would likely return to Australia as soon as possible, meaning New Zealand taxpayers would foot the bill for his subsidised higher education, with little return.

However, Raven and the three other Amiatu children will now be able to study in Australia, after a law change this week was signed off with support from both the Liberal-National Coalition and Australian Labor.

The change, announced by Australian Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull during his New Zealand visit last month, will give student loan access to Kiwis who arrived as dependent children and lived in Australia for at least 10 years.

The new rules start from next year and will affect around 2600 students.

"It is a big load off our shoulders," Mrs Amiatu said.

"It's hard enough to put them through [university], let alone trying to support them with the distance. They probably would have ended up being a not-completing statistic."

Joanne Cox, a spokeswoman for Oz Kiwi, a lobby group for expat Kiwis, said the law was the first positive step since the 2001 changes, introduced by the Howard Government.

Before that, Kiwi arrivals on temporary visas had rights generally equivalent to permanent residents, with some waiting periods, and could become citizens after two years of residence.

They are now excluded from the dole, disability support and other welfare programmes, and there is no longer a clear path to citizenship.

Australians in New Zealand can access a wide range of welfare support, normally if they have lived here for two years or more.

Ms Cox this week met Labour leader Andrew Little and MP Phil Goff in Canberra, where they had travelled to lobby politicians on the issue of Kiwi expat rights.

Australian Immigration Minister Peter Dutton gave little indication that a change could be considered, Mr Little said after their meeting, but both Coalition and Labor members of a migration committee broadly recognised some unfairness in the way rules were applied.

That was particularly true of the National Disability Insurance Scheme, which Kiwi expats help fund through Medicare levies, but cannot access.

Prime Minister John Key said this month that Mr Turnbull has raised with him the issue of a clearer pathway to citizenship for Kiwis, and he was cautiously optimistic there could be changes in the longer term.

Those on temporary visas have no automatic path to permanent residency or citizenship, and are required to compete with other migrants on the basis of required skills, a process that costs thousands of dollars, with no guarantee of success.

It's early morning in Bondi and the grassy banks that slope down to the famed beach are dotted with locals being put through "boot camp" fitness classes.

The day's first tourists are taking photos in front of the Bondi Surf Pavilion, and under the back porch a group of men sleep rough on mats.

There are a handful of New Zealanders among them, including Paul, who came over from Rotorua in 1988.

"I wanted to keep my young fella from that gang bullshit back home," he says. "I was a truck driver, and when my missus died I just fell to pieces. It is a struggle when you are not working."

About eight years ago, Paul sorted out a job at the Port Botany wharves for a fresh arrival from back home.

Bondi identity Kane Pahau, originally from the Far North, has since moved on to manage a local cafe, runs his own spray tan business and somehow finds time to keep up a successful hangi catering business, Mr Hangipants.

"It's for events, for home deliveries, workplace deliveries ... I got a big commercial steamer from back home, and can pump it out for the masses - like 200 at a time."

For the past four years he has brought spare hangi to the Pavilion for Paul and the others, and also collects food from cafes and restaurants to drop off.

A solo father to a 17-year-old daughter and 13-year-old son, Mr Pahau is also a member of a local band that is on the rise.

When he had more free time he would also drop food to other Sydney homeless communities, including those with large expat populations in Woolloomooloo.

A range of organisations provide charity to those living rough, New Zealand or otherwise, Mr Pahau said, but since 2001 there were few official safety nets to stop Kiwi expats getting to that point.

"[Back home] the interpretation is that everyone over in Aussie is doing really well for themselves. It's not even the case half the time, it's a struggle."

- NZ Herald

Topics:  new zealand sydney university

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