Reflections on refusal of NZ residency for autistic boy

It is largely an accident that the case of my autistic stepson Peter – refused residency in New Zealand on health grounds by the country’s immigration authorities – has become a cause celebre.

We never planned it that way, and for personal reasons we do not intend to fight what we see as an invidious decision with far-reaching consequences, posing questions that go to the very heart of what constitutes a just and caring society.

When I saw in the New Zealand Herald of 31 January an article about Juliana Carvalho – who has been denied residency because she is in a wheelchair, despite the fact that she works here and has all her family here – I contacted her.

She put me in touch with the journalist Regan Schoultz, who published our story in the Herald on 14 February. Her article has provoked a huge reaction, not only on social media in New Zealand but also abroad.

Immigration New Zealand rejected our residency application on the grounds that my stepson Peter does not have the required health standards. We decided not to appeal as we chose to move forward for the good of our family.

Peter is autistic and is going through a difficult time. His condition got worse while our application was still pending, and he then required special care.

This type of care is nonexistent in New Zealand, so we have been obliged to take him back to Belgium – I had moved to Auckland from a Belgian university four years ago.

Since then we have had to travel a great deal to see him, creating a difficult situation for our family. By going back to Brussels, we will all be reunited, and I am very lucky to get back an excellent position at the Université Libre de Bruxelles. Continue reading

  • Dimitri Leemans is associate professor of mathematics at the University of Auckland and professor of mathematics (on leave) at the Université Libre de Bruxelles.
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