Indian family reprieved to stay in New Zealand

Wednesday, December 1, 2010

WELLINGTON - An Indian father jailed as an illegal immigrant was expected to be released from prison Thursday after a government reprieve that will save his three New Zealand-born children from facing life in an Indian slum.

Sital Ram was jailed in September and he and his wife Usha were ordered to be deported after overstaying their visa permits by nearly eight years.

Their daughter, 8, and her 6-year-old twin brothers, were allowed to stay because they have New Zealand citizenship.

Usha Ram told reporters that she would have had to consider leaving the children in New Zealand if she and her husband were deported, rather than taking them home to live in a slum in Jalandhar, Punjab.

She said the family were Dalits, an untouchable caste, and the children would be denied access to health services or education because they could not have Indian citizenship.

Associate Immigration Minister Kate Wilkinson cancelled the Rams’ deportation orders Wednesday night and granted the Rams 12-month work visas after considering pleas on their behalf.

She said she could not condone their “apparent disregard” of immigration laws and gave no guarantee of visa extensions or permanent residence.

A family friend told the Dominion Post newspaper that Ram, a qualified carpenter, had received offers of work while in prison.

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