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Where the heart is . . . Ian Chen and Mandy So want to bring up their children Meris (5) and Horis (3) in Oamaru. PHOTO: SALLY BROOKER

A family that has moved to Oamaru from Hong Kong is desperate to stay here despite visa problems.

Mandy So, her husband, Ian Chen, and their children, Meris and Horis, are living in a rented flat on the South Hill. It is light years away from the Special Administrative Region of the People’s Republic of China where more than 7 million people are crowded into 1104 sq km.

Miss So came out to New Zealand in November. She had visited with her parents in 2014, and had also studied in Australia.

“You have quite similar customs and living style.”

Having been to Christchurch and Dunedin, Miss So preferred Oamaru’s small size and unhurried pace of life. She discussed it with her husband and began looking for jobs.

With a bachelor’s degree in hotel management from Australia, she worked in the hospitality industry at Sydney Harbour and in human resources within the hospitality sector in Hong Kong.

Miss So was hired as a motel manager by Bella Vista Motel Oamaru, where she leads a team of housekeeping staff.

Before the Covid-19 lockdown, it was “almost a full house almost every day”. Her fluency in both Cantonese and Mandarin was helpful when Chinese tourists were staying.

domestic visitors, the motel was “pretty full” again now, she said.

In February, Mr Chen, who piloted boats in Hong Kong, brought out the couple’s two children to Oamaru on a visitor’s visa.

That same month, Miss So applied for a three-year working visa in the “skilled migrant” category, but was turned down because of insufficient experience.

Her employer, Bella Vista Motel Oamaru owner Nancey Du, had strongly endorsed her candidacy and told Immigration New Zealand Miss So was not taking a job that could by filled by a New Zealander.

Ms Du had advertised the position through Seek and locally but no suitable applicants came forward except Miss So.

“She’s a gem.

“We will not be letting her go.

“She’s so hard-working.”

As the child of a migrant family herself, Ms Du understood what Miss So and Mr Chen were going through, she said.

If Miss So had a three-year working visa, Mr Chen could also apply for a work visa and the children could attend school. At the moment, Meris can only go for three months.

Miss So said she was worried Meris would be sad if she had to leave school so soon after starting.

Meanwhile, both children are attending kindergarten. Their parents loved that they were being multilingual and absorbing new cultures.

“We want them to be healthy,” Miss So said.

“They will get a better education here. In Hong Kong there is so much homework.

“We want them to grow up happy, healthy, simple, no pressure.”

Miss So said she and her husband could already see a difference in their children – they were more independent and thinking creatively.

She was glad the family was in New Zealand, especially during the Covid-19 lockdown.

“It handled it very well.”

Other countries had experienced rapid escalations in infections and they were concerned about their families back home.

“We want to stay here,” Miss So said.

“There’s not much pressure, it’s quiet and relaxing.

“In Hong Kong I had a one and a-half hour return commute. Here it’s just five minutes.”

Despite taking a huge cut in income by leaving Hong Kong, they were willing to do so to live here.

“We love Oamaru. It’s a small town; the Kiwis are totally different.

“We can feel their love here – helpfulness, kindness. The neighbours call in.

“I have more time to spend with my family.

“They are my everything.”

Miss So will re-apply for a three-year work visa in a few months’ time.

“I will already have half a year more experience.

“I want to contribute to New Zealand, too.

“I know it is a tough time for everyone. The Prime Minister must protect Kiwis.”

She hopes she can prove there were no suitable New Zealanders for her job and the family would be able to continue to live in the town it has chosen.