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Home sweet home . . . Socorro and Gerardo Laraga are washed by relief having gained their resident visas. PHOTO: RUBY HEYWARD

Last year, Immigration New Zealand introduced a new one-off 2021 resident visa, giving migrants a faster and more simple pathway to residency. Socorro Laraga, who is one of those migrants, shares her story with Ruby Heyward.

The last thorn has been taken from Socorro Laraga’s heart.

At least, that is how Mrs Laraga describes how it felt to gain her resident visa.

Mrs Laraga and her husband, Gerardo, applied for Immigration New Zealand’s one-off 2021 Resident Visa at the start of December last year. A month later they were approved.

Due to its simple process and broad eligibility criteria, this one-off pathway has made it possible for many migrants who have either lived in New Zealand for more than three years, earned $27 an hour or more, or held a position on the scarce workers list, to gain resident visa — a typically difficult task.

Although the Laragas now had the result they wanted, their journey leading up to it was a long and arduous one.

Mr Laraga first arrived in New Zealand from the Philippines in 2012.

Soon after, Mrs Laraga followed suit with two of their five sons — Gerardo II and Arjay, who started school at Papakaio and St Kevin’s College respectively.

In 2013, the couple applied for dependent visas for their 19-year-old twins, Joshua James and Joviel, but the day before the embassy called to interview Joshua James, he died of dengue fever.

Joviel was able to move to New Zealand later that year and the couple’s eldest son, Gerrard, joined the family in 2015.

For many years, Mrs Laraga moved between the Philippines and New Zealand, gaining a provisional teaching licence before working parttime at Waitaki Boys’ High School.

In 2017, she decided to settle permanently in New Zealand and started working as a part-time relief teacher at St Kevin’s College in 2019.

Having worked for the same employers, DK Farms Ltd, since moving from the Philippines, Mr Laraga applied for the one-off South Island Contribution Work Visa, which would enable him to apply for residency after two years.

After those two years passed, at the end of 2019, he applied for residency with his wife and youngest son as dependents, expecting a response from Immigration NZ within six months.

The couple sent in a paper application which included an incredibly detailed, book-like record of their lives and relationships to one another — proven by a painstaking 10-yearlong ‘‘timeline’’ marked with pictures of family trips, anniversaries and birthday parties.

A couple of months later, the Covid-19 crisis threw New Zealand into lockdown and their application was repeatedly extended over the course of 18 months, and eventually Mr Laraga’s visa needed to be renewed.

Mrs Laraga said it was an expensive process of applying and renewing visas, which included pricey full medical reports.

‘‘It was exhausting. We were always anxious,’’ she said.

Before moving to New Zealand, Mrs Laraga was putting her doctorate in biology to good use as an associate professor in biology at Central Mindanao University in the Philippines.

So when St Kevin’s posted a science teacher vacancy in October, Mrs Laraga jumped at the opportunity and was looking forward to starting the job this year.

‘‘St Kevin’s has done a lot for me.’’

The Laragas’ resident visa was approved exactly 10 years after Mr Laraga arrived in New Zealand.

It may have been a long journey, but the experience and lessons they gained along the way were all worth it, Mrs Laraga said.

‘‘It’s like a relief after all the anxiety.

‘‘We are really happy and thankful — we really love Oamaru.’’

Family time . . . Together for Christmas are (from left) Arjay, Gerrard, Socorro, Gerardo, Gerardo II, and Joviel Laraga. PHOTO: SUPPLIED

Mrs Laraga serves on the Waitaki Multicultural Council committee, and is a member of the North Otago Art Society and Oamaru Rocks. She is a St Patrick’s Catholic Church parishioner, has run the St Kevin’s volleyball team since 2020, and is an organiser of the annual Filipino Waitaki Inc Variety Concert. When phase two of the 2021 Resident Visa opened in March, Mrs Laraga’s sons would apply. The Laragas were not the only ones to have had quick and happy results through this new visa pathway.

Waitaki Multicultural Council migrant support group and Waitaki Newcomers Network co-ordinator Christine Dorsey said the pathway to gaining residency could be expensive, stressful and time consuming, and the new pathway was ‘‘life changing’’ for some migrants in the district.

‘‘It’s taking the stress out of people’s lives.’’

Immigration had been very slow since the Covid-19 crisis started, and it was important Waitaki did not lose migrant workers during a labour shortage, she said.

Oamaru immigration adviser Jojan McLeod echoed this and said it would be a big relief for both employers and low-skilled workers who had very few residency pathways but made important contributions to the economy.

Migrants only needed to meet one out of three criteria to be eligible and did not have to send a paper application.

‘‘We don’t realise how stressful it is for people [who are] in that constant state of not knowing if [they’re] going to be able to stay.

‘‘[This] helps people plan their lives and alleviates uncertainty.’’

Immigration New Zealand border and visa operations general manager Nicola Hogg said not only did the one-off pathway recognise the immense contribution migrants made to New Zealand during Covid-19, but the uncertainty they faced with border restrictions.

The new 2021 Resident Visa category would be processed and decided quickly, Ms Hogg said. Through this pathway, an estimated 165,000 migrants already in New Zealand would gain residency.