'For me the New Zealand story ends'

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Professor Dimitri Leemans, Francoise Duperoux and Margaux, 5, plan to leave New Zealand because 13-year-old Peter had his residency declined. Photo / Michael Craig

By Regan Schoultz

An award-winning Auckland University mathematics professor will leave the country after his residency application was rejected because of his stepson's autism.

Professor Dimitri Leemans moved to New Zealand from Belgium in August 2011 with his wife, Francoise Duperoux, their 5-year-old daughter, Margaux, and his stepson, 13-year-old Peter Gourle, after winning a job at Auckland University.

He was the recipient of the 2014 New Zealand Mathematical Society Research Award and a Marsden grant of $580,000 for his work in mathematics. In a letter of support, Auckland University said it and the country would be disadvantaged without him.

Leemans was extremely disappointed with the "short-sighted" decision by Immigration New Zealand (INZ). "It is already hard to have a disabled child but it is even harder when you live abroad because you don't have the family to support you and then it is even harder when you see you are not welcome with your child in the country where you live.

"Immigration is telling us: 'You are not welcome to live here because you have a disabled child'."

The family have decided not to appeal the decision and will leave for Belgium in June. "Once I saw that Immigration New Zealand had decided it is above the UN convention of human rights, it is difficult for me to decide to raise my children here. For me the New Zealand story ends."

Leemans was prompted to speak after the Herald on Sunday revealed disabilities advocate Juliana Carvalho was battling to stay here.

The Brazilian-born woman, who is in a wheelchair, has been rejected residency because of fears she may be a burden on the health system. Her doctors say that is unlikely.

Leemans and his family applied for residency in March 2014. But in September last year, INZ said in a letter: "We have declined your application for residence because Peter does not meet the health requirements to be granted residence in New Zealand and is not eligible for a medical waiver."

Peter Gourle. Photo / Supplied
Peter Gourle. Photo / Supplied

"We have made this decision because Peter's latest specialist report states he needs 'continuous, structured residential care'."

Peter is being treated for his condition in Belgium and the family had hoped to bring him back to New Zealand if his condition improved.

Auckland University has offered to pay for an appeal of the ruling. Vice-Chancellor Stuart McCutcheon wrote: "Associate Professor Leeman is an example of the outstanding young academics we must have at the University of Auckland if we are to maintain our premier world ranking and provide New Zealand and international students with an academic experience equal to that of the leading universities around the world."

INZ area manager Michael Carley said Peter's condition had been carefully assessed but he was not found to have an acceptable standard of health. "The decision to decline residence was made taking into account all the circumstances, including consideration for New Zealand's international obligations, including those relating to the best interests of any child.

"But those interests were not outweighed by the other relevant considerations of the case, namely Peter's health condition."

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