No one can bully me ever again

I landed my second victory in a week. Earlier this week I wrote about how I got my $1.7 refund on a stamp with my well-documented angry letter to the postal service. I took my pursuit of justice to the next level a few days later and managed to get a Consulate-General to admit their own wrongdoing in handling my visa.

Long story short, all international PhD students studying in New Zealand are entitled to  something called “unlimited work rights” according to a new policy that went into effect just this past December. Through out my visa application process, I got the feeling that the Immigration New Zealand people in Hong Kong didn’t really know much about PhD visas. I assume it’s because there are so few of us.

When I finally got the phone call last week informing me that my visa had been granted, I was happy, but I also had this nagging feeling that something could go wrong, particularly with my work rights condition. When I finally picked up my visa on Tuesday, I was mortified and beyond pissed off. It was exactly like how I had feared. They’ve totally ignored the policy change and given me the same conditions (20-hour per week limit) for undergrads.

I immediately looked up the application guideline online and called my case officer. I told her I was under the impression that I could work unlimited hours during my study. She sounded completely oblivious about the “unlimited work rights” clause. I had to ask her to take out the guideline and refer her to the specific page for that clause. She said there is no such option for her to choose in the computer system. I was mad, but I didn’t want come off as being too aggressive. I just politely said, “Okay…So?” She said she would talk to her manager and call me back. She did call me back 10 minutes later and told me her manager claimed they had issued me the right visa, and that “unlimited work rights” did not mean “unlimited work hours”.

I was highly unconvinced, but it sounded like the decision was final, so I hung up and immediately started Googling. I found very little information on the definition of “unlimited work rights” because I assume anyone with half a brain should know that means there is no limit whatsoever, but I did find some government paper that states the new policy should replace the old 20-hour per week limit, and the reasoning behind the policy change is to put the country in line with the Australian policy which grants PhD students “unlimited work hours”, so I can’t see what my interpretation is incorrect.

Since these people in Hong Kong are so uninformed, I decided to take my case to the people who should really know their shit. I wrote to Immigration New Zealand’s contact center to ask for help. After two days of no response, I bought some new Skype credits and made a call to Auckland. I made my case to the Immigration Officer in Auckland and relayed her what those Hong Kong staffers had told me. She checked with her manager and confirmed my interpretation: I sooooo am entitled to the rights to work full time. She promised to email the Hong Kong branch and asked me to call my case officer to give her a headsup.

When I made the call to inform my case officer that I basically went behind her back to seek help from Auckland (in a nice tone), she didn’t sound too pleased. She told me again that it was not available in her system, and again I really wanted to scream, “It’s your problem, not mine. Go fix your God damn system!” She said should call me back once she heard from them.

From there I waited one more day until yesterday at lunch when I began to question how much patience I should waste on her. Then I applied what I’ve learned to get things done from my job. I Googled the branch manager’s email address and copied her in a passive-aggressive email to follow up on my call with my case officer.

In my very assertive yet courteous email, I quoted evidence from the government paper I found and cited the link and mentioned the name of the lady in Auckland who confirmed my interpretation. It was the most well researched semi-complaint letter I’ve ever written.

I left the office to get a quick lunch after I had spent 20 minutes drafting the email. A little more than 10 minutes later, my phone rang. My case officer spoke to me in the nicest tone ever. She admitted they have checked with some other branch and acknowledged that they had made a mistake with my visa. I could bring my passport (which I have been carrying these days in case things like this happen) to them to get it corrected. I told her I would come first thing on Monday because I knew they close at weekends. To my surprise, she offered to open the door for me that very afternoon if I were free despite the fact that the Consulate-General isn’t open to public in the afternoon, ever.

Having the most laid back job and the most understanding supervisor in the world, I was immediately on my way. Twenty minutes later, a very nice lady opened the door for me. An hour later, I got the visa I truly deserve.

I know I may never work over 20 hours a week during my stay in New Zealand. After all, I’m there to study. The reason I felt so strongly that I needed to fight for this “unlimited work rights” is not only that I believed I was right. I didn’t want to be bullied by some bureaucrats who don’t know what they are doing and take ruining people’s life plans lightly. I would have been fine had the New Zealand government never given us this right, but since it had, not giving it to me was just not fair.

I’m pretty sure many other easily intimidated students would have given up after the first call post pick-up. I’m actually sure most wouldn’t even have made the call, but I’m not everyone. Most people don’t go to great lengths to research on immigration policies before they lodge an application. Most people don’t have the intelligence, motivation or ability to articulate their stance so well. Most people only talk about their feelings. When it comes to right or wrong, feelings don’t matter. We need to substantiate our claims with evidence, with research, with confidence. What I have is a gift.

I truly believe my perseverance this time has changed the world in a small way. I’m sure from now on, no other Hong Kong student seeking PhD student visas will have to experience the same agony again. They can just enjoy a smooth application process because I have already cut down all the red tapes for them.

Still overjoyed with my victory, I retold my students this story today. They clapped.


About Nicky

Nicky English is a journalist, an educator, a podcaster, a couch potato, a dreamer, and a child at heart. Learning is her passion, so is the English language, which she believes is the tool to unlock the door of knowledge. Born in Hong Kong, she received intensive writing training at The University of Iowa, where she double-majored in journalism and political science. Apart from the Hawkeye State, she’s lived in Chicago and Philadelphia. When she was a guest student at Georgetown University, she fell in love with Washington, D.C. She also has a Master of Arts in Communication. A little side note—she cannot imagine a world without her Mac and iDevices. Like many crazy ones, she hopes to change the world one day at a time.
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