‘Penalised for being too smart for her age’: No pathway to remain in NZ for girl who will be just 15 when she graduates

The adoptive mother of a child maths whizz has been spending sleepless nights worrying about the prospect that she may be separated from her child who could be forced to return to Vietnam when she graduates at age 15.

Vicky Ngo Ngoc is pursuing a double degree in finance and applied mathematics and was just 13 when she entered AUT University last year.

The Education Ministry said there was provision within the Education Act to enable the Ministry to consider requests for exemption for students under the age of 18 to attend university.

“Vicky is an outstanding student and based on her current enrolment is well on track to achieve her qualification next year and graduate in the university’s 2022 Winter Graduation at the age of 15,” an AUT spokeswoman said.

Immigration New Zealand has said that because of her age there is no student pathway to residency, and she will not be eligible for a post-study work visa – one that other international students above 18 could apply for.

But her university believes Vicky’s situation warrants special consideration.

“While the university cannot be involved in individual decisions about the granting of residency, we believe Vicky is good candidate for special consideration by Immigration New Zealand,” the university spokeswoman added.

Immigration lawyer Simon Laurent says Vicky’s mother, who does not want to be named, has sought professional advice from him on the matter.

“There is always scope to make an exception to instructions, and there’s nothing to stop a manager or a senior immigration officer from granting one. That’s what we can try and do,” Laurent said.

“I said to Vicky’s mother I can’t guarantee and outcome, but if you want to we can do it.”

Laurent believes there are merits to Vicky’s case because “her story is known, and her plight has been reported by the Herald”.

Laurent said he was waiting on instructions on what to do next, and no application has been filed yet with INZ.

The mother, who adopted Vicky in Vietnam from a family too poor to pay for her to further her education, said it was unfair that Vicky is being penalised for being “too smart for her age”.

The mother said she has received an internship and job offer for Vicky from a finance company, but they were conditional to her getting a post-study work visa.

“It is so unfair that we are being put in a position where we have to spend thousands of dollars to fight for a visa that is rightfully given to all other international students just because Vicky is too smart for her age,” she said.

“I worry every night about whether we will be separated after my daughter graduates and when she’s forced to go back to Vietnam.”

Vicky holds a student visa, while the mother, who has a Kiwi partner, is in the process of apply for a residence visa.

They came to NZ in 2018, and Vicky attended St Thomas School where she finished Year 7 with distinction and then moved to Selwyn College and got bumped up to Year 9 and graduated as a top scholar for Year 12 that same year.

Graeme Holden, her maths teacher at Selwyn College, said Vicky “has a very good analytical brain” and a “forward-thinking grasp of all maths concepts”.

Vicky said her favourite subjects were maths and finance, and her dream was to be on the NZ Maths Olympiad team.

INZ’s general manager Nicola Hogg told the Herald last year that Vicky was not eligible for any student visa pathway to residence because of her age.

AUT Professor of Diversity Edwina Pio said as an OECD country which is touted to welcome immigrants, NZ must ensure that the possibility for incredibly talented people to be nurtured, acknowledged and honoured.

“We live in a land where policies and practices must not serve as barriers for talent – we are kind to those who are in need such as those who fall through prosperity gaps and struggle due to various disadvantages and we make room for them and rightly so,” she said.

“But why do we as a nation often struggle to accept those who fuel the engines of innovation, our tall poppies, our high achievers.”

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