A South African man weighing 130kg has been told he is too fat for New Zealand, after immigration services cited the demands his obesity could place on National Health services. Albert Buitenhuis, who is 1.78cm tall and has a recorded body mass index of over 40, is considered medically obese.
Immigration New Zealand (INZ) declined Buitenhuis and his wife working visas on May 1, saying medical assessors deemed Albert no longer "had an acceptable standard of health".
The couple have been forced to stop working and now face deportation.
Formally working as a chef and waitress in a local Christchurch restaurant, their boss, Cashmere Club manager Don Whyte, said the couple had been "great employees".
"They've been here for years setting up a life, making friends and working hard. He's been the same size for years, so either he should have been told back then he couldn't stay or he should be allowed to stay now," he told Fairfax Media.
Marthie Buitenhuis says her husband has committed no crime except "being a foodie", and that his weight had not stopped him from contributing to society by working over 40 hours a week. Until now their work visas had been renewed annually with "very little problem”
"We applied for [them] year after year and there were no issues. They never mentioned Albert's weight or his health once and he was a lot heavier then." An INZ spokesman said Buitenhuis was rejected because his obesity put him at "significant risk" of complications including diabetes, hypertension, heart disease, obstructive sleep apnoea, some cancers, premature joint disease, impaired glucose tolerance and an enlarged fatty liver.
"It is important that all migrants have an acceptable standard of health to minimise costs and demands on New Zealand's health services," he said. Buitenhuis also had a long standing issue with a knee joint, which is estimated to cost up to $20,000 to replace.
"Unless it is in the extreme, obesity will not in itself cause an applicant to fail health screening requirements, but INZ's medical assessors have to consider to what extent there might be indications of future high-cost and high-need demand for health services," the spokesman said.
The couple have made an appeal to Associate Minister of Immigration Nikki Kaye and INZ said no action would be taken until she made a decision. New Zealand is the world's third most obese developed nation, behind the United States and Mexico, according to an OECD report released in June.