Chef's Obesity Cited in His Visa Rejection

New Zealand says overweight South African Albert Buitenhuis a health liability.

July 29, 2013, 10:47 AM

PRETORIA, South Africa, July 29, 2013 — -- "Food is my life," chef Albert Buitenhuis told ABC News today.

"I write about food, I read about food, I cook food, I love eating food," so the 50-year-old South African says he had never imagined that his indulgence would land him where he is today: facing possible deportation from New Zealand, where he has lived for six years.

Buitenhuis, 50, says he moved to New Zealand in 2007 weighing more than 350 pounds.

"They never mentioned his weight or health once and he was a lot heavier back then," his wife, Marthie Buitenhuis, told BBC News.

Buitenhuis went on to lose 66 pounds with the help of a nutritionist and Weight Watchers. Now at 5-foot-8 and 286 pounds, he said his application to renew his work visa in New Zealand has been denied because he is overweight.

Indeed, his obesity puts him at "significant risk" of health complications that could be costly to New Zealand taxpayers, an immigration spokesman told the BBC.

"It is important that all migrants have an acceptable standard of health to minimize costs and demands on New Zealand's health services," immigration manager Michael Carley told a another news outlet, New Zealand's 3 News.

It's unclear whether the South Pacific island country has cited weight in rejecting other visa applicants. ABC News was unable to reach New Zealand immigration.

Buitenhuis says he understands the policy but wishes he would have been aware of it much sooner, given that the government has renewed his application on previous occasions.

"I see no problem with potential immigrants being screened for risks to either national health or maybe becoming a financial burden on the taxpayers," he told ABC News. "My problem is just that, giving me a visa created a certain expectation, and we acted on that. It is not cheap to move country, and I don't think any sane person would go to all that expense if he is not sure of a more permanent outcome."

Because of the visa issue, he and his wife say they have been banned from working since May. Buitenhuis says they've since run out of money and cannot return to South Africa.

"We sold everything to come here. It wasn't just done willy-nilly," Albert Buitenhuis told 3 News. "I got work here first and I got a visa and all that, so we thought, OK, that's it, that's fine, and we sold everything."

Carley, the immigration spokesman, told 3 News that obesity alone won't lead to deportation, but that other medical conditions, such as Buitenhuis' injured knee, are jointly taken into consideration.

Buitenhuis and his wife have appealed. A final decision on the couple's fate is expected within the next two weeks, New Zealand Associate Minister of Immigration Nikki Kaye told 3 News.

Buitenhuis told ABC News, "It is a possibility that we will be forced to go back to South Africa, but what do we go back for? My only sister and her family live in New Zealand.

"We've laid down roots in the six years we've been living here. What will we do next? Pray to stay in New Zealand."

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