A chef has been called too fat to live in New Zealand and ordered to leave the country where he and his wife have lived since 2007. Now South African native Albert Buitenhuis and his wife Marthie are fighting to regain their right to work — as well as their right to continue living in their adopted home.
Anna Turner published their story Saturday in New Zealand’s The Press. And it’s a shocking one that will leave you wondering if weight discrimination is the last refuge for bigotry.
You can get the whole story at The Press. The very short version is that Buitenhuis and his wife have both worked at a local restaurant since they moved to Christchurch, New Zealand six years ago. Their work and residency permits were renewed every year without any comment or warning about the chef’s weight.
True, Buitenhuis is no lightweight with a Body Mass Index (BMI) of 40. But he actually does weigh less than he did when he arrived in the country– some 66 pounds less.
So the couple was baffled when the authorities refused to renew their work permit in May. New Zealand’s immigration services (INZ) said in essence that the chef was too fat for their liking. “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,” an unnamed INZ spokesman said after listing a laundry list of diseases that could be linked to obesity.
But shouldn’t the authorities have thought of this before? Their former boss said: “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.”
It isn’t just one reporter and the Buitenhuis’ Facebook page saying this stuff. The story has since been picked up by other media sources like the BBC and The Daily Mail.
At this point, the Buitenhuis are fighting a two-pronged battle to be allowed to stay and work in New Zealand.
They’re asking New Zealand’s immigration minister to reconsider.
And they’re working with their doctor, who said that the chef could reach an acceptable weight within 26 weeks.
That “could” is a huge word. Losing weight when under stress is a challenge to anyone, much less someone who works with food.
To my mind, it seems as if the immigration officials have more or less openly admitted to discriminating against people based on their weight. I find that more than a little shocking.
What are your thoughts on this policy? I’ll admit I’m flabbergasted that Albert Buitenhuis could lose his work and his home because some bureaucrat thinks the chef is too fat.
[Albert and Marthie Buitenhuis photo via Facebook][New Zealand flight photo by Benchill via Wikimedia]