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What is Down syndrome?

  • Down syndrome is a life-long condition that causes delays in learning and development.
    • It cannot be cured but problems can be eased if people with Down syndrome have the right help and if other people have a positive accepting attitude.
    • It occurs because cells contain an extra chromosome number 21.
    • It can occur in any family of any race, culture or religion and is never anyone’s fault.
    • In New Zealand one baby in about 1000 is born with Down syndrome; that is one or more babies with Down syndrome born every week.
    • People with Down syndrome are individuals and vary in their abilities and achievements. They are contributing members of society.

Down syndrome was first described in detail by an English doctor, John Langdon Down, in 1866. It is a congenital condition which randomly affects about 1 in 1000 babies born throughout the world, male and female alike.

A Syndrome means a group of recognisable characteristics occurring together. A "congenital" syndrome is one present at birth, one which cannot be "caught" later on.
Down syndrome is caused by an extra copy of chromosome 21 inside each of the body's cells. It is a chromosomal accident, not caused by anything the parents may have done before or during pregnancy. Down syndrome is recognisable at birth because of the typical physical characteristics and diagnosis will have been confirmed by chromosome analysis.

People with Down syndrome do have features in common, but they also closely resemble their parents and family. Many characteristics are attributed to Down syndrome but any one person will only have some of them - each person is an individual, with a unique appearance, personality and set of abilities. The extent to which a child shows the physical characteristics of the syndrome is no indication of his or her intellectual capacity.

Finding Out

  • You will never forget the moment you find out your baby has Down syndrome.
  • Our families say the moment remains crystal clear in their memories. They are able to relive it even twenty years later as though it happened yesterday.
  • People react in many different ways. You may feel overwhelming sadness, you may feel too numb to react much at all.
  • Do not assume your partner is experiencing this the same way as you.
  • It is OK to react in whichever way you do.
  • Your partner’s way of coping is OK too.
  • You are not alone, other people have felt this way before you.
  • In time most people adjust to the news. Their baby becomes a well-loved member of their families and Whanau, just part of their everyday LIVES.

Immigrating to New Zealand with a dependent child (age 24 or under) with Down syndrome

Immigration New Zealand (INZ) must decide applications using government immigration instructions and legislation to minimise risk and maximise advantage to New Zealand.

INZ must make its decisions on the principles of fairness and natural justice.

Parents must first fulfil the requirements for the category under which they apply (Skilled Migrant Category, Business, Family or Temporary Entry has details of how to do this).

A standard medical certificate for each family member must be presented with the application. (The medical form may be downloaded from the INZ site.) Down syndrome must be declared because the medical form includes the questions:

"Do you have any physical, psychological, communication, developmental or intellectual disabilities which may affect your ability to earn a living or take full care of yourself now or in later life?"

"Are you receiving special support services?"

The medical certificate may be referred to an INZ-appointed Medical Assessor who will provide an assessment of whether the applicant has an acceptable standard of health for residence or temporary entry to New Zealand.

The objectives of immigration health instructions are to:

  1. protect public health in New Zealand; and
  2. ensure that people entering New Zealand do not impose excessive costs and demands on New Zealand's health and special education services; and
  3. where applicable, ensure that applicants for entry to New Zealand are able to undertake the functions for which they have been granted entry.

The second point (b) usually causes difficulties for children with Down syndrome. The decision will usually be delayed pending extra information being provided.

If an assessment is made that the applicant does not have an acceptable standard of health, they may be eligible for consideration for a medical waiver. When determining whether a medical waiver should be granted, an immigration officer must consider the circumstances of the applicant to decide whether they are compelling enough to justify allowing entry to, and/or a stay in New Zealand.

Please contact Immigration New Zealand for concerns about individual cases.

Changes to immigration requirements

In November 2012, the Government introduced a number of changes to its immigration requirements, including health screening.

The effect is likely to be that some disabled people with high-cost support needs who may have been able to come to live in New Zealand now may not be able to.

All migrants to New Zealand are expected to be of an acceptable standard of health. To assess whether a person applying for residency meets health requirements, there is a threshold for high cost health conditions and a list of common conditions which have been assessed as exceeding this threshold.

New Zealand Down Syndrome Association