Chef Told he’s Too Fat to Live in New Zealand

The Slatest
Your News Companion by Ben Mathis-Lilley
July 27 2013 4:50 PM

New Zealand to South African Chef: You’re Too Fat to Live in This Country

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New Zealand has one of the highest obesity rates in the world, with 27 percent of its residents qualifying as obese, according to the United Nations Food and Agricultural Organization

Photo by Sean Gallup/Getty Images

New Zealand isn’t letting a South African chef renew his visa because he’s too fat. Albert Buitenhuis and his wife, Marthie, moved to Christchurch, New Zealand, six years ago and their annual work visas were always renewed with “very little problem,” Marthie Buitenhuis tells local newspaper the Press. But this year, immigration officials said Buitenhuis did not have “an acceptable standard of health” and said he could place a strain in the country’s health services.

The South African chef, who weighs 130 kilograms (287 pounds) and has a body mass index of more than 40, is considered medically obese. But he has actually dropped 30 kilograms (66 pounds) since moving to New Zealand in 2007. “They never mentioned Albert's weight or his health once and he was a lot heavier then,” Marthie Buitenhuis said.

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Immigration officials defended the decision, saying the chef’s weight put him at “significant risk” of several illnesses, including diabetes and heart disease. "It is important that all migrants have an acceptable standard of health to minimize costs and demands on New Zealand's health services," a spokesman said. Although the immigration spokesman insisted that obesity would almost never be a visa disqualifier by itself, “medical assessors have to consider to what extent there might be indications of future high-cost and high-need demand for health services."

Daniel Politi has been contributing to Slate since 2004 and wrote the "Today's Papers" column from 2006 to 2009. You can follow him on Twitter @dpoliti.