Englishman lived in country for 20 years without New Zealand visa or permanent residency

That wasn't the case with Englishman Phil Saleh, who arrived in the country in 1987 and since then gotten married, bought a house and had many jobs all the while believing he was a New Zealand resident.

Last month the New Zealand Immigration department told him it had no record of him ever applying for residency, meaning he's been living illegally in the country for over 20 years.

"It kind of leaves me in a position where I can't legally work, we can't legally get any benefits for us," Mr Saleh says.

"So we're basically left in a position where we don't know how we're going to support ourselves if this matter isn't going to be tidied up soon."

Mr Saleh thought he got his permanent residency while working as a boat builder on KZ1's 1988 America's Cup.

He says he never went through the official application, it was rushed through at the airport before he left for KZ1's challenge in San Diego.

"I had about five officers looking at my passport making arrangements for me to go to the states and return back to New Zealand," he says.

"And it was this particular point that I was given a residency stamp in my passport."

Immigration New Zealand says it is impossible to gain residence in New Zealand without following the correct process and no special provisions were given to people working on the America's Cup in 1987.

It says it's more likely that he received a multiple permanent re-entry stamp and that is certainly not permanent residence.

Mr Saleh's problem could have easily been solved if he still had his old passport, but he says he lost it three years ago.

So with no proof and nothing on record with Immigration New Zealand, the only thing he can do is pay the money and apply.

"It's out of our budget at the moment, it will cost several thousand dollars and it's money we just don't have," Mr Saleh says. "I would pay that money quite happily to resolve this problem, just to get it resolved. But I can't do it. It's not in my budget to do it."

Immigration have now granted Mr Saleh a nine-month New Zealand work visa, which has given him some time to come up with the money to apply for residency.

The New Zealand Visa Bureau is an independent consulting company specialising in New Zealand visas and immigration.