23 Oct 2019

Arranged marriages caught up in immigration policy changes

1:11 pm on 23 October 2019

The message from New Zealand First MP Shane Jones to members of the Indian community disgruntled with immigration policy changes - get on the first plane home if you're not happy.

Auckland Port's days are numbered - Shane Jones

New Zealand First senior MP Shane Jones Photo: RNZ / YouTube

A change in approach by immigration officials to partnership visas means Indians in particular are having a much harder time bringing their spouses to New Zealand.

A representative of the Indian community said they were not trying to "bring over the whole village" but it was not unreasonable to expect to be able have your spouse live with you in the same country.

There has been a specific government directive to stop waiving requirements such as couples needing to have lived together for 12 months - a test Indian couples who have had arranged marriages can't meet.

Auckland Indian Association president Narendra Bhana, said it was unbelievable Immigration NZ did not understand the cultural differences at play, and it felt like Indians were being punished.

"It's not like Kiwi culture where you live together for three, four or five years and then get married - it doesn't work like that in India.

"I'm surprised that Immigration [NZ] has failed to understand that after all these years."

There were a "significant" number of Kiwi-Indians are affected because arranged marriages were so common.

"Lot of times our Indian fellows, members, they don't know who they're going to get married [to], quite often they go there for two to three months, they find someone suitable and before they get married they don't live together, they don't hold hands, they don't kiss or anything - they get married and married life starts after that."

Talking about a more recent change to parent category visa at the weekend, senior New Zealand First MP and Cabinet minister Shane Jones told RNZ he was saddened by the "levels of verbiage that the Indian communal leadership have thrown at the party".

"I would just say to the activists from the Indian community, tame down your rhetoric, you have no legitimate expectations in my view to bring your whole village to New Zealand and if you don't like it and you're threatening to go home - catch the next flight home."

Party leader and Deputy Prime Minister Winston Peters was happy to take the credit for a tougher approach to partnership visas.

"Has New Zealand First had an influence on trying to tidy up the quality of information on which the immigration department relies? The answer is profoundly yes."

It was simple, he said, you're either a partner under New Zealand law, or you're not.

"It's clear as daylight - they're not partners - full stop", he said.

Visas were being granted when they shouldn't have been, said Mr Peters, because Immigration NZ was "not even observing the law and the rules".

The government has also made changes to the parent category visa, including a much higher income test and a cap on the number of parents that can come in.

Mr Peters has previously told RNZ the tightening of that scheme was thanks to New Zealand First's pressure at the Cabinet table, an assertion not denied by the Prime Minister.

He has asked Immigration NZ to make the rules more clear - the effect of which is greater restrictions on both parent and partner visas.

But Immigration Minister Iain Lees-Galloway has pushed back on the comments from Mr Peters.

In a statement he said "there has been no government directive on partnership visas".

"Immigration New Zealand has made its own decision to ensure staff were clear on their own operational decision making," he said.

Immigration NZ figures showed 10 out of 87 applications for culturally-arranged marriage visas had been approved as of the end of August.

In the previous four years more than half of all applications were accepted.

National visa manager for Immigration NZ, Peter Elms, said the department was mindful of "cultural complexities and sensitivities" but must observe the government's immigration policy.

Previously immigration officers had been able to use their discretion and grant partnership visas in exceptional cases, but that effectively stopped when they were told not to keep doing that in May, he said.

That advice has changed things, particularly for Indians.

Previously if partnership requirements weren't met, a general visitor visa would be granted in order to reunite the couple so they could try living together in New Zealand, and use that time to meet the visa requirements.

"This advice has reset an expectation that had developed, in the Indian market in particular, that if partnership requirements are not met, applications will likely be granted a general visitor visa in order to reunite with their partner and test living together requirements onshore", said Mr Elms.

"What we've done, in May this year, is we've recognised that these exceptions were becoming the norm, and that's not consistent with government policy.

"If it becomes the norm then it's indicative that we're contravening what the policy intended."

Mr Elms said there is policy in place to allow culturally arranged marriages, but government puts an emphasis on people living together.

"I don't believe this is a racist policy at all. It's a clear policy that's for all. The policies that we have in place for partnership are the policies for all non-New Zealanders," Mr Elms said.

The Indian community could live with restrictions on parents being able to move to New Zealand, Mr Bhana said, but spouses being stopped was a step too far.

"They're not trying to bring their whole village, all they're trying to do is bring their own partner which they're entitled to bring to New Zealand."

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