Immigration denies visas for Kiwi's Iranian parents, fearing they wouldn't leave

11:06 am on 7 February 2023
Hayley Abedi’s son with his grandmother on a previous trip to New Zealand.

Hayley Abedi's son with his grandmother Batoul Gholamrezae on a previous trip to New Zealand. Photo: Supplied

Immigration officials ruled an Iranian couple could not visit their New Zealand family because the turbulence in their home country meant they might not return.

More than half of all parents needing visas to visit their migrant children since July have been turned down, compared to one in 12 pre-pandemic.

Hayley Abedi was struggling after the birth of her second child and applied for her parents to visit in September. It took four months to get an answer.

"We have considered the purpose of your visit to provide support and assistance to you and their grandchildren," said Immigration NZ's (INZ) rejection letter. "At this time, we acknowledge that you may have a genuine and lawful purpose of visiting New Zealand, however, purpose by itself does not outweigh other bonafide concerns, which at present have not been mitigated with the evidence you have submitted.

"The circumstances in your home country are such that you may be discouraged from returning. We are aware of Iran's current geopolitical uncertainty and security risks."

Violence broke out in Iran after 22-year-old Mahsa Amini died while in police custody in September.

Abedi said it felt like her parents were being punished for the violence that has beset Iran.

The family has re-applied for visas.

"I don't know how else we can show our honesty because they've been here three times, they went back on time, they have a house, land and they have siblings there, my sister and her husband are staying in Iran. So I don't know what else to do.

"I'm a New Zealand citizen, living here for 12 years. We are living legally, we are paying tax, we have high income, we have two properties, two rental investments. As a New Zealander at least - not as an Iranian who is always [an] exception - as a New Zealander, I want my government to support me.

"The government has done nothing to support Iranians for this revolution or protest. They didn't do anything to support our families. They didn't do any sanctions for Iran and now they are punishing us. For what? What did we do?"

Ukrainians escaping a war-torn country were being welcomed, while Iranian family members including others she had heard of could not even visit, she said.

Immigration adviser Brandon Han said the message after the mosque attacks that "they are us" did not extend to immigration decisions.

"I'm sorry for being brutally honest. From INZ's point of view, 'they' have never been us. INZ has always treated some of us as them, based on double moral and procedural standards, and applications from specific regions such as the Middle East take much longer.

"With the blacklist of certain countries, INZ creates a high bar when they assess the applications from those countries - I believe it is a kind of continued discrimination against applicants from some countries."

Less transparency

An online system introduced over the last year had made discretionary decision-making even more opaque, as numerous and unidentified case officers can be involved through the process, so correcting mistakes one of them makes can be hard.

It affected general tourist visas as well as the specific category for parents.

"The new system doesn't help us identify which is the specific assessing case officer. Therefore, there is much more miscommunication and misunderstanding. Our border has been fully reopened for half a year already.

"However, INZ still takes too long to complete a general visitor visa application, while our big brother across the ditch could always get it done in two weeks. For instance, my clients from overseas have to postpone or cancel their trips to our beautiful South Island.

"And it's not just individual disappointment - the loss of potential income and employment for our airline, retail shops, accommodation service providers and other tourism and hospitality businesses.

"What about the applicants who do not use professional [immigration] services? They pay for INZ's mistakes and misunderstandings."

INZ statistics show 5775 parents have had visas rejected since July - only 4802 were approved. In 2018/19, 456 parents were declined out of 5295.

"We have got clients crying in desperate need for visas to visit their family members," Han said. "Your status of being a family member to a New Zealander will just make the visa application process much longer."

INZ responds

INZ said Abedi's parents' application was delayed and their new application would be prioritised.

"Their applications were identified as part of a group of applications for Parent and Grandparent Visitor Visas that had not progressed through our online visa platform as expected," said Michael Carley, INZ's acting general manager of border and visa operations.

"Part of their application also required third party checks to be undertaken. As these checks are carried out externally, we have limited control of the time it takes to process.

"We appreciate this is a difficult situation for Ms Gholamrezae and Mr Yonesiasl, along with their family in New Zealand. INZ's role as a regulator is to apply relevant immigration instructions to all visa applications. Visa applicants must demonstrate that they have genuine intentions to visit New Zealand temporarily, and intend to return home at the end of their stay. They must provide evidence in support of this as part of their visa application.

"Ms Gholamrezae and [Ali] Yonesiasl's applications were declined on the basis of a combination of reasons, including the information submitted with their application, the deteriorating situation in their home country and their incentives to return to their home country. "

It did not comment on the suggestion it had a blacklist of countries and said it would provide comment on the increase in visa decline numbers separately.

Get the RNZ app

for ad-free news and current affairs