14 Mar 2023

Immigration NZ reverses decision to block Iranian parents' visit, reconsidering others

7:01 pm on 14 March 2023
Mahshid Ahmadi Sianav and her son Hira Salehi.

Mahshid Ahmadi Sianav and her son Hira Salehi. Photo: Supplied

Immigration officials are reviewing some visa decisions that have prevented visits from Iranians to their New Zealand-based relatives.

One man's parents have had their visa refusal overturned, after previously being told they were judged to be at risk of overstaying because of the political situation in Iran.

But other families are still battling - and questioning how immigration can justify its stance.

Immigration New Zealand (INZ) is reviewing four cases; Mahshid Ahmadi Sianav's mother is not one of them.

Ahmadi's one-year-old son will undergo the first of several surgeries on his hand this autumn - he was born with an extra thumb on his left hand - and she wants her mother to be with them for support. She sent INZ letters from doctors and Starship Hospital.

"We have considered the purpose of your visit; to provide support and assistance to your grandchild and the latter's parents after her [sic] scheduled medical surgery," came the response to mother Gheteh Kamangar three months later.

"Based on the evidence submitted as well as your overall credibility, we are not satisfied that you have provided sufficient evidence to prove that your presence in New Zealand is absolutely warranted under the circumstances, or compelling enough to be granted a visa. 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."

Ahmadi, who is in the third year of a physiotherapy course at AUT, could not bring herself to break the news of the visa decline to her mother so her husband did, and they say there is no lack of reasons for her mother to return to Iran.

"So my mum and dad are married for 30 years," said Ahmadi. "They have shared properties, two houses, they have a family business, moreover my brother lives with my Mum and Dad. Not to mention that my Mum has six siblings in Iran. Aren't these actually enough reasons for my Mum to go back?

"Okay, if this is not enough, why they didn't try to ask me for more information? Some of the Iranian applicants, they tried to contact Immigration and they asked them this question. And this is what they said: that we have high amounts of applications and we're not able to contact each and every one of them.

"I feel so broken. I was always proud how New Zealand is like a welcoming country that values people of all cultures, ethnicity, nationality, but actually after all of this I feel like, my emotions, my mental health, my whānau does not even matter.

"How can you ignore a Mum of a one-year-old who's seeking for help and for her Mum to be here when my son is going through the most difficult stage of his life?"

Iranian data analyst Amin Saedi with his parents on their 2019 to Auckland.

Iranian data analyst Amin Saedi with his parents on their 2019 visit to Auckland. Photo: Supplied

Advice on the INZ website stating that applicants would be contacted if more information was needed was misleading, she said, and INZ should review the service it was providing and consider setting out what documents it wanted to see.

Others in the Kiwi-Iranian community have been waiting for many months with no update on visa applications. INZ estimates show it takes 81 working days to decide 90 percent of Iranian visitor visa applications, among the slowest of any nationality.

Others who had been declined included a woman whose father died two months ago, who asked for her mother to visit while she dealt with pregnancy complications, and others wanting to see grandchildren born during lockdown. The government advice is that New Zealanders should not visit Iran because of the security situation following protests and crackdowns.

Cases reviewed

INZ reconsidered the case of Amin Saedi's parents after rejecting them based on bona fides and the geopolitical situation in Iran.

They are looking forward to celebrating Persian New Year and planning to go to the South Island.

"So glad finally to get it," he said. "I phoned them - my Mum started crying, she was very happy when she realised we can finally meet each other again. The last few months have been challenging for us. It's awesome news for us."

He is still thinking about the other 80 Iranian families he knows via social media who have received similar refusal letters from INZ to the ones he got.

INZ said in a statement it was looking into four other cases.

"At this stage we are looking into a small number of declines for the Grandparent and Parent Visitor Visa category where Iranian applicants had previously visited New Zealand and have family ties here," said acting general manager of border and visa operations Michael Carley.

"INZ regularly undertakes quality assurance checks for some visa categories to ensure that immigration instructions are being applied consistently across the system and visa processing teams meet on a regular basis to discuss complex applications. This helps ensure more consistency across the immigration system.

"INZ has standard operating procedures that provide guidance to immigration officers on the process for assessing and deciding visa applications."

Staff had been in touch with Saedi to let them know they had been granted Grandparent and Parent Visitor Visas.

"We understand that the initial decision was not the outcome that [his parents] hoped for, and we empathise with the difficult situation that these families find themselves in because of the circumstances in their home country of Iran.

"Our role as a regulator is to apply relevant immigration instructions to all visa applications, and appropriately weigh and balance visa decisions with consideration to factors such as the geopolitical and economic situations in the applicant's home country.

"When a temporary visa application is being considered, any circumstances that may discourage applicants from returning to their home country when their visa expires are taken into account before a decision is made."

INZ general manager Owen said in the Kamangar's case, there was not enough evidence provided with her application to satisfy the immigration officer she was a bona fide applicant intending a temporary stay in New Zealand, and she had not visited before.

"We appreciate that this is a difficult situation for Gheteh Kamangar along with her family in New Zealand. We understand that the decision was not the outcome that Mrs Kamangar hoped for, and we empathise with the difficult situation that these families find themselves in because of the circumstances in their home country of Iran."

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