Government takes another look at partnership visas

6:29 pm on 1 November 2019

Immigration Minister Iain Lees-Galloway has directed his officials to come up with a solution so Indians aren't unfairly excluded from receiving partnership visas.

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Photo: RNZ / Dom Thomas

The intervention has come after mounting anger and frustration from the Kiwi-Indian community at recent policy changes with some even walking away from the Labour Party.

In recent months, Immigration NZ adopted a tougher stance on the partnership visa category, insisting that couples have spent time living together in order to be eligible.

That makes it much more difficult for those in culturally-arranged marriages to bring their spouses to New Zealand.

Speaking to RNZ, Mr Lees-Galloway said the department had been "lawfully correct" to shift its approach to more strictly align with government policy.

But he said the change had clearly left many people, particularly Kiwi-Indians, worse off and prompted concern from community leaders and MPs.

Mr Lees-Galloway said, as such, he'd contacted Immigration New Zealand and asked it to consider other options "as soon as possible".

"I've asked them to look at what is possible and to come back with options on how we can ensure that people who are in genuine, culturally arranged marriages have the opportunity to bring their partner to New Zealand," he said.

"We value the Kiwi-Indian community. They make an enormous contribution to our society, to our communities, and to our economy. And I am hopeful that Immigration New Zealand will be able to find a solution."

Prior to its shift in approach, Immigration NZ would grant general visitor visas to couples in arranged marriages to allow them to live together in New Zealand before applying under the partnership category.

But Mr Lees-Galloway said he doubted officials would simply revert to that position as they felt that contravened government policy.

Asked whether the government could just change its policy or instructions, Mr Lees-Galloway said that would take "quite some time".

"I don't think that that is what people are looking for. They're looking for a faster solution than that."

Sher Singh - who quit his Labour membership last month in protest of the policy - said Mr Lees-Galloway's words gave him a glimmer of hope, but just that.

"There's a difference between saying and doing," he told RNZ.

"I want to see something solid ... if there's a plan in place and we see that in writing, then, yes, maybe I might think of going back [to Labour], but I can't promise that."

Immigration lawyer Alastair McClymont said Immigration NZ should never have changed its approach and it had taken too long for the minister to step in.

"Why has it taken a month? Well, it's been because of the communities who have been lobbying their MPs, it's because of the media running news stories.

"Do we need to wait for that to happen before the minister realises that his department [has] made a stuff-up?"

Mr McClymont said all the cases which had been declined over the past month should also now be reviewed and reconsidered.

New Zealand First likely would also act as a roadblock to any formal shift in policy as its leader Winston Peters recently told RNZ his party had influenced the tougher approach.

Speaking from Japan, Mr Peters said he'd hold off commenting in detail until after talking directly with Mr Lees-Galloway.

But he suggested any change in Immigration NZ's approach would need to be signed off by his party.

"Until we see what that so-called 'solution' is and approve it, it will not be a fact," Mr Peters told RNZ.

NZ First MP Shane Jones prompted outrage last month when he said Indian activists could "catch the next flight home" if they were not happy with the country's immigration rules.

Mr Lees-Galloway declined to say whether Mr Jones' remarks were appropriate or helpful.

"I'm not responsible for Shane Jones. He has to take responsibility for his own comments. But this government absolutely values the contribution that the Kiwi-Indian community makes to New Zealand."

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