6 Nov 2019

Govt asks immigration changes be reversed back to status quo

6:05 pm on 6 November 2019

The government has asked Immigration New Zealand to reverse its tougher stance on partnership visas that was having a particular impact on the Indian community, says the Prime Minister.

No caption

Photo: RNZ / Dom Thomas

A change in approach by immigration officials to partnership visas - insisting that couples have to spend time living together in order to be eligible - means Indians in particular are having a much harder time bringing their spouses to New Zealand.

After people spoke out about the tougher stance on both the parental category visa and partnership visa, the senior NZ First MP Shane Jones last month lashed out at the Indian community, telling them to "catch the next flight home" if they didn't like the country's immigration policy.

While NZ First leader Winston Peters continues to claim credit for the changes, Minister of Immigration Iain Lees-Galloway insists no government directive was given.

Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern says Immigration New Zealand "carte blanche of their own backs made changes - our expectation is that we return to the way we were operating prior to the changes that were made''.

She said it wasn't a decision made by any minister - in direct contrast to Mr Peters' claims New Zealand First influenced the decision and Immigration New Zealand, saying the change was made in line with government policy.

"That was changed as a result of Immigration New Zealand officials changing the way they're operating. They did not do that under the authority of Cabinet, my expectation is that we will reverse back to the status quo and the way it was operating before,'' Ms Ardern said.

"That decision never came to Cabinet it was a decision made arbitrarily by officials, and we're seeking for that to return to the status quo,'' she said.

Mr Lees-Galloway said his officials made the change without telling him.

"It would have been helpful to know what they had in mind, but they have given me an explanation, which is that they felt making this change brought consistency to their decision-making and made those decisions align with government policies,'' he said.

He said Mr Peters' claims he influenced the change did not tally with what his officials had told him.

He offered one explanation for that.

"I know we've been making a lot of immigration decisions at Cabinet in the last few months."

Asked if Mr Peters got confused, he said: "That's a good question to ask the deputy prime minister.''

Mr Lees-Galloway said he had nothing to do with the changes that resulted in a huge backlash from the Indian community.

"I'll tell you where the Iain Lees-Galloway fingerprints are - cleaning it up,'' he said.

Last month Mr 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," he said.

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.

Mr Jones was unaware of the Prime Minister's expectation that the policy be reversed to the status quo.

Speaking to reporters immediately after Ms Ardern made the comments, Mr Jones said New Zealand First being signed up to a coalition agreement with Labour did not stop him "as a retail politician belonging to a nine person caucus continuing to evolve our thinking in relation to immigration''.

Get the RNZ app

for ad-free news and current affairs