14 Nov 2019

Partnership visa change: Confusion over singling out arranged marriages

11:47 am on 14 November 2019

The Migrant Workers Association says it is wrong to ask immigration officials to treat couples in culturally arranged marriages differently from other partnership cases.

Visa application form to travel Immigration a document Money for Passport Map and travel plan

Photo: 123RF

After uproar from the Indian community over a tougher stance which made it harder for those with arranged marriages to get a visa, Minister of Immigration Iain Lees-Galloway announced a turnaround yesterday.

However, Migrant Workers Association said it was confusing that the government had now made changes only to visas of couples in arranged marriages.

Back in May, Immigration New Zealand (INZ) took it upon themselves to consolidate their visa processing work and align it with their instructions, Mr Lees-Galloway said.

It meant applicants had to meet requirements for a partnership-based visa, including living together for 12 months, prior to applying for a visitor visa.

He told Morning Report it had negatively impacted a lot of people, especially those in the Kiwi-Indian community.

No caption

Minister of Immigration Iain Lees-Galloway. Photo: RNZ / Dom Thomas

"So that's why what I announced yesterday is a minor change to the immigration instruction ... so that Immigration New Zealand has a clear mandate to be able to issue visitor visas to people in culturally arranged marriages.

"The government felt that the outcome was wrong for people and that's why we stepped in and clarified the situation ... so that Immigration New Zealand does have clear instructions to follow."

INZ is planning to contact almost 1200 people who were refused visas to join their spouses in New Zealand under the guidance issued in May to frontline staff.

The change would mean the situation prior to May would be restored, Mr Lees-Galloway said, meaning people in culturally arranged marriages could apply for a visitor visa, come to New Zealand and demonstrate they were in a stable and genuine relationship, and then apply for a temporary visa.

In addition, a culturally arranged marriage visitor category will now cover those that occurred overseas, because it used to only be applicable to marriages that occurred within New Zealand. The process will be written into INZ's instructions to provide clarification for staff.

The requirement for a couple to be living together for 12 months would however remain for partnership-based residency visas, he said.

"What most people do, is they come on the visitor visa, they demonstrate that their marriage is genuine, they then apply for the temporary visa based on their partnership and then further down the track when they have been living together for 12 months or more, they have the opportunity to apply for a residency visa."

Migrant Workers Association secretary Anu Kaloti told Morning Report there was still a bit of confusion.

"It has never been one of our demands that people with culturally arranged marriages be looked at seperately, so that's why we're a bit confused," she said.

Migrant Workers Association spokesperson Anu Kaloti.

Migrant Workers Association secretary Anu Kaloti. Photo: RNZ / John Gerritsen

She said there was a whole raft of reasons why living for 12 months together before marriage didn't work for migrants - not just those from the Indian community or with arranged marriages - including social norms and work commitments.

"Also for the Indian [community], it's not just culturally arranged marriages where people are unable live together before they get married, even when partners have found each other, it is still socially unacceptable to live together before they get married, so why just single out culturally arranged marriages?"

Previously, New Zealand First and Labour locked horns over whether INZ's reinforcement of instructions back in May came as a result of political pressure and how the 'status quo' would return, as per the prime minister's announcement last week.

The minister has always insisted no government directive was given however, and Deputy Prime Minister and NZ First leader Winston Peters later reaffirmed that message.

When asked if New Zealand First were talked to prior to the most recent changes, Mr Lees-Galloway said: "I didn't have to go to Cabinet, so I didn't have to get it past New Zealand First, as you say, but it's an important change to government policy so, of course, I spoke to all of the parties in government."

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.

However, Mr Lees-Galloway said he would not be commenting on those remarks.

"I've got no responsibility for that. My job is to make sure that we've got a robust immigration system that treats people fairly."

Get the RNZ app

for ad-free news and current affairs