The Minister’s decision to amend the rules relating to culturally arranged marriages is welcome.
While the focus has been on the impact to the Indian community, that is not the whole story. The way in which partnership visa and visitor visa rules have been administered by Immigration New Zealand affects a wider group of people because of a fundamental hole in the policy.
The first flaw is that the partnership rules are designed on the assumption the sorts of documents you can get in New Zealand to prove your relationship are the sorts of documents you can get in any other country.
This demonstrates a very culturally siloed (some would say ignorant) view of the world. In many countries it is not customary, usual, or normal for joint bank accounts to be issued. In some countries it is not customary, usual, or normal for a joint tenancy agreement or even joint utility accounts to be issued.
How did Immigration New Zealand come up with the criteria for the documents required? No doubt policymakers in Wellington sat around brainstorming about the types of documents a couple could usually provide. Naturally they reflected on what documents they personally could get to prove their own relationships.
It’s sometimes said that the law reflects the makers; that is certainly true in this case.
Unfortunately, whoever designed the rules didn't realise they were dealing with people who come from countries that don't operate the same as ours.
Hence they failed to give immigration officers appropriate guidance as to what to do when not presented with typical documents as prescribed by the rules.
The second flaw in the policy is that it only deals with two types of scenarios:
1. A culturally arranged relationship
2. An existing relationship where a couple live together.
There is no policy or visa category for people who have been maintaining a long-distance relationship who decide they wish to reunite in New Zealand.
For example, the partnership visa rules causing problems for the Indian community are also difficult for couple Robert and Erica. Robert is a citizen living Whakatane and Erica is German, living in Germany. For the past four years they have been maintaining a long-distance relationship.
As they are not living together and maintain two separate residences at the time of application, they don't qualify for a partnership visa.
They could apply for a visitor visa in the hope that Erica can come here to live with Robert and then apply for a partnership visa.
But if the immigration officer is not satisfied the evidence proves a genuine and stable relationship (as defined by the rules), Erica will be denied a visitor visa if she can’t prove she has sufficient incentive to return to Germany.
Why does she need to prove an incentive to return to Germany? It is clearly not intended to be a visit. Therein lies the problem. And this is the same problem plaguing the Indian community.
The new criteria that will guide Immigration New Zealand is expected to be released in 2 weeks.
Let us hope it abandons the conservative and blinkered view of relationships and their formation that currently prevails.
Let us also hope that it is not simply a reflection of the views of the policymakers on what evidence constitutes a genuine relationship based on their own (dare I say limited) experience of the world and limited view as to the type of evidence that ought to be provided.
These rules have been long due for an overhaul. It is sad that so many people have been let down by a government (and its coalition partner) who crow about being pro-family but have only been so for certain classes of people until the others left behind shouted loudly.
Aaron Martin is an Auckland based immigration law practitioner. The views expressed are the author's alone.