Recently Immigration New Zealand has announced on Wednesday, July 7, that it will be refunding application fees and levies for temporary visa applications that cannot be processed due to New Zealand’s current border restrictions.

Essentially what this latest announcement meant was that people who applied for a temporary visa from outside New Zealand after August 10, 2020, when offshore applications were suspended, will have their application returned and be refunded.

However, there was a reprieve in the decision that will allow certain categories of visa applications to be excluded from lapsing and refunding.

It clearly says that applications based on a relationship (partner or dependent children) to a New Zealand citizen, residence class visa holder or temporary visa holder, and applications based on a relationship (partner or dependent children) to a principal applicant with a temporary visa application will be excluded.

Although well-intentioned, it surely does not ameliorate the concerns of people seeking partnership visas largely based on Indian marriages or who do not have demonstrable evidence of “living together” as a couple before the filing of the visa.

Lately, every time an announcement comes around partnership visas and General Visitor Visas based on partnerships, a question automatically emerges - if the relationships based on Indian marriages will be disadvantaged in any manner.

This is because of an existing anomaly in immigration law that has in recent past disadvantaged people seeking partnership visas based on Indian marriages.

In the absence of clarity in the Immigration rules, which requires couples to show evidence of “living together” to be eligible for partnership visas to enter the country and join their New Zealand based partners/spouses, the INZ bureaucracy had over the years developed an ad-hoc system.

As per that ad-hoc system, which is purely discretional, the INZ bureaucracy assesses such requests for partnership visa applications on a case-by-case basis and has been issuing relationship-based General Visitor Visa.

So from the user’s perspective, who in their mind often believes that they are seeking partnership visas to join their NZ based partners/spouses, many do not qualify as per archaic requirement for “partnership visas” and have to file relationship-based General Visitor Visas.

It is this relationship based GVV that often get disadvantaged, especially under the current closed-border regime.

The INZ does not have a mechanism to differentiate between normal visitor visas and relationship-based general visitor visas.

Earlier, when NZ borders were closed in March 2020, and the government had allowed only partnership-based visa holders to enter the country, those in Indian marriage-based relationships and stuck overseas with only General Visitor Visa stamped on their passport were not allowed.

As the initial frenzy around border closure and Covid-19 pandemic management at borders subsided a bit, and the government relaxed entry of some categories of partners in September 2020, things have improved marginally for Indian marriages-based General Visitor Visa applications.

However, the perceived sense of disadvantage remains intact due to existing anomaly in Immigration Law, which is less reflective of New Zealand’s changing cultural diversity.

The ideal solution to this oft-returning sense of disadvantage is a legislative change that removes unnecessary emphasis on the “living together” clause for partnership visa, in reflection of the realities in many dominant cultures of the world where couples are not required to live together before being recognised as a couple.

Till that change happens, the concerns around relationship-based General Visitor Visa will continue returning with every new announcement related to partnership visa.