The Immigration New Zealand’s operational directive on May 10, 2019 (Visa Pak 400) that directed its frontline officers to emphasise on the requirement of “living together” while assessing partnership visa applications was initiated on the request of INZ’s Mumbai office.  

INZ had faced unprecedented delays in visa processing that caused much stress and anxiety to thousands of Kiwi-families, forcing many applicants to protest in front of INZ Mumbai office and their partners in Auckland in 2019. 

The visa processing queue had started to pile up with inordinate delays since November 2018, and by mid of 2019, media reports had started reporting about Immigration Minister Iain Lees-Galloway’s displeasure at the delays. 

During that time INZ had taken many operational decisions to address the delays including hiring new staff, shifting the processing of partnership visa applications to Hamilton, and moving the processing of offshore student visa applications of all markets except Vietnam and India to Palmerstone North. 

However, now it has been revealed that INZ Mumbai office, which was at the heart of unprecedented visa processing delays responded, by proposing to change the interpretation of the partnership visa policy that eventually resulted in the rejection of thousands of applicants.

The Indian Weekender has obtained documents under the Official Information Act that reveals that INZ Mumbai branch initiated the operational request to change the interpretation of partnership visa policy –a process that has otherwise been in place for the last four years. 

The result of this change, whether intended or unintended, was obvious, as thousands of applications were abruptly rejected – and in the process cleared up the queue.

Marcelle Foley, Head of Operations, Visa Services, INZ Mumbai, had on April 25 written to key officials at INZ’s Beijing and Hamilton offices informing about the intention to push forward for “updating the resources in the partnership space.” 

Within the next ten days of this initial proposal for changing an operational practice on partnership visa – a practice that has been in operation since last four years – INZ had issued new operational guidelines on May 10 (Visa Pak 400) that directed immigration staff to change the manner of assessing the applications. 

The new instructions directed immigration staff to put an emphasis on the requirement of “living together” for the purpose of partnership visa. 

Even Immigration Minister was caught off-guard as he publically acknowledged that the changes were not a result of any policy-change but were operational in nature that does not require ministerial approval. 

The results were not largely unexpected, as suddenly thousands of partnership visa applications were summarily rejected after having to wait in queue for more than six-seven months, causing much stress and public outcry. 

newsroom story of September 3 last year reported by the end of August “Immigration NZ had 8408 temporary partnership applications on-hand across all offices – more than 3000 of those were for partners of workers” – a noticeable fall from around 12,000 about a month and a half earlier. 

Another noticeable concern evident in the OIA document worth considering is - the changes in operational procedures of immigration policy seems to have been taken on the basis of anecdotal evidence and verbal conversation, rather than robust analytical and evidence-based research. 

From what has been revealed to IWK, the Operational Heads in INZ’s offshore centres were able to make major changes in the manner the policy was being interpreted by the immigration officers, just after a few verbal conversations, seemingly without much oversight – either Ministerial or Bureaucratic. 

Those administrative changes - as panned out later – were responsible for rejection of a large number of partnership visa applications that would have otherwise approved.