Many overseas-based partners of New Zealanders (and NZ based temporary migrant workers) who were earlier caught-up in a sudden policy change in Immigration NZ's assessment of partnership visa applications are devastated by the recent border closures that have once again created another roadblock in joining their partners, albeit this time, despite having their visas genuinely approved. 

The frustration and the anguish within a small, but a "real" community who had earlier in 2019 endured the sudden changes in the manner Immigration New Zealand processed partnership visa applications, that had resulted in abrupt rejections of thousands of applications, is once again flaring-up after they were deemed ineligible to get an exception from strict border controls in place as a response to the covid-19 pandemic. 

Border restrictions and exception to travel ban to NZ

The New Zealand border is currently closed to almost all travellers to help stop the spread of COVID-19. While New Zealand citizens and permanent residents are allowed to travel to and enter New Zealand, a very minuscule number of people will be selectively allowed an exception on a case by case basis with an exception to travel ban and allowed entry into the country. 

The exception, however, will only be allowed to the critical workforce in health services, government-approved essential services, and Partners, dependent children (aged 24 years and under) and legal guardians of New Zealand citizens and residents who are travelling together to New Zealand. 

New Zealand-based partners and dependent children (aged 19 years and under) of a work or student visa holder who is in New Zealand, are also eligible for seeking an exception from travel ban on entering NZ. 

Partners with legitimate visas travelling for the first time to NZ deemed ineligible 

However, sadly though, individuals who have recently applied and got General Visitor Visa approved to be able to come to NZ and join their partners (citizens, residents, and temporary visa holders) and were supposed to travel NZ for the first time before borders were closed are not allowed to get an exception from entering NZ. 

Although this is in line with INZ's decision to not grant an exception to the newly approved resident visa holders (off-shore based) who were supposed to enter NZ for the first time before the announcement on border closure, those with newly approved visas to join their partners in NZ are finding it slightly harsh and requesting the government for immediate intervention. 

The Indian Weekender has been approached by many such affected couples who despite having a genuine understanding of the public health crisis and NZ govt's response, are just pleading for a compassionate overview of their situation and allowing them an exception for entry into NZ. 

Poonam Dhanoa told the Indian Weekender that she was in a long-distance relationship with her husband who first arrived in New Zealand in 2015 before returning back to marry her in a culturally appropriate manner in February 2019. She applied for her partnership based visa in April 2019 and waited for six months till September 2019 when she decided to withdraw her application and re-apply. 

It may be recalled that the issue of delayed and abrupt rejection of partnership visas by Immigration New Zealand had long hassled a big segment of the Kiwi-Indian community, which finally led the Immigration Minister Iain Lees-Galloway to intervene in October 2019 and issue a new directive. 

For uninitiated, the issue of en-masse partnership visa declines for want of "living together" has recently jolted the Kiwi-Indian community, as the fate of thousands of Kiwi residents and citizens who had either married or planned to marry soon overseas, within their cultures were put on stake.

The issue had largely emanated after INZ's internal directive in May 2019 to their frontline officers for exercising discretion unfavourably in their assessment of partnership visa applications. 

Following community uproar and sustained media pressure, the Immigration Minister had intervened to fix the situation and assured the community of fairer treatment of their partnership visa applications.

The Minister had then announced that INZ could potentially re-open about 1200 applications previously declined who would qualify under the new guidance, and there would be another 1300 applications previously declined.

Poonam had then re-applied her partnership visa application and was subsequently granted a partnership based general visitor visa (GVV) in March 2020. 

"I received the most awaited news of the approval of my partnership based general visitor visa on March 19 this year and was extremely delighted," Poonam said. 

"However my happiness was shortlived as within the next 2 hours I heard about the decision of New Zealand's border closure,"

"Now I am devastated with the denial of exception to enter NZ and join my partner," Poonam said exasperatingly. 

Affected partners seek compassionate action

Shoraya Talwar, one such partner who is facing another bout of separation, the courtesy covid-19 enforced border-closure has been trying to bring together most of such affected partnership visa holders who stand so close yet so far from joining their NZ based partners told the Indian Weekender about their collective plight and appealing the govt for an compassionate action. 

"We already went through a very tough time with a deep desire to meet our partners, but now due to lockdown, we are not able to do so. We have a condition on our visa to enter before a certain date to activate the visa which is approaching soon and will be expired if we are not allowed in, which is a huge cause of worry and some of the people already having a nervous breakdown as it is hard to go through the process again," Shoraya said. 

"We all do understand it is a difficult situation for everyone. Safety of New Zealander is paramount and should never be compromised but as I mentioned earlier that we are a very small number of group in this situation, therefore, considering us adding in the exception process will not put much burden. There is an already an exception process available for partners of NZ Citizen & Residents, but that exception is only for those partners who had lived in NZ before not the ones like us who were granted a GVV off-shore," Shoraya said.

"Majority of us are already going through a lot and keeping us partners apart is really effecting us mentally, and therefore we are facing another worry after successfully getting a visa through INZ strict visa policies. There should be an exception for all the partnership based GVV holder off-shore who's visa was granted before the border closure on 19th March," Shoraya said.

"We don't have any health condition. We promise to adhere to keep New Zealand Safe and be quarantined. We are even willing to have ourselves tested from our point of origin if need be. We are agreed to pay for monitored quarantine so it will not be a burden in NZ taxpayers and the NZ government," Shoraya said pleadingly. 

While the covid-19 pandemic, and the accompanying extreme measures of complete lockdown and strict border controls and travel restrictions are affecting our communities in numerous ways, this small group of separated couples are feeling double whammy for their prolonged separation after they had to endure through.