Families are still being kept apart - despite govt’s stated intention - as Immigration New Zealand continues to deny exception to partners of citizens and residents who have been living in the country on legitimate visas to enter again in the country. 

Surabhi Joshi who is married to NZ resident Ankit Saptrishi and was living in New Zealand before travelling back India to see her ailing father has been handed in second rejection of a request for an exception to travel and join her husband. 

“We both are going through a very tough phase, it is now affecting my mental health. This is second such rejection she has been handed by Immigration NZ staff after Minister’s public comment to media almost two weeks ago,” Ankit said frustratingly. 

The recent most rejection of a request for travel exception was given on June 19, one day after Immigration New Zealand has told the Indian Weekender that the new instructions had become operational on the ground on Thursday, June 18. 

The Indian Weekender has reported on Friday, June 19 quoting an INZ’s media spokesperson who said, “The changes announced by the government on Friday, June 12 making changes to the current border restrictions and exceptions criteria and process have come into effect yesterday,”

However, since then many members of the community have reached out to the Indian Weekender stating that apparently there were gaps between what the government was saying in public, and how their individual cases were being summarily rejected by Immigration NZ’s frontline staff. 

Speaking to the Indian Weekender Ankit said, “We initially struggled a lot to get my wife’s first partnership based visa sorted because of INZ’s sudden change in policy mid last year that has delayed visa processing times.”

Surbhi & Ankit at the time of their marriage in India last year. 

“Eventually, we managed to get my wife’s visitor visa approved towards the wee end of the last year as per INZ’s norm where they were giving visitor visas, instead of partnership visas, to let couples join together in NZ,” Ankit said. 

“My wife’s visa, which was a multiple entry visa, was approved on December 19 and given three months till March 19 to enter NZ. 

“Following this my wife has arrived in mid-February and we thought we were good to continue our life together in New Zealand. 

“However, my wife, who is the only child of her parents have to urgently travel back to India to visit her ailing father in early March, with plans to return back in late March, and in-between our borders were closed owing to Covid-19 pandemic.”

“Ever since Immigration Minister had announced that the government was removing the requirement from citizens and residents to travel along with their spouses and families to enter back into the country we have become really hopeful.”

“But it is back to square one,” Ankit said frustratingly. 

“We have initially struggled a lot to get our visa sorted because of INZ policy change (interpretation of genuine and stable relationship ) mid last year and now we are still separated because of covid restrictions,” Ankit said. 

What are the current rules around exceptions for families

INZ has told the Indian Weekender on June 19 about how government’s announcement was operationalised on the ground and who would tentatively qualify for an exception. 

“From yesterday, partners and dependents of New Zealand citizens and residents who have a relationship-based visa or are ordinarily resident in New Zealand will no longer need to be travelling with their New Zealand family member to be granted a border exception.

“The change will help reunite New Zealand based families who have been separated by the current border restrictions.

“Partners or dependents of a New Zealand citizen or residents who have a relationship-based visa will be able to travel on that visa and will not need to request a border exception.

“Partners or dependents of a New Zealand citizen or resident who are ordinarily resident in New Zealand but do not have a relationship-based visa should request a border exception. If their request is approved, they will then be invited to apply for a visitor visa, another visa that suits their circumstances, or to vary their existing visa to allow them to travel.” 

“Partners of New Zealand citizens or residents who are not travelling together, are not on a relationship-based visa or are not ordinarily resident in New Zealand will still be subject to the border restrictions, unless they meet another border exception criteria,” the INZ media spokesperson had then told the Indian Weekender.

How INZ’s frontline staff had responded to Surbhi Joshi’s request for an exception?

INZ’s frontline staff has first told Mrs Surbhi Joshi that since she was on “General Visitor Visa” therefore she will not qualify for travelling by herself as announced by the government and instead apply for an exception to enter NZ borders. 

“Since you hold a general visitor visa you will need to apply for an exemption to our border,” an email response that the Indian Weekender has seen said. 

However, subsequently, the INZ had declined Mrs Joshi’s request on Friday, June 19, causing much dismay and heartache to the couple. 

The couple is saying that this decision is in complete contravention to the government’s public statement of allowing family reunion. 

“We are so frustrated because now they are rejecting our application for an exception on the pretext that my wife was on a general visitor visa.”

“This is a ludicrous excuse as we never applied and asked for a general visitor visa in the first place last year. We had applied for a partnership based visa, and INZ had then arbitrarily given us a general visitor visa, instead of a partnership based visa, and now they are using that pretext to keep us separated. 

“This is an absolute shambolic response from INZ, and there is no right to appeal as well,” Ankit said exasperatingly. 

An enquiry has been sent to INZ with regards to Surbhi Joshi’s request for an exception and the seemingly arbitrary interpretation of rules by their frontline staff.