Indian applicants of partnership-based-visas have once again come under fire after Immigration New Zealand is refusing to grant them travel exceptions and join their partners who are citizens and residents in the country on the pretext that they were never on such a visa in the first place.

The hopes that were skyrocketed suddenly after the government's recent announcement on June 12 of letting the families that were separated by being caught up outside borders join their partners based in NZ are quickly being dashed as more and more applications for travel exceptions are being rejected by Immigration NZ.

Amrutha Kishore, a permanent resident who has lived in the country for many years, working as a manager of the Ponsonby branch of Bay Audiology, has been applying for an exception for her husband who had got his first legitimate visa to come to NZ approved earlier this year just before borders were closed due to Covid-19 pandemic.

Soon after the government's announcement on June 12 that became operational from June 18 Amrutha became super excited and applied for a travel exception - only to be declined and told that her husband did not qualify as he was on the general visitor visa and not on partnership related visa.

"When the changes actually came into effect on June 18, Immigration announced that all partners/dependents of residents or citizens who have visas based on their relationship would not have to apply for a border exception or be accompanied by their NZ citizen/resident partner.

"Many of us thought this was great news because we finally were going to be reunited with our partners.

"What they failed to mention was that even though there were a group of us that had registered our relationship in the system, the visas that were granted to let us live together as a couple and with proof of having a genuine relationship, would not be considered one that is based on a relationship," Amrutha said exasperatingly.

The case of Ankit Saptrishi and Surbhi Joshi - a newly married couple where the wife had already arrived in NZ on her legitimate visa before returning back in mid-March to pay a short visit to her ailing father and therefore fully qualifying as "ordinarily resident in NZ" clause that was added in Minister of Immigration's announcement on facilitating families to reunite on June 12 is even more bizarre.

Minister for Immigration Iain Lees-Galloway had then said "We are removing the requirement for partners and dependants of New Zealand citizens and residents who have a relationship-based visa or are ordinarily resident in New Zealand to travel together to be granted an entry exception. This will be a great relief for families separated by the border closure."

However, Surbhi Joshi's application for travel exception was rejected on the pretext she was holding a general visitor visa, and not a partnership related visa, (and not considering that she was ordinarily resident in NZ) bringing a rude shock to the couple as they have always sought and applied for a partnership visa late last year.

Old wounds scratched again

This clearly has once again scratched the old wounds that the Kiwi-Indian community had endured mid to late last year around the legitimacy of the Indian marriages and therefore the eligibility of individuals in such marriages for partnership-based visas to join their NZ based partners. 

In July 2019, an internal circular issued by Immigration NZ by the name Visa Pak 400 had arbitrarily changed the operational practice of assessing Indian marriages for immigration purposes resulting in thousands of applications being summarily rejected.

On persistent media reporting and community pressure, Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern had to then intervene assuring the Kiwi-Indian community that there was no institutional bias against the Indian cultural marriages eventually leading Minister Lees-Galloway to issue new immigration instructions that claimed to have fixed the problem.

The Minister Lees-Galloway had then first issued new instructions around culturally arranged marriages, which were followed by some internal administrative circulars issued by the INZ to its frontline staff to remove any newly introduced biases in the assessments of applications by Indian partners wanting to join their NZ based partners.

It seemed then that the problem - which was clearly Immigration department’s own making - was gradually fixed, with more and more people caught-up in long visa processing queues were finally issued visas to join their partners in New Zealand.

However, the Covid-19 related border closure and a hugely discretionary and arbitrary exercise of powers by the Immigration's frontline staff while granting exceptions to enter borders had once again exposed the reality that the earlier problem around Indian marriages and partnership visas was never fixed in the first place.

This is indeed against the government's stated intentions where it has sought to generate some goodwill by claiming to allow families reunite while it deals with managing the borders in the light of new Covid-reality.

Explaining the probable cause of such rejections for travel exception requests, noted immigration lawyer Alastair McClymont said, “The word relationship and partnership are often used repeatedly and interchangeably in public narrative around partnership-based-visas that causes much confusion.”

“For immigration purposes, often people can be in genuine and stable relationships, yet they are not considered partners and therefore eligible for partnership-based-visas.”

“This was the main problem last year when INZ had suddenly changed their assessment of Indian marriages for partnership-based visas, requiring Ministerial intervention around cultural marriages.”

“While I have not seen many new applications from my Indian clients applying for culturally arranged marriage visas, that intervention at least reinstated the old informal system in place before July 2019 when INZ used to issue general visitor visas based on the couple’s relationship.” Mr McClymont said.

Is the Minister of Immigration misleading the public by using word “relationship-based visa”

Although Mr McClymont stopped short of suggesting that the Immigration Minister was misleading the public as he has not seen the actual announcement by the Minister himself but shared the inputs he was receiving from the Immigration officers which were granting “exceptions” to only partnership-based-visas and not “relationship-based visas, those General Visitors Visas which are often granted to applicants offshore when the sponsor is in New Zealand.”

In any case the number of Indian nationals who were earlier granted general visitor visa - based on their relationship with a NZ citizen or resident - and hence were under assumption that they were having a “partnership-based-visa” and hence eligible for exceptions - but have not been actually granted such an exception by INZ is increasing.

Unless clarified and acted upon expeditiously, a large number of affected people - largely Indian partners of NZ citizens and residents will continue to fall under “no-man’s land” and hence being subjected to discrimination.