Immigration New Zealand does not have figures on the numbers of "General Visitor Visa based on relationship" - a type of visa that most of the Indian-New Zealanders rely upon for getting their newly married spouses to join them in the country.
"We are unable to provide the number of applications under General Visitor Visa on the basis of Relationship as we are not easily able to identify visitor visa applications with a relationship component," an official spokesperson of INZ told the Indian Weekender.
The INZ was responding to the Indian Weekender's request for the number of such visas issued from its Mumbai office (or onshore partnership hub office at hamilton) to understand the scope of the problem facing many Kiwi-Indian couples who have been locked out of the borders as they do not qualify for the exception announced by the Minister for Immigration earlier this month.
Earlier this month the Immigration Minister Kris Faafoi had announced in an exclusive interview with the Indian Weekender on September 14 that INZ would now allow partners of Kiwi citizens and residents from non-visa waiver countries to get an exception to enter NZ borders, which are otherwise closed.
Currently, New Zealand borders are closed except for citizens and residents and a very small category of visa holders that the government is approving at a snail's speed, which includes critically skilled workers, those on partnership-based visas, and on humanitarian grounds.
The announcement had generated much hope and anticipation, which was quickly subdued as an internal letter issued by Immigration NZ to lawyers and licensed immigration advisers categorically stated that those on "general visitor visa based on relationship" will not be granted such exception.
Following reporting of such letter that has been the source of major anxiety within Kiwi-Indian citizens and residents to bring their spouse back into the country, the Indian Weekender had sought more information around the exact number of such visa-holders, who, if currently overseas, will fail to get relief and join their partners.
Surinder Kumar - an NZ permanent resident - who married Divya Shree last year October, after having a long-distance relationship for years and first applied for the newly announced "Culturally Arranged Marriage visa category", and subsequently issued a "general visitor visa based on relationship.
By the time his wife had received that visa, New Zealand borders were closed and her request for exceptions to enter NZ had been twice declined.
Since then Surinder had also travelled back to India to accompany his wife while travelling to NZ - a condition required by the government's earlier announcement that only those partners who were accompanied by Kiwi citizens and residents would be given an exception to enter the country.
However, unfortunately, Divya's subsequent request for an exception to enter NZ was again declined despite being accompanied by her NZ based partner - something that the poor couple are struggling to comprehend.
What is the difference between partnership visa & GVV based on relationship visa?
Under immigration policy, there is a very strict (and probably antiquated) definition of partnership that requires couples to "live together" before INZ could consider them as a couple and issue a partnership-visa.
The partnerships formed on the basis of traditional Indian marriages, where couples are not required to live together before the actual marriage, have always struggled to meet the strict definition of partnership visa for immigration purposes.
Immigration NZ's frontline case officers have devised a practical solution to this antiquated partnership visa policy where they after establishing the genuineness of relationship between the couple used to issue them a "General Visitor Visa based on relationship" as an exception to the policy and allow couples to join and start their lives in NZ.
This practice was arbitrarily stopped in May 2019 by the Immigration NZ's Mumbai office, in order to get rid of burgeoning processing queues, which resulted in mass rejections of visas, resulting in media scrutiny and intervention by the government.
Since then, however, the issue has not been fixed completely, and a gap between Wellington-based head offices of INZ and the frontline visa processing officers have remained, and the process has quietly reverted to the pre-May 2019 system, where GVV based on relationship visas were issued.
Border closure have disadvantaged "General visitor visa based on relationship"
Unfortunately, these "GVV based on relationships" are not treated as par or equal to partnership visas, despite having been issued to couples, and are not allowed to enter NZ, even when travelling with their NZ based partners (citizens and residents).
That disadvantage persists even after Immigration Minister's latest announcement on September 14 in an interview with the Indian Weekender allowing partners of NZ citizens & residents from non-visa waiver countries to be eligible for an exception to enter the country.
To be fair to Immigration NZ, it is indeed not possible to find numbers of general visitor visas issued on the basis of relationships, as many industry stakeholders concur, purely because INZ is not collecting data in that way.
"General visitor visas are visitor visas, regardless of the basis on which they are issued by INZ. So its completely understandable why INZ could not produce accurate figures on GVV based on relationship," a prominent Immigration Lawyer told the Indian Weekender.
However, that does not takes away the gross discrimination meted out to partners of Indian-New Zealanders who are currently punished by the immigration system purely for following their own cultural practices when marrying with their partners, and being denied the same border exceptions that are available to people of other ethnicities.