With new government firmly in place, minus the “handbrake” that was blamed for most of the immigration mess created under the first term Labour government, it is time to show ‘compassion’ for partners separated by border closure.

It has been more than seven months since NZ borders were closed in March this year to all non-citizens and residents and a minuscule segment of travellers with a critical purpose to visit NZ, causing mayhem in lives of tens of thousands of people who were ordinarily resident in the country.

Rini Mohandas was granted a visa to join her NZ based husband on March 13 this year just a few days before borders were closed and she was not allowed to enter the country.

Rini Mohandas with her husband at the marriage ceremony 

Since then her visa has expired, and the couple has no idea when and how soon they can join together and re-start their lives in NZ.

“We are only requesting the government to show kindness and compassion and allow us to join with our spouses. We are happy to bear our quarantine cost,” Rini told the Indian Weekender.

Rini married her childhood beau - who had first arrived in New Zealand in 2017 on a student visa and then progressing on different work visas – in November 2019.

“I was working in Dubai when my beau went to NZ to study and work and pursue a dream of Kiwi life in 2017.”

“After a serious discussion with everyone in our families I had decided to resign from my job in Dubai and return to India to get married and start a new life together with my husband in NZ,” Rini said.

“Now it is heart-breaking that we have to experience separation across borders plus no certainty of the future,” Rini said.

The story of Rini Mohandas, who was granted a General visitor visa based on her relationship with NZ based partner just before border closure is not alone.

Krishna (name changed) is a permanent resident who had first applied for a partnership visa for her newly married husband in February 2019, which was initially declined.

However, when applied again, her husband was granted a General Visitor Visa based on the relationship in February 2020 but could not enter NZ before borders were closed.

Now the couple has no clarity on the government’s, or INZ’s accurate position on allowing such couples entry in NZ to join with their partners.

“We have applied for Exception to travel to NZ multiple times which have been declined.”

“When we call INZ pointing to Prime Minister’s previous announcement of allowing partners to join their NZ based partners the staff does not have any clarity and just respond saying that they are not processing general visitor visa based on relationship,” Krishna said.

According to some estimates, there is a small cohort of around 100-150 such partners who were granted a General visitor visa based on their relationship with NZ based partners whose visa have expired after seven months of border closure and are clueless about their future.

There are at least a few thousands more partnership visa applications languishing within the immigration system as uncertainty prevails around what kind of applications are actually being processed.

Earlier this year Immigration NZ responded to a query by the Indian Weekender on the number of pending partnership visa applications, "INZ can confirm that as at 14 August, there were 2,258 offshore temporary relationship-based visa applications on hand and 2,238 offshore residence relationship-based visa applications on hand." 

Partnership-visa mess was created in the first term Labour government

Partnership visa-related problem was one of the biggest immigration-mess created in the first-term Labour government much before Covid-inflicted border closure exacerbated the scale and extent of the problem, forcing thousands of families to live in perpetual separation.

Undoubtedly, Immigration New Zealand and the government has the cover of the current border closure that came into place in March this year to keep the Covid out of the community as an excuse for perceived inaction on partnership visa processing. 

However, the responsibility of keeping the partners and families, separated and creating an ignominious two-tier system - where partners of temporary visa holders (work visas and student visas) were treated differently and unfavourably, - in comparison to partners of residents and citizens clearly rests with the first term Labour government.

Despite, government’s self-avowed focus on getting the partnership visa issues of NZ citizens and residents fixed and prioritised over partners of temporary visa holders who are ordinarily resident in NZ, the issue remains far from addressed and resolved.

Thousands of partners and families remain separated because of a lack of clarity in immigration policy and inconsistency in INZ’s visa processing, which is further complicated by Covid-inflicted border closure.

While the Kiwi-Indian community has a big share of representation in this cohort, but it also includes a large number of partners from the broader South Asian region and other nations that can be loosely categorised under “non-visa-waiver countries.”

Now with PM Jacinda Ardern’s new government firmly in place with a record mandate, along with an ethnic migrant (Priyanca Radhakrishnan) as the new Minister for Ethnic Communities, it is time that the government act decisively and compassionately to end the long and treacherous forced separation of partners.

Timeline of govt’s announcements for partners to enter the country after the border closure

  • March 19 – PM announces border closure for everyone except citizens and residents. PM assures that partners and families of NZ citizens and residents will be allowed in the country as long as they are travelling along with them.
  • June 12 – Former Immigration Minister Iain Lees-Galloway removes the requirement for NZ citizens and residents to travel along with their overseas-based partners and families, forgetting their entry into the country.
  • September 9 – Immigration Minister Kris Faafoi to make an announcement allowing Australian citizens and citizens of 61 visa-waiver countries intending to live together with their NZ based partners to be eligible for travel-exception to enter the country
  • September 14 – Immigration Minister Kris Faafoi announces on a live video interview with the Indian Weekender to extend the travel-exception to partners of “non-visa-waiver” countries to enter the country and join their partners.
  • September 15 – INZ issues an internal circular to immigration advisers and lawyers advising on how they intend to process different types of relationship and partnership-based visas. It clarifies that how their offices will be processing and deciding offshore applications for some relationship-based visas, but will not be processing General Visitor Visa based on relationship.