Those on partnership visas feel that it is unfair to leave them out of the recently announced One-off Resident Visa when many of them are working in skilled roles, earning at least or more than $27 an hour or working in a role on the Scarce List. These visa holders have made an immense contribution during Covid-19 and faced the same challenges and anxiety as others who have been considered eligible so why have they been left out? finds out.

In the third part of this Indian Weekender series on the One-off visa, Navdeep Kaur Marwah listens to the stories of those who are currently on a partnership visa, which is the reason for their ineligibility despite meeting the other criteria including spending years in NZ and contributing usefully to the economy. Interestingly, many of them have even held essential visas but just went on partner visas and are regretting that now.

September 30, the day Immigration Minister Kris Faafoi announced the One-off 2021 Resident Visa, brought immense joy to 165,000 migrants who are all set to benefit from it. But it has brought stress, anguish, frustration and sadness to hundreds of migrants who have been ineligible for the visa just because of the visa category they are holding. Those holding partnership based visas are not on the eligible visa list to apply for this pathway.

Ten years in NZ and no pathway in sight

One such story is that of Variam Singh, the 32-year-old who has been in the country for more than a decade but is still ineligible as he is holding a partnership visa. Sharing his story, he says, “I have been staying in NZ since February 2011. I have worked as a retail manager with Countdown as well as a Cafe Manager in the past. I was on an essential skill work visa until I got a visitor visa on a partner based one on 1 September 2021, just weeks before the announcement.

“My wife Tarandeep, is currently on a study visa. She is in New Zealand for 3.5 years and had worked in the Countdown online shopping department for 2.5 years. Following the same, as per immigration’s demand, she took the study of healthcare level 7 and started a part-time job in healthcare. Unfortunately, we both are ineligible for this new visa. We are feeling helpless as its 10.5 years of mine and 3.5 years on my wife in NZ seem totally wasted.”

Sharing the same sentiment is Sameer (name changed on request), who arrived in arrived in NZ in November 2018 along with his wife and son and currently hold a partnership-based work visa. After reaching NZ, he was fortunate that he managed to find skilled employment paying the median wage, for which he did a part-time study to gain occupational registration.

He says, “Once I achieved skilled employment I lodged my Expression of Interest (EOI) for the Skilled Migrant Category (SMC) with more than the minimum points requirement of 160 in August 2020 which we all know has been frozen since March 2020. Like others, we waited for the announcement for the new one-off resident visa with bated breath. When we read the starting paragraph, which stated that the new visa is designed to focus on people whose primary purpose for being in New Zealand is to work and recognise the immense contribution made to the country during COVID and all the uncertainty faced.

“We thought – yes, finally the government has recognised our contribution and efforts. My wife worked as an essential worker right throughout the lockdown and felt that she will be valued. When we continued reading further we were shocked and anguished by the fact that the partner-based work visas were not part of the eligible visas. My partner holds a post-study open work visa, however, sadly does not meet one of the three requirements. This was the most terrible and gut-wrenching experience and to this day we cannot help but feel anxious and depressed”

Sameer rues the fact that despite contributing to the economy and the country right through the Covid 19 pandemic and even now, the government has not considered those on partnership visas to be eligible for this new visa.

“I meet one of the requirements, however, my work visa has been left out. I fail to understand the rationale behind not including this crucial group of work visa holders. The announcement mentioned that short term visas like a visitor, students etc were being left out of the eligibility, but the partner-based open work visa is not a short-term visa. It is long term work visa where the primary purpose of the visa is to work full-time. Partners of post-study work visa holders and partners of essential skill work visa holders are granted visas for up to three years so why has this not been included when it is the same length as mid-skilled essential skills visas and longer than the work to residence visa (which is valid for 30 months)?

“They should also be given a fair chance to meet one of the three requirements listed for other visa holders and this is all we are requesting the government for. Not giving us this chance is unfair and shows a lack of equality. Also, under the new streamlined essential skills work visa policy, had we known that the new residence visa would exclude us, we could have easily switched to essential skills work visa without any documentation or evidence of recruitment if we are continuing their employment.

According to the government, this new visa is a pathway for those migrants who have a longer connection to NZ and have contributed during Covid 19 and work in skilled roles. “I meet all these requirements, however, have still been left out! Many people who hold partner-based work visas have worked hard towards meeting the SMC requirements, working in skilled employments, and got to at least 160 points and submitted an EOI,” questions Sameer.

“There was never a criterion that partner based open work visa holders cannot apply for residence so why have they been left out of the new resident visa. People in this situation feel cheated and betrayed. It seems that the government has penalised us for doing the right things and working within the ambit of immigration instructions. Ideally, priority should have been given to those who have lodged their residence application and EOI before considering others who did not even lodge an EOI because they were not eligible. The new policy announced is not in line with the principles of fairness and natural justice which INZ is supposed to adhere to,” says Sameer.

‘The announcement has shattered us’

Prachi Vats (name changed on request) also fails to understand why the government has excluded those on partnership visas to be eligible for this one-off residence and how it can be so harsh.

She says, “The announcement seems to have gaps which leave some of us wondering what rationale was used. My reason for moving with my husband was to give our son a better future. Despite not being in NZ before September 2018 (one of the requirements for the one-off resident visa) we work hard and meet immigration requirements and submit an EOI under the Skilled Migrant category in October 2020 with me as the principal applicant. However, all that hard work is null and void as I currently hold a partner of a worker visa. My husband is currently on the eligible visa but unfortunately not meeting the requirements to be eligible for the new visa.”

She adds, “We did submit an EOI and even though we knew EOI selections were suspended it felt that submitting this EOI was bringing us closer to our goal of residence. Now it was only a matter of time before selections would start, or so we believed. The announcement made finally in September completely shattered us.”

It is worth a mention here that that the announcement related to this new one-off resident visa on the Immigration New Zealand website states that it will be available to those who have already submitted a resident visa applications under the Skilled Migrant Category (SMC) and Residence from Work (RfW) category and those who have submitted an SMC Expression of Interest, as well as many other work visa holders who may not have been eligible through the current skilled residence pathways. But there is more to read between the lines.

As Prachi points out, “The information on the website states – From 1 March 2022 all other eligible applicants can apply, including all others who have submitted a Skilled Migrant Category Expression of Interest. These sentences seem to imply that people who have an SMC application, residence from work to residence and EOIs submitted will be eligible, along with people who hold work visas who were unable to be eligible through the current skilled residence pathways.”

But there is a catch and Prachi explains, “However, apparently as usual the information written is not as it reads. The requirement is that people who have an EOI in the pool must have a principal applicant on an ‘eligible visa’ to be considered eligible for this resident visa. The ‘eligible visa list’ includes several work visas but excludes partners of workers, amongst others. I am struggling to understand why this category of visas has been neglected... The lack of transparency and rationale in the decision making is disappointing and we are hoping for some relief from the situation we find ourselves in.”

Despite hundreds of people on partnership visas been at a disadvantage because of the new announcement, during a recent webinar, Immigration NZ has made it clear that people should not expect that there will be further additions to the eligibility criteria.

Immigration experts too feel that it is unfortunate for those who have been left out but they should not feel dejected.

"Announcing 2021 One-Off Resident Visa was a giant leap providing certainty to hard-working migrants and their families. This announcement comes with solace for the employers, relieving workforce pressures, especially for small and medium scale employers. This announcement uses the term ‘Eligible Visa’ which covers most of the work visas acquired by the applicants based on their skills or eligibility upon completing certain studies in NZ.

“Despite 165,000 migrants being eligible, there are still several skilled people who unfortunately could not qualify for this visa. These people should not be dejected because NZ still needs skills and skilled people and you may still be eligible to apply for a Residence under the Skilled Migrant Category," says Ramandeep Kaur of Vaint Immigration.