Week in Review

Avoiding Cabinet over ‘racist’ partnership visa issue

An outcry over a ‘racist’ partnership visa change is set to escalate into an anti-racism protest in central Auckland on Sunday.

Iain Lees-Galloway is pushing for a way around a cabinet vote on the issue of partnership visas as an anti-racism protest looms. 

The enforcement change, reported by Newsroom earlier this month, has hit Indian migrants and New Zealand citizens of Indian descent hard.

Their marriages to partners in India - culturally often arranged through friends and family - are difficult to prove as “genuine” under the rules, which place weight on couples having lived together for a long period of time before they’re married.

But the changes, and accompanying comments by MPs, have been labelled “racist” and provoked outrage within the Indian community. 

That anger is set to crystallise in an anti-racism protest in Auckland’s Aotea Square on Sunday afternoon that Lees-Galloway hasn’t ruled out attending himself.

“I’m considering it.” 

A way around

Lees-Galloway said he had asked immigration officers to find a way to accommodate arranged marriages within existing immigration policy.

“Any cabinet decisions will involve all the parties of government.”

He said the policy could also be changed by altering immigration instructions but such a change would involve a cabinet vote that would take a long time to push through. 

“Any cabinet decisions will involve all the parties of government.”

NZ First MP Shane Jones - who holds several cabinet portfolios including forestry, infrastructure, and economic development - told Radio New Zealand members of the Indian community who weren’t fans of the policy could “catch the next flight home”. 

Changing immigration instructions around partnership visas would take a long time, Iain Lees-Galloyway says. Photo: Lynn Grieveson

The comments were criticised as “racist and discriminatory” by Indian Workers Association spokesman Mandeep Bela on Friday.

Lees-Galloway said his main reason for wanting to avoid the cabinet process was a lot of people would be left in limbo while the changes were debated and made. 

National Party spokesman on Immigration Stuart Smith said he didn’t think new cabinet-approved immigration instructions were needed, just a “common-sense” interpretation of the current rules. 

The change

An about-turn in the way Immigration New Zealand officers treat partnership visas is largely responsible for the growing controversy, and has been termed a “reverse moral judgment” by the National Party spokesperson for Immigration, Stuart Smith.

People who marry overseas partners via arranged marriages don’t live with the partners before they get married. 

This makes newly-married partners ineligible for partnership visas under INZ rules.

“If we went back 50 years or some time in the past the moral judgment would have been going the other way.”

Four years ago Immigration New Zealand issued a “Visa Pak” - guidelines around how immigration officers should interpret the rules to better accommodate these marriages:

“If a couple appear to be genuine and credible but cannot demonstrate they meet the living together requirements, officers should consider whether or not to exercise their discretion to issue a general visitor visa for the purpose of a family visit.”

That General Visitor Visa (GVV) would allow newly-married couples to live together for a number of years and prove their relationship was genuine.

“People that are citizens of New Zealand, some who have spent most of their life in New Zealand, are impacted by this.”

But earlier this year, in May, INZ changed these guidelines:

“A GVV should not be the automatic default position when an applicant cannot demonstrate part of partnership instructions are met, as this risks appearing to create a de facto policy.”

An anti-racism protest will take place at Aotea Square (pictured) on Sunday around issues affecting migrants. Photo: Lynn Grieveson

Smith said the change of approach was “euro-centric” and wouldn’t improve the health or well-being of New Zealand.

“If we went back 50 years or some time in the past the moral judgment would have been going the other way.

“To try and impose a euro-centric view of marriage on the Indian community is, I think, culturally insensitive.”

Smith said the change had an impact on New Zealand citizens as well as more recent migrants.

He gave the example of one Indian New Zealander, who had lived in the country for 17 years, who had been unable to get a visa for his wife - his marriage to her had been arranged. 

“It just doesn’t make sense,” Smith said.

“People that are citizens of New Zealand, some who have spent most of their life in New Zealand, are impacted by this.”

Lees-Galloway said he did not ask for the shift and wasn’t aware of other ministers asking for it either - but Winston Peters has claimed responsibility for it to Radio New Zealand.

The explanation Lees-Galloway had received from officers was that so many people were coming through it that the whole thing had moved beyond a re-interpretation of immigration instructions to a new immigration policy. 

Growing anger

The issue has unfolded in front of a backdrop of growing anger within the Indian community at the change, the comments of ministers around it, and other changes to immigration policy.

A protest in Aotea Square on Saturday afternoon is set to air some of those grievances.  

“We haven’t seen a huge condemnation of all this by the Labour Party, by the Greens, or even by the National Party, so people are really really angered and outraged.”

Protesters have issued six demands: a public apology from Shane Jones, work on minimising visa processing delays including on partnership visas, the greater regulation of offshore education agents, the detachment of work visas from employers, a “one-off” residency pathway for workers who have been in NZ for five years, and the removal of income requirements around the sponsoring of parents.

Anu Kaloti, an organiser of the protest at Aotea Square, said the protest was not just about partnership visa issues but a number of issues that affected migrants of all ethnicities.

But Kaloti acknowledged there had been a feeling within the community in the last 18 months that Indians had been increasingly targeted by INZ as the coalition Government moved to meet a promise to keep migrant numbers down. 

“We haven’t seen a huge condemnation of all this by the Labour Party, by the Greens, or even by the National Party, so people are really really angered and outraged.”

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