Ardern backs down over ‘racist’ partnership visa change

An immigration lawyer is toasting Shane Jones in a bar, crediting the backlash to his comments with a Government back-down over a controversial immigration change.

Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern has overruled the feelings of her New Zealand First coalition partners by declaring a “racist” partnership visa change will be scrapped.

“Immigration New Zealand carte blanche off their own back made changes, our expectation is that we return to the way that we were operating prior to the changes that they made.”

“We’re just sitting here in the pub toasting Shane Jones, I wish we could buy him a drink."

She made the declaration while metres away a known supporter of the change - Cabinet minister and NZ First MP Shane Jones - asserted that his thousand-year lineage in New Zealand justified him airing his views on those who protested the immigration change. Jones believes Immigration was correct to stop allowing cultural exemptions to requirements around couples living together in an established relationship before applying for a partnership visa.

“They insisted they want the dowry marriage brought to New Zealand on their terms; I’m just never going to agree with that. Never ever.”

Immigration lawyer Alastair McClymont said he would be writing on behalf of every one of his clients tomorrow demanding INZ reconsider their partnership applications. 

“We’re just sitting here in the pub toasting Shane Jones, I wish we could buy him a drink.”

“He’s done us an enormous favour in highlighting the immense racism behind the immigration New Zealand decision.”

Comments from Jones on the policy change caused further controversy after he said members of the Indian community unhappy with it were free to “catch the next flight home”. 

Shane Jones caused controversy when he waded into the Immigration partnership debate. Photo: Lynn Grieveson

Migrant Workers Association spokeswoman Anu Kaloti said Ardern’s announcement was “a positive step” but delays and issues remained with many other categories of visa.

Ardern said INZ was responsible for the change, apparently contradicting Deputy PM Winston Peters who claimed he had caused the policy shift.

The Prime Minister said she thought Peters had been referring to a different immigration issue when he said this in an interview with Radio New Zealand.

The change

It all started with a “Visa Pak” sent out by INZ to its officials in May. 

Visa Paks are used to help officials interpret immigration instructions. 

The Pak said previous interpretation advice in 2015 - which told them they should look at granting general visitors visas if people in certain types of cultural marriages couldn’t meet the “living together” requirement of a partnership visa - should be discarded. 

“I wonder do we give up our jobs, our lives, desert our parents in New Zealand, face financial ruin? Is this what Immigration NZ wants?”

One of their targets was clearly India, where couples typically do not live together before they get married and where there is a tradition of arranged marriage.

The issuing of general visitors visas allowed couples in arranged marriages to live together in New Zealand and prove that their relationship was stable and genuine.

McClymont termed the change “completely Eurocentric” and “racist, at its core” because it effectively favoured European relationships over those commonly found in Asia.

As the change filtered down through the system newly-married migrants and New Zealanders with partners overseas started seeing their applications declined.

One of them was Ehsanul (Sunny) Bashar who has lived in New Zealand for 24 years and is a New Zealand citizen. 

His wife, who he married in 2016, had her visa application declined six times.

“I wonder do we give up our jobs, our lives, desert our parents in New Zealand, face financial ruin? Is this what Immigration NZ wants?”

“A tad combustible”

Speaking to media on Wednesday Jones said he was “a tad combustible” but said his comments had been “catastrophised”.

“Just because we’ve signed up to the coalition agreement, doesn’t stop me as a retail politician belonging to a nine-person caucus continuing to evolve our thinking in relation to immigration.”

His comments appeared to resonate with a large chunk of New Zealand First’s base. 

The party put a Facebook poll up asking people if they agreed with the comments and 1400-voters into the piece it had attracted slightly more “yes” votes than “no”. 

But that vote slowly slid the other way as the afternoon progressed and more voters piled in.

A change that is not a change

Minister of Immigration Iain Lees-Galloway said the situation would return to the equivalent of what things were like before but not to the old policy itself.

“I don't think we can go back to a situation where Immigration New Zealand feel they're operating outside of immigration instructions. But within instructions I think we can find a solution that gets the right outcome that goes back to the outcome people had before.”

Immigration Minister Iain Lees-Galloway is not revealing details on how the "status quo" will be achieved. Photo: Lynn Grieveson.

But McClymont said “status quo” to him meant a return to that policy unless there was a change to the immigration instructions themselves. 

“Immigration instructions are going to have to change because these are very old immigration instructions that are very out of date now.”

The Minister previously told Newsroom he didn’t want to change those instructions because it would involve a cabinet vote

Lees-Galloway said the status quo meant a mechanism within existing immigration instructions where people in culturally arranged marriages would have the opportunity to come to New Zealand to demonstrate the genuineness of their marriage. 

“[Immigration New Zealand] made their own operational decision, it has had a consequence that the Government is not happy with and we are sorting it out.”

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