Week in Review

Why the partnership visa fix is no fix at all

Arranged marriages where partners had the freedom to say no may not benefit from a partnership visa fix announced yesterday. Dileepa Fonseka explains why this divisive issue within the coalition is not going away heading into an election year.

New Zealand citizen Raman Singh and his wife first met at a restaurant in India. 

They peppered each other with questions over a couple of days - his mother had a few issues with his choice - before they both decided to go ahead with a “big fat Indian wedding” in January.

Seven months later he and his family cut a cake to celebrate his wife’s birthday, but she wasn’t there.

Immigration New Zealand (INZ) wouldn’t allow her in the country. 

His wife couldn’t qualify for a partnership visa because the pair have only lived together for 96 days.

And after a change in the way INZ operates - announced in May - she couldn’t get a visitor visa because her husband lives in New Zealand and there’s no guarantee she’d go back after her “visit”. 

Jacinda Ardern announced a return to the "status quo" on partnership visas last week. Photo: Lynn Grieveson

The legal hole they’ve fallen through has been the source of much hand-wringing and anger in and out of Parliament over the past few weeks.

It led to a pledge by Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern that the situation would return to the “status quo”, and an announcement on Wednesday of a visa change by Immigration Minister Iain Lees-Galloway. 

But immigration lawyers say the change announced by Lees-Galloway has not been thought through and will do nothing for people like Singh.

The catch

The ‘culturally arranged marriage’ visa category announced on Wednesday is not new and is rarely used according to Immigration law experts.

Immigration lawyer Alastair McClymont said marriages that were given 3-month visas under it were much more like the “forced marriages” NZ First MP Shane Jones decried. 

The only applications he’d seen succeed were where the selection of a wife or husband was “completely in the hands of third parties”. 

Applicants from countries that practised more modern forms of arranged marriages - where a married couple had input into a decision to marry - had failed. 

"...it’s just getting worse and worse.”

On this assessment he’s backed up by another Immigration lawyer, and former Immigration Minister, Tuariki Delamere.

But Delamere believes the people worst off from INZ’s change of policy in May aren’t those in arranged marriages but people who practice a less arranged form of marriage and travel abroad, fall in love then decide to marry someone overseas but afterwards realise they can’t bring their partner back.

Those kinds of partnership cases are the ones dominating his client books.

“I’ve got dozens...it’s just getting worse and worse.”

Strict interpretation

Nayan Nayyarr said 99 percent of marriages in India were not the kind of culturally arranged marriages that would be covered by the change. 

“What they have done is: just to shut the media down and shut the noise, they’ve made an announcement in a hurry without checking the facts.”

It includes his own situation, he dated an Indian citizen in New Zealand for 6-7 months while they were both living in Christchurch - the couple were connected by family members but the couple had a choice in whether they went ahead with the wedding and never lived together before they got married.

“What they have done is: just to shut the media down and shut the noise, they’ve made an announcement in a hurry without checking the facts.”

“[The] Prime Minister says something, Deputy Prime Minister says something else, the Immigration Minister has lost all control - he doesn’t know what the hell is happening.”

Lawyers who believe the Government’s change won’t help people like Nayyarr point to the small number of people who have been granted visas under the existing category. 

But Lees-Galloway said that number was only small because it applied to couples who got married in New Zealand and didn’t include arranged marriages that took place in other countries. 

“What I’ve been advised is that there were probably about 1,200 people who were declined because they were trying to get a visa on the basis of their culturally arranged marriage and that it’s likely to apply to those people, plus there’s another 1300 people who it may or may not apply.”

He said immigration instructions defined a culturally arranged marriage as one “facilitated” by someone other than the bride and groom.

“It’s important that they [the couples] follow recognised cultural practices and it’s important that Immigration New Zealand remain well connected to the community so that they understand that they understand what the reality of those cultural practices is.”

Singh is not sure where that leaves him but if that category doesn’t include his own marriage he’ll go ahead with a trip to India he’s booked for December.

“It seems like we’ve been let down again.”

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