By Gill Bonnett of RNZ
Immigration New Zealand (INZ) has confirmed that people who applied for visitor visas to be reunited with their partners have had their applications cancelled.
The Government decided to cancel and refund up to 50,000 applications for visitor, student and work visas. But among those shelved temporary visas are many people waiting to join their New Zealand partners.
Some couples, especially those in arranged marriages, cannot meet the criteria to have lived together which would enable them to have instead applied for a partnership visa.
Immigration lawyer Alastair McClymont said it was "likely to be hundreds if not thousands of people affected".
"It's an exact repeat of what happened in November 2019 when the Government, basically with one stroke of the minister's pen, eliminated a whole bunch of culturally arranged marriages from the Indian subcontinent. Despite the claims that they were not going to allow it to happen and they'd fix the problem, they've just done exactly the same thing again."
The move follows a series of changes to how INZ dealt with couples who had not lived together before marriage, and where the partner applied to live with their spouse in New Zealand.
A directive to stop waiving the "living together" requirement led to a political storm in 2019.
Political outbursts during the Labour/NZ First coalition led to a compromise.
McClymont said although the Government hailed it as a success, pointing to a new culturally arranged visa process, it effectively returned to the status quo of applying for visitor visas so applicants could live with their partner long enough to prove their relationship was genuine.
Some of those whose visas were mistakenly rejected during that period were having their cases reviewed as Covid-19 started to spread.
INZ has not been processing offshore visitor applications since the start of the pandemic unless applicants have been given a border exception.
"That's an anomaly in the immigration rules which sort of acts against people from very traditional-type marriage scenarios," McClymont said.
"Then those people on general visitor visas were unable to enter the country once we had the Covid lockdown, yet the people who were actually living together in a partnership were able to enter the country."
McClymont said couples in arranged marriages were being asked to provide evidential proof like tenancy agreements and joint utility bills - which they did not have - despite INZ already acknowledging their relationships were genuine, stable and long-lasting.
An INZ spokesperson confirmed that people applying for visitor visas in those circumstances would have their applications lapsed and receive a refund.
"This does not disadvantage the applicants as their visa applications are currently unable to be approved due to the border closure, and they will be able to reapply with updated information once the border reopens," he said.
INZ yesterday also said it was reviewing its approach to refund requests from other visa groups, including some residence applicants.