Immigration NZ partnership visa policy labelled ‘racist’ [spouses]

Main issue in Canada appears to overall delays although Canada also faces challenge in determining whether a relationship is “genuine and stable” or just for immigration purposes:

Indian migrants are angry at a sudden, and unexpected, change to the interpretation of immigration rules, which is barring their spouses from moving to New Zealand.

Newsroom has reported extensively on the delays in the processing of partnership category visas. Now, New Zealand residents and citizens, mostly from India and other South Asian countries, are having their visas processed.

But dozens, if not hundreds, of these partnership visa applications are being declined, as they don’t meet Immigration New Zealand’s (INZ) new interpretation of the partnership test.

These changes come under a Government that’s now making significant changes in immigration policy, after two years of continued strong migration and residency application that outstripped lowered targets.

But those in the Indian community are angry with the changes, with some being forced to sell up, pack up, quit their jobs and move back to India.

Others talk about hopelessness, financial and mental health issues, as well as stress put on new marriages and relationships.

And one immigration lawyer has labelled the sudden and unexpected change racist.

Change to pragmatic policy

Since 2009, following a ruling from the ombudsman, INZ has taken a somewhat pragmatic approach to granting partnership visas to those from India, who commonly engage in non-resident Indian (NRI) marriages.

These marriages are not the same as a traditional arranged marriage, but usually come about through a conversation between parents, extended families, and the parties looking to marry.

It isn’t uncommon for the pair to meet for the first time upon their engagement.

Those familiar with Indian culture, who spoke to Newsroom, said this was common practice, and did not reflect negatively on whether the relationship was genuine, or whether it would last.

However, it did create a difficulty for immigration officers applying the test to determine whether the partnership was “genuine and stable”.

Immigration instructions for partnership applications not only require INZ to determine whether the couple is genuine, and the relationship stable, but that the couple is “living together” in the same home at the time of the application.

This is often impossible for the sponsor partner who is working or studying in New Zealand.

While the New Zealand-based partner will often visit India for a few weeks or months at the time of the marriage and for brief holidays, it is often not possible to live with their new spouse long-term.

In the past, if INZ was not satisfied the couple had enough evidence to meet the relationship test, they would often grant a temporary visitor visa, which allowed the pair to live together in New Zealand, with the view to later apply for a partnership visa.

However, in the past fortnight, those applying for visas, and others working in the sector, say this workaround has been effectively removed as an option.

A stricter interpretation of immigration instructions is stopping those partners from gaining a temporary visitor visa, because they did not meet those specific tests, including having a strong enough incentive to return to their own country and prove their primary reason for travel was as a visitor.

While INZ said general short-term visitor visas would still be looked at on a case-by-case basis, those impacted say the approach from INZ has changed.

They say this more hardline interpretation of the instructions has left many from India, and other countries, with no path to joining their spouse.

While it’s hard to draw a trend from such a recent change in policy interpretation, the percentage of all approved applications for patrons of New Zealand residents or citizens was slightly down last month to 88.7 percent (from an average of 89.8 percent over the previous eight months). For applications where the applicant held an Indian passport, that approval percentage was at 77.4 percent last month (from an average of 91.2 percent over the previous eight months).

Policy ‘racist’, ‘Eurocentric’

Immigration lawyer Alastair McClymont said INZ was no longer looking for a pragmatic solution, and was instead strictly applying the policy.

He had written to senior managers at INZ and Immigration Minister Iain Lees-Galloway, but unless INZ changed its interpretation of how to apply its partnership tests, things weren’t looking good for applicants and their partners.

“I don’t know what to advise my clients either, I don’t know what they can do, apart from quitting their jobs, leaving their homes, selling up and going and living in India with their partner,” he said.

“This is why I’ve said that it is racist, at its core – it’s determining what kind of relationship someone can have. And it’s a European relationship, not an Indian relationship.”

“It’s really almost like saying: there is only one kind of partnership we recognise and that is a European, Kiwi-type marriage, and if you don’t enter into a relationship of that type, you can’t bring your partner to this country.”

The immigration instructions were “completely Eurocentric”, he said, adding that it sent a message that unless someone was married “the white, Kiwi way” they wouldn’t be able to get a visa.

“This is why I’ve said that it is racist, at its core – it’s determining what kind of relationship someone can have. And it’s a European relationship, not an Indian relationship.”

Since the change in policy a couple of weeks ago, McClymont’s practice has dealt with more than two dozen clients affected.

McClymont said while he was speculating, it was convenient the changes came at a time when INZ was under pressure to clear the massive backlog of partnership visa applications.

Last month, Newsroom reported New Zealand residents and their partners were suffering mental health issues, with some returning to India due to lengthy delays in visa processing.

High application volumes, coupled with the closure of offshore processing offices, had led to a massive backlog in the processing of partnership visa applications, particularly those coming from India.

In response, INZ has recruited more staff to its Mumbai and Hamilton offices, with 28 officers processing applications in Mumbai, and 140 in Hamilton working on partnership visa applications alone. INZ planned to expand to 170 in the coming months.

INZ business and specialist visa services national manager Peter Elms said INZ was working to provide certainty to applicants and their partners and was continuing with its recruitment drive.

Average visa processing times for partners of New Zealanders is currently nine months.

An angry community

While McClymont suggested the visa application backlog could be the driving force, National Party MP Kanwaljit Singh Bakshi said he believed it was an effort by the Government to curb immigration numbers.

While both New Zealand First and Labour campaigned on cutting immigration at the 2017 election, the number of people coming into New Zealand have remained high, and the number of people applying for residency was outstripping the Government’s lowered planning range.

“There is a lot of anger and people are frustrated.”

Bakshi said the Government needed to be upfront about plans to change immigration policy, and consult communities rather than making decisions from their Wellington offices.

The current approach from INZ showed a lack of sympathy, he said.

Bakshi was overseas when he got the call from his parents to tell them they had found him a good match.

The first time he met his wife was on their engagement, and they’ve been happily married for 30 years.

The latest changes to the INZ interpretation of the partnership instructions had caused worry within the Indian community, Bakshi said.

“There is a lot of anger and people are frustrated.”

INZ’s Elms said the department was mindful of cultural complexities and sensitivities when dealing with visa applicants.

“However, INZ must observe immigration policy as set by the Government.

“Immigration officers must consider all applications, regardless of the applicant’s background or country of origin, against the guidelines set out in immigration instructions,” he said.

“An immigration officer must be satisfied the applicant meets these instructions. It is also the responsibility of applicants to satisfy the immigration officer that the requirements of immigration instructions have been met.”

‘Our lives are on hold’

About a dozen people contacted Newsroom to share their experiences, many of whom had waited months to be assigned a case officer, only to have their applications declined within days.

Others had been declined multiple times.

Many of these people received the same reasoning from INZ: “We are not satisfied that you meet immigration instructions V3.10 as you have not demonstrated that you and your partner are living together in a genuine and stable relationship.”

While most who contacted Newsroom were from India, others had partners from Egypt or Thailand.

Ankur Shokeen married his wife in January and she applied for a partnership visa in February. Their case was assigned to an officer early last month, and declined three weeks later.

INZ told the pair while they had been married for 10 months, they had spent just a month together, and therefore did not meet the test.

Gagandeep and Jaspreet (who did not want their surnames used) were married last year and applied for a partnership visa in January, and after almost nine months of waiting to be assigned a case officer, their application was declined on the same day.

They WhatsApp for two hours every day, but have spent a total of five weeks together since their wedding.

Ehsanul (Sunny) Bashar married his wife in May 2016, and has had her visa application declined six times.

They have lived together for four months but that timeframe did not satisfy the requirement, and INZ said their partnership could not be categorised as “genuine and stable”.

Bashar is a New Zealand citizen, living in the country for 24 years, and said he believed this treatment was “unfair and unjust”.

“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?

“If there is a deliberate ploy to reduce numbers (of) migrants why have a policy where we can pay fees and apply for visas multiple times, to get the same negative result?

“Our lives are on hold, pained, traumatised, mentally and emotionally scarred,” he said.

Source: Immigration NZ partnership visa policy labelled ‘racist’

The dangers of ‘one of us’: The NZ Chief Human Rights Commissioner on othering

Well stated:

A recent Dominion Post column attacked British-born Chief Human Rights Commissioner Paul Hunt as not ‘one of us’. It’s a phrase we should all feel uncomfortable with, writes Hunt, wherever we come from.

Not long after I took up office as Chief Human Rights Commissioner, a newspaper columnist complained that I am not “one of us”.

This charge raises important questions.

In super-diverse Aotearoa New Zealand with its more than 200 ethnicities and 160 spoken languages, who is “us”?

And who defines “us”?

However defined, it is dangerous to view society as some people who are ‘us’ and, by implication, ‘others’ who are separate and alien.

This vision of society is inconsistent with equality, non-discrimination, respect for diversity and a multiculturalism which is grounded in Te Tiriti o Waitangi. It undermines inclusion and promotes exclusion.

‘Others’ tend to include new immigrants, residents and citizens. They are often ethnic and religious minorities. They may also include tangata whenua and Pacific peoples. There are exceptions, but these ‘others’ consistently fall behind in a range of socio-economic outcomes. Some of them are regularly subjected to discrimination and abuse. Among them, there are additional layers of disadvantage for women, disabled people and sexual minorities. The two most common areas of complaint received by the Human Rights Commission are race-related and disability discrimination. Many discriminatory incidents are unreported.

‘Othering’ me – that is, complaining that I am not “one of us” – is of no consequence because I enjoy numerous advantages, such as ethnicity and gender. But ‘othering’ disadvantaged individuals and communities is dangerous because it reinforces their vulnerability, makes them feel unsafe, and exposes them to more abuse.

Moreover, ‘othering’ can lead to demonising.

And demonising can lead to the mass murder of peaceful people at prayer.

For the record, I married a New Zealander over 30 years ago. We settled in Hamilton in 1992. Our son was born in Hamilton. I completed a degree at Waikato University and lectured at the university for eight years. Our children were schooled in Hamilton. I have been a New Zealand citizen for decades.

In 2000, the government commissioned me and three colleagues to undertake a review of New Zealand’s human rights institutions. In 1998, the National-led government nominated me to an independent UN human rights position. In 2002, the Labour-led government supported my candidacy for a similar position. Both posts were voluntary.

Lured back to Europe by an employment opportunity in 2000, I have visited New Zealand every year, for weeks or months, to write, give talks and spend time with whanau. Last year, my wife and I relocated back to New Zealand.

Does all this make me “one of us”? It should not be necessary to ask.

But if someone declares I am not “one of us” it means that, in their worldview, many thousands of New Zealand immigrants, residents and citizens are also not “one of us”.

‘Othering’ on that scale diminishes and threatens our multiculturalism.

As someone who is new to the Chief Commissioner role, I have taken as many opportunities as possible to listen. I’ve heard that poverty is a recurrent concern; it’s also a crucial human rights issue.

I want to hear from those with lived experience of poverty and widening social and economic inequalities. So, colleagues and I visited the Corstorphine Community Hub in Dunedin, Tuwharetoa Health, Education & Social Services in Kawerau, and Habitat for Humanity in Rotorua.

During the Rotorua visit, we met a widow whose children suffered from serious health issues made worse by their damp cold home. (She now owns a new home thanks to Habitat for Humanity and her own toil and investment.) In Kawerau, we met a reformed dad who is not allowed to see his children and is made to feel like a criminal when he deals with the authorities. We also learnt about a flax-roots initiative which has dramatically reduced the suicide rate in the community.

The overall impression was of proud individuals and communities, precarious and raw, living on the edge.

Our ‘listening visits’, as well as other consultations, will enrich the planning process for the Human Rights Commission’s future work. In this process, we are asking difficult questions like: how can we convey that human rights are based on shared values like fairness, decency, dignity and equality?

How can we make human rights relevant to the practical realities of everyday lives throughout New Zealand?

How do we convey to national and local officials that human rights can make a practical contribution towards the effective delivery of policies which aim to enhance wellbeing?

Consistent with the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, as well as the Convention on the Rights of the Child, the commission will not only focus on vital civil and political rights such as freedom of expression, but also on important social rights, such as the rights to a decent home and accessible education. The commission has tried this before and we need to build on those foundations. Should we also work on the right to a healthy environment?

Our overarching question is this: how do we refresh human rights for modern times?

No ‘othering’, no barriers

Across all my human rights work, I have always sought to be non-party political and non-sectarian. This might be the influence of Quakerism and its call for dialogue and peaceful reconciliation. In the 1980s, I worked for Quaker Peace and Service on its Israel/Palestine programme, and Quakerism continues to inform my thinking.

Later I worked for a London-based civil liberties organisation which had an all-party parliamentary group encompassing libertarians and social democrats.

In Belfast, long before the Good Friday Agreement, I would discuss prisoners’ rights with unionist organisations in the morning, then walk across the city, and discuss prisoners’ rights with nationalist organisations in the afternoon, to the bemusement of my Irish friends.

Perhaps this explains why I am alert to ‘othering’.

Talking about some people as being “one of us”, and implying that ‘others’ are alien, places a barrier between communities.

What is needed is support, dialogue, friendship, respect, acceptance of diversity and recognition of human rights for everyone.

The ‘other’ road is fraught with danger.

Source: The dangers of ‘one of us’: The Chief Human Rights Commissioner on othering

NZ Auditor-General won’t investigate Thiel citizenship | Otago Daily Times

While appears to be the correct decision given the broad authority granted to the minister, the bad smell will not go away:

The Auditor-General will not be conducting an inquiry into the decision to grant citizenship to San Francisco-based billionaire investor Peter Thiel, said deputy controller and Auditor-General Greg Schollum in response to a request from Green Party MP Denise Roche.

Ms Roche called on the Auditor-General to look into the decision after it came to light that in June 2011 then Minister of Internal Affairs Nathan Guy, approved Mr Thiel’s application for citizenship under the “exceptional circumstances” provisions of the Citizenship Act.

According to Mr Schollum, the provisions allow the minister to grant citizenship to someone who may not satisfy the normal criteria for citizenship, but where granting citizenship “would be in the public interest because of exceptional circumstances of a humanitarian or other nature relating to the applicant”.

He noted act gives the minister “broad discretion” and the section does not specify what these terms mean or how the minister’s discretion should be exercised. “This means the legislation allows for considerable flexibility on a case-by-case basis,” he said.

He said the issues largely come down to policy questions – for example, whether the legislation strikes the right balance for citizen decisions – or legal questions such as whether the provisions were applied correctly. “These are not questions that the Auditor-General generally has authority to answer,” Mr Schollum said.

Mr Thiel is a member of US President Donald Trump’s transition team, having donated to his campaign, and is a long-time libertarian who has in the past invested in the exploration of seasteading, the development of a floating city in international waters which could serve as a politically autonomous settlement.

Source: Auditor-General won’t investigate Thiel citizenship | Otago Daily Times Online News