By Sandeep Singh*
Opinion – The Kiwi-Indian community’s disgruntlement over the partnership-based visas has been largely misunderstood and misconstrued by some politicians and media alike.
Ever since Cabinet Minister Shane Jones told some disgruntled members of the Kiwi-Indian community to “catch the next flight home”, the entire issue has been conveniently portrayed as “us” and “them”.
While there is nothing new about social media outrage against immigrants, particularly people of colour, some of the mainstream media reporting, in this case, has not helped to clear the air.
Newshub’s anchor Ryan Bridge made a sweeping comment saying Kiwi politeness opens us up to immigration fraud, implying that the immigration system is bending over backwards to accommodate expectations of the Indian community just because “Kiwis are polite”.
Ryan will be well-advised that immigration fraud does happen all around the world regardless of whether the host nation has a soft-image of being polite or inconsiderate.
Any reporting on immigration issues should refrain from stereotyping or sweeping generalisation.
Some coverage is adding to the general lack of clarity and may lead to the public formulating negative perceptions about a community.
Firstly, it has been assumed the government issued a new directive to Immigration New Zealand to change the way visa applications were being assessed since the last decade.
The last changes around partnership-based visas were made during the Immigration Act 2009, and since then there has not been any policy change – despite opportunistic claims by New Zealand First leader Winston Peters that a government directive has been given to the agency about the manner of assessing visa applications.
Secondly, reporting, including the Newshub piece, asserts, “When a new immigrant wants to bring their spouse to this country they usually have to prove they’ve been living together for at least a year”.
This is factually incorrect.
According to Immigration Instruction V3.15, there is no time limit for living together for temporary entry partnership applications of partners of New Zealand citizens or residence class visa holders.
The 12-month requirement is for residence applications only, and the partnership-based visa issue currently plaguing Immigration New Zealand’s Mumbai and Hamilton offices is about temporary visitor visas.
Likewise, the assumption that immigration officers have been unfairly giving exceptions to Indian couples is false.
According to NZ Immigration Instructions E4.5.35, in order for an immigration officer be satisfied that a couple is in a serious relationship, applications have to be assessed on the four criteria of – credibility, living together, genuine partnership and stable partnership.
The policy does not specify a particular period of time that a couple should be living together for in order to satisfy an immigration officer of the other criteria – that is being in a genuine and credible relationship.
Instead, the immigration officer should assess the application on all criteria, without emphasis on any one – that’s what a holistic assessment looks like with cultural considerations. For example, Indian couples who have had arranged marriages don’t usually meet or live together prior.
As Auckland Indian Association president Narendra Bhana explains: “It’s not like Kiwi culture where you live together for three, four or five years and then get married – it doesn’t work like that in India.
“Lot of times our Indian fellows, members, they don’t know who they’re going to get married [to], quite often they go there for two to three months, they find someone suitable and before they get married they don’t live together, they don’t hold hands, they don’t kiss or anything – they get married and married life starts after that.”
However, sometimes immigration officers will find that one of the partnership criteria may be stronger than the others.
In fact, INZ in every decline letter sent recently to hundreds of partnership-based visa applicants, have themselves acknowledged that “a relationship exists” between the partners, but it’s just that they are not satisfied if the couple is “living together”.
When an officer places emphasis on one of the criteria (living together), then it is an unreasonable exercise of discretion, as it can adversely affect a specific community.
It is this inaccurate exercise of discretion that is “disgruntling” a section of Kiwi-Indian community.
Clarifying this will likely help clear the huge backlog accumulated in the Mumbai and Hamilton offices of INZ.
In a democracy, when a community is disgruntled with what they believe is an unfair interpretation of government policy, it is a fundamental right of citizens and residents to relay it to their political leaders.
This is what we do in New Zealand.
Openly ranting to send those disgruntled citizens and residents overseas is very unbecoming of a polite Kiwi.
*Sandeep Singh is the editor of Auckland based Indian-community newspaper The Indian Weekender. The views expressed are his own.