Anuja Nadkarni is a business reporter covering immigration, small business, employment and private tertiary education.
A border exemption to reunite 450 partners and children of high-income earning migrants has only been granted to 38 people
Immigration Minister Kris Faafoi introduced border exceptions in April to unify skilled workers who earn more than $106,000 a year with their families following mounting public pressure to resolve the issue of separated families.
Immigration NZ officials told Newsroom about 450 partners and children of critical workers would be prioritised following the announcement.
Family members of skilled migrants first had to submit an expression of interest to be invited to apply for a visa under this category.
But so far only 66 people from 18 countries have been selected from the expression of interest pool and of those, 38 had been granted a visa as a partner or dependent child of a highly-skilled worker.
Among those granted visas, the majority are from South Africa on visitor and work visas.
Immigration NZ border and visa operations general manager Nicola Hogg says it’s up to the applicants to prove they meet the criteria. Individuals must meet the strict border exception criteria to be granted an exception.
“Immigration NZ has no ability to apply discretion when considering requests for border exceptions,” Hogg says.
She says the family of a temporary high-skilled worker is one of two family reunification border exception categories that were announced on April 19.
The other was the family of a temporary critical health worker category, under which Immigration NZ has granted 1169 visas. At the time of the announcement, Immigration NZ said it was “not possible” to estimate how many partners and children will enter under this exception.
Hogg says the bar for approval under this category is set high.
“Where an individual is not invited to apply for a visa under this category, it is generally because the evidence they have submitted does not demonstrate that they meet the eligibility criteria.
“The Government is constantly reviewing its border settings and will consider opportunities to expand its settings as conditions allow.”
Green Party MP Ricardo Menéndez March says the Government’s eligibility criteria is continuing to fail split migrant families by creating “bandaid” solutions.
“What is worse is that even with these narrow exemptions, only a handful of families are benefitting.”
Menéndez March says the living together criteria needs to be removed for the purpose of applying for an initial visa and replaced with a more culturally competent assessment of relationships and equitable use of MIQ.
Immigration advisor Katy Armstrong says for years preceding Covid, immigration operated without cultural competence.
She says that historically, immigration policy has required couples to “live together” among the requirements to be recognised as being legitimate partnerships.
“They’ve always thrown fraud as a reason at us, but there is a lot of racial profiling that goes into this. I’ve been doing this for 16 years, know very well in the partnership space that where you or your partner is from plays an enormous part in whether you get a visa.”
But Armstrong says the policies have failed to reflect multicultural societies and practices of people from countries where their partners may not be able to live together due to religious, cultural beliefs or for safety.