The more things change the more they remain the same…

Changes were recently announced to make provision for culturally arranged marriages. But these new policies leave even more gaps in the logic of how this visa category will be applied. Immigration law expert Aaron Martin reviews the new visa criteria and its flaws.

The changes to the culturally arranged marriage visa category deal with part of the problem: the part where one of the parties to the relationship is a New Zealand citizen or resident.

They don’t provide any benefit for people who are on a work visa or a student visa who have a marriage arranged in accordance with their customs.

That has been dealt with by an internal administrative circular intended to be a guide for staff. The circular makes it clear that people seeking to join temporary visa holders after getting married can apply for a general visitor visa.

But, confusingly, granting of the visitor visa still requires assessment of the applicant’s incentive to return home.

Although the circular expressly states that the possibility of the visa applicant applying for future visas shouldn’t be a prejudicial factor, those looking at it from the outside will see the lack of logic here.

If your husband or wife is in New Zealand on a 3-year work visa, and you’ve just gotten married through customary traditional arrangements and are seeking to join them, you are generally wanting to join them for those 3 years.

So, it raises the question: how do you prove today that you have an incentive to return back to your home country 3 years in the future?

The current rules around this suggest you prove it by showing your financial ties to your home country. Generally, most read that as proving you have a job.

But, of course, you’re not going to have a job after a 3-year absence; logically, the visa applicant will resign from any job in their home country before they leave.

The rule changes around culturally arranged marriages involving New Zealand citizens or resident partners are not immune from criticism either.

I have seen a visa declined because the immigration officer assessing the application thought there was an insufficient number of attendees at the wedding; the officer also noted the couple had only gone seven times around the fire in a Hindi wedding. The startling conclusion from this was that it caused doubt as to the credibility of the couple having a culturally arranged wedding because it did not appear to follow a cultural tradition.

The new rules state the marriage must follow “an identified and recognised cultural tradition”.

Is there a book that prescribes what those identified and recognised cultural traditions are?

Who judges compliance with the tradition?

Do the criteria allow for adaptation to cultural traditions through the passage of time?

What happens if the couple want to modify the traditional ceremony or modernise their wedding?

We wait with bated breath to see whether this has been a meaningful change or a bit of window dressing for a positive ministerial press release (interestingly timed before the Minister of immigration meets the head of the Indian diplomatic mission to New Zealand). Will it ultimately allow Immigration New Zealand to continue to deal with these cases in a business-as-usual fashion?

Maybe I am being too cynical. But, after 24 years in the sector, the old adage “the more things change things the more they remain the same” is often proven true.

If you are about to face this gauntlet, tread carefully and make sure you have a good advocate to assist you.

If you need help with your visa application get in touch with the NZIL team.

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