New Zealand

Families still struggle to reunite across borders: 'I have no hope at all'

13:34 pm on 3 July 2020

Despite changes allowing more people to come into the country, many couples and families are still stranded on either side of the border.

File image Photo: 123RF

The government has relaxed the rules so partners and children of citizens and residents, as well as those with some types of visas are allowed in, but others don't meet that criteria.

Aucklander Romi Aggarwal hasn't seen her husband and young son, now five years old, for almost two years.

She came to New Zealand to study in 2018 and started a job in marketing last year on an open work visa.

After a long wait of 10 months, her husband and son were granted visas to join her in New Zealand in early March, but a week before their flight, the borders were closed.

"We had planned for everything. I had a separate house and we got the furniture and everything," she said

They have tried to apply for an exemption twice, but were rejected. Aggarwal said the separation had taken a toll on the family financially and emotionally.

While partners and dependent children of visa holders who normally live in New Zealand can come here, her family has never lived in New Zealand.

This ruled Aggarwal's family out and she did not think that was fair. She did not know how long the wait until she could see them again would be.

"Why aren't we given a time frame? Why is there so much of uncertainty around when will they be allowed [in]? Is the plight of a partner or a mother, who is a migrant, any different from a citizen or a permanent resident?"

Gurpreet Kaur Arora has been apart from her husband for a year now.

Gurpreet Kaur and her husband Parth Gandhi. Photo: Supplied

After the couple were married last year in India her husband came back to New Zealand on a work visa.

Seven months later, Gurpreet was granted a visitor visa, also in early March. She quit her job and was about to join her husband here when the borders were closed.

"I paid the money and my visa has already expired and I have no way to go. I have no hope at all," she said.

Arora tried three times to apply for an exemption on humanitarian grounds but failed.

She has asked for her visa to be extended so she can come when the borders reopen without having to reapply but there has been no response.

"I hope the borders are open at least to reunite families. That's the least that I would want," she said.

Another man from India who has New Zealand citizenship also wanted his wife to join him here. The man, who didn't want his name used, came back to New Zealand after marrying his partner in India last year.

After 10 months trying to get a partnership-based visa his wife was granted a visitor visa and then the borders were shut.

When new rules were brought in last month allowing partners of citizens to come they applied for exemption but were declined.

"We emailed them to ask why it was declined and they say because she has got a visitor visa," he said.

According to immigration regulations, partners of a citizen or resident can come if they hold a visa based on their relationship, or travel with their New Zealand partner, or normally live in New Zealand.

The man said it did not make sense that his wife on a general visitor visa could not come.

"We hope they will renew our visa so we don't have to apply again. If we apply again, it might take the same time as it took before," he said.

RNZ has been provided a list of 70 people in similar situations.

Iain Lees-Galloway. Photo: RNZ /Dom Thomas

The minister for immigration, Iain Lees-Galloway, said the government's plan to combat the Covid-19 novel coronavirus was working and it was taking careful, cautious steps to reunite families and support economic recovery.

"The international pandemic is very serious, and it's getting worse around the world not better. That means we must continue to protect people in New Zealand, it is critical that we keep the border closed," he said.

"That has meant many sacrifices have been made, by everyone in New Zealand and people outside the border especially. There is no doubt that it is a difficult time for all, especially temporary migrants and businesses."

"That has meant many sacrifices have been made, by everyone in New Zealand and people outside the border especially. There is no doubt that it is a difficult time for all, especially temporary migrants and businesses."

He said as more and more people returned, the government was building up capacity for managed isolation and quarantine.