Changes to Immigration New Zealand’s (INZ) Culturally Arranged Marriage Visitor Visa policy have taken effect, as of 18 November 2019. The new instructions make explicit that people who have entered into a culturally arranged marriage, in a wedding ceremony that took place outside of New Zealand, are eligible to apply for a visitor visa. Prior to these amendments only those who were planning to marry in New Zealand through a culturally arranged marriage within 3 months of entry could apply for this visa.

Though the intention to amend this policy was announced by INZ last week, and despite the changes coming into effect on Monday, the specifics of the changes to the INZ Operational Manual were contained in an Amendment Circular only distributed yesterday. According to the new instructions: people who have married a New Zealand citizen or residence class visa holder, (or who are intending to marry in New Zealand, New Zealand citizens or residence class holders), may be granted a visitor visa authorising a maximum stay of 3 months from their date of arrival. This is provided that the marriage is in accordance with an identified and recognised cultural tradition where the arrangements for the marriage, including facilitation of the initial selection of the persons to be married, are made by the persons who are not parties to the marriage. The marriage itself, and the intended New Zealand spouse, must still meet other standard legal and visa-related requirements.

Significant additions to the wording of instructions set out the requirements for those applicants who have married before travelling to New Zealand. In these instances, immigration officers must be satisfied, through interviews and documentary evidence provided by applicants, that:

  • the marriage ceremony genuinely occurred and followed an identified cultural tradition
  • the couple have a genuine intent to live together and that it is intended the marriage be maintained on a long term and exclusive basis
  • the person the applicant married is a New Zealand citizen or residence class visa holder who they intend to live with in New Zealand in a genuine and stable relationship
  • the marriage followed an identified and recognised cultural tradition where the arrangements for the marriage, including facilitation of the selection of the persons to be married, have been made by persons who are not parties to the marriage
  • the visa application is made within 3 months of the wedding

Similar requirements continue to apply to applicants who intend to marry once in New Zealand. In order to grant the visa, immigration officers must establish that:

  • there is a genuine intent to marry and that it is intended the marriage be maintained on a long term and exclusive basis
  • the person the applicant intends to marry in New Zealand is a New Zealand citizen or
    residence class visa holder
  • the marriage follows an identified and recognised cultural tradition where the arrangements for the marriage, including facilitation of the selection of the persons to be married, have been made by persons who are not parties to the marriage
  • the couple intend to marry within 3 months of the applicant’s arrival in New Zealand
  • in the event the marriage does not take place the applicant will leave New Zealand

The Culturally Arranged Marriage Visitor Visa policy has been the subject of much public and media scrutiny over the past few weeks. These policy amendments being formalised as instructions have happened quickly, and there is still little assurance of exactly how the new instructions will be interpreted. As is the case whenever there are changes to immigration policy, the practical effects of the amended sections for the individual applicant cannot be predicted or generalised with complete certainty. Further, these policy changes apply only to those in culturally arranged marriages, who were married offshore no more than 3 months prior to making their application. Couples who would otherwise meet the requirements for this visa category, but for the 3 month timeframe, will still face the same difficulties in getting a Partnership Visa, or a general Visitor Visa.

To discuss these changes and how they may apply to your specific circumstances, contact Pathways NZ for more detailed information and a free preliminary assessment.

The immigration Minister announced today the Government has decided to reopen the Parent resident visa category in early February 2020 with new requirements. The first selection is scheduled for May 2020. In the meantime, the category will temporarily close from today, 7 October 2019. This means that INZ will not accept expressions of interest (EOIs) from this date.

When the category reopens, 1,000 residence places will be available annually under the category.

Other changes from the current Parent resident visa criteria include:

  • Tier Two of the category will be removed
  • the settlement funds and the guaranteed lifetime income financial eligibility criteria will be removed
  • the new financial requirements for the Parent resident visa can only be met through the income of the sponsor and their partner. Here are the new financial requirements based on a median salary of NZ$53,040:
Expected income thresholds
1 sponsor for 1 parent NZD $106,080 2 times the median salary
1 sponsor for 2 parents NZD $159,120 3 times the median salary
Sponsor and partner  for 1 parent NZD $159,120 3 times the median salary
Sponsor and partner for 2 parents NZD $212,160 4 times the median salary
Guaranteed lifetime income of 1 applicant or for a couple Not available in new parent category
Settlement funds Not available in new parent category
  • sponsors will be required to provide evidence of their annual income through Inland Revenue tax statements, and that they’ve met it for two out of the three years before the application is lodged, and
  • the sponsorship period will be formally aligned with the New Zealand Superannuation residency eligibility requirement.

 Existing EOIs in the queue under the Parent Category

People with EOIs in the system will be emailed to inform them of the changes and invited to either update their EOI or withdraw it. People who withdraw their EOI will be eligible for a fee refund.

When the Parent Category reopens, EOIs will be selected in date order based on the date INZ originally received them (regardless of whether they were submitted under Tier One or Tier Two).

It is estimated that more than 5000 EOI’s are sitting in the pool with the likelihood that at least 80-90% of these will not qualify under the new rules, and will be a bitter pill to swallow considering many have been waiting for such a long period of time. The offer of a refund will be little consolation for the loss of the opportunity of family reunification.

Today’s announcement bears the hallmarks of the challenges face by a coalition government. It has been clear for some time that the Labour party is family orientated and wanted to reopen the category but will have received significant push back with NZ First who effectively pressured the previous National Government into placing a temporary hold on the category in the first place. Increasing the required minimum salary for sponsors to the levels announced will no doubt have been at the direction of or to appease NZ First to ensure the numbers of eligible applicants was as low as possible, their compromise in allowing the category to reopen. There has already been significant condemnation sighting the elitist and unfair nature of the changes, this could certainly not bode well for Labour within the all important migrant electorate in the coming election year.

Conversely for those that do qualify, there will be great relief that there is now light at the end of the tunnel and they can finally make future plans for their parents, the uncertainty of the last 3 years has left so many families in limbo. What isn’t quantifiable is how many highly skilled migrants has New Zealand lost over the last 3 years whilst the category was closed. either those already working in New Zealand that have decided to leave or those who chose not to come at all. At least there is now clarity for all to make informed decisions for their families futures.

If you wish to find out more about this category and your potential eligibility please do not hesitate to get in contact with me [email protected]

The long awaited decision on what will happen to the Parent Category Visa is still up in the air, but will be made before the end of the current government’s term.

The Immigration Minister Iain Lees Galloway stated that he was still considering the future of the visa and it would be inappropriate to comment on it. He also wouldn’t give a specific time frame on a decision other than to say it would be before the end of this current term of Government. However previous dates have also been given as to when a decision on the Parent Category would be made and these have all come and gone.

These comments came after Immigration New Zealand (INZ) gave a submission to the Education and Workforce select committee confirming there was no evidence that people on the Parent Category Visas were taking advantage of social welfare assistance. INZ stated that the evidence from sponsors here since 2013 found that, from between 2 and 5 years after obtaining residence, only one percent of parents had accessed social welfare benefits.

For a number of years there have been claims from some parties that sponsors were failing in their obligations to support their parents and, in some cases, returning to their home country leaving their parents stranded in New Zealand to fend for themselves, and burdening the country. These claims can now be seen for what they are, unsubstantiated sensationalism. In INZ’s words “The data doesn’t bear out there are large numbers of what I call the stranded”.

The current Parent Category Visa was frozen in October 2016 by the previous National Government whilst they reviewed the policy. This was at a time when there were claims of sponsors abusing the system and neglecting their parental sponsorship obligations. There were also claims that the high cost of health care for aging parents negated the economic benefits from parent migration arising from the care of grandchildren and the freeing up of their parents to work and contribute greater to society. These claims were particularly driven by the NZ First party.

It is apparent the Parent Category Visa is a major point of contention for the coalition Government. The Labour party is clearly in favour of either re-opening the existing category or introducing an amended policy which will at least facilitate some opportunity for parent residence. However the NZ First party opposes parent migration due, we understand, to their contention that the cost outweighs the benefit.

By the Minister stating a decision will be made by the end of this government term (around September 2020) is he really saying, there’s no way they can get this through their coalition partner so they’ll leave it to the end of their term and make it an election campaign promise? This appears to be the only plausible explanation for the ongoing delays and lack of direction or action on the policy.

There is no doubt that the Parent Category Visa is highly regarded by migrants and, as the evidence suggests, it is not being abused, and some type of visas allowing parent migration should exist. If the benefits of family reunification are acknowledged and accepted but concerns exist over social welfare and health demands, then the compromise may be a long term temporary visitor visa. Resident visa holders have greater access to the Health and Social welfare systems and can also work, but visitors do not have this same access. A 5 year visitor visa, for example, with a requirement to hold medical insurance will allow family reunification without the risk of any burden to New Zealand’s health and welfare resources. While this is not the ideal outcome for many families, who clearly desire long term certainty, it may prove to be the only compromise possible with this current Government. Interestingly Australia has recently introduced a similar visa for parents.

In the meantime Expression of Interest applications, the first step of the Parent Category resident visa, are still being taken and the Government is very happy to receive the EOI application fee of $490, this has recently increased from $430. At the time of the last Parent Category EOI draw in August 2016, before the category closed in October 2016, there were still 3540 EOI’s in the pool awaiting selection, and in January 2019 it was reported that a further 1730 EOI’s had been received by INZ since the category closed. This means there are around 5000+ EOIs in the queue (having paid over $2 million in application fees) and if the Government does not re-open the Parent Category then these applicants have a good case to obtain a refund of their EOI fee.

The Parent Retirement Residence Category, requiring an investment of $1 million over 4 years, remains open for those families who can meet this criteria.

For now though the state of limbo for the Parent Category Visa will continue until the current coalition Government can agree or a single party prevails at the next election. We can be confident that the two main parties, Labour and National will campaign strongly on re-opening the Parent Category Visa as they attempt to secure the increasingly important migrant vote.

Always seek professional advice from an experienced licensed immigration adviser

 

The number of people who can be approved under the parent residence category is limited to 4,000 per immigration year (July to June). There has always been overwhelming demand for parent residence places and the previous parent policy was stopped in May 2012 when this demand led to processing times being extended to several years.

In July 2012, INZ made significant changes to the parent residence category, which included introducing a new two tier qualification system for parents of New Zealand residents and removal of the Adult Child/Adult Sibling category. Applications that had previously been submitted under the old instructions were initially “held in limbo”. However we are now seeing INZ actively processing these applications and expect that most of the old family applications will be finalised in the current immigration year, with only those submitted just before the policy was stopped being carried over to the July 2016 year.

The new two Tier system categorises parents as Tier 1 or Tier 2 applications with priority given to Tier 1 applications, and historic old policy applications, to fill the annual quota. All applicants must be sponsored by an adult child who has held New Zealand residence, and lived in New Zealand, for at least 3 years. In addition Tier 1 applications must include evidence of either the sponsor’s income or parents’ income/assets sufficient to satisfy the required financial support criteria.

The current parent residence category requires a hard copy expression of interest (EOI) to first be submitted by eligible applicants. EOI’s are then held in a queue and selections are made every 3 months in February, May, August and November. The number of EOI’s selected is varied in each selection draw to align with the number of residence approvals required to achieve the annual 4,000 people quota. Tier 1 EOI’s are selected based upon the order they have been submitted with the oldest selected first. Technically, any quota shortfall will be made up by Tier 2 applicants, however due to the volume of EOI’s being submitted under Tier 1, no Tier 2 EOIs (which have lower financial support criteria) have ever been selected – and we do not see any possibility that this will ever change.

In the most recent EOI draws approximately 650 EOI’s have been selected, comprising some 1100 applicants (this number depends on whether the EOI is for a parent couple or single parent). In the latest draw, on 16 May 2016, all Tier 1 EOI’s submitted on or before 13 August 2015 were selected (a total of 606 EOIs representing 1,112 people), leaving 2,973 EOI’s remaining in the EOI pool. The size of the EOI pool is growing at each draw, and given that approximately 650 EOIs are, on average, being selected each time this means that well over 1000 new EOI’s are being submitted every 3 months. Consequently, we estimate that EOIs now being submitted will not be selected for another 12+ months, and it is likely this timeframe will only get longer given the continuing demand for parent residence as more children become eligible sponsors.

If you are considering applying under this category or are considering sponsoring your parents, we strongly recommend seeking professional advice. Firstly, to assess eligibility and secondly, to see if it is possible to submit an EOI in advance to secure a place in the EOI queue.