Immigration NZ apologises to engaged couple over border rules

Corazon Miller
Source: 1News

An Indian woman due to join her future husband in Auckland was blocked from getting on the plane, because as his betrothed, in a culturally arranged marriage, she did not fit the description of a partner under current border laws.

Max Kachawala and Mubaraka Petiwala were due to be reunited this month after three years apart.

“It’s been tough. But I understand there’s a pandemic. I was patient,” Max Kachawala said.

On September 16 this year Petiwala was granted a culturally arranged marriage visitor visa. But because of India’s designation as a high risk country there were restrictions to who could travel to New Zealand. Until this status is downgraded in early December, only New Zealand citizens and their partners, or dependants are able to fly directly here. Residents would need to spend 14 days elsewhere first.

Kachawala says he wanted to double check that there would be no issues for his partner’s travel here. He called the immigration department three times over the subsequent months to check she would be allowed to fly – and for written confirmation of this fact.

He was told, because he was a citizen, there wouldn’t be a problem and no additional paperwork was necessary. But despite this reassurance from Immigration New Zealand that his fiancée could fly directly from India, on November 18, Petiwala was stopped at the boarding gate.

“I’m not happy about it, because as far as I know, and what we were told, I was not supposed to quarantine in a third country. Because you are a citizen and I am your partner.”

But after a follow-up call to Immigration the couple were told she would now have to go via a third country. The mishap now delaying their planned wedding ceremony and costing them thousands in an additional flight.

“I’m not able to sleep,” Kachawala said. “I’m having anxiety attacks, thinking; ‘will her father let me marry her?’ Because he’s lost faith with an experience like this. I’m scared I might lose her.”

In a statement Immigration New Zealand offered its apologies. It said while she didn’t fit the description of a partner under current legislation – it should have used discretion and allowed her to fly.

Under the Covid-19 Public Health Response (Air Border) Order 2020 a partner is defined as a spouse, a civil union partner, or a de facto partner of a New Zealand citizen – none of which apply to this couple’s situation.

Despite the department telling 1 News it would help facilitate her travel, Kachawala says he’s subsequently been told the exact opposite. In a letter cited by 1News, Kachawala has been told “attempting to travel is at your own risk".

“It is not possible for your wife to be given clearance to board before check-in. There is no formal exemption process for immediate family of New Zealand Citizens travelling without them. Holding a visa may not in itself guarantee border will grant boarding permission to her, as this may not meet the criteria for being immediate family. This is entirely the border’s decision.”

1News sought further clarification from Immigration New Zealand on the matter. In a statement general manager Border and Visa Operations Nicola Hogg says the systems were being updated and the department would contact Kachwala “to provide him and his wife certainty that Petiwala will be allowed to board a flight”.

She adds the situation would also be clarified with the Immigration Contact Centre.

Immigration adviser Katy Thompson says this inconsistency with immigration policies is damaging to the country’s reputation.

“We see this all through our system," she said. “This pull, push, pull, push, you can, you can’t, you can, you can’t. There’s no consistency, there’s no rationality and the bottom line is that’s very traumatic for Max and his partner to be told there’s a visa but no sorry you can’t come in.”

She adds New Zealand requires migrants across many sectors, such as health. “We need to be thinking more smartly how to facilitate people coming in, instead of continuously blocking their pathway. Otherwise we are losing people, good people, people with skills that we desperately need.”