New Zealanders with partners stranded overseas after being denied entry into New Zealand say they’ve been left frustrated by Immigration New Zealand’s confusing border exception rules.
The confusion stems from Immigration New Zealand saying partners and dependents travelling with New Zealand citizens and residents are exempt from border restrictions.
However, partners and dependents of a New Zealand citizen can be denied boarding a flight to New Zealand if they can't prove at check-in that they meet requirements to enter New Zealand.
This has caused confusion for many Kiwis attempting to leave the country to collect a partner or dependent who have been denied entry into New Zealand on their own.
Kiwi Lauren Bell had considered leaving New Zealand to collect her Australian husband Gerry after he was denied an exception to enter the country following the border closure on March 20 due to the global Covid-19 pandemic.
Until early this year, the couple had been living and working in the UK.
Lauren returned in January and Gerry was set to fly out from the UK on March 20 the day the border restrictions came into place.
“Gerry is completing a PhD at Cambridge University in Mathematics. He was granted permission to write up his thesis from abroad in New Zealand.”
Denied an exception multiple times and with no partnership visa Lauren says she felt she with left with no option but to head to the UK and bring her husband home.
“I called Immigration New Zealand stating that my only option is to go and collect Gerry. I was devastated when they told me I was unable to do so as even if we are travelling together he will not be allowed in with me,” Laruen told 1 NEWS.
In an email to 1 NEWS Immigration New Zealand says “partners or dependents who are travelling to New Zealand with their New Zealand citizen or resident partner are exempt from the border restrictions, according to the immigration instructions.
“However, it can be difficult to demonstrate that relationship meets the Immigration New Zealand (INZ) requirements while attempting to check-in in an airport and people may be denied boarding.
“It depends on the individual situation of each couple to determine whether the partner of a New Zealand citizen/resident would be allowed into New Zealand.
“INZ recommends that people who wish to travel on the basis of their partnership engage with INZ before they travel.”
Under normal circumstances as an Australian citizen Gerry doesn’t need a partnership to enter, live and work in New Zealand.
Immigration New Zealand says Australian partners who are not travelling to New Zealand with their partners will “be subject to border restrictions, unless they meet another exception criteria”.
Lauren says she believes this rule came into too quickly and is “causing Australian partners of New Zealanders to be unfairly separated from their loved ones”.
“I feel we are being treated unfairly and I feel so let down by my country and we are good people and the situation is taking a huge toll on us.”
Like Lauren, Liz Toga was “seriously considering” flying to the US to collect her Australian husband Daniel who has been denied an exception multiple times.
“This would mean leaving my elderly parents who are in their 80s and taking our three-year-old daughter on long plane rides.”
For the couple that has been together since 2013 it was a step that they would have been willing to take to reunite their family.
Daniel says the exception for travelling with a New Zealander citizen partner isn’t being taken into consideration.
“The loosening of restrictions that happened last month does not seem to have trickled down to whoever is reviewing applications since a number of couples travelling together have been denied.”
For Daniel, the main frustration he has with the border restrictions has been the lack of communication and information from Immigration New Zealand.
“[INZ] gives conflicting advice depending on who you talk to,” he says.
Daniel says he put in an Official Information Act request to find out why his applications kept getting denied.
“Both case officers appeared to deny our requests within 2-3 minutes of opening them.
“There is no appeal process and the entire thing seems quite arbitrary.”
He says he can’t find any further information on why the applications were denied.
“Our situation puts us in a catch-22. I cannot enter New Zealand without Liz unless I already have a partnership-based visa.
“However, as an Australian, I cannot even apply for a partnership-based visa because I don't need any visas to enter, work, or settle in New Zealand.
“Australians seem to fall through the cracks.”
In the months since the border closed, Daniel has missed out on his daughter’s birthday and his wedding anniversary.
“We miss Daniel and his presence. I know Daniel is sad and disappointed too at what is happening,” says Liz.
Many New Zealand citizens with Australian partners, who normally don’t need a visa to live in New Zealand, say they are struggling to find a way for their partners to join them in New Zealand.
For Brendan Bowie and his partner, they assumed due to their partnership and a new job in New Zealand the pair would be granted an exception.
Brendan’s partner was ready to start his new life in New Zealand working as a lawyer and had flights booked for April 15 when the news was announced that New Zealand was shutting its doors.
“Having already moved most of his belongings over this was not ideal. We assumed that due to the combination of our partnership and his job here he would be allowed in, however this has not been the case,” Brendan says.
His partner has been denied entry multiple times despite paying taxes once he began his job at a New Zealand law firm.
“His work is as a lawyer for a firm that is government agency employed to work cases involving the Waitangi Tribunal and resolving claims for Māori that have been negatively impacted on. His presence at these tribunals is required to progress cases.”
With visa exceptions for America’s Cup crews and Avatar movie crews, Brendan says the process to try and get his partner to New Zealand has been “demoralising”.
“My biggest issue with the whole situation is that the Government is happy to take his tax money but isn’t happy to let him into the country to fully do his important job in resolving Waitangi Tribunal claims, something the Government also states is important.”
The separation has taken a toll on Brendan’s partner who has been seeing a psychologist to get through.
“With no end in sight to reuniting loved ones it is a stressful situation.”
1 NEWS was approached by 14 New Zealand citizens and residents who are desperately trying to get their spouses and partners in to New Zealand.
All have applied for a visa which have been denied.
As the rules currently stand under new Covid-19 border restrictions only New Zealand citizens, permanent residents, residents with valid travel conditions are able to enter the country.
Partners of New Zealand citizens who are ordinarily residents in New Zealand or hold a visa based on their relationship are granted an exception to enter the country while the border is closed.
Immigration New Zealand says all requests for exceptions are considered against a strict criteria.
"The bar for being granted an exception to the border restrictions is set high to help stop the spread of Covid-19 and protect the health of people already in New Zealand.”