During my last few overseas trips since the New Zealand border opened, I have witnessed many people in transit being stopped from boarding their flight.
I took it upon myself to speak to them and ask why.
One of them told me that after a long conversation with Immigration New Zealand (INZ) that they were deemed non-bona fide because it seemed that they could not tell their travel itinerary and the address at which they were meant to stay.
One of them was sponsored by someone in New Zealand and was completely reliant on the sponsor to pick him up at the airport, take him home and manage his visit.
As it was his first trip out of India, he was very bewildered and helpless. He did not have sufficient funds to buy a return ticket to India. I left him as I needed to board the same flight he was supposed to be on, with a sense of dread and a suspicious feeling that there was something untoward happening with this process.
Fast forwarding to New Zealand, our office made a request to the Ministry of Business, Innovation and Employment (MBIE) under the Official Information Act 1982. The following question was also asked and answered: The number of people prevented from boarding their flights by INZ between 1 December 2022 and 31 January 2023 (inclusive) who held a visa of any type (including Visitor Visa waiver eligible nationalities who held other types of visas).
We have listed the two countries on top of that list and a notable country not on the list.
India 127; China 105; UK 0.
An upsetting trend
We then started receiving a number of inquiries from those who have been turned around or refused entry into New Zealand and started seeing a trend.
In fact, one of those, upon receiving the requested immigration file, had a 99-year warning put on her. We are happy to report that Idesi Legal was able to get an Accredited Employer Work Visa for her and get that 99-year warning removed.
So, when we received an inquiry from a Nepalese family late on Friday, we already had our boxing gloves on and were ready to fight.
But it took this family some time to overcome the lack of guarantee that we could give them. There was a very short timeline to turn this case around. We were instructed on Wednesday before the public holiday with one day to get it to INZ, the pressure was on.
The Nepali Family
Their story is as follows:
On 4 July 2023, this couple with their son excitedly boarded a Malaysian Airlines flight in Kuala Lumpur. They had just left Nepal and were looking forward to their visit to New Zealand.
Nepalis hold New Zealand’s Sir Edmund Hillary in high regard.
The three of them had been issued a multiple-entry visitor visa to New Zealand, with a maximum stay of six months each time.
The expenses incurred by the family included three air tickets and hotel accommodation. They packed their winter clothes and flew from Nepal arriving on 5 July 2023, one day before their son’s birthday, with the intention of celebrating their special day in Auckland.
However, the family’s vacation could not have begun more dreadfully.
That was at Border Control, where an officer first placed the couple in two separate rooms for interrogation. This was followed by various processes. The whole ordeal lasted five hours.
The couple was informed that there were concerns they may overstay. Therefore, their visitor visa would be cancelled and the border officer proposed a limited visa as a substitute.
They were neither informed in writing of the reasons why INZ believed that they will overstay nor told in writing what the limitations and conditions of their limited visas would be. The Border Officer asked the couple to either agree to the condition or prepared to be turned away.
The couple described this experience as very distressing.
“If this interview has been done back in Nepal, before getting our visitor visa, we would have understood, but our visa had already been approved so we were shocked,” they said.
As there was nothing in writing, they had no reasonable opportunity to explain or clarify the concerns raised by INZ.
Upon hearing INZ’s ultimatum, the couple believed a that decision has already been made about their situation and that they should either accept the new Limited Visa or be deported to Nepal.
Fearing that their travel expenses would be completely wasted, the couple reluctantly agreed to the limited visa proposed.
Limited Visa Conditions
The limited visa came with new conditions. First, it was for single entry only. Further, they were required to leave New Zealand by 19 July, 14 days after their arrival and 5 1/2 months shorter than the maximum stay that was allowed on their previous visa.
The new limited visa neither allowed for a special direction to be made nor allowed the family to apply for a different visa. They were not allowed to appeal against this decision while they were in New Zealand. If they did not depart New Zealand by 19 July, they would be liable for deportation.
The purpose of INZ’s grant of limited visa was not specified.
Humiliated, the couple felt that they had lost their dignity.
INZ’s Border Manager responded to Idesi Legal on Sunday 16 July, three days after a complaint was submitted, admitting a procedural misstep. In the letter to us, the Border Manager said, “As per the Border Manager’s review, no additional factor to warrant changing the originally granted Visitor Visa to Limited Visa for this Family was found. Having found the decision to issue Limited Visas was not proportionate, INZ overturned the original decision and re-issued the family with their originally granted Visitor Visa.
“We apologise for any inconvenience and unintended stress experienced by this family”.
This Family were overjoyed with the outcome
“We felt very happy and finally slept peacefully when our problem is sorted in such a short time. Idesi Legal took our case seriously and kept updating us. Without their help, I would have never thought that they will be sunshine after a dark night. To be in the right hand and find the right person is always important,” the couple said.
We were pleased that at least this family’s situation was rectified. But there are many more out there that do not get justice and see that ray of Sun.
It does bring into question the point of having a visitor visa process.
Kamil Lakshman is the Principal Lawyer at Idesi Legal which has offices in Wellington, Auckland and Dunedin. She is deeply committed to serving communities and has helped in the immigration process of hundreds of migrants and refugees over the past three decades and helped them to obtain Work and Residence Visas. She lives in Wellington but travels all over New Zealand to serve her clients along with her team of legal and immigration practitioners.