COUPLES say, “We do.” Immigration officials say, “We don’t.”
In the US, the groom and bride tie the knot or exchange wedding vows. In the four other countries with migration programs — Australia, Canada, New Zealand and the UK — allowing permanent residency through family sponsorships, migrating as a partner is an option.
Not just as tradition or culture dictates, but what the law allows. But laws — as in a form of dancing — is much like changing partners.
When a new political party emerges by reason of economic ups and downs, or an influx of strangers from distant shores, new alliances are formed. Then two aspects of the country’s laws are sure to change. Taxes and immigration.
New Zealand presents a perfect storm in the Oceania region.
Like its sister country — Australia — NZ has the partner migration route for couples who have been in a common-law relationship for at least 12 months. While Australia has the “prospective marriage” category (the fiancé counterpart in the US and the United Kingdom), New Zealand has the culturally arranged marriage scheme.
In October 2017, New Zealand elected a government where the ruling coalition was not the most popular party. Jacinta Ardern of the Labour Party took the prime minister post in partnership with New Zealand First, the party that won nine seats on the winds of anti-immigrant sentiment.
Winston Peters, NZ First party leader became deputy prime minister.
In May this year, NZ First turned off the culturally arranged marriage spigot. Asserting that Immigration New Zealand must make the rules of admission “more clear,” restrictions on parent and partner visas were imposed.
To be fair, the parent category was temporarily closed a year before New Zealand First got to be the power broker. Then Immigration Minister Michael Woodhouse suspended parent sponsorship visas “in order to clear a backlog of applications.”
The category was reopened with lower visa allocation and higher income requirement for adult children sponsors.
A single person sponsoring one parent must be earning twice the New Zealand median income — about $106,000 a year. If two parents are being sponsored the income requirement goes up $159,000 a year.
Joint sponsors intending to have one parent join the family in New Zealand now need an annual income of $159,000, up from $90,000. This amount gets up to $212,000 if sponsoring two parents.
“The new parent category settings will increase financial requirements, focusing on their adult child’s income rather than the circumstances of their parent and align with the ‘highly-paid’ settings under the skilled migrant category and the recent changes to employer-assisted temporary work visa settings,” NZ Immigration Minister Lees-Galloway explained.
When the NZ First move to make immigration rules “more clear” on partner visas, the Indian community sought clarification from the government.
Immigration New Zealand defines partnership as two people of the opposite or same sex, who live together in a genuine and stable relationship either by virtue of a legal marriage, a civil union or a de facto relationship for at least 12 months.
Exceptions were made for culturally arranged marriages.
At the end of August 2019, Immigration NZ figures showed 10 out of 87 applications for culturally arranged marriage visas had been approved. Official sources also show that in the previous four years, more than half of all applications were accepted.
Then the change of political partners came. And the previous exemption was scuppered.
Peter Elms, national visa manager for Immigration NZ, said that while the department was mindful of “cultural complexities and sensitivities,” those seeking exceptions must observe the government’s immigration policy.
Since May, about 1,200 applications for culturally arranged marriage visas were declined.
Feeling the heat from the most affected sector — the Indian community — Immigration Minister Iain Lees-Galloway said “there has been no government directive on partnership visas.”
Last week, Lees-Galloway announced that the government “has now fixed the visa application problem for those with culturally arranged marriages.”
Explaining that the previous INZ process used to issue visas for culturally arranged marriages was inconsistently applied, a spouse may be allowed to enter New Zealand with a three-month culturally arranged marriage visitor visa to live with the spouse and demonstrate a genuine and stable relationship.
The US may be a latecomer in the spouse-marriage-partner migration category but sponsoring a same-sex partner or spouse is now law.
In June 2013, the US Supreme Court in a decision — United States vs Windsor — struck down the law barring federal recognition of same-sex marriages.
On July 1, 2013, then Secretary of Homeland Security Janet Napolitano announced the US Citizenship and Immigration Services (Uscis) policy on same- sex marriages.
“After last week’s decision by the Supreme Court holding that Section 3 of the Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA) is unconstitutional, President Obama directed federal departments to ensure the decision and its implication for federal benefits for same-sex legally married couples are implemented swiftly and smoothly. To that end, effective immediately, I have directed Uscis to review immigration visa petitions filed on behalf of a same-sex spouse in the same manner as those filed on behalf of an opposite-sex spouse.”
Now, US citizens may also sponsor a fiancé to enter the country. Not so with America’s neighbor north of the border.
Canada does not have a fiancé visa category.
Unlike the US, however, a Canadian permanent resident is already eligible to sponsor a spouse, common law partner or conjugal partner. Only US citizens may petition for a spouse of the same or opposite sex., parent, minor or married child and sibling.
Canada does not have a sibling sponsorship category.
US permanent residents or green card holders may only sponsor a spouse, a minor child or an unmarried son or daughter regardless of age.
In Canada, the spouse or partner can be either sex and must be at least 18 years old.
Common-law partners must have been living together for at least 12 consecutive months:
The conjugal partner category bears much resemblance to the common-law partner class: can be of either sex, at least 18 years old and relationship must be for at least a year.
But, the conjugal partner must be living outside Canada since he or she cannot marry or live with the sponsoring partner in their country of residence because of significant legal and immigration reasons.
Such reasons include the fact the conjugal partner is still legally married to someone else in the country of origin or residence; divorce is not possible and same-sex marriage is tolerated but illegal.
If sponsoring a spouse or partner is in the horizon, it is best to check where the electoral wind is blowing. Filing the sponsorship now or later could mean the difference between approval or denial.
Politics does create strange bedfellows and partners.