‘Vague’ visitor visa rules blamed for ‘nightmare’ wedding scenario

'Vague' visitor visa rules blamed for 'nightmare' wedding scenario
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An Auckland man says he has been living a waking “nightmare” since his best man’s visitor visa was declined over what he believes to be unclear visa requirements. But a spokesperson for Immigration New Zealand has confirmed that he “did not meet the requirements.” 

When Ivan Galtsov asked his brother Andrei Galtsov, who lives in St Petersburg, Russia, to be his best man at his wedding in late February, he didn’t imagine he would have any issues securing a visitor visa for New Zealand. A New Zealand citizen, Ivan has lived in Auckland for 14 years, his Russian mother has visited him here without issue, his sister’s visitor visa application was approved in 2019, and Andrei has “never had any issues travelling to Europe and other regions”. 

Andrei Galtsov and his fiancee and daughter had their visitor visa applications declined because INZ was not convinced they were genuine visitors.

ANDREI GALTSOV

Andrei Galtsov and his fiancee and daughter had their visitor visa applications declined because INZ was not convinced they were genuine visitors.

However, Andrei’s application was denied on December 23, 2019 – along with those of his fiancee and daughter – as Immigration New Zealand (INZ) decided he had not proven he was a genuine visitor. 

“I was really shocked,” Ivan said. “I just did not expect that to happen at all. It’s just been really stressful and I don’t know what’s going to happen with this wedding now…”

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Andrei was also “really shocked and upset by the decision”, Ivan said, “especially since it’s been a long dream of his to visit New Zealand. 

What should be a time of “excitement and happiness” has “been nothing but stress, disappointment and anxiety,” he said. 

INZ general manager border and visa operations, Nicola Hogg, said that, when considering whether an applicant is a bona fide visitor, the department looks at their personal circumstances, including their family ties; their financial and employment commitments in their country of residence; their immigration and travel history; and their reason for visiting. 

Andrei’s application was declined as he “did not meet the requirements set out in visitor visa immigration instructions,” she said. 

“As part of the application, Mr Galtsov was unable to provide sufficient evidence to verify his declared employment and no employment was declared for the supporting applicant, Mr Galtsov’s partner. 

“Furthermore, other than one bank reference showing Mr Galtsov’s available balance, there were no other forms of supporting financial evidence to demonstrate Mr Galtsov and his family had established financial ties in their home country.

“INZ acknowledges that Mr Galtsov declared a lawful purpose for visiting New Zealand. However, this was not sufficient to outweigh the concerns regarding his employment and financial ties in his home country, and therefore his application was declined as Mr Galstov was not considered to be a genuine visitor.”

Ivan says his brother has a house and job and in St Petersburg and would have supplied evidence if he had thought it was essential to do so.

FRANCOIS NEL/GETTY

Ivan says his brother has a house and job and in St Petersburg and would have supplied evidence if he had thought it was essential to do so.

Ivan feels it was unfair of INZ to reject his brother’s application on the basis that he had not supplied documents which were not explicitly asked for on the online application form. 

“If the immigration officer needed additional documents to make an informed decision, they should have given my brother an opportunity to provide such documents… My brother has a house and car and employment in Russia so could have provided them if they were required. But they were not required.

“The visa refusal put a permanent mark that may affect my brother’s future travel plans to New Zealand or any other country.”

Hogg noted that INZ’s online visa application portal “gives explicit details on the criteria applicants need to meet and the types of evidence they can provide to support their application. This includes descriptions of supporting documents that can be provided to INZ”. 

The onus is on the applicant, she noted, to provide sufficient evidence that they meet visitor visa criteria.

The criteria on the online portal – which is different to the online application form – lists “evidence you can provide to show you are a genuine visitor”, adding that those who do not provide such evidence may experience delays.  

This includes evidence of travel history, which Ivan said Andrei did provide, along with evidence that you are visiting family or friends and of your home country circumstances, which he did not. 

The onus is on the applicant to provide sufficient evidence to demonstrate they meet immigration instructions, INZ's Nicola Hogg says.

123RF

The onus is on the applicant to provide sufficient evidence to demonstrate they meet immigration instructions, INZ’s Nicola Hogg says.

Ivan feels INZ is “quite vague” about the evidence that must be provided to prove one is a genuine visitor.  He believes INZ needs to make it clear on the application form which documents, if not supplied, could result in the application being declined. 

“If such documents are so important, why are they not mandatory?,” he asked. 

Andrei submitted only supporting documentation that was explicitly asked for “as any additional documents would have to be professionally translated into English and require more time from INZ to process,” Ivan said. “This would quickly add up to a lot of money [as] some documents cost up to $150 to translate. In a country where the average salary is $1000 a month that’s a lot of money to spend on a visa.”

While Andrei has re-applied for a visa, Ivan said he has almost given up hope that it will be approved in time. 

“With only a few weeks to go and the Beijing office closing down due to the Coronavirus outbreak, it’s unlikely that the decision on the application will be made in time… My most recent call with the Immigration New Zealand was pretty sad. The woman on the other end of the line showed no sympathy [and] wouldn’t comment on the processing times…” 

Hogg said on February 10 that no decision had yet been made on Andrei’s second application, which it received on January 16. 

“INZ is committed to minimising the impact of the Beijing office closure on visa applicants as much as possible, and we are currently working through transferring some work to other visa processing offices.”

Most visitor visa applications have been handled in INZ’s Beijing and Mumbai offices since the department began processing visa by “product stream” (business, education or tourism) rather than location, she noted. 

Ivan, who was told Tuesday that Andrei’s application is still in Beijing, said that postponing the wedding is not a real option as other overseas family members have already booked flights to New Zealand and their visas require them to arrive by a certain date. 

The majority of visitor visas are now processed in Beijing and Mumbai, INZ says.

MARK SCHIEFELBEIN/AP

The majority of visitor visas are now processed in Beijing and Mumbai, INZ says.

“What it means is we can’t really postpone it because then the rest of my family wouldn’t be able to come to New Zealand, which means we would have to go through the whole process of starting to apply for visas again.”

The temporary travel restrictions the government has placed on foreign nationals travelling from or transiting through mainland China in response to the Coronavirus outbreak have thrown another spanner in the works. The restrictions, introduced on February 2, are in place for two weeks and are being reviewed every 48 hours.

“We have already had to cancel tickets through Shanghai, China… so we are looking at alternative tickets now, which would be obviously a lot more expensive because everybody had their tickets cancelled.”

Even if his brother’s visa is granted, Ivan worries that there will be no tickets left by that point – or no tickets they can afford.   

“I haven’t even worked on my vows or anything I should be doing [because I’ve] been concerned about all the immigration process. Especially for a thing like a visitor visa, it is quite ridiculous when most people just get a stamp on the border and here you have to apply like four months ahead and get rejected for just trying to visit your brother who’s a citizen of the country…”



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