All Daniel Tadese wants is to be with his wife and child.
But as his son Natnael prepares to mark his fourth birthday next week, there is no end in sight to the bureaucratic nightmare that has torn the family apart.
Tadese, 48, is an Australian citizen of Ethiopian descent who has been living in Melbourne since 2007.
Immigration officials accept that the West Footscray man is the father of Natnael and have accordingly granted the child citizenship by descent.
Yet they have refused to grant Tadese's wife Genet Abebe a partner visa, solely on the basis of DNA testing undertaken in 2012.
The testing suggested the statistical likelihood of the couple being biological half-siblings, compared to unrelated individuals, is 66 to 1.
While Abebe was pregnant with Natnael in 2014 the then Department of Immigration struck out her visa application, arguing the DNA results constitute 'moderately strong' evidence that the pair share the same mother.
Speaking through an interpreter, Tadese maintains that this is impossible as their families live in different parts of Ethiopia and had never met before their marriage.
"I was really shocked, there is no relation whatsoever. We met through her aunty who lives in Melbourne, who I met through the church," he said.
"We started talking over the phone for a few months, then I went back to Ethiopia and we met personally and really liked each other. "So we had the wedding there and I came back here and started the process for her visa."
Tadese said more than 200 guests attended the wedding ceremony in Addis Ababa in 2012 and that the marriage is accepted under Ethiopian law.
He points out that the Ethiopian Orthodox church, which performed the marriage, does not allow half-siblings to marry.
DNA testing is not a standard requirement of partner visa applications, yet may be requested if the applicant and sponsor are suspected of being siblings.
The 2012 tests were carried out by a company called Genetic Technologies, which has since been taken over by Genomic Diagnostics. Genomic Diagnostics business manager Brett Kennedy said the company cannot comment on testing by a company that was not part of its group at the time.
Tadese said that he had so far racked up more than $20,000 in legal fees challenging the Department's decision.
The Administrative Appeals Tribunal last year affirmed the visa refusal, prompting Tadese to make a final appeal to the Federal Circuit Court, where he has been waiting for more than a year for a hearing date.
He said because DNA testing can't provide a higher degree of certainty, the court should consider a wider range of supporting evidence.
That view is backed by Monash University senior lecturer Dr Maria O'Sullivan, who said she was unaware of any of precedent cases in Australia.
"I think the authorities should be looking at matters other than just DNA, as there is a slight chance that the test is incorrect."
The saga has now stretched on for more than six years, taking a heavy toll on Tadese's finances and mental health. The Uber driver has been diagnosed with depression and said his phone conversations with his wife and son inevitably end in tears.
"I haven't seen them for more than a year, I'm worried about my son growing up without really knowing me," Tadese said.
"Every single time I call he asks 'when are we coming?'. It's so heartbreaking to hear that. "I'm on my own, I feel lost and I just don't know what to do."
A spokesperson from the Department of Home Affairs said the department did not comment on individual cases for privacy reasons.
The spokesperson said although foreign marriages recognised under local civil law would generally be recognised in Australia, a visa applicant and sponsor being siblings would void the marriage in Australia under the Marriage Act.
"An application for a partner visa cannot be approved on spouse grounds if the Department is not satisfied the relationship is valid under the Marriage Act."
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Currently Immigration New Zealand (INZ) is working on the Alignment and Consolidation of the Visa Services network. The purpose of this change is to simplify a work stream focused on business process improvement. The Programme has now been running for over 12 months, and is on track to transition Visa Services to the new operating model by June 2019.
Currently INZ is closing down many off-shore offices. By June 2019, INZ's processing footprint will be smaller but supported by a strengthening of its risk and verification presence.
To provide further consistency of practice and quality control of visa application processing, currently, alignment of visa processing is underway as you can see from the above.
So what will be the outcome of all these?
The Simplification work stream means it will reduce over-processing, enabling INZ's staff to work smarter not harder and apply their judgment and expertise in the right areas. Since 4 July 2018, the expansion of eVisas (label-less) means close to 100 per cent of visas issued are now eVisas. Eventually, we will see faster processing time and consistent decisions when it is completely implemented next year.
Airport departure cards will be a thing of the past from November.
People will no longer have to fill out the cards before flying overseas, Immigration Minister Iain Lees-Galloway announced at Auckland International Airport on Sunday.
"This will improve the experience of all travellers departing New Zealand, enabling a faster and smoother process ahead of the busy holiday period," Lees-Galloway said.
"It will also save more than 100,000 hours of time currently spent by travellers completing more than 6.5 million departure cards per year."
There is no exact date set for the axing of the cards, and one would be announced closer to the time.
Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern first signalled the move in March at the Australia New Zealand Leadership Forum in Sydney.
Delegates at that forum said the cards were not necessary and hampered a seamless trans-Tasman experience, which affected tourism and business.
Ardern said she agreed and would be talking to statistics and immigration officials in the coming months.
On Sunday, Lees-Galloway said the move would bring New Zealand into line with other countries, few of which had departure cards with the level of detail required by the New Zealand card.
Australia removed its departure card in 2017, and the announcement meant travellers would be able to travel across the Tasman without filling out a departure card in either port, Lees-Galloway said.
While the dollar amount saved by axing departure cards was "not huge", it would save people time, he said.
"It removes an inconvenience which isn't necessary anymore . . . It's time for them to go."
Auckland International Airport chief executive Adrian Littlewood said the move was something the airport had wanted for many years.
"[It's] something that will make a big difference to travellers' lives."
While filling out a departure card was a small part of the overall process, doing away with them would cut out the "slight annoyance factor" for those customers just wanting to get to the gate, he said.
Customs Minister Meka Whaitiri said the cards were no longer needed for their original purpose – to account for all passengers crossing the New Zealand border.
"We have smarter systems now that capture passenger identity information and travel movement records electronically," she said.
"Information captured by the departure cards is now mainly used for statistical purposes.
"Statistics NZ has developed an alternative way to produce migration and tourism statistics, based on actual movements rather than passengers' stated intentions on the departure cards."
Departure cards were introduced in 1921, and it's estimated more than 132 million cards have been filled out since that time.
In 2017, 6.5 million cards were completed. That represented about 100,000 hours of traveller time, or about 12 years, a fact sheet provided by Lees-Galloway and Whaitiri said.
The cards ask travellers how long they have been in New Zealand and how long they intend to be away.
From November, Statistics NZ would switch to a new system which would measure the actual times, the statement said.
Those hoping for an end to arrival cards, along with departure cards, were set for a longer wait.
The statement said arrival cards captured important declarations which were used by border staff to manage immigration and biosecurity risks.
"Officials are in the early stages of exploring alternative means of capturing this information, but there are no set timeframes."
Interim visas are granted to people in New Zealand whose application for a further temporary visa has not been determined when their previous visa expires.
It has been an on-going issue, as their further temporary visa applications are declined, they become unlawful.
However from 27 August 2018, Immigration instructions about the currency of interim visas have been amended so that once an interim visa is valid, it will expire 21 days after the further temporary visa application is declined or withdrawn, or after 6 months if the application is not decided (or withdrawn) in that time.
The changes are:
They are intended to support the attraction of international students studying at higher levels and preserve a pathway to residence for those with the skills and qualifications New Zealand needs, specifically through the link between more generous post-study work rights to higher level qualifications.
There has been significant growth in the international education sector over the last few years, especially in below degree level qualifications. As a result, there has been a decline in the skill level of people moving through the immigration system and granted permanent residency.
We want to ensure that post-study pathways for international students are fit-for-purpose and contribute the skills and qualifications New Zealand needs.
The Government wants to support the transition to these new immigration settings. These changes include a three year, time-limited incentive for international students to study outside Auckland. This is to ensure the benefits of international education are shared throughout all the regions of New Zealand, supporting the Government's aims to lift regional investment, growth and productivity.
There is a three year sunset clause, to enable those parts of the sector that are most affected by the changes (Institutes of Technology and Polytechnics (ITPs) and Private Training Establishments (PTEs)) to be able to successfully transition, over time, to new immigration settings. It also supports the current ITP Roadmap 2020 work underway by the Tertiary Education Commission on the long-term viability of ITPs, while ensuring that Government goals for regional growth are not undermined.
These changes will be grand-parented, so they will not impact current post-study work visa holders or current students who are undertaking a qualification that (once completed) will meet the qualification requirements as set out in current immigration settings.
These changes support the Government's broader plans for a high quality international system in order to generate educational, economic, social and cultural benefits to New Zealand.
Work visa numbers have hit a record high despite changes to control immigration numbers. More than 228,000 work visas were approved in the last year, up 4000 on the previous financial year.
Under changes introduced last August, immigrants earning below a salary threshold of $49,000 or $73,000 depending on their skills have to leave New Zealand after three years and cannot reapply for a year.
The highest increase in work visas in the financial year to July was from the Philippines.
The Labour Party campaigned for a fall of between 20,000 and 30,000 in work and student visas numbers, although the government has since said it had no specific target.
Employers and Manufacturers Association chief executive Kim Campbell was pleased at the rise in approvals and said skilled migrants filled a real gap in the workforce.
"You do have to make sure that the people are truly qualified and if they are and they fit the criteria then they should be coming in. "That's a good thing and it's going to help us grow the economy."
Student numbers fell by 2000 last year. The figures also show 37,000 new residents last year, 10,000 down on the previous financial year.
That means Immigration New Zealand has met the previous government's lowered planning range of 85,000 new residents over two years.
The parent category was frozen and the skilled migrant points' threshold was raised to bring down the number of people eligible for residence.
National MP Michael Woodhouse, a former immigration minister, said he was was extremely surprised at the scale of the fall as changes he made while in office to tighten residency settings should not have made that much of a difference.
Mr Woodhouse said he had been hearing anecdotes around the country of a slowdown in processing times and decision-making by immigration officials for both temporary and residency visas.
Immigration Minister Iain Lees-Galloway said he was not convinced the whole residency system was working well, and he was planning big changes.
"Even that the target band that we have is the appropriate method of monitoring the residency programme so I'm working through some options at the moment and I expect to be taking some proposals to the public later this year."
To read the actual article, visit here.
eVisas (visas without a physical label) from 4 July 2018
Change applies to paper based applications
Nearly half of all visas issued already are label-less.
Any online account customers receive eVisas rather than labels in physical passports.
The 4 July change extends the process of eVisas without labels to paper based applications.
There is an exception for students using Provider Direct.
INZ will review this over the next year.
What it means for applicants
Successful applicants will receive an approval letter with the visa details via email.
Visa holders should print a copy and keep it with their passport.
Other than the letter, employers and education providers can verify visa details via VisaView.
Visa holders can authorise other people or organisations.
e.g. health care providers or travel agents to verify visa details online through the Visa Verification Service. VisaView can be found from here.
Is getting a label possible?
While there is absolutely no need to have a physical label in a passport to prove that an
individual holds a visa, INZ recognises that some individuals may prefer to have one.
It is possible to obtain a label by request and payment of a fee of $110.
An application form can be found online from here.
Can eVisas be delivered by post?
The default method of delivering eVisas is by email.
On the rare occasions that an applicant does not have an email address arrangements can be made to post the decision letter.
Do I need to carry my eVisa at at all times?
Keep your eVisa with your passport.
Have it with you at all times when you are travelling internationally.
Use your discretion about carrying it within New Zealand but keep it in a safe place.
Immigration New Zealand (INZ) is reviewing more than 200 Indian student visa applications after the Ombudsman criticised some of its decision-making processes.
It follows the deportation of a group of students after their offshore agents used fake documents to get them into the country.
Student Vikram Salaria's quest to study and settle in New Zealand has been met with heartbreak. His school was recently shut over quality issues, and last year his wife and daughter were among those deported after seeking refuge at a church.
"It's the same like criminals, yes. We didn't do anything... haven't done anything," he told Newshub.
He says unscrupulous agents faked information in his wife's application - without her knowledge. And the Ombudsman "identified some concerns about the level of analysis undertaken by immigration officers before declining applications on character grounds".
However he didn't disagree with the decision to have her deported.
"The Ombudsman has criticized INZ for their processes, their inconsistency," says immigration lawyer.
Immigration Minister Iain-Lees Galloway says overwhelmingly, the Ombudsman "has found that INZ acted appropriately, but where shortcomings have been identified, INZ have indicated that they will take steps to rectify that."
Part of that will involve an audit of 213 cases. Mr Salaria's wife's case will also be looked at.
"I talked with her and she is very hopeful that she can come back over here," says Mr Salaria.
But there's no certainty about whether that's likely or not. Mr Galloway says he wants to look at the report and consider what the options are.
The lawyer made the complaint, and says the decision is encouraging. But some aspects trouble him because the Ombudsman found false information is a deportable violation - even if it was the agent who lied, rather than the student.
"The Ombusman is saying that after signing that form, the student is solely responsible for everything," he says.
The lawyer adds that this could lead to fewer students reporting irregularities in their applications, as they'll know it'll lead to deportation.
INZ says it's still working out the scope of its audit and will report back in four months.
To read the actual article, visit here.
Māori elder says his mana 'trampled on' by Immigration NZ after wife's visa application declined.
A Māori elder's Filipino wife has been asked to leave the country because Immigration New Zealand does not believe their relationship is genuine.
Tuakau Taka, 59, married Maria Alma Yu, 49, in Auckland in 2016, at a ceremony witnessed by his daughter from a previous marriage and her husband.
But Immigration New Zealand said it wasn't satisfied that Yu met the requirements of the partnership category to be granted a visa.
Taka said he had given everything the agency has asked for to prove that his love and relationship with his wife was real.
"I have no clue about what else they want, and I feel insulted that they are accusing us of not telling the truth," he said.
"I just want what is rightfully due to me and my wife, and for us to be given a chance to live meaningful and fulfilling lives here in Aotearoa as a couple."
Taka, who hails from Ngāpuhi, Ngātiwai and Tainui iwi, alleged it was a "lack of cultural understanding" on INZ's part that had led the decision.
"They haven't checked out whom I am, what I do, and that I have a status as a kaumātua."
The Northland-born Māori elder believed that his wife, who gained the title of kuia - or a female elder - through marriage with a kaumātua, should have the automatic right to stay.
"I'm a descendant of those before me who are born in this country, and to be treated like that by immigration is not very fair," he said.
Taka said the two officers sent by INZ to assess their relationship - a young Indian and another Asian - did not have any understanding of Māori culture "whatsoever".
"I feel that my mana as Māori and as a kaumātua has been trampled on by these young immigration officers who get to decide on people like us who are matured and experienced enough to know what true relationship is all about," Taka said.
"All I know as a New Zealand citizen that when I married my wife, she should automatically be allowed to stay in NZ and get the same rights and privilege as I have."
INZ manager Michael Carley said he rejected Taka's allegations.
"Each application that INZ receives is assessed on its own merits and in line with relevant instructions," he said.
Carley said Yu's application for a partnership work visa was declined in March because the agency was not satisfied she met requirements under the category.
"INZ gave Ms Yu the opportunity to address a number of concerns about the application, but the application was declined as INZ was not satisfied that she met all four requirements for a partnership work visa - credibility, living together, genuine partnership and stable partnership," Carley said.
"Ms Yu made a request to the Associate Minister of Immigration under section 61 of the Immigration Act 2009, but he declined to intervene in her case last month. The Act specifically states that the decision maker is not required to give reasons for the decision and as such INZ is unable to provide any further comment."
Carley said Yu has been unlawfully in New Zealand since March 10 and is encouraged to depart.
Taka was introduced to Yu in August 2015 when she was new to the country and he offered to take her to her clinical placement at the Park Haven Resthome in Māngere.
She was then a student doing a diploma in healthcare level 5 at the Auckland Goldstar Institute.
Taka took her to Mission Bay on their first date and later introduced her to his extended family.
"The fact that my husband is Māori, I am honoured to meet one, and he shared with me his culture, his love for his whānau and his country," Yu said.
Yu described Taka as very approachable, gentle in spirit and who made her feel welcomed.
Three months later, she moved in with Taka at his South Auckland home and started "a new life living together as a couple".
Taka introduced Yu to his church, the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, and they now share the same faith.
To read the actual article, visit here.
New Zealand Government's Ministry of Business, Innovation & Employment is consulting on proposals for changes to:
The Government wants to ensure that international students coming to New Zealand are motivated by a great education and a great experience, but has concerns that current settings are not quite right, with some students still seeing study as a guaranteed pathway to residence and some students being exploited by unscrupulous people.
The Government wants to ensure it has the facts and the latest information before making any policy decisions.
This consultation provides an opportunity for interested parties to provide their feedback.
How to make a submission
1. Read below consultation Paper:
Seeking your views on settings for post-study work rights for international students and eligibility of students’ partners and dependent children to work and study in New Zealand
2. Submission form:
You can download it and fill out.
3. Send your form as a Microsoft Word document or PDF to:
Submissions are open until 5pm, Friday 29 June.