Sham marriages a 'headache'

By Celeste Gorrell Anstiss

Arranged marriages are still common in New Zealand. One such union was that of Barwinder Kaur, pictured here, who wed Amininder Singha of Punjab, a groom chosen by her relatives. Photo / APN
Arranged marriages are still common in New Zealand. One such union was that of Barwinder Kaur, pictured here, who wed Amininder Singha of Punjab, a groom chosen by her relatives. Photo / APN

Nearly 500 people were turned away by immigration officers in the last financial year after claiming to be in a long-term and stable relationship with New Zealanders.

Nine thousand others were sucessful in gaining a visa under the partnership category.

Among those were a number who wanted to move to New Zealand following a culturally arranged marriage to a Kiwi citizen or resident.

Immigration NZ's acting fraud detection manager Aaron Baker said such unions were causing a headache because it was increasingly difficult to separate genuine arrangements from shams.

By law, immigration officers had to recognise such marriages the same as romantic relationships. But Baker said it was a complex task establishing that a "genuine and stable relationship" existed.

"You've got no history of living together or communication or even meeting someone," he said.

Similarly, it was difficult to prove an arranged marriage was not genuine if it needed to be investigated after the visa had been approved.

"In a fraud investigation, getting the level of evidence together to show that an offence has occurred is extremely challenging." The number of visas granted to a person in an arranged marriage was not available but Indian Central Association president Paul Bains said the practise remained common in the Indian community, although young people were no longer "forced" to marry a partner they did not like.

Bains said he understood the verification process was necessary, although it was "harrowing" for those with genuine arrangements.

"I have no doubt there are some cases that are not valid. Corruption is there. They are trying to get the odd one that isn't right," he said.

"Once the marriage has happened it is true, but it's very hard to prove that."

Bains said immigration officers often wanted to see wedding videos and photographs and interview witnesses to the arrangement.

Immigration lawyer Aaron Martin said he dealt with several cases a year where residency had been declined because the authorities were not satisfied the arranged marriage was genuine.

It was a particular problem when the marriage had been arranged by a family member who was illiterate, so there was no proof of correspondence.

"Sometimes I have to suggest to the couple that they live together in India for a while and apply again. I have to explain to them 'How do you expect the visa officer to assess this as genuine?'," he said.

Martin added New Zealand citizens were seen as attractive grooms by those arranging marriages in India, because it promised a better life for the bride.

Arranged marriages get thumbs up

A young Barwinder Kaur travelled to India to meet her fiance Amininder Singh, who had been chosen for her by relatives. Three years later, they met again - at their lavish Sikh wedding, above, in her home town Wanganui.

More than 300 guests, including a large contingent from India, attended. Kaur remembers her groom wearing a smart, Sikh suit with a red turban that matched her sari, which was intricately embroidered and swathed in gold.

After the wedding, Singh moved in with her family and started work at their tandoori restaurant. Kaur says their three-year engagement meant they did not have any problems proving their relationship to immigration officers.

The couple now have a 4-year-old daughter and are expecting their second child next month. Kaur says she could not be happier with her family's choice of man.

"We are very happy and doing well. It's worked well. My husband is very happy here," she says.

She says arranged marriages are an important part of her culture - all of her Kiwi Indian friends are in similar relationships and she would want to continue the tradition when her own daughter becomes a young woman. "We haven't started looking yet," she laughs.

- Herald on Sunday

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