Simon Collins

Simon Collins is the Herald’s social issues reporter.

Visa ordeal upsets gay Thai couples marrying in NZ

Kai Kingsley (left), who will marry Jakthon Phaengtho, was astounded at the "grilling" they received after applying for their visas.
Kai Kingsley (left), who will marry Jakthon Phaengtho, was astounded at the "grilling" they received after applying for their visas.

The first two Thai couples to book same-sex marriages in New Zealand have had to battle to get visitor permits from immigration officials who appear to have been suspicious about their 30-year age gaps.

The two couples - both young Thai men marrying much older Americans - were initially refused visas because officials did not believe they had "genuine intentions" to marry here.

They had to produce "reams of information" including bank accounts, property records, photographic proof of their relationship and support letters before they finally obtained visas.

After they complained to the Herald, Immigration NZ apologised to them this week for giving them visas stating "for the express purpose of registering same-sex marriage".

"This was an error and we will be advising our branch staff that they should simply be stating 'marriage' in such cases," Immigration spokeswoman Rachel Purdom said.

Supporters of the same-sex marriage law, which came into force on August 19, touted potential benefits for the tourist industry in New Zealand's becoming the first country in the Asia-Pacific region to legalise gay unions.

But the two couples from Thailand, who were told by New Zealand's embassy in Bangkok that they were the first gay couples from Southeast Asia to apply for visas to marry here, have fallen foul of immigration rules that restrict visa-free entry to only 58 countries including 35 in Europe.

The visa-free list includes only the six richest Asian countries - Japan, South Korea, Taiwan, Singapore, Malaysia and Brunei - and Hong Kong. The only African nation on the list is one of the richest countries on that continent, South Africa.

Ms Purdom said visitors from all other countries "must be able to satisfy Immigration NZ that they genuinely intend a temporary stay in New Zealand for a lawful purpose (which includes marriage), and that they are unlikely to remain in New Zealand unlawfully or breach the conditions of their visa".

"In assessing whether an applicant is 'bona fide', Immigration NZ must establish that the applicant's stated reason for travelling to New Zealand is genuine. In this case, the stated reason for travelling to New Zealand was for a marriage ceremony, and so we sought evidence that a marriage ceremony was in fact planned," she said.

But artist Kai Kingsley III, 66, who will marry Jakthon Phaengtho, 36, at the Auckland registry office on September 16, said they were asked for far more than that, including "proof of everything you own and what you privately share". They even had to provide photos of their jewellery to help prove their financial backing.

Skip Burns and Jatuporn Namvised.
Skip Burns and Jatuporn Namvised.

"What I object to is the manner in which we were grilled for what I believe to be profiling of Thai citizens coming to New Zealand," he said.

Phuket hotelier Robert "Skip" Burns, 68, who will marry Jatuporn Namvised, 32, on the same day, said he did not understand why officials needed so many details of their lives.

"It was as if we were asking to immigrate forever," he said.

The two couples have booked to spend two weeks in New Zealand and have invited friends here and in Australia to attend their weddings.


Visa-free nations

• 35 in Europe
• 7 in Middle East
• 7 in Asia
• 5 in South America
• 2 in North America
• 1 in Africa
• Australia

- NZ Herald

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