Kiwi mum Natalie Copestake is thousands of kilometres away from her Nigerian husband Emmanuel Okunade as they battle with Immigration NZ to get him a visitor visa.
Copestake, 44, met Okunade, 35, online in 2013 and got married to him two years ago, but INZ is refusing to accept their relationship is genuine and stable.
She is one of thousands of Kiwis who have met their foreign partners online and finding it difficult to meet immigration requirements to get a visa for them to enter NZ.
Immigration rules were first changed in 2003 to place the onus on couples to prove their marriage or relationship was genuine.
Previously, it had been the responsibility of INZ to show a relationship was a sham.
However, as more couples have online relationships, it has become increasingly difficult for many to meet the requirement of having lived together for 12 months or more as the prerequisite for a genuine relationship.
Immigration professionals say the rule is out of date, and that it is unfair for INZ to assume all partnerships that started online are fake.
Okunade first applied for a visa to visit Copestake in New Zealand soon after they met in 2013. It was declined because they were unable to provide any evidence of their friendship at the time.
Copestake then flew to Malaysia, where Okunade was studying at the time.
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"During the time we spent together we fell deeply in love and six weeks later he proposed to me," Copestake said.
When he applied for a visa a second time in April 2015, it was approved. But Okunade was refused entry following an interview at Auckland Airport.
INZ assistant general manager Peter Elms said Okunade was refused entry at the time because of "concerns about his bona fides".
Elms said the Nigerian national had provided false and misleading information on his application relating to his qualifications and travel history.
Copestake, however, who was also approached to answer questions by an immigration officer at the arrival hall, insisted it was a case of "misunderstanding".
"It's like they already decided that our relationship was not genuine and wanted to send him back to Nigeria," she said.
"That day was frustrating and ridiculous, an absolute shambles.
Copestake, who is mum to her 8-year-old son Lamond Tulele, said their love grew stronger and deeper, despite the immigration challenges.
In December that year, she travelled to Nigeria where the couple got married on New Year's Eve.
"We met our extended family, embraced our new culture and it was an amazing experience," Copestake said.
"If INZ doesn't think this is genuine then I really don't know what is."
Okunade again applied for a visa in 2017, and after waiting for a year, was told it was again declined - this time because they failed to meet the 12-months living together requirement.
Elms said the visa was declined because Okunade did not meet requirements as set out in immigration instructions.
"While Mr Okunade and his wife provided information that they had met, were married and had communicated, the evidence they provided failed to support that they had lived together as a couple as required," he said.
"There are no different policy provisions for couples who meet online. They must meet the same criteria as any applicant who applies for a visa on the grounds of their relationship to a NZ citizen or resident."
Their immigration lawyer Maricel Weischede believed it was harder for couples who have met online to prove their relationships because INZ often assumed they were fake from the onset.
Also in modern day relationships, she said, meeting the 12-months living together minimum would be an impossible ask for some.
"INZ should understand that partnerships developing through online meeting has become increasingly common. It is now possible to have a genuine relationship that is exclusive even in long distances," Weischede said.
"The reality is, it has become more difficult to secure a general visitor's visa to visit a partner because INZ would have bona fide concerns - whether the partner would return to home country - because the purpose of the visit is to be with the partner."
She believed also that the agency practised racial and ethnic profiling when arriving at decisions.
"The nationality of the applicant affects how long the processing of the application would be," she said.
"It is expected that an applicant from Nigeria would be processed with great difficulty and scrutiny verses a partnership visa for a Canadian, Italian or German."
Copestake, who has taken on her husband's last name, said being forced to live apart from Okunade was proving "too much" and moved to Nigeria last year.
"INZ has forced me out of my own country...in order to maintain my marriage. I strongly feel that we are being discriminated against, my husband is not a criminal yet he is treated like one," she said.
"INZ has put us on hold and deprived me of my civil rights as a New Zealand citizen with a clean record."
They lodged another visa application for Okunade in January, which is yet to be decided.
Former immigration minister Tuariki Delamere said INZ often started on the premise that all partnership visa applications are fake.
"Determining whether a relationship is genuine or not is no easy task, I accept that," he said.
"But it is a problem when INZ assumes all relationships, especially those that have started online or social media, are fake."
Delamere currently has a case before INZ of a couple who met online involving a 27-year-old Maori woman with disabilities, Wikiteora Matiu, who is fighting to keep her Indian partner Riman Jeet Singh, in New Zealand.
Delamere said risk and racial profiling had been happening at the agency since the time he was minister.
Sara Mostafa, 30, another single mum, is also fighting to prove her relationship with her husband whom she met on Facebook is genuine.
Mostafa, who has a 5-year-old son, first came to New Zealand from Iraq as a refugee and now holds New Zealand citizenship.
She met her Turkey-based Iraqi husband Fahad Al-Handhal, 21, on Facebook and says she's finding it impossible to convince INZ that their marriage and relationship is not fake.
"I am grateful to New Zealand for accepting me as a refugee, but I feel like I am being denied my right to live with my husband and to have a complete family," she said.
"I want to have a full family, especially for my 5-year-old son, and I feel it is unfair for INZ to keep us apart."
Although Mostafa had travelled to Turkey three times last year to spend time with Al-Handhal, they have not lived together for the required 12-month period to qualify for a partnership visa.
They engaged a lawyer to lodge a request for an exception to the living together requirement, but were unsuccessful.
Even with a copy of their marriage certificates and photos of their wedding and time in Turkey, INZ deemed them as "insufficient evidence".
Elms said the reason for declining Al-Handhal's application was because INZ was not satisfied that his partnership with Mostafa was genuine and stable.
"Marriage alone is not sufficient evidence, and applicants are required to provide a range of documentation to demonstrate their relationship meets requirements," he said.
"It is the duty of the applicant to satisfy the immigration officer that the requirements of immigration instructions have been met."
Elms added that there were no current plans to review those instructions.
He said a genuine partnership is defined as one that had been entered into with the intention of being maintained on a long-term and exclusive basis, and a stable partnership is one that is likely to endure.
Mostafa said she was struggling to cope with the separation from her husband, and was at a loss on what to do.
INZ visa services manager Michael Carley said cases were decided based on their own merits, and refuted allegations of any discrimination or racial bias.
"To be granted a visa under the partnership category, applicants must provide sufficient evidence to satisfy an immigration officer that they have been living together for 12 months or more in a partnership that is genuine, stable and likely to endure," he said.
The agency said last month there was a queue of nearly 12,000 partnership temporary visa applications .
About 95 per cent of partnership visas are decided within four to seven months, according to immigration figures.