Thousands of partnership visa applications are being left sitting in queue if they are not being supported by a New Zealand citizen or resident partner.
Immigration New Zealand confirmed it has made a decision to not treat all partnership visa applications equally at its Mumbai office , where a bulk of temporary partnership visa applications are being made.
Telecommunications technician Balbir Singh, 27, who arrived from India in 2015 on an essential skills visa, has been waiting eight months for news about his wife Manpreet Kaur's application.
In an update from INZ last month, Singh was told his 24-year-old wife's application would remain in queue and would only be processed when "priority cases" had been allocated.
"The INZ Mumbai office will only prioritise partnership visa applications for partners of non-New Zealand citizens or residents or general visitor visa applications in situations considered to be an extreme emergency," the email said.
INZ manager Michael Carley confirmed the agency's decision to prioritise visa applications only if they had the backing of NZ citizen or resident partners.
"All other partnership visa applications will remain in the queue and will be allocated in order they were received once all priority cases have been allocated," he said.
There are about 4905 temporary entry partnership visa currently in queue, but INZ is not able to provide a breakdown on how many are not priority cases.
Applicants that are not supported by a New Zealand resident or partner will also have to wait until a further 4357 residence partnership visa applications have been allocated.
It is stated on INZ's website that 90 per cent of visas for partners of students are processed within six months, and partners of workers within three months.
Partners of those who hold a long term work visa of six months or longer are able to apply under the partnership scheme. However, the priority changes could mean that the work visas of their partners would have expired even before their applications get allocated.
Singh, who returned to India to get married in January, said it has been "painful and difficult" living without his wife.
"We are humans too, and those on work visas need our spouses here just as much as NZ citizens and residents," Singh said.
"The priority system is unfair and discriminates, people who applied after my wife are getting their visas, it should be first come, first served."
Singh's work visa until January 2022 and says it would be a struggle to be living apart until then if his wife didn't get a visa.
"It is heartless and cruel for INZ to be doing this... what right do they have to keep married couples apart," he said.
An INZ spokeswoman said the some queued applications had been partly processed, but cannot be progressed further for reasons that may include the applicants being unlawfully in New Zealand or needing additional information.
INZ figures showed that for every four partnership visitor visas approved this year, three were rejected.
Partners and spouses of work and student visa holders needed to prove they were bona fides, including satisfying INZ that they would accompany their partner when they left the country.
INZ assistant general manager Jeannie Melville told the Herald last month that procedural changes had also been made in May to improve processing times in Mumbai.
These include moving the processing of all offshore student applications except for Vietnam and India to Palmerston North.
Processing of all new partnership visa applications from the Mumbai office will also now be handled in Hamilton .