Immigration NZ is to blame for the partnership visa rules that have upset the Indian community and those changes will be reversed, Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern says.

The issue has upset the Indian community, which says that the stricter interpretation of the rules - including for couples to have lived together for 12 months - meant that many spouses in arranged marriages did not qualify.

PM Jacinda Ardern said the decision was made arbitrarily by officials and not under the authority of Cabinet. Photo / Marty Melville
PM Jacinda Ardern said the decision was made arbitrarily by officials and not under the authority of Cabinet. Photo / Marty Melville

It led to a verbal stoush between the Indian community and New Zealand First MP Shane Jones, whose fiery comments including telling immigrants to leave the country if they did not like the rules.

The Indian community accused Jones of racism, which he strongly rejected - though he said he would continue to be vocal on immigration issues as it was fertile vote-winning ground for New Zealand First.


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Immigration Minister Iain Lees-Galloway has said he would review the rules in light of the Indian community's concerns, but Ardern went a step further today.

"That was changed as a result of Immigration NZ officials, changing the way they were operating," Ardern said.

"They did not do that under the authority of Cabinet ... it was a decision made arbitrarily by officials.

"My expectation is that will reverse back to the status quo and the way it was operating before."

According to Immigration NZ figures, 10 out of 87 applications for culturally-arranged marriage visas had been approved as of the end of August.

But in the previous four years more than half were approved.

New Zealand First leader Winston Peters had previously trumpeted immigration changes as a result of his party's influence, but Ardern said that Peters was referring to parent visas, not partnership visas.


Auckland Indian Association president Narendra Bhana said he was thrilled with Ardern's comments, and that Immigration NZ had already been in touch to say the reversal could happen within two weeks.

He said the rules would not be changed, but more consideration would be given for visitor visas that would allow couples to be reunited and live together so they could later apply for a partnership visa.

Bhana stood by his condemnation of Jones' comments and said that they had led to a backlash against the Indian community.

Jones had previously told Radio NZ that people had "no legitimate expectations, in my view, to bring your whole village to New Zealand".

His comments were labelled racist, which Jones later called a "Bollywood overreaction".

Today Jones told reporters that he had a bit of "Fred Flintstone and Wilma" about him.

"But a lot of those people vote for us and I'm going to look after their interests as well.

"My issue at all times was really what quality, what blend and what talent do we want our migrant community to bring to New Zealand. I'm on incredibly fertile ground for the party I represent.

"Just because we've signed up to the Coalition agreement doesn't stop me, as a retail politician, continuing to evolve our thinking in relation to immigration."