A Central Hawke's Bay couple say they've been "financially crippled" by a seven-month wait to find out if they're allowed to remain together in New Zealand.
Bridget Gibson is a 36-year-old NZ citizen, born and bred in Waipukurau, who first met Cristobal Reveco Aros in 2016 as work colleagues.
They subsequently fell in love and travelled overseas in 2019.
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Together for 18 months, Gibson says their relationship, even in lockdown, goes from "strength to strength".
However, their relationship with Immigration NZ (INZ) has become strained after months of uncertainty over Aros' future here.
The pair say they have confirmed with INZ that Aros was given incorrect advice in October 2019, which resulted in him holding a visitor visa but not a work visa.
"We were told that Cristobal didn't need to apply for a visa extension [work visa or visitor visa] in the interim, while we gathered documentation to apply for our Partner of a NZ Citizen Visa [one year work visa]."
The partnership visa application is a robust, detailed process that includes establishing that couples are in a genuine relationship, which Gibson and Aros are adamant they are.
However, when the couple applied for the partnership visa, they say they got conflicting advice.
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"When we applied for the partnership visa online as per instructions, we were informed Cristobal was unlawfully in NZ as he hadn't extended his pre-existing work or visitor visa. This is where the nightmare began," Gibson says.
The couple had to establish themselves that INZ had made a mistake and say this was done through a Official Information Act (OIA) request and a Section 61 request under the Immigration Act.
"The Section 61 request took at least two months to be processed. The outcome was that INZ had indeed given us the wrong information and a visitor visa was granted. We then applied for the partnership visa in February."
The couple still doesn't have any indication of their partnership visa status, and has been frustrated with further advice from the Ministry of Business, Innovation and Employment that Aros now needs to provide proof of a firm job offer.
"Before and during lockdown we have contacted INZ to ask for guidance ... When we called INZ we were given an MBIE email address to plea for visa application escalation as a health worker," Gibson said.
"We contacted MBIE via the email address and were sent a link to a Covid-19 website in reply. Then they asked Cristobal to provide a firm job offer. You can't apply for jobs without a work permit - it is a prerequisite.
"It's a redundant and ineffective system."
Gibson says it has been seven months "since we first tried to apply for the partnership visa, and seven months of not being allowed to work".
"It has cost over $1000 in application and medical check fees. Cristobal, has not been allowed to work for this entire time, he has had $0 income."
In light of the Government's Immigration Bill allowing broad visa changes as of Monday, Gibson wanted to talk about her struggle to find out the status of her partner visa.
"This process has been soul-destroying and financially crippling," she said.
Aros, 34, was a qualified PE teacher in Chile. He has worked with at-risk youth, is a NZ qualified support worker and worked in NZ for four years on a work visa with vulnerable people in the mental health, and the disability sector.
"We've had our emotional ups and downs through this process and we just want some decision so we can move forward with our lives."
All the couple want is for someone from INZ to deem their relationship 'genuine and stable' and they are praying for a favourable outcome.
"Our entire relationship is riding on INZ's decision."
An MBIE spokeswoman responded by apologising to the couple for providing incorrect information, in the first instance.
"Mr Reveco Aros' was granted an Essential Skills work visa in October 2017, for a period of two years," she said.
"Shortly before his visa was set to expire, and after returning from nine months outside of New Zealand, Mr Reveco Aros contacted INZ with an inquiry relating to his visa situation. INZ acknowledges that Mr Reveco Aros received some incorrect advice in response to this inquiry, and apologises for the error."
Aros became unlawful in New Zealand once his work visa expired in October 2019, she said.
"He was granted a special temporary visa under Section 61 of the Immigration Act, allowing him to remain in New Zealand lawfully while the situation was being worked through.
"The fee for this Section 61 request was waived in recognition of the fact INZ had previously provided incorrect advice."
Aros submitted a partnership-based work visa application which was accepted on February 28, 2020, she said.
"Mr Reveco Aros' temporary visa was automatically extended until September 2020 under the due to the Epidemic Preparedness (Epidemic Management—Covid-19) Notice 2020. This means that Mr Reveco Aros remains lawfully in New Zealand while his application is processed.
"The processing team have advised that this application will be allocated to an immigration officer very shortly. INZ will continue to update our website to reflect any changes in how we are operating."
To be considered for a partner visa, INZ requires the following
Enough evidence to show them that you're living together in a genuine and stable relationship.
The evidence will be more credible if it's from official sources.
For example, a joint tenancy agreement showing the date that you and your partner started renting a property together is better than your friend writing us a letter to tell us how long you've been living together.
The couple don't have to provide all of the documents listed as examples, but the more evidence they provide, the easier it will be for them to make a decision about their application.