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Are New Zealand’s new visa laws racist?

November 6, 2019 - 7:46pm

New rules for immigrants are springing up in wealthy nations around the world. While the US continues to grapple with its southern border and quotas for immigrants based on national origin, New Zealand has just clamped down on something called the ‘spousal exemption’ for handing out visas.

For this, New Zealand’s immigration authorities have been called racist.

The ‘spousal exemption’ allowed Indian New Zealanders who have arranged marriages to go back to India for the wedding, and bring their wives back to NZ without showing a previous record of couplehood – typically that a couple has lived together for 12 months. This exemption has now been taken away, making it harder for unmarried Indian men living and working in New Zealand to marry a girl from back home.

This poses a problem for those who have a cultural or religious objection to couples living together prior to taking the marital plunge. But is it racist?

Countries can’t be expected to legislate around every foreign tradition, particularly if it makes it harder to enforce immigration laws. The requirement has nothing to do with race: any spouse seeking a visa for his or her intended would have to follow the same rules.

Perhaps there could be more creative ways to prove the sincerity of the relationship—months’ worth of movie stubs, selfies, a Facebook relationship status update, notarised testaments from friends and family, or a record of how long the arrangement has been intended –  but it seems fair enough to have measures to protect against abuse of the system.

As western countries try to figure out how to cope with rising global migration, cultural clashes like these will have to be faced down.


Libby Emmons is a writer, award-winning playwright and co-founder of Blue Box Productions, based in Brooklyn.


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