An Auckland University professor who hasn’t seen his husband in 18 months is suing the immigration minister and the director of the Department of Trade, Innovation and Employment (MBIE) in the Supreme Court.
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Michael Witbrock is suing the Secretary of Immigration and the CEO of MBIE before the Supreme Court over a visa decision. Source: 1 NEWS
Michael Witbrock married his partner, who is from China, in New Zealand in August 2019. The couple lived together, but not long enough to meet New Zealand immigration requirements to prove they were legally married.
Speaking to 1 NEWS, Witbrock says he believes the trial has been “discriminatory” and that he has had to fight to prove his marriage is real.
Many families have been separated due to Covid border restrictions, with visa applications suspended due to the pandemic.
But now a legal filing has been filed – the first of its kind – regarding Covid and decisions by Immigration Minister Kris Faafoi. A legal team goes to the Supreme Court and asks for a judicial review of several decisions by Faafoi and Immigration New Zealand.
In particular, the suspension of the processing of all offshore visa applications and the withdrawal of a number of visa applications that were still pending.
Today, Auckland firm D&S Law filed a lawsuit in the Supreme Court on behalf of Witbrock, requesting judicial review of two recent decisions by the Minister for Immigration.
In a statement tonight, D&S Law said the grounds for the action are that “the Minister has not properly considered the obligations under international treaties, which New Zealand has ratified and imposed on him in making these decisions, as it partners and families continues to separate”.
“The decisions taken also lead to discrimination based on race, religion, gender and sexual orientation, as these social groups are not always allowed to live together with their partners, depending on the country in which they are located.
“Freedom from such discrimination is protected by the New Zealand Bill of Rights Act 1990.”
An emotional Witbrock told 1 NEWS “it seems reasonable for New Zealand to just trust that your relationship is real and let your partner be with you”.
He said he believes New Zealand’s immigration policies are in fact “discriminatory against gays because this denial of our relationships is exactly the way we have been discriminated against in the past”.
Witbrock, who works at the University of Auckland science faculty, says he does not expect the government to change border restrictions or receive special treatment, but says he is asking the government to “show a little bit of kindness in its approach to immigration”.
“It has taken its toll, especially on my partner. At least I’m here and in a pretty good position and can talk to him every day, but his life is on hold. And we should have a normal relationship and we could have been.”
He says Immigration NZ’s denial of their original relationship was the cause of the delay that has now turned into months of separation.
“Had they accepted that we were actually married, it would have been possible to get him into the country in time.”
“It makes it particularly hard to take for him,” Witbrock said.
By the time the couple had prepared the “comprehensive” information demanded by Immigration NZ, “they were not issuing visitor visas”.
“We were left in this state of denial.”
Pooja Sundar, one of the two lawyers representing Witbrock, says the couple is being discriminated against because of their sexual orientation.
“The culture, ethnic background, religion or sexual orientation of some people does not allow them to live together. Michael is one of them. His husband is in China and China does not recognize same-sex relationships,” Sundar explains.
Witbrock’s husband has applied for a visa to come to New Zealand to be reunited with Witbrock in November 2019.
Immigration NZ eventually established that the couple is in a genuine and stable relationship after extensive evidence was provided and willing to grant a visitor visa, but due to the suspension of the issuance of such visas, he has not yet been granted one.
A subsequent request for exemption from the border was rejected by Immigration NZ.
The couple have not seen each other in person since January 2020. The applicant’s partner is a citizen of China, where he currently lives.
It would be more difficult for the couple to live in China, given the lower recognition of same-sex relations in that country, compared to New Zealand. But now New Zealand’s immigration restrictions have made reunification impossible for the time being.
Sundar says the company is in Witbrock’s case “for the long term.”