}

Thursday, June 16, 2011

Changing policies and lives

Twelve years ago today—June 16, 1999—I wrote this in my journal: “New Zealand has a brand new permanent resident—me, of course.” It all happened because of a policy change.

When I arrived in New Zealand in 1995, the country had policies in place so that a NZ citizen or resident could sponsor their foreign partner for residence. However, the waiting period for a same-sex couple was four years (they could apply after they’d been together two years), while an unmarried heterosexual couple only had to be together two years (and they could apply after 18 months), and a married couple (heterosexual only) had virtually instant residence available to them. This was in direct violation of the Bill of Rights Act.

Discriminatory as this policy was, it was still better than the US policy is even in 2011 because it offered a way for bi-national same-sex couples to remain together in New Zealand. The US still doesn’t have any way for a gay American to sponsor their same-sex foreign partner for immigration.

Max Bradford was Minister of Immigration in the National-led government in the late 1990s, and he was asked to change the discriminatory policy. He refused, saying he wouldn’t change it “with the stroke of a pen”. Toward the end of 1998, as the result of a cabinet reshuffle due to the disintegration of the New Zealand First party, Tuariki Delamere became the new Minister of Immigration.

On December 22, 1998, Delamere announced gay and lesbian couples applying for permanent residency would have the same rights as unmarried heterosexual couples. In other words, he changed the policy with the stroke of a pen.

I’d applied for permanent residency under the old policy (that Bradford refused to change) in January of 1998. Under that policy, I wasn’t eligible to be granted residency until late 1999, by which time, in Immigration’s eyes, Nigel and I would have been together four years. Until then, my life would continue as a series of temporary visas and permits.

The policy change meant I had to withdraw my original application and re-apply under the new policy (and pay a new fee). There was actually some confusion about how to do this, but we persevered.

We had our interviews on June 16, 1999, and my application was approved. Well, it was actually our application, since it was based on us being partners. Later on, I became a New Zealand citizen, but that’s a topic for another day.

The policy change that allowed me to become a permanent resident sooner has been modernised further: Now, for all applications under the partnership category, “A partner may be either legally married, or in a civil union, or in a de facto partnership (whether opposite or same sex).” The partners in all such relationships must “have been living together in a genuine and stable relationship for at least 12 months.” [Source: “Completing Section K - Family: Partnership Category” from the Residence Guide: A guide to completing the Residence Application (INZ 1000): (INZ 1002), November 2010, New Zealand Immigration Service, Department of Labour.]

And that’s the power of a change in policy: A stroke of a pen changed my life, and it didn’t take raucous debates in Parliament or any public political grandstanding. It just took a pen, and someone with common sense driving it. Sometimes, change is really simple to get done, and big in the difference it makes.

2 comments:

Roger Owen Green said...

Happy citizenoversary.

Here's something you've maybe done before, but, in light of this survey in the US that says that US students don't know know squat about history and citizenship, stuff an immigrant becoming a citizen would have to know.

So, are there sample questions for a New Zealand citizenship exam you can share here or on the podcast?

Arthur (AmeriNZ) said...

As you wish, so shall it be! ;-)