The latest on Culturally Arranged Marriage visas

Immigration New Zealand (INZ) has been in hot water with the recent uproar around its inconsistent approach to granting visas for people entering into culturally arranged marriages. It has now amended its policy to soften its stance for visas being issued under this category.


It was some fifteen years ago that INZ introduced the Culturally Arranged Marriages visa category. Applications made under this category allowed a visitor visa to be granted to person who was intending to travel to New Zealand for the purpose of marrying a New Zealand citizen or resident, and where that marriage was taking place within three months of the applicant’s arrival in New Zealand.

This policy posed difficulties for couples who were entering into a culturally arranged marriage outside of New Zealand and who then wished to travel to this country to begin their life together. This is because in many instances, there was no visitor category that enabled them to do so. Specifically:

– The applicant would not be eligible to apply for a visa under Culturally Arranged Marriages visa scheme, if they were married offshore.

– The applicant would also be unlikely to eligible for a partnership-based visa to accompany their New Zealand citizen resident partner to New Zealand. INZ policy sets out that partnership-based visas require an applicant to demonstrate to INZ that they are living together in a genuine and stable relationship. This is impossible to demonstrate where it is not culturally appropriate for a couple to live together prior to their marriage.

– Many of these applicants may have also been denied General visitor visas to enable them begin living with their spouse in New Zealand, with the intent of later applying for a partnership-based visa. Technically, the policy only allows such a visa to be granted where an applicant genuinely only intends to stay temporarily in New Zealand. This would not be the case if they intended to remain permanently in New Zealand.

INZ has been applying this policy inconsistently; following advice provided to INZ Case Officers that a General visitor visa should not be considered an automatic default position for applicants who do not meet the living together requirements for the grant of a partnership-based visa. This has resulted in a large number of declined applications.


Following a backlash from those who were unable to secure visas for their partners to reside with them in New Zealand, INZ has released changes to the Culturally Arranged Marriages visa category.

These changes which took effect on 19 November 2019 set out that a person may now be eligible to apply for a Culturally Arranged Marriages visa if the culturally arranged marriage took place outside of New Zealand. This marriage must have taken place within three months of submission of the visa application.

When assessing such applications, INZ will undertake a robust assessment through interview and/or documentary evidence to be satisfied that the marriage ceremony followed an “identified cultural tradition.” It will be interesting to see how INZ applies this policy, as it is our view that this still affords significant discretion to INZ Officers to determine what an “acceptable” marriage looks like. Many Case Officers will be unfamiliar with culturally arranged marriage traditions.

INZ has also provided internal advice that if an individual is travelling to New Zealand to join their partner after a culturally arranged marriage that took place offshore, they may still be considered a genuine visitor.

Therefore, people who have entered into an arranged marriage offshore, but have not yet lived together may now be eligible to apply for a visitor visa under the Culturally Arranged Marriages visa category. They may then proceed to submit a partnership-based work visa once they have been living together in New Zealand and thereafter a resident visa application following 12 months of living together.

If Your visa has been declined

INZ will be emailing partners of New Zealand citizens/residents who had temporary visas declined between 10 May 2019 and 31 October 2019. It will invite these applicants to complete a new application form and provide updated supporting documentation. It will then assess these applications under its updated Culturally Arranged Marriages visa policy and guidelines. INZ will be waiving the application fee for these applications.

We understand that there are approximately 1,200 individuals that INZ will be contacting to invite to reapply for such visas. INZ has indicated that it will reach out to the affected applicants by 02 December 2019.

If you would like our assistance to obtain a visa under the Culturally Arranged Marriages visa scheme, or if you have recently had a visa declined under this category and would like to resubmit your application please contact us for further assistance. The invitation and second review for those invited to reapply does not guarantee visa approval.


If you require further information, please contact our team for guidance.

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