'We're in limbo': Same-sex couple feel discriminated against by Immigration NZ

A same-sex couple says they feel discriminated against after Immigration New Zealand refused to grant them a partnership visa.

The two lived together illegally in Abu Dhabi, but no exemption was made for how the United Arab Emirates (UAE) laws affected their plans to move to New Zealand.

Francesca Dustin is a Kiwi, but she doesn't live in New Zealand because her Irish wife, Emma O'Reilly, isn't allowed to stay in Aotearoa.

"It is very stressful. It is hard for our families. They don't know where we're living, we don't know where we're living," Dustin told Newshub.

"We're in limbo," added O'Reilly.

The two teachers met in Abu Dhabi in 2015 and last year decided to move home.

But $3000 and piles of paperwork later, O'Reilly's partnership visa was declined as they didn't have enough proof they'd lived together.

Now they're living in an attic in O'Reilly's parents' place in Dublin.

"I wasn't allowed to bring Emma into the country because we couldn't prove it, so now we're living in Ireland," said Dustin.

"Who would've thought that Ireland would be the place that's most accepting of gay people?"

It's illegal to be in a same-sex relationship in the UAE and the penalties are severe.

"If people knew about our relationship in Abu Dhabi, there was a chance of us being deported; chance of us being punished; put in jail. Those penal laws they're there," said O'Reilly. 

The two say the immigration system does not adequately recognise those whose relationships don't fit the mould, for which the rules were written.

"We're not saying that New Zealand's immigration is homophobic, but we're just saying there needs to be considerations and exemptions," said O'Reilly. 

This isn't the first time Immigration New Zealand has come under fire for the way it deals with diverse relationships.

Earlier this year, the department was forced to do a U-turn after refusing visas to those who had engaged in cultural marriages.

Immigration New Zealand would not be interviewed on camera. In a written statement, it said it was the responsibility of the person applying for a visa to prove they met all the requirements.

Recent changes to visa instructions meant those who had not lived together, or could not prove it, now had an opportunity to establish what's called a 'genuine and stable partnership' through other channels, Immigration New Zealand said.

In the year to September 30, Immigration New Zealand made decisions on just over 11,000 visa applications for partners of New Zealand citizens or residents. The average approval rate for those nine months was about ninety percent.

But Immigration New Zealand was unable to say how many applications were denied because couples could not prove they'd lived together.

Immigration lawyer Richard Fletcher told Newshub that for applicants, the current process can be a minefield.

"It's an oddball series of things, and you have to think hard about how you can get through that," said Fletcher.

Dustin said New Zealand is seen as a leader on LGBTQ issues, but at ground-level, discrimination continues.