Immigration Minister Kris Faafoi sued by Auckland University professor separated from his husband in China for a year

Immigration Minister Kris Faafoi is facing legal action from an Auckland University Professor frustrated that he hasn't seen his husband stuck in China for more than a year. 

Lawyers representing Michael Witbrock, a Professor at the University of Auckland's science faculty, filed High Court proceedings on Wednesday over two recent decisions made by the Immigration Minister. 

Faafoi's decision on June 23 to continue the suspension of the processing of offshore visa applications until February next year, is cited as one of the reasons. The decision was made due to the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic. 

The other issue mentioned was Newshub's revelation on July 7 that 50,000 people overseas with pending visa applications - mostly visitor, student and work visas - had been canned. Hence, Prof Witbrock is separated from his husband in China.   

His husband applied for a visa to be reunited with his partner in November 2019. Immigration NZ determined the couple were in a genuine relationship, and were prepared to grant a visitor visa, but due to the suspension on issuing such visas he has not yet been granted one.

The couple have not seen each other since January last year. A subsequent border exception request was declined by Immigration NZ, according to the proceedings. 

Prof Witbrock's argument is that Faafoi as Immigration Minister failed to properly consider the obligations international conventions - which New Zealand has ratified - placed on him when making these decisions, as it continues to separate families. 

New Zealand is a signatory to the International Covenant on Civil and Politics Rights (ICCPR), for example, which states: "No one shall be subjected to arbitrary or unlawful interference with his privacy, family, home or correspondence."

Prof Witbrock argues that, in making his decision to lapse or return and refund visa applications, Faafoi "failed to properly consider the obligations these international conventions placed on him with regard to the continued separation of partners and families of both New Zealand citizens and residents". 

Immigration Minister Kris Faafoi.
Immigration Minister Kris Faafoi. Photo credit: Getty
Michael Witbrock, a Professor at the University of Auckland's science faculty.
Michael Witbrock, a Professor at the University of Auckland's science faculty. Photo credit: University of Auckland

Prof Witbrock is also taking aim at Immigration NZ's requirement for couples to be "living together" to seek a partnership visa. 

Prof Witbrock believes it's discriminatory on the basis of ethnic origins, religious belief, sex, and sexual orientation. Freedom from such discrimination is protected by the New Zealand Bill of Rights Act 1990.

His partner is a citizen of China. He says there is no path provided by China which enables them to live together as a same-sex couple, and it would be "significantly more difficult" for them to do so than for a heterosexual couple, given the "lower recognition of same-sex relationships in China" compared with New Zealand. 

"It is not possible to meet the requirement to live together with your partner before being able to be issued a visa to enter New Zealand for those from certain ethnic, and religious backgrounds due to cultural and religious constraints, even if the New Zealand based partner was able to travel to their offshore partner's country," the proceedings say. 

"It is also not possible for many of those who identify as part of the LGBTIQ+ community as many countries do not permit LGBTIQ+ partnerships much less allow them to live together. Any cohabitation would have to occur at risk of harm or detention to the couple."

Prof Witbrock is seeking costs and an order quashing the Immigration Minister's recent decisions, as well as a declaration Faafoi acted unlawfully in suspending the processing of overseas visas. 

A spokesperson told Newshub Faafoi "won't be commenting while there's pending legal action".

The border restrictions have had wide-reaching consequences. Faafoi is getting advice about how to help the children of skilled migrants who are languishing because of Government residency delays.

There are more than 1000 registered doctors and nurses stuck in the frozen immigration queue - and Newshub has spoken to one doctor who's giving up and leaving