National MP Erica Stanford defends Auckland University professor suing Immigration Minister Kris Faafoi over 'unkind' immigration rules

National MP Erica Stanford is defending an Auckland University professor who is taking Immigration Minister Kris Faafoi to court over his decision to lapse tens of thousands of offshore visa applications. 

Michael Witbrock, a Professor at the University of Auckland's science faculty, has been separated from his husband - who lives in China - since January last year.

"Our experience of the process has been that it was very far from kind, and unnecessarily unkind," Prof Witbrock told Newshub. 

The couple applied for a visa in November 2019. They lived together but not long enough to get a "partnership" visa despite being married. 

Immigration New Zealand eventually determined the couple were in a genuine relationship, and were prepared to grant a visitor visa, but then our border slammed shut. 

Prof Witbrock says it was "pretty hard, especially for my partner who feels a bit isolated". 

Lawyers are now seeking a judicial review of two decisions made by the Immigration Minister. One, to lapse offshore visa applications effectively restarting the process for tens of thousands of applicants who'd been waiting in the queue to come here. The other, to extend a suspension of the processing of offshore visa applications until February 2022.

"Hoping that the minister takes a closer look at the decisions he's made and hopefully will make a different one that doesn't affect families so negatively," D&S Law partner Pooja Sundar told Newshub.

Stanford, National's immigration spokesperson, says the court action is not surprising. 

"I don't think that the minister has adequately thought about the fact that there will be New Zealanders who haven't seen their husbands and partners for over 18 months and now don't have the option to even apply for a visitor visa for their loved ones until at least February next year," she told Newshub.

While the lawyers are acting solely for Prof Witbrock, they think the court's decision may affect many more.

"Honestly, we've got tens of thousands out there. I mean, we're taking partners, children of migrants, temporary visa holders," says Sundar. 

Stanford says court action is a last resort.

"It's got to a tipping point where families cannot take being apart any more and they've got absolutely no other option."

Newshub asked both Faafoi and Immigration New Zealand for an interview but both said they wouldn't be commenting as the matter is before the courts.