It has come to light that migrants are being offered money to fake marriages/relationships to secure Residence under the government’s fast-tracked 2021 Resident Visa scheme. A Radio NZ article recently reported that some migrants are offered more than $30,000 to enter into a fake marriage so as to include someone else from overseas in their Residence application. The Radio NZ article discussed an immigration adviser’s fears that the two cases that have approached him with this scenario “could be the tip of the iceberg”.

As mentioned later, relationship visa fraud is hardly new. The sheer number of 2021 Resident Visa applications being filed – probably over 100,000 in the last few months – simply throws the issue into high relief. The opportunity it gives for Work Visa holders to get a permanent foothold in this country comes with the temptation to leverage that status to their advantage.

The government introduced the one-off 2021 Resident Visa ,which provides a simplified residency pathway to temporary work visa holders in New Zealand. By “simplified”, we mean that this visa category has no points system, no age and no English language requirements as required under other Residence categories such as Skilled Migrant.

The 2021 Resident Visa also allows partners and dependent children to be included in the Residence application. Including a partner has always been available for Residence. However, migrants seem to think that because the 2021 Resident Visa category is a simple process where some rules have been relaxed, INZ may not pay attention to the standard requirements for partners. Faking a marriage to add someone to the Resident Visa is certainly not the way to go about it because it has serious consequences.

The Radio NZ article also provided INZ’s response to the fake marriage cases, that “providing false and misleading information to an immigration officer was a criminal offence”. The General Manager of the border and Visa operations, Nicola Hogg, commented to Radio NZ that ‘Allegations of fraudulent relationships entered into for immigration purposes (for money or otherwise) will be taken seriously.”

How does INZ assess partnerships for visa applications?

Some migrants fail to understand that marriage on its own does not prove a relationship for immigration purposes. For Residence, the couple must demonstrate that they have been living together for at least 12 months. They must provide documents to demonstrate they are living together in a genuine and stable partnership. For example, the couple can show evidence such as a joint tenancy agreement, joint assets, joint bank statements, correspondence addressed to both of them at the same address.

The partnership instructions tell immigration officers to consider four elements when determining if the couple are living together in a genuine and stable relationship:

1. ‘Credibility‘, the principal applicant and the partner, both separately and together, must be believable in any statements they make and evidence they present,

2. ‘Living together’: they must have been living at the same address the whole time unless there are genuine and compelling reasons for any periods of separation. If an applicant has lived apart from their partner for a time, they need to give strong reasons for their separation, and show how they kept up their relationship while they were not together.

3. ‘Genuine’: they must both be found to be genuine as to their reasons for marrying, entering a civil union or entering into a de facto relationship; and intend to maintain a long-term and exclusive partnership.

4. ‘Stable’, the principal applicant and their partner must demonstrate that their partnership is likely to endure into the future.

INZ can also decide to interview the applicant and their partner. This may be by ‘phone, or they may be called to go to an INZ office if they are in New Zealand. We have seen INZ declining partnership applications because of the inconsistent or false information provided at an interview.

It should be clear that just getting married to someone for immigration purposes, particularly for the 2021 Resident Visa, will not meet the partnership criteria. As a result, the whole Residence application could be declined. This will also impact any future partnership applications made to INZ. Suppose INZ finds out later on that a person supported a fake relationship and provided false information to INZ. In that case, there is a risk that this person would face deportation even if they got Residence. See my earlier blog which discusses deportation issues for Resident Visa holders who provided false and misleading information to INZ in a previous application.

Be wise or face the consequences

Unfortunately, migrants who fake marriages for immigration purposes is not a new issue to INZ. An NZ Herald article reported immigration fraud back in January 2013. The case mentioned in the article refers to a man who gained Residence in New Zealand after informing INZ that he was in a de facto relationship. After getting NZ Citizenship, he married another person and sponsored her visa application. INZ found out about the fake marriage when they made a surprise visit to verify the relationship. It appears that he was still living with his original partner and never left her. He only married the other person to help her secure Residence. The application was declined due to fraud. The man who supported her application was prosecuted for immigration fraud. He pleaded guilty to three charges of giving false information to an immigration officer and was sentenced to 260 hours of community work.

It is important to know that lack of awareness of a country’s system and culture cannot be used as a defence to providing false or misleading information.

The damage is not necessarily limited to New Zealand visa status. New Zealand has an agreement with several other key countries to share immigration information. A black mark on someone’s record here could prevent them from getting a visa elsewhere, probably for life.

Is faking a marriage for money really worth jeopardising everything you have worked for to live in New Zealand? As should be clear by now, the answer is a resounding NO.

We regularly encounter these scenarios, and the fallout from them. Sometimes we can help sort it out; sometimes it is too late to clean up the mess. If you know of someone who is getting into trouble because of this type of scenario, then get them to contact us sooner rather than later.