According to the Family Violence Death Review Committee, between 2009 and 2015, 194 people died as a result of family violence. That is an average of 28 deaths per year, almost half of which were the result of intimate partner violence. It is disturbing to read these statistics in 2017, not least because it is about New Zealand. Clearly, domestic violence remains an ugly undercurrent of New Zealand society.
Recognising the need to protect victims of domestic violence in migrant communities, a few years ago Immigration New Zealand established two special visa categories:
- Special Work Visas for Victims of Domestic Violence; and
- Residence Category for Victims of Domestic Violence.
However, the protection afforded to these victims is undermined somewhat by the restrictions built into the application process. This includes the limitations around eligibility, the need to provide documentary evidence of domestic violence, and the very short duration of the temporary work visa.
On the issue of eligibility, only temporary visa holders who are the partners (or ex-partners) of New Zealand citizens or residents can qualify for these visas. And so if the abusive partner also happens to be a temporary visa holder, then the victim cannot apply for these visas.
The victim must also be able to prove that domestic violence occurred. This can be almost impossible given the very limited types of evidence accepted by Immigration New Zealand, including:
- a Final Protection Order;
- a relevant conviction;
- a complaint of domestic violence investigated and accepted by the New Zealand Police; or
- a statutory declaration from the victim and two other professionals confirming that domestic violence occurred.
Getting this evidence is arguably the most challenging part of the visa application process. This is because the list above assumes that, a) the victim is able to easily document the abuse they have suffered, and / or b) that they have access to resources – whether it is their own personal finances or from not-for-profit organisations – to secure that evidence. Even something as seemingly simple as securing statutory declarations from two professionals can be a very demoralising exercise for victims, given the policy restrictions in place. Not only is there a prescribed list of ‘competent persons’ who can give this evidence, the two people assisting with the statutory declarations “must [also] be unrelated professionally”. And so by Immigration New Zealand’s own example, “they cannot be a doctor and nurse from the same practice”. The visa application process therefore risks re-traumatising already traumatised victims through this overly prescriptive list of acceptable evidence.
Compounding all of this is the limited duration of the special work visa. If granted, the work visa is only valid for 6 months. It can only be extended (for a further limited period of up to 9 months) if the victim goes on to apply for the special residence visa. And that application is not without its challenges either.
To be approved under the Residence Category for Victims of Domestic Violence, the victim must be able to prove that, owing to financial incapacity or social stigma, they are unable to return to their home country. Therefore, not everyone who secures a special work visa will be eligible for a special residence visa.
And so whilst there is value in the current special visa categories for victims of domestic violence, more can be done to make the application process less traumatic and more accessible.
Where to go for help or information:
- Shakti: Providing specialist cultural services for African, Asian and Middle Eastern women and their children. Crisis line 24/7 – 0800742584, shakti-international.org/shakti-nz/
- Women’s Refuge: Free national crisis line operations 24/7 – 0800 REFUGE or 0800733843, www.womensrefuge.org.nz
- Shine Women’s Refuge : Free national helpline 9am – 11pm everyday – 0508744633, www.2shine.org.nz
- It’s Not OK – Information line 0800456450, www.areyouok.org.nz
- Ministry of Justice: www.justice.govt.nz/family-justice/domestic-violence
- National Network for Stopping Violence: www.nnsvs.org.nz
- White Ribbon: Aiming to eliminate men’s violence towards women, focusing this year on sexual violence and the issue of consent, www.whiteribbon.org.nz
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 Family Violence Death Review Committee Fifth Report Data: January 2009 to December 2015 (2017) at 18 and 19.
 Immigration New Zealand Operational Manual, at Instructions WI7.5 for work visas and S4.5.5 for residence visas.
 Immigration New Zealand Operational Manual, at Instructions WI7.10(b) for work visas and S4.5.6(b) for residence visas.
 As above.