Family Violence Visa Needs Urgent Review on International Women’s Day

The family violence visa must be urgently reviewed if New Zealand is to hold its head up high on International Women’s Day, says Community Law Centres o Aotearoa (CLCA) .

A report published last week shows that New Zealand’s Family Violence visa eligibility criteria is more narrow than comparable visa schemes internationally and that the Immigration & Protection Tribunal (IPT) needs specific training on dealing with appeals involving the family violence visa.

“These two factors place migrant women in danger,” says CLCA CEO Sue Moroney.

“The current settings for family violence survivors who are foreign nationals has been in place for more than 20 years with minimal change to eligibility criteria, even though successive immigration ministers have committed to reviews since 2012,” says Sue. “However, no reviews have taken place and concerns about the adequacy of the Family Violence visa policy, raised by both domestic and international organisations, remain unresolved.”

The visa policy requires applicants for residence to establish that they are ‘unable to return to their home country’ due to the impacts of stigma or a lack of financial support. This requirement is being interpreted narrowly by the IPT, meaning that few victim-survivors can access Family Violence residence visas.

The report Fighting or Facilitating Family Violence? Immigration Policy and Family Violence in New Zealand was funded by the Borrin Foundation and researched by former Community Law lawyer and national coordinator Sarah Croskery-Hewitt.

“Recent criticism by the UN Committee on the Elimination of Discrimination Against Women about gaps in the way New Zealand supports migrant survivors of family violence are supported by this research,” says Sue. “It also shines a light on all IPT decisions concerning the family violence visa for the first time and the results are concerning.”

The report found:

  • The IPT has to make complex assessments and decisions about victim safety and family violence risk prediction, often without access to appropriate expertise.
  • Decisions frequently minimised appellants fears of abuse if they were to return to their home country, dismissing threats of violence as ‘speculative’.
  • Many decisions normalised or minimised the impact of Family violence

“For example, in a decision where an international student engaged to a man 17 years her senior had a kettle, heater and metal woks thrown at her while he was damaging their home and threatening to kill her, the abuse was described by the IPT as not being out of the ordinary or uncommon,” says Sue.

“We are writing to the IPT to express our concern at what the report has uncovered.”

Also of concern, was inconsistency in the rationale for denying appeals.

The report shows the use of an appellant’s strengths, such as resilience in the face of violence, as a reason she could withstand a return to a hostile environment. But conversely, the IPT questioned the contributions to New Zealand of those who did not display the same resilience to deny them access to the family violence visa.

“The recent announcement of allowing partners of temporary visa-holders access to the 6-month family violence work visa does not address the fundamental problems with the visa category outlined in this report” says Sue.  “Six months is insufficient and the looming removal of work rights for the affected women on partnership-based visas will put many in an acutely vulnerable position.”


“On International Women’s Day, the New Zealand Government needs show it cares about the plight of migrant women subjected to family violence by undertaking the long-promised visa eligibility review and ensuring that the IPT receives the necessary family violence-related training.”



Media contacts:

Sue Moroney, CEO Community Law: 027 422-7831


  • Twenty-four Community Law Centres work out of over 140 locations across New Zealand to provide free legal help and advice to those who are unable to pay for a private lawyer or who do not have access to legal aid. This advice covers all aspects of New Zealand’s legal system, including family law, employment issues, housing problems, consumer advice and criminal law. As well as around 250 staff, Community Law’s services are boosted by over 1,200 volunteer lawyers who run clinics and deliver free advice and assistance.
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