CHRISTCHURCH – A Punjabi overstayer, Sukhwinder Singh got shocked when Immigration officers gatecrashed his wedding day to serve a deportation order on the groom.
The couple – Sukhwinder Singh, 23, and Carolyn Macey, 30 – have battled Immigration NZ for months, trying to let Indian national Singh stay in the country.
They say they decided to get married in a bid to demonstrate their love and commitment to each other.
Tuesday was their big day. They’d stayed up late preparing food and adding the final touches.
But early on the morning of their wedding, two immigration officials came to their Christchurch home to detain Singh as an illegal overstayer.
“These two men in black suits were at the front door, saying, ‘We’ve come to take Sukhwinder away’,” a distraught Macey told the Herald.
“I told them, of all the days, we’re getting married today.”
Singh claims the officials wanted to hold him in custody before a flight back to India later in the week.
But he managed to reach a compromise, which allowed Tuesday’s wedding to go ahead.
Singh now has until 3pm tomorrow to book a flight home. He must leave New Zealand by September 5.
“We are in shock. What do we do next? It is very upsetting,” Singh said.
Singh came to New Zealand from India on a student visa to study business in January 2014.
In October of that year, Macey, mother of Donovan now aged 6, says she saw Singh’s profile on Facebook and added him as a friend.
“From there, we started to chat and come to know each other more and he was really nice to me, especially to Donovan,” Macey said.
They say they became a couple on New Year’s Day 2015.
Singh, then a maintenance engineer at McDonald’s, says he spent most nights at Macey’s house, while still paying rent at his own place. They moved into their own place in January last year.
They shared bills and pooled resources.
“We never thought we’d have to prove anything, we just had our usual life,” said Macey, a cleaner.
In March this year, Singh applied for a partnership category work visa.
It was declined by Immigration NZ in May and the couple have been challenging it ever since.
They have supplied bundles of supporting evidence, including bills, tenancy and rental agreements, and 20 letters of reference.
Documents seen by the Herald show that the application was rejected over concerns that Singh had come to New Zealand to study and then have immigration pathway via a graduate job search visa but had changed tack and was now applying for a partnership visa.
There were also questions over the couple’s financial interdependence and Facebook records, and even comments over a perceived lack of intimacy in photographs.
Immigration NZ area manager Dave Campbell said Singh’s application was declined “as he did not demonstrate that he met the criteria under partnership policy to be granted a visa”.
“Mr Singh is currently unlawfully in New Zealand and was given the opportunity to make the appropriate arrangements to leave the country by September 5, 2017 rather than being taken into custody. Mr Singh has agreed to do this and Immigration New Zealand will view his departure ticket on Friday,” Campbell said.
Tuesday’s encounter with immigration officers was a traumatic experience for the pair.
Macey nearly called off the wedding.
However, they tied the knot at a city centre registry office that afternoon and enjoyed a multi-cultural reception with friends and family at their Mairehau home – with Kiwi-style nibbles followed by traditional Indian curries.
“We didn’t tell anybody what had happened but they could see it in our eyes and everyone was asking if we were alright,” Singh says.
Now, they are seeking more legal help and wondering how to pay for an airline ticket by tomorrow to get Singh back to India.
Macey is considering following her man. But she has many things to consider, including the schooling of Donovan, the language barrier, and her asthma.
“We just don’t know what to do,” she said.