High application volumes combined with the closure of
offshore processing offices have led to an enormous backlog in the processing
of visa applications.
More than 35,000 people are waiting for a residence decision,
the highest number since 2011. Residence approvals are also at the lowest
levels since the turn of the century despite a sharp increase in
applications. The number of residence
applications rose sharply from a low of 15,000 in April last year to 35,000
last month, according to figures from the INZ website.
Caroline Ryan, Licensed Immigration Adviser said that Immigration New Zealand is also struggling to process a backlog of applications for temporary partnership visas. Even applicants’ extended temporary visas were now expiring, increasing costs for applicants and causing major difficulties and problems for them.
INZ has said ‘there had been no attempt to slow visa
processing but that New Zealand continues to be an attractive destination and
application volumes have been increasing steadily across all categories’. INZ
claims they are also seeing an increase in the level of risk and complexity in
applications, including different risk factors.
Skilled immigrants waiting for residence visas say they
feel ‘in limbo’ as decision-making timeframes ‘blow out’ amid political calls
for lower immigration numbers. Immigration New Zealand says an increase in
applications has caused the skilled migrant category of the residence programme
to be oversubscribed. However figures show the New Zealand Residence Programme
is still 12,000 under its already-lowered maximum target of 60,000 new
residents by the end of the year.
Immigration figures show at least one in 10 will wait
more than 13 months and a quarter more than nine months. Immigration New
Zealand said 120 officers were working on residence visas but it could not say
how that compared to previous years. High pay is now among the reasons why
officials are fast-tracking some applications.
INZ says some of the factors for processing delays
are strong economic growth and low unemployment. These factors have ‘increased
demand for migrant workers at all skill levels’. INZ also says a large number
of applications are incomplete, requiring extra work. Many applications are
missing extra information such as: medical information, police certificates,
employment agreements, or the ANZSCO code. ‘About 50 percent of onshore
Essential Skills Work Visa applications need more detailed assessments. These
can include matters relating to the applicant, employer or labour market test’.
The interim visa which is granted up to six months is
a bridging visa to keep people lawful but is no longer enough for immigration
officers to finalise applications. These interim visas are now expiring,
impacting on many people’s lives. In most cases where the visa being applied
for is different to the visa the applicant previously held, the interim visa
will revert to visitor conditions. Visitor conditions do not allow the visa
holder to undertake employment, meaning applicants will need to stop work until
their new visa is issued which has serious consequences. Interim visas also
have no travel conditions, meaning if an applicant wishes to travel out of New
Zealand they will not be able to re-enter on the interim visa, but must wait
until the new visa has been issued.
Processing delays have put a strain on applicants
finances, relationships and mental health. Families are being kept apart and
the visa processing delays have also affected businesses that are waiting on
employees to get visas. Students cannot begin their courses and people waiting
for residence cannot buy homes.
Immigration New Zealand said it has changed its
systems and added staff in an effort to improve processing times.