Why is there a Visa Glacier?

We’ve seen a big slow-down across the board in the speed of processing applications for New Zealand Visas.  Employers claim that, when it takes several months to be able to hire migrants, this does significant harm to their businesses with lost opportunities and lost productivity.  Tertiary education providers estimate that the delays in approving Student Visas will cost them tens of millions of dollars.  Perhaps even more serious, the backlog is harming our international reputation, so that prospective students will simply look elsewhere – such as Australia or Canada.

Sources of the Problem

So why has this come about?  There are several factors at work here:

  • An increase in demand for visas since the end of last year.  Immigration New Zealand has pointed to this as the main source of its problems, but it is not the only one; 
  • Immigration’s “change programme” to bring almost all visa processing onshore, resulting in the closure of most of its overseas offices.  It has thus lost many experienced officers, and has to train a whole lot of new staff to fill positions back in New Zealand; and
  • High turnover of staff – possibly 40% every year – because of heavy workloads and unattractive employment conditions. 

Meanwhile, there are plans to transform the “employer assisted” Work Visa categories to require all employers to become accredited before they can hire migrant workers.  Many in the industry (and I am one) believe that Immigration does not have the resources to handle thousands of accreditation applications, which are more time-intensive than standard visa applications, when it is not even coping well with existing work.

High Touch/Low Touch

There is, however, a parallel development which can benefit some people.  INZ has introduced a filter system to identify what they call “low touch” and “high touch” applications in some categories, such as Work Visas.  The low touch cases can be fast-tracked for approval, while high touch applications go into a longer queue for more intensive assessment.  And, of course, they take a whole lot longer.

How do you get onto the low touch fast-track, then?  There are a couple of levers which people have no control over.  For instance, if they are from a low risk country (such as most parts of the EU and North America), and have a well-paying specialist or managerial career, then chances are that things will run fairly smoothly.  Now, Immigration denies that there are high-risk countries, but that is something that few people in the industry would swallow.  Try getting a tourist visa if you live in Kabul.

People also can’t help where they live.  So, for instance, those in India and those who have to file applications through INZ Mumbai or Delhi face massive hold-ups because of the inability of those offices to process the large volume of applications in good time.  India-based migration agents are even facing death threats from their frustrated clients because of the delays of 6 months or more.

Blowing Our Own Trumpet

There is another way to increase your chances of a quick(er) turnaround, which you can control.  INZ has also introduced the concept of the “decision ready” application.  Although it can be an ambiguous concept in practice, it means an application which contains all the information needed for a visa officer to assess the case.

Here is where getting professional help can add real value.  That is, by using competent and experienced lawyers and licensed immigration advisers.  While the published turnaround times for certain types of Work Visas are 60 – 70 days, we can get approvals in 2 weeks.  Not all the time, but enough to give confidence that a thorough and careful approach will pay off.

So yes, we’re blowing our own trumpet here.  We might as well.  Laurent Law has worked over the years to build a good relationship with Immigration New Zealand, and to give them what they need to make a favourable decision, when that is possible.  Contact us to find out more

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About Simon Laurent, Lawyer

Principal of LaurentLaw Barristers & Solicitors. NZ immigration law specialist.
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