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SMC and RFW prioritisation information for immigration advisers

Immigration advisers need to be aware of the changes INZ is making to how we process Skilled/Business residence applications. We are making these changes to make the prioritisation process more transparent, and to ensure non-priority applications continue to be assessed.

The Deputy Chief Executive – Immigration, with the endorsement of the Minister of Immigration, has issued a new order to immigration officers on the order and manner of processing resident visa applications. This general instruction has been communicated in Amendment Circular 20/04, and will be published in the Immigration New Zealand (INZ) Operational Manual at A16.1.

Amendment Circular 20/04 PDF 48KB

INZ Operational Manual

The priority rules

From Monday 24 February 2020, applications for SMC and RFW will be prioritised in the following order:

  1. Principal applicants with current occupational registration (where registration is required by immigration instructions) or principal applicants who are paid an hourly rate at or above twice the median wage (from 24 February 2020 this will be NZD $51 per hour or NZD $106,080 a year), then
  2. All other SMC and RFW applications in the order we receive them.

Prioritisation means that once applications are made (see R2.25), they will be allocated to a case officer according to this priority criteria. Applications that meet either of the two priority criteria will be allocated to an immigration officer before all non-priority applications.

Occupations that require registration are listed in immigration instructions (see SM10.5) and on the INZ Website. Applicants with occupational registration, but where that occupational registration is not required by immigration instructions (for example social workers) will not be prioritised (unless they are paid at least twice the median wage).

The median wage as described in immigration instructions on either the day the application is made (for RfW applications) or the date the corresponding expression of interest was selected from the pool (for SMC applications) will be used to apply the prioritisation criteria. This means that SMC applicants claiming bonus points for high remuneration (see SM6.60) will be prioritised as will RfW applicants who meet the threshold at SM6.60 on the day their resident visa application is made.

Occupational Registration

Why we are changing the process

Since mid-2018, we have prioritised allocation of Skilled Migrant Category (SMC) and Residence from Work (RfW) applications where the principal applicant:

  • worked in an occupation requiring registration
  • was highly paid; or
  • applied under the Residence from Talent (Accredited Employer) immigration instructions.

Over the past 18 months we have received a large number of SMC and RFW applications. This has resulted in an increase in visa processing times as applications take longer to be allocated to an immigration officer for assessment. For example, in the 3 months to 1 February 2019, 90 percent of SMC applications were completed within 9 months. In the 3 months to 1 February 2020, 90% of SMC applications were completed within 15 months.

Priority applications are currently consuming all processing capacity which has resulted in INZ no longer allocating applications from the general (non-priority) queue. The oldest applications in the general queue were lodged in December 2018.

INZ expects that as the result of the new prioritisation approach, approximately 20% - 25% of SMC and RfW applications received will be prioritised.

New Zealand Residence Programme

Increased resident visa processing times are a consequence of increasing volumes of resident visa applications. INZ’s capacity to assess those applications is determined by the planning range set by Government under the previous New Zealand Residence Programme (NZRP).

The last NZRP ran from 1 July 2018 until 31 December 2019 and included a planning range of 50,000 to 60,000 residence approvals. A total of 52,048 people were approved residence during the 18 months.

The Government is currently reviewing its approach to the NZRP and is considering replacing the planning range with a more targeted approach that focuses on management of specific residence visa types.

In the meantime, INZ will continue to process applications at same volume and with the same level of resourcing as the previous NZRP allowed for.

Priority for exceptional circumstances

The new prioritisation criteria for SMC and RFW does not prevent immigration officers according urgency to the processing of any particular residence class visa application when the individual circumstances justify it.

The employment visa escalations (EVE) process will continue and provides immigration advisers a mechanism to request priority processing where there are exceptional circumstances.

Employment visa escalations

Exceptional circumstances are:

  • compelling personal circumstances
  • humanitarian factors, and
  • matters of national interest.

The imminent expiry of a temporary visa is not on its own an exceptional circumstance. Applicants must remain on valid visas at all times they are in New Zealand. This obligation is unaffected by processing times for resident visa applications.

Immigration instructions continue to apply to all applicants for temporary entry class visas. Visas may be granted as exceptions to immigration instructions where there are genuinely exceptional circumstances. Increases to resident visa processing times are not on their own usually considered exceptional circumstances.

What this means for advisers

We believe these changes will benefit more applicants. However, we will review our approach when the Government makes any changes to the NZRP.

This decision means:

  • We will be able to resume allocating applications from the general queue (that don’t meet the priority criteria).
  • Applications that do not meet the criteria for prioritisation will be allocated in date order starting with the oldest SMC and Residence from Work applications.
  • We will continue to prioritise people with occupational registration and those earning twice the median wage (currently NZD $51 per hour and NZD $106,080 per year).
  • We will no longer prioritise applicants under the Talent (Accredited Employer) residence instructions unless they are either highly paid, or in an occupation requiring registration.
  • We will process the same number of resident visa applications as in previous years.
  • You can still request urgency for a particular SMC or RfW application (when the individual circumstances justify it) using the employment visa escalations (EVE) process.
  • Your clients might need to apply for a further temporary visa while waiting for their resident visa application to be allocated and decided.
  • The length of processing times for your clients’ visas is not by itself considered an exceptional circumstance that would justify prioritisation of their resident visa application.

SMC and RFW processing times