Visa processing delays for some visa categories

We are experiencing significant delays in processing some visa categories. Some decisions for these applications are taking longer than expected.

Affected visa categories

The visa categories affected are:

  • Essential Skills Work visas
  • Student visas
  • Partnership visas, and
  • some Visitor visas.

We are making decisions for most other visa types within timeframes set with government. This includes most Visitor visas and low risk Student visas.

Reasons for processing delays

There are many factors driving these processing delays.

Strong economic growth and low unemployment is increasing demand

Strong and sustained economic growth, and low unemployment has increased demand for migrant workers at all skill levels.

Volume growth from 2017/18 was forecast at 3.4% across all visa categories over four years. We experienced 8.6% volume growth in that year.

In 2018/19 there was another 7.4% increase on the previous year’s growth, which was almost 40,000 more visa applications than forecast.

INZ are now anticipating a further 8% growth this year.

Application volumes have increased across all categories with particular spikes in:

  • Essential Skills temporary work visas,
  • Student visas, and
  • Partnership visas.

In 2018/19 there was a 14% increase in Essential Skills work visas (53,486) from the previous year.

Growth in student visa volumes has generally remained steady. But, there was a 66% increase in applicants from India between January and May 2019 compared to the same period in 2018. There was a 30% increase from China for the same period, compared to 2018.

Large numbers of applications are incomplete requiring extra work

Many applications are missing necessary information required to make a decision such as:

  • medical information
  • police certificates
  • employment agreements, or
  • the ANZSCO code

About 50% of onshore Essential Skills work visa applications need more detailed assessments. These can include matters relating to the applicant, employer or labour market test.

Increasing visible threats to the integrity of the Immigration system

We had an 88% increase in confirmed fraud in applications from offshore students in the past year.

A greater number of applications are being lodged which need greater levels of verification.

Changes to the visa processing model

Over the past 18 months, INZ has changed its visa processing model by:

  • consolidating visa processing into fewer, larger offices (mainly in New Zealand),
  • aligning visa processing by product type rather than geographic regions, and
  • introducing an enhanced risk and verification model globally, including some initiatives under Simplification & Technology work streams.

We are starting to see some of the benefits from consolidation and alignment, and the enhanced risk and verification model.

However the changes along with higher than forecast volume growth has put significant pressure on the visa processing system.

Some markets still have a high proportion of paper-based applications. This makes it harder to move work between processing offices.

Some markets appear to be testing the robustness of the new model, and we are seeing an increase in applicants who do not meet immigration requirements.

Approving a visa is a complex process

While stakeholders such as migrants, employers, and sectors want us to make fast decisions, it is important that we make good decisions.

How we operate and those who come to New Zealand will help shape the future of our country, culture, economy and wellbeing.

Approving a visa is often very complex; it is not always a straight forward exercise. It takes time, the right information and the right skills and knowledge.

Applications are assessed against Immigration Instructions set by government. INZ implements government policy and much of what you see in the media relates to cases where we are unable to make an exception. There are avenues available to appeal these decisions.

How we are responding to the delays

In the short term, we will:

  • establish a cross-INZ team to drive a system-wide focus on improving decision making timeliness, while maintaining decision quality,
  • redirect Immigration Officers to focus on processing the most pressured visa categories,
  • recruit more Immigration officers to assist with volume growth,
  • redeploy staff from across INZ to support visa processing,
  • keep our Henderson processing office
  • put in place operational initiatives to reduce duplication and remove unnecessary process steps.
  • engage with key sectors to better understand their needs, and provide guidance on making decision-ready applications.
  • improve forecasting methods, review cost allocations, and review the resource model, and
  • work with government partners to focus on the issues.

New Immigration Officers will become more productive with experience and take on more complex applications to help reduce volumes on-hand.

Our long-term plans for reducing delays include:

  • implementing the new strategy — Striking the Balance — with a renewed focus on INZ's role as a trusted steward of the immigration system.
  • changing the way we are organised to ensure we can strike the balance between facilitating the migrants New Zealand needs and protecting migrants and New Zealand from harm.
  • driving online uptake so more applicants apply online
  • exploring options for policy change to remove complexity from the system.
  • automating some visa checks to let INZ scale as volumes change.
  • continuing with digital automation of new products and functions to help stakeholders engage with the immigration system.
  • improving the quality of our data and our ability to share it with our stakeholders.

We will provide more information as work progresses over the coming months.

How you can help

Ensure applications are ‘decision-ready’ and have all the necessary information for us to make a decision.

Common mistakes made in applications include:

  • incorrect ANZSCO codes,
  • employment agreements not meeting minimum terms and conditions,
  • hours of work are not full time, or
  • insufficient evidence that the employer has tried to hire a New Zealander.

We ask for your patience and cooperation during this time. We are doing everything we can to address these unprecedented visa volumes.