Immigration stops processing residence applications in Auckland's lockdown
Tens of thousands of permanent resident applications have been shelved during lockdown. Even though immigration officers in Wellington were able to return to their offices, Auckland’s lockdown has meant that many onshore residency applications have been delayed by at least seven weeks. Even before the Alert Level 4 lockdown in August there was a backlog of 11,541 onshore paper-based residence applications that were yet to be
processed. These are all quite alarming statistics.
Immigration Minister Kris Faafoi cancelled and refunded 50,000 offshore applications in July. This was not good news for families who have been waiting to be reunited since too long. This decision also caused an Auckland man who was hoping to be reunited with his Chinese partner to take legal action against this ruling.
INZ border and visa operations general manager Nicola Hogg, when speaking with the Newsroom said that when the rest of the country moved to Alert Level 2, a number of staff outside the Auckland region were able to access and process some paper-based applications and work from immigration’s offices. However, she said that skilled migrant category visas and residence from work visas were processed at its Auckland offices and thus INZ was unable to process these applications when Auckland was at Alert Level 4.
As per her INZ is now focussing on processing temporary applications as quickly as possible so that these people are able to remain lawfully in New Zealand. Since Auckland has moved down to Alert Level 3 for two weeks, Hogg said that now a small number of visa processing staff in Auckland would be in the offices receiving and processing some priority paper-based applications, including temporary visa application categories and skilled residence applications.
INZ is following the guidelines from the Ministry of Health and the Public Service Commission, which means only a limited number of people are working from their offices, during both Alert Level 2 and 3. Thus, with this limited capacity, it does not seem that the residence applications backlog will be cleared soon.
To work through the large backlog of applications, officials have been processing residency applications under priority and non-priority categories. Priority applicants are those who earn more than twice the median wage - $54 an hour or $112,320 a year - or work in an occupation where registration is required.
Since November 2019, the residence application wait for priority applicants was two weeks, but it was more than a year for non-priority applicants. Along with this, there has also been criticism that the number of applications being processed and allocated was decreasing since June. In May, there were close to 200 non-priority cases being allocated to officers every week. In the week of June 21, the highest number of cases allocated to the officers were 271. But since then, weekly allocations dropped to 14 in July which was the lowest allocation since April, when just four applications were allocated to an officer in a week.
As New Zealand moves from crisis to recovery mode, we hope the policy makers are able to find an effective and efficient solution to this problem.