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'Killing me': 750 workers in limbo during two-year visa wait

Author
Lincoln Tan,
Publish Date
Thu, 7 Dec 2023, 8:50PM
Carpenter Jay Abellano (second from left) has been waiting two years for news about his visa application, and dreams of being reunited with his family. Photo / Supplied
Carpenter Jay Abellano (second from left) has been waiting two years for news about his visa application, and dreams of being reunited with his family. Photo / Supplied

'Killing me': 750 workers in limbo during two-year visa wait

Author
Lincoln Tan,
Publish Date
Thu, 7 Dec 2023, 8:50PM

More than 760 people are still waiting for their visas two years after a one-off residency scheme was introduced for workers who played a critical role in supporting New Zealand’s economy through the Covid-19 pandemic.

Between December 1, 2021 and August 1, 2022, more than 106,000 applications for residence visas under the 21RV scheme were received by Immigration New Zealand.

Although 96 per cent of the applications have been decided, figures released to the Herald indicated 768 were still waiting for a decision.

Jay Abellano, 48, a carpenter originally from the Philippines, who has been waiting more than two years, says the wait is killing him and creating “extreme stress” for him and his family.

Abellano has three children, aged 16, 17 and 23, and his wife is a teacher who he believes can get registered here and help with New Zealand’s teacher shortage.

“When they first announced the scheme and my application was first lodged, there was a lot of excitement. I felt my prayers of being reunited with my family is coming true,” he said.

“Now I feel like it is just one big lie, and that nothing is going to happen. My family keeps asking me for updates, but I don’t know what to say.

“I’m feeling frustrated and helpless, and the wait is causing extreme stress for myself and my family, and it is just killing me.”

Abellano has been on an interim visa after his work visa expired in July, and his life has been put in limbo without the INZ decision.

Another applicant, who did not want to be named fearing it could jeopardise his application, said the two-year wait has resulted in him feeling “like a prisoner”.

“In my situation and visa condition, I am unable to leave New Zealand because once I go, I am unable to return,” he said.

“So everything hinges on the INZ decision to my 21RV application. I have not seen my family since the Covid-19 pandemic, and it feels like I’m a prisoner when I can’t make plans to travel back to see them.”

Immigration lawyer Maricel Weischede, acting for Abellano, said the reality was many were still facing uncertainty.

“INZ vowed a 12-month processing period, a promise that hasn’t seen the light of day,” Weischede said.

“It’s time for INZ to urgently prioritise these pending applications. The futures of these applicants and their families who’ve been left hanging far too long.”

Another immigration lawyer Harris Gu says he has some clients who have been waiting close to two years for a decision and said the waiting time was unreasonable.

Jock Gilray, INZ director visa, said the agency “are working hard to decide the remaining 21RV applications”.

“Residence applications take time to process given the level of detailed assessment required for each application,” Gilray said.

“The time taken to decide an application varies depending on the level of complexity involved, whether sufficient information was provided with the application, and whether verification with third parties is required.”

Gilray said the 21RV scheme was a one-off pathway launched to provide certainty for migrant families that faced disruption because of Covid-19, and to help retain the skills New Zealand businesses need to support New Zealand’s economic recovery.

“Ninety-nine percent of these applications have been decided,” he said,

Gilray said most of the remaining decisions required further information from the clients themselves, or third party agencies to meet immigration criteria including health, character or verifying relationships.

Meanwhile, Gilray said plans are also under way to allow permanent resident visa applications online.

Currently, the applications have to be done on paper with Auckland being the only office accepting them.

“INZ has allocated additional resources to process permanent resident visa applications and will implement an online application for this product in early 2024,” he added.

Lincoln Tan specialises in covering stories around diversity and immigration. He’s been a journalist at the Herald since 2006.

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