Govt pushes out 2021 residency visa processing by six months

Michael Neilson, NZ Herald,
Publish Date
Wed, 11 May 2022, 4:50pm
Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern. Photo / Michael Craig
Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern. Photo / Michael Craig

Govt pushes out 2021 residency visa processing by six months

Michael Neilson, NZ Herald,
Publish Date
Wed, 11 May 2022, 4:50pm

National doubts Government claims it will be able to process the expected tens of thousands of visas resulting from today's border announcement, with the timeframe for "one-off" 2021 residency visas already being pushed out six months. 

National Party immigration spokeswoman Erica Stanford said the changes to immigration settings, including a pathway to residency for certain "high-skilled" workers, were simply a rehash of Labour's 2017 policies, and ignored the post-pandemic reality. 

Criticism has also come in from support partner the Green Party, which says residency priority for those on high-wages would create a "two-tier immigration system". 

"One that rewards high-income migrants while keeping low-waged workers on a precarious and temporary status." 

The Government today announced a raft of changes to immigration settings, including a simplified immigration process, and visa extensions for around 20,000 migrants already in New Zealand to ensure skilled workers remained in the country. 

It also included a "Green List" of more than 85 hard-to-fill roles to attract and retain skilled workers to fill skill shortages. 

This involved a streamlined and prioritised pathway to residency incentivising skilled healthcare, engineers, trade and tech sector workers to relocate to New Zealand long term. 

The Green List involved 56 jobs that could go straight to residency, and 29 jobs where people could apply for residency after two years. It also included those earning twice the median wage. 

But questions are already being raised about the ability to process all of the visas, with Faafoi estimating there could be about 30,000 Green List applications, in addition to other visas. 

Faafoi said 230 new staff had been brought on board and the new online system would streamline the process, with current processing times shrinking. 

However, he admitted the new settings and border reopening – and associated visas – meant the one-off Resident 2021 Visa applications, for migrants impacted by the pandemic, would be delayed. 

Originally the aim was to process 80 per cent of the expected 110,000 applications within 12 months – by March 2023 – but that would now be pushed out another six months. 

Stanford said this raised questions about resourcing at Immigration NZ and doubted the timeframes given for processing. 

"Back in 2017 a visitor visa took just 21 days to process, that number is now five months. 

"The Labour Government promised that 80 per cent of the 110,000 resident 2021 visa applications received would be processed within 12 months. Six months have passed, and INZ is only processing these at half the speed required to meet that target." 

This was despite INZ hiring another 500 staff and spending another $150 million since 2017, she said. 

The announcements overall were welcome but had taken too long and that Labour was still focused on keeping down immigration, she said. 

"I think Labour doesn't like immigration, they don't like migrants and they have been focused on pushing down those numbers ever since they got into office. 

"They have cut and pasted the same policy they came into government with in 2017 today forgetting that we've had a global pandemic, the biggest labour shortage in 40 years, critical workforce shortages across the country." 

She was critical that among all of the changes new workers would still not be able to enter the country until after July 4. "That date has not changed," she said. 

"Business New Zealand had been expecting an announcement about how to get workers in more quickly and they did not get that." 

Menéndez March said the focus on high-wage workers was denying the rights of many migrant workers New Zealand had relied on. 

"The Government conceded that hospitality, aged-care, and tourism aren't high-wage industries, but denying pathways to residency for migrants working in those fields does nothing to address low wages. 

"The way to improve the conditions for all workers should be via Fair Pay Agreements, increases to the minimum wage, and open work rights." 

"This will particularly impact migrants from India and the Philippines who make up a large proportion of migrants earning less than double the median wage, which is the requirement for the Work to Residency Pathway for roles not on the 'Green List'. 

Act Party leader David Seymour called the immigration changes a "total failure" and said the border should be fully reopened immediately. 

He said with no public health rationale to keep the border closed the only reasons were "ideology and incompetence".