Visa priority processing new criteria explained

Understanding the priority of visa applications

On 17 April, Immigration New Zealand’s workflow priorities had to make some big shifts to align with emergency legislation around COVID-19. Like many organisations, first and foremost INZ had to work around some stark realities – you can’t process paper-based applications if you can’t go to the office.

So, the priorities were re-set. They shifted to focus on processing visas to get people in to assist the Government’s response to the pandemic, other visas for humanitarian travel, and other temporary visas.

This meant residence visa application processing was put to the back of the queue.

Now that INZ staff can get back to work, priorities have been re-jigged once again, starting on 13 May. The new rules set processing priorities more or less back to where they were before the lockdown. But this time applications made by those offshore are being put to the back of the queue.

In terms of residence processing, priority first goes to Skilled Migrant Category applications.

Within that class of applications, those who meet the high-income threshold, and those who need occupational registration for the jobs they hold, will get processed first.

The next group of residence applications given priority are the Residence from Work category. Within that category, once again those earning high incomes and those who have occupational registration get first priority.

Residence applications for those who are offshore are a second priority. There is the rub.

Are those visa holders who are trapped offshore but applied before they left classified as applicants offshore? Or, does ‘applicants offshore’ refer to those who applied while they were offshore and are still offshore? Clarification is urgently needed.

Don’t forget the migrants who are on the pathway to residency… 

A large number of residence visa applicants who live here are trapped offshore.  Because of Covid 19 and the closure of our borders, will Immigration New Zealand stop processing their applications on the basis they are applicants who are offshore.

They will be worried their residence cases have gone to the back of the queue as a result of circumstances beyond their control.

Temporary visas will be processed in the following priority:

  1. All visas for critical workers supporting the Government response to COVID-19, and visas needed for travel for humanitarian reasons (this includes partners of New Zealanders returning to New Zealand)
  2. All other applications for those in New Zealand
  3. All other temporary visa applications for those offshore.

This does not bode well for people stuck offshore who have visas expiring but cannot return due to border closures. They will be forced to re-apply and will have a long wait to get their applications processed if they are considered applicants who are offshore.

Migrants Stuck Offshore

If an application made by those who were onshore, but are now stuck offshore due to the Government’s decision to close the border, are going to have their applications placed in low tier priority, the injustice will rankle.

We now have mandatory quarantine/ in Government approved facilities on arrival. There is no reason why a managed return for work visa holders and residents’ applicants stuck offshore cannot be facilitated. The numbers coming and can be controlled simply through the numbers of visas issued permitting re-entry. This solves any potential problem with capacity for quarantine once onshore.

Costs of quarantining and isolation do not need to be borne by the government alone. In Australia for example, if you wish to travel interstate, you are obligated to contribute toward the cost of your quarantine. The same could be applied here. In many on social media have expressed a willingness to assist with those costs.

Consequently, the response (or more particularly lack of response) to the plight of those stuck offshore, coupled with this reprioritisation, is going to appear as though it’s a backdoor avenue by the Government to reduce migrant numbers.

This could all be reshuffled again by exercise of the powers about to be given to the Minister by the Immigration (Covid-19 Response) Amendment Bill. We wait for the next round of change.

If you are looking for help with your visa application get in touch with our office.

If you want to understand more about the immigration law changes announced by the government since the Covid 19 crisis began then check out some of our other articles:

INZ introduces new law changes- but what about the offshore migrants?

Migrants with a critical purpose still eligible for a visa

Automatic 3-month visa extension granted for some temporary visa holders

Update for migrants about the border closures

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