The Government is locked in talks about an overhaul of the residence programme to prioritise highly skilled immigrants.
Coalition ministers are grappling with the shape the new residence programme will take, after the last one expired in December.
Cabinet discussed last year how it could put a cap on each category of residence, such as partnerships and business visas.
Immigration minister Iain Lees-Galloway said the aim was for residence policy to be more focused on skilled immigrants.
But Cabinet was still working through the details.
“Because we are looking to take a new approach to this, we are taking our time about it in developing a new policy which I think will work better for people in the future,” he said.
“We certainly want to look more closely at the individual streams [or residence] and and that will help us to bring a greater focus to supporting skilled migrants to achieve residency, that is absolutely part of the conversation that we’re having.
“If you just focus on the overall planning range without having some focus on each of the individual streams, you can find that skilled migrants get crowded out by the other categories.
“So if we’ve got a clear view about how many visas we expect to issue in each of the categories, you reduce the risk of losing out on the skilled migrants that you really want to attract to New Zealand.”
But he said in the meantime, he had told immigration officials to focus on how quickly visa applications are decided.
Some skilled workers are waiting more than 15 months for residence visas.
“I’ve made it absolutely clear to Immigration New Zealand (INZ) that I do want visa processing times to speed up, I think people are waiting too long and they are working exceptionally hard on doing that,” he said.
“Even though we compare reasonably with other countries, at the moment it is my desire to see those processing times come down and people get their decisions a lot sooner.”
Kevin Li, his wife and son are among the more than 37,000 people waiting for a residence decision.
He is a cook in Auckland’s North Shore and met the 160-point criteria for residence when he applied in January last year.
“I received a letter from INZ which told me my case would be finished in November 2019,” he said. “However, I have not had a case officer because I am not treated as a priority application for INZ.
“I understand maybe a cook did not pay more tax than a teacher or a nurse, but he still contributes to this country and society. I also have a family and I must give my son a future.”
The family has to rent because of foreign ownership rules.
“When I wake up every morning, the first question comes into my mind is if I can have a case officer today. I have many plans, such as selling my house in China and buying a new one in NZ, buying a business,” he said.
“But the endless waiting has destroyed all my dreams. The life of my family is going to be hopeless. When my son asks me when he can have a new bicycle and a cat, I tell him when we have our own house and residence.
“I can see how disappointed he is, I ask myself thousand of times if I should have come to New Zealand and if I destroyed my son’s future.”
The Association for Migration and Investment is calling for an urgent meeting with the minister and Immigration New Zealand and said skilled migrant waiting lists will be at the top of the agenda.
Its policy chair, Arunima Dhingra, said applicants had not been told that skilled migrant applications, which were meant to be dealt with in the order they were submitted, had been queued behind ones deemed to be a higher priority.
“A tradesman on $55 to $60k, [his application] will sit there for much much longer,” she said. “What we say is ‘wouldn’t transparency be ethical for those people that are applying?’
“So then they can plan their lives and know whether it’s going to be two years in the waiting before they hear anything.”
This article was originally published on RNZ and re-published with permission.