People seeking work visas could face major delays with Immigration New Zealand stretched thin after the shutdown of its key Beijing office, Dileepa Fonseka reports

The effects of the coronavirus continue to ripple through our immigration system and people seeking work visas will be the next to feel it. 

INZ Associate Deputy Chief Executive Catriona Robinson said in a statement on Monday that 50 staff normally dedicated to processing work visas would now be reassigned to help clear a backlog of tourist and visitor applications.

INZ’s Beijing office, currently closed due to the Covid-19 coronavirus, is a major offshore processing centre for global tourist and Chinese student visa applications.

Robinson told Newsroom in a statement that the new initiative to deploy work visa staff to process the backlog created by the shutdown would cause delays for people seeking skilled work visas. 

“Presently the wait times for allocation of Essential Skills visa applications to an immigration officer is 10 days,” Robinson said.

“Early modelling suggests this may increase by up to six weeks if no other factors change in the intervening time,” she said.

Union Network of Migrants spokesman Mandeep Bela said the move was “of concern” given reports he’d already received of visa delays across a number of categories.

“There are people who are already having to wait really, really long for their visas,” Bela said.

“It doesn’t only affect the migrants but it also affects their families,” he said.

“And on top of that it also affects the businesses in New Zealand who are having to wait quite a long time for a migrant to get their visa.”

Newsroom earlier reported that over 12,000 tourist and student visa applications were left stranded in Beijing after China’s response to the Covid-19 coronavirus led to the closure of INZ’s Beijing office in early February. 

On Monday Robinson said there were now 13,400 visitor and student applications unprocessed there. 

The majority of those (7,200 applications) were from non-Chinese tourists trying to visit or study in New Zealand. 

The Beijing backlog

INZ’s Beijing office handled half of New Zealand’s temporary visas after a restructure of the organisation at the end of 2017 closed down several overseas offices and sent some services offshore.

Before it was shut down the Beijing office’s 130 staff processed 10,000 visitor and student applications a week, including from people outside of China and Asia.

The office closed in early February on the back of measures to combat the coronavirus in China, but applications continued to come into INZ’s Beijing branch.

Newsroom earlier reported that some applications had been reallocated from Beijing to other INZ offices in Mumbai, Palmerston North and Porirua. 

Bela said he had been critical of the offshore restructure of INZ’s operations at the time and urged the organisation to focus on hiring more staff locally to prevent visa delays. 

“[There] doesn’t appear to be enough staff to deal with the backlog,” Bela said.

“We are hearing a lot of complaints on the visa delays, and that needs to be addressed because it is quite challenging for a lot of the migrants and their families,” he said.

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