Hundreds of residents awaiting deportation decisions are living in the country for years in some cases due to processing delays by Immigration NZ

Convicted criminals are among the hundreds of permanent and temporary New Zealand residents whose deportations are being delayed due to Immigration NZ’s backlog issues.

A report leaked to Newsroom has revealed Immigration NZ’s resolutions team, a core decision-making division in charge of processing resident deportation cases, was unable to access case files for 14 weeks last year during the lockdowns.

The internal review was commissioned by the Ministry of Business, Innovation and Employment (MBIE) to auditing firm PwC to review its systems and was published in March this year. 

It had 42 findings and 19 recommendations, but PwC’s core recommendation was for Immigration NZ to take immediate action to reduce the backlog of resident deportation cases as it posed a “significant reputational risk” to the department and minister.

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At the time of the audit, the resolutions team comprised of 27 staff who were also in charge of advising ministers for special directions on cases and liaising with the Ministry of Justice on behalf of the Immigration Protection Tribunal. And based on December 2020 figures, 10 team members were handling more than 600 deportation cases. 

Since the report was published, Immigration NZ has hired two more people to its deportation team and as at June 30, the team had 517 cases on hand.

Resident deportations could be the result of convictions, breaching visa conditions, fraud or mistakes in administration, and the resolutions team is tasked with investigating this and preparing a report with a recommendation for the minister to decide whether the person should be deported or not.

A chart of the process flow in the report shows each resident deportation case has about 20 steps and can take about 24 weeks to complete.

Dealing with the backlog

The report reveals a backlog in deportation cases had been growing since at least 2018 but Covid amplified the issue.

At the end of 2018, the resolutions team had about 143 cases on hand, which grew to 230 by the end of 2019.

Due to staff being unable to access the case files for 14 weeks, deportation cases ballooned to 664 in August last year, then dropped slightly to 635 in December.

Deportation lawyer Simon Graham said he had clients who had been waiting for a year to two years for a decision on their deportation.

At the end of June, the deportation team of 12 was dealing with 517 cases on hand. Photo: Lynn Grieveson

Prior to 2018, a deportation decision would typically be made within about four months, he said.

Graham said while his clients weren’t entirely blameless given their prior actions might have caused the situation, residents were living in a state of uncertainty while waiting for a decision on their future in the country.

Knowing there may be hundreds of cases still backlogged was concerning, Graham said, particularly because decisions require a lot of considerations and must follow human rights conventions to provide recommendations to the minister for his final sign-off. 

Immigration NZ general manager of enablement Stephen Dunstan said in a written statement the department was currently working through the recommendations of the report. 

He said the resolutions team had introduced a range of initiatives to create efficiencies which had reduced the on-hand case load.

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While Dunstan did not give details on which recommendations by PwC the department had taken, he said initiatives included “adding additional resources, implementing electronic systems, and streamlining some processes”.

“The resolutions team aims to be both thorough and fair when putting together deportation case files.

“The sensitive nature of the files and information required to ensure that the file notes present a thorough and fair overview of the case for the decision-maker means that the work is often complex and involves engaging with a number of stakeholders, including government agencies, legal representatives and individuals.”

Two of the biggest pain points identified were that the electronic systems in the deportation division were “cumbersome” and “inefficient” and that the team struggled to replace staff leaving permanently or for planned absences and secondments.

Of the 19 recommendations in the report, PwC highlighted its seven most important recommendations.

For the short-term, PwC recommends Immigration NZ hire more staff and ensure current staff know what their duties are.

“Systems seem to be clunky, ‘jurassic’ and not user friendly.”
– PwC report.

Over the next six to 12 month period, Immigration NZ has been advised to incorporate a customer perspective in its processing, reintroduce team meetings and revise KPIs, and create a development and training programme.

And for the long-term, looking beyond the next year, PwC recommends introducing new “fit-for-purpose” technology that will also enable flexible working, so people can work from home just as efficiently.

PwC conducted 18 interviews that included staff, legal and business advisors. One of those interviewed for the report said “systems seem to be clunky, ‘jurassic’ and not user friendly,” another said “we are so reactive to things – can we be more strategic?”

Reputational risk

PwC warned the backlog of deportation cases posed reputational damage to Immigration NZ and Immigration Minister Kris Faafoi.

Immigration NZ has already received significant scrutiny in recent months for splitting families, putting thousands of residency applications on ice and announcing plans to turn off the tap on immigration.

This week an Auckland man separated from his husband who is a Chinese citizen filed a lawsuit against Faafoi for two recent decisions relating to the suspension of processing offshore temporary visa applications and the decision to cancel and refund 50,000 temporary offshore visa applications, some of which were already being processed.

Faafoi’s office says the minister will not comment as there is pending legal action.

PwC says in its report, timeliness is a key part of effective customer service, and the increased backlog would put more pressure on staff reducing morale, and potentially lead to adverse outcomes in deportee cases.

The report says “there is a risk that significant delays could result in case subjects becoming ‘settled’ in NZ”.

Being settled is a justification under humanitarian reasons against deportation.

Graham says Immigration NZ isn’t “helping themselves” by causing delays in its processing of deportation cases.

“That potentially creates a potential a problem for Immigration NZ going forward because there is case law around delays and the prejudice that causes to people.

“We’re seeing what I would categorise as substantial delays in decision making. It is getting to a point where it is concerning and is having an impact outside of the actual issues itself. They’re now creating further issues for people waiting which is stress as a result of delays.”

Faafoi was not available for comment on the matter of deportations and the office of Associate Immigration Minister Phil Twyford said the questions were outside his delegations.

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