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Immigration New Zealand to investigate visa processing times

Ongoing student visa delays have prompted Immigration New Zealand to investigate ways to improve processing times, after an Education New Zealand briefing document raised concerns the delays may hinder its ability to meet its economic value goals.

Visa delays have turned away some students, according to stakeholders. Photo: Agus Dietrich/UnsplashVisa delays have turned away some students, according to stakeholders. Photo: Agus Dietrich/Unsplash

The delays also appear to be the result of INZ’s efforts to consolidate visa processing in 2017

According to the briefing document, ENZ has received complaints from agents, students and providers with concerns that further delays will negatively impact market perceptions of the country.

“If there’s a barrier, it encourages people to look more closely at other options”

“Serious concerns about visa processing times are held by the sub-sectors in New Zealand,” the briefing paper said.

“ENZ is concerned that visa processing delays… may hinder New Zealand’s ability to meet the goals of the New Zealand International Education Strategy, including the target value of $6 billion by 2025.”

Submitted to education minister Chris Hipkins in late March, the comments from the briefing document have led INZ and ENZ to collaborate on a joint working program to look at how to improve processing times.

“INZ is committed to ensuring that education providers have confidence in our systems and processes,” said Jeannie Melville, INZ’s assistant general manager, education and tourism.

“We want to support education providers and students to use the immigration system effectively, efficiently and appropriately.”

According to Melville, the delays have been created by a substantial increase in both complexity and volume of student visa applications, with India growing 42% and China seeing a 21% jump.

“INZ is processing visa applications as fast as practicable and we generally do a good job; however, processing times will always depend on the complexity of an application,” she said.

While the volume of applications has increased, the delays also appear to be the result of INZ’s efforts to consolidate visa processing in 2017, when it closed several of its offshore and onshore branch offices. Student visas are now processed in three locations.

In a statement, ENZ general manager, stakeholder and communications, John Goulter said his organisation would begin working with INZ across several priority areas as part of its joint work program.

Those include information sharing, the development of visa application checklists, early communication of concerns and risks, as well as the co-development of market reports.

“ENZ is working with INZ to find ways to help providers through the current situation,” he said, adding “high level deliverables have been agreed and detailed planning is underway”.

The severity of the delays has led to several students deferring their enrolment or choosing to study elsewhere, according to some stakeholders, while Institutes of Technology and Polytechnics estimate a potential $33.36 million loss in revenue for the sub-sector.

“As with any major reorganisation, this has not come without some speed bumps along the way and the country has felt an overall slowdown in processing times for student and other visas,” said Brett Berquist, director international at the University of Auckland.

“Visa processing delays…may hinder New Zealand’s ability to meet the goals of the strategy”

“This has led to some students needing to defer their start date but overall our enrolments are up again this year. There has been frequent communication with INZ leadership, our peak bodies, and individual universities.”

Kim Renner, executive director of English New Zealand, meanwhile urged INZ to increase staff numbers to meet processing demands, especially for priority markets, including Brazil, Colombia and Taiwan.

“If there’s a barrier, and a significant amount of additional administration is created because of delays, it encourages people to look more closely at other options,” she told The PIE News.

“Enabling students to experience the high-quality education we have on offer is a priority and the work of Immigration New Zealand has a huge impact on that.”

She added some agents had expressed frustration by the changed model of using three main offices to process students visas.

New Zealand’s international education industry is currently valued at $5.1 billion, according to the latest figures from ENZ.

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