VACs Wings To Be Clipped

April 7, 2017
Iain MacLeod

Two weeks’ ago I went public on my serious concerns regarding the actions of the Visa Application Centres (VACs) that have partnered up commercially with Immigration New Zealand.

My concerns were twofold:

The VACs are not licensed to provide immigration advice yet it seems, based on multiple reports from clients who are attempting to drop off visa applications we have prepared, they are giving what appears to be immigration advice. INZ has accepted this is happening; they dispute how frequently. Given we have had a number of clients sent away when they tried to file applications to get additional information (that was not required for their applications to be receipted) it seems it is far more common than INZ wishes to acknowledge.
When the advice is being given it’s often wrong.
I have, since writing that blog, had a meeting with senior immigration officials and they have confirmed that all VACs will now be told that applications must be receipted if they contain four key mandatory lodgement documents including completed application form, application fee, two passport-sized photos and passport.

The problem arises because the VACs are also given checklists by Immigration New Zealand of additional possible documentation that Immigration New Zealand wishes to see in order to assist them make a decision on the visa application. I have sought and obtained copies of all of these checklists under the Official Information Act.

I thought there would be four – one detailing the mandatory requirements for a Work Visa, a Student Visa, a Visitor Visa and possibly a Resident Visa.

There were, however, scores of them and different checklists for different branches for the same type of visa! For each visa category, there were different checklists for all sub-types of the same visa, e.g. Essential Skills Work Visa, Work Visa, Talent Visa, Work Visa for a Partner of a New Zealand resident and so on.

It’s no wonder the VAC staff get confused as to what is or isn’t required.

INZ has told them to collect all this additional information and evidence; yet they cannot offer advice while doing so.

What sort of position does that put them in? One where it must be very hard to balance being ‘helpful’ with crossing the line and potentially breaching NZ law by giving ‘advice’.

An examination of these checklists shows them to be garbled, confusing and often vague. In many instances, it records a document being required “if applicable”.

I’ve challenged Immigration New Zealand management and also the Registrar of the Immigration Advisers’ Authority that it stretches credibility to breaking point that the VAC staff are not interpreting when a document is applicable to the visa application and when it is not. The exchange between VAC staffer and applicant must surely require questions and answers and the taking into account of personal circumstances and that all the requires interpretation of immigration rules and that becomes immigration advice as defined by the Immigration Advisers’ Licensing 2007.

There is more water to flow under this bridge but my advice to anybody anywhere on the planet who is now filing a visa application through a Visa Application Centre and who has a correctly filled-out application form, correct fee, passport and two passport-sized photos, to make very clear to any VAC staffer who demands any more documentation to receipt the application, that they must receipt the application and forward it to Immigration New Zealand with any other documents the applicant may wish to include.

It is then up to Immigration New Zealand to determine whether further documentation is necessary and to liaise directly with the applicant.

No one can be turned away or be told to go and get additional documents.

I’m going to be interested to see what happens from here on and would welcome hearing from anybody who now tries to file an application and is told either the application cannot be receipted with only the four mandatory lodgement requirements and/or receives advice on what other documentation needs to be filed for the application to be receipted and sent to Immigration New Zealand.

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