When You Thought It Couldn’t Get Any Worse

February 28, 2020
Iain MacLeod

A competitor (a former employee and friend) emailed me a few days ago and said ‘Please stop scaring my clients!’

I asked him how I was doing that. Apparently at least one of his clients reads my blogs and the client was concerned at what he was reading about increasingly delayed visa allocation times and significant processing delays.

My reply (book ended with a smiley face) was, ‘Then tell him the truth….’

As I wrote last week there is a fine line between telling it how it is and scaring and upsetting people. I don’t want to frighten anyone but if their Adviser is not going to tell them what is going on, then how do they make plans?

As Advisers, If we know in advance that residence visa processing will take 18 months to finalisation, we can manage the client’s expectations and the clients can make plans accordingly. If we know work visas will take 8-10 weeks to issue, we can manage both the employer and the migrant expectations. If we know visitor visas will take six weeks we can manage that as well. These constant shocks where no one can predict any sort of allocation and processing times right now makes it really hard to help clients plan anything and likewise their NZ employers, who have only offered the migrant the job because they cannot fill the vacancy locally.

I make no apology for informing the market (including other consultancies clients although I am sure my mate had told his client) on what is actually happening rather than how they or their legal representative would like things to be.

And this week, just when I thought the ineptness that is INZ couldn’t get any worse, it has.

This week we were advised that:

  1. The INZ office in Beijing remains closed owing to the Covid-19 virus and I suspect will not reopen for some time. Over one hundred thirty immigration officials are presumably sitting at home doing nothing. Eight to ten thousand visitor visas continue to be filed each week – with Chinese nationals not being able to travel hopefully the numbers should be falling fairly rapidly.
  2. As a consequence, INZ has now announced they are reassigning officials that process Essential Skill Work Visas to process Visitor Visas, and we should now expect ‘delays’ (nothing new in that, what bothers me is the length of those delays).
  3. We are still without a residence programme in which targets and quotas of resident visas are set. We have in effect, no residence programme.

In what is a failure of leadership and planning inside the Department, the impact of the Coronavirus is now spiralling, and I would suggest, almost out of control.

All of this is an abject failure on the part of government as well to lead and the Immigration Department, to manage.

A few years ago some bright spark decided that it would be a good idea to have one office of the department (Beijing) process all visitor visas. Clearly there was never any contingency planning for an event such as the coronavirus outbreak, or war, or hostile cyber-attack – no Plan B. Whether such an event was likely or not, wouldn’t you think that the Management of INZ might have had some Plan B ready, in the event that something like this, however unlikely, might happen?

It is obvious now they didn’t.

And why, when the Department is not allocating and processing anything but a small number of skilled migrant resident (SMC) visa applications, did they not reassign a whole bunch of those officers instead of those processing work visas? There cannot be too many applications left in the SMC processing unit to be processed as they have not allocated any (other than the small number they deem ‘priority) since December 2018.

That rather suggests there are scores of officers sitting increasingly idle in the residence visa processing team. (Hopefully spending their days learning their own residence policy and rules).


I set up my business to allow my staff to work remotely and from anywhere with wifi. I wonder why the NZ Government never thought to do the same…

I guess that’s the difference between the public and private sectors. The public sector shrugs its shoulders and says it is what it is, just suck it up because it isn’t our fault.

Well actually, it is your fault, INZ. I would love to know what contingency planning was made for an event like this. I am pretty sure I know that the answer was none.

So how long are the work visa delays going to be? I wrote last week that in a bit of rare good news we were getting most through in around three to four weeks again. Well, that lasted about a two months. We are now being told to expect allocation times of around 6 weeks – then there is the processing time on top – likely another 2-3 weeks.

So, now we are back where we were a year ago – telling employers and clients that it might now take 2-3 months to get a work visa.

Why, oh why, would they now delay processing work visas for skilled migrants, many of whom plan on going ahead with residence? If they processed the work visas quickly that at least buys everyone, NZ employers desperate for the skills, migrants needing to start work and INZ alike, time. Now it seems we have no residence programme, work visas are going to be delayed and we have a backlog of SMC cases, sitting unallocated, numbering around 40,000 people and growing by about 1000 a week.

Nobody, perhaps, could have expected the coronavirus but what it has done is to expose the failure of leadership and planning inside the Department and Ministers who trumpet ‘Don’t look at me, I don’t get involved in operational matters’. The Minister of Immigration controls the residence programme and the Minister sets the numbers. He is missing in action and the folly of spending his first 18 months as Minister fretting over the (relatively minor) matter of dealing with ‘migrant exploitation’ is being exposed for the sideshow it was.

Serious questions need to be asked and at the risk of frightening my own and competitor’s clients, I only promise to tell my clients what they need to know and not what they want to hear so they can make a plan. We will continue to do that and for our clients, jobs will be secured, work visas will be granted and over time resident visas will be granted to our clients.

If other consultants and lawyers don’t also share these constantly shifting processing realities, that then just makes the situation worse – Facebook and online chat groups and forums get all panicky and frenzied and the truth risks getting lost in the noise.

It is time heads rolled inside INZ for the deepening crisis that is enveloping the department. I have no doubt however that none will because if there is one thing I learned about Government monopolies that can dish up whatever garbage service they wish – applicants have nowhere else to go. I have said it before – the Immigration Department likes to refer to migrants as ‘customers’. I prefer ‘prisoners’. What real business where customers have the choice of going down the road to get a better service, would put up with this?

Questions need to be asked and the politicians and bureaucrats running this circus must be held to account.

I am going to continue doing all I can to see that happens. If it frightens applicants I don’t mean to, but truth matters and the truth allows clients (and us) at least to plan.

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