What the Visa Processing Landscape looks like Under Level 2

With restrictions relaxing under alert level 2 and more staff able to return to the office, Immigration New Zealand’s visa processing capacity, which has been largely limited over the lockdown period, is now increasing. INZ is in a position to process paper applications such as residence class visa applications, and to formally prioritise residence and temporary visa applications. Accordingly, it has amended its instructions as to the order of processing visa applications, effective from 13 May 2020. Those instructions can be summarised as follows.

Residence applications

For residence applications under both the Skilled Migrant Category and the various Residence from Work Categories, first priority is given where the applicant is in New Zealand. Within those onshore applications, applicants with job offers paying at least twice the median wage (currently $51.00 per hour or $106,080 per annum), or applicants who hold occupational registration where that registration is required, such as nurses, will be prioritised.

Second priority is then given to applications where the applicant is based offshore.

Temporary visa applications

For temporary visa applications, first priority remains with applications for critical workers supporting the COVID-19 response, however INZ is resuming processing of all other temporary entry class visa applications where the applicant is in New Zealand, including Essential Skills work visa applications, generally in the order they were lodged.

As Essential Skills applications are uniquely affected by the impact of COVID-19, INZ has published Visa Pak 345 which contains guidance to immigration officers assessing Essential Skills work visa applications in the wake of COVID-19 and its impact on New Zealand’s economy.

Essential Skills processing to resume…but with caveats

The labour market test is a key requirement for the grant of an Essential Skills work visa, which necessitates employers to demonstrate that they have taken all reasonable steps to hire New Zealanders to fill their vacancies but have been unable to find suitable New Zealanders regionally available and able to do the work offered.

With an increase in unemployment as a result of COVID-19 meaning a far greater number of New Zealand citizens and residents will be seeking new jobs, Essential Skills work visa applications currently being processed will be subject to a greater level of scrutiny to determine whether the employment offer is both sustainable, and unable to be filled by New Zealanders now available to do the work on offer. To that end, applicants can expect to receive requests for further information from case officers, giving applicants and employers the opportunity to provide updated information to demonstrate that all requirements under Essential Skills policy remain met.

While case officers will not specifically request employers to re-advertise their vacancies, employers may choose to do so in order to demonstrate that there are still no New Zealanders regionally available and able to take up the offered work; particularly, where advertising was conducted prior to the lockdown period, fresh advertising may be valuable in establishing that the labour market test remains met despite the change to the labour market over the last two months.

With regards to sustainability, immigration officers must be satisfied that an offer of employment is able to be sustained for the duration of the employment offered. The fact that an employer is receiving funding from the COVID-19 Wage Subsidy Scheme does not by itself indicate that the employment is not genuine, sustainable or full-time, however immigration officers may seek confirmation from employers that the job offer remains valid. This may include inquiry as to whether the employer is currently operating and if not, when they intend to resume operations.

Where case officers have concerns that New Zealanders may now be available or that employment may not now be genuine and sustainable, this must be put to the applicant in the form of a Potentially Prejudicial Information (PPI) letter to which applicants will be given the opportunity to respond.

Further general information on visa lodgement and processing

In addition to the updated instructions as to the order of processing, and where INZ’s focus will lie INZ has also provided further clarification on a number of questions that have been raised in the preceding weeks. We have listed the most relevant of this below.

  • The Ministry of Social Development is now able to provide Skills Match Reports to employers who engage them to recruit New Zealanders, for skill level 4 and 5 positions.
  • Paper-based applications lodged during the lockdown period will be deemed to be lodged on the date marked on the envelope. If no date is provided on the envelope, the received date will be the date INZ opens the application at the National Area Documentation Office. Lodgement dates may be disputed on a case-by-case basis.
  • With COVID-19 creating difficulties in obtaining and submitting certain original documents, where paper applications are submitted with required documents missing, INZ will allow applicants time to provide these rather than returning applications for failing to meet mandatory lodgement requirements. However such documents will be required during the processing of the application; they will not be waived.
  • Applicants who have been granted extensions to their visas under the Epidemic Management notice will still have any visa applications they have submitted assessed.

Need assistance?

The Saunders & Co Immigration team will be back in the office at 131 Victoria Street, Christchurch from Monday 18 May, and are available for meetings in person or by video conference. Any queries or meeting requests can be emailed to immigration@saunders.co.nz.