13 June 2024

Lees-Galloway denies slow down, emphasis is to clear priority visa

Gurbir Singh

Minister of Immigration Iain Lees-Galloway says the aim for residence policy is to be more focused on skilled immigrants, so emphasis would continue to clear the priority queue ‘more quickly’.

He also denies there is a deliberate ‘slow down’ in decision making while talking with NewsViews yesterday in Hamilton.

In this exclusive interview with NewsViews, he acknowledged delays in processing times and expressed his desire to see people get their decisions a lot sooner.

“It is not acceptable and I’m not satisfied with the status quo. Since June last year, I required INZ to report to me on a weekly basis exactly what is happening, and what they are doing to improve processing times,” he says.

Iain Lees-Galloway
Immigration Minister Iain Lees-Galloway (Photo: NewsViews)

He denies the allegation there is a slowdown on processing residency applications within INZ or the government has issued any instructions to stall approvals.

“INZ continues to process at same rate, there is no slowdown, no deliberate decision within INZ or by government to slow things down,” the Immigration Minister assures NewsViews.

“There has been some good progress in the essential skills visas and student and visitor visas,” he adds.

“In the last financial year, INZ made over a million decisions,” he claims.

Immigration Minister Lees-Galloway asks visa applicants to bear with INZ & to have patience for current delays, in his exclusive interview with Gurbir Singh, Editor- NewsViews

When NewsViews wanted to know the reasons for the backlog, he attributes the delays as unavoidable consequences of the increase in volume of applications received.

“Visa processing times have been getting slower since 2014 when National was in power, and government did nothing about this, they allowed it in the end to get slower and slower…” We are in high competition with other countries to attract and retain (migrants)…We have a record number of people applying to get a visa, either temporary or residence visa.”

The restructure of INZ had an added impact on productivity. He blames the previous National government for “inaccurate” data that was produced to plan the restructure.

“INZ was (actually) dealing with far higher volumes than what was predicted or planned previously,” he adds.  

“We lost people who had more institutional knowledge, we employed more people, they had to be trained, and it took time for them to get up to speed.”

Gurbir Singh with Immigration Minister
Lees-Galloway with Gurbir Singh, NewsViews

To cope with backlogs and to get visa processing moving, “both Manila and Henderson offices (originally meant to be shut down) were kept open, 177 staff (were) added.”

“Coronavirus has forced Beijing office (150 staff) to temporarily shutdown, and is not known for how long. This is also having an impact.”

Additionally, INZ is also coping with the “large volume of phone calls people are making to ask various things…they (INZ) are working extremely hard to redistribute work across the system and to ensure that impact is minimised,” he assures.

According to INZ, in the 3 months to 1 February 2020, 90% of SMC applications were completed within 15 months. The oldest applications in the general queue were lodged in December 2018.

When NewsViews asked if changes to the process of prioritisation would have any impact upon reducing backlog, he says even though both queues would now move, but emphasis would still be to clear the priority queue ‘more quickly’.

Immigration Minister Iain Lees-Galloway says the aim is for residence policy to be more focused on skilled immigrants – those earning $106,800 or more a year and work in an occupation where registration is required.

“We are in urgent need of registered professionals – nurses, health specialists, teachers, they are the main occupations that are going to be prioritised to see they move quickly.

“Chef is probably the largest one in the non-priority queue, they will also continue to move because INZ is going to pick from both the priority and non-priority queues to keep the non-priority queue moving.”

Lees-Galloway was not in favour of the suggestion to temporarily suspend lodgement of fresh expressions of interest (EOIs) until backlog was cleared.

“Obviously, we want people to apply who will be prioritised, and what we are doing right now is we’re looking at our residency policy…I anticipate  we will have some changes before elections.”

He declined to specify when the new policy will be announced, but “until then, current policy will continue,” he adds.

Lees-Galloway categorically denied any plans to ‘wipe-out’ or ‘lapse’ current waiting list applications to clear backlog as was done in 2003 by the Helen Clark government. 

“No, it’s pure speculation, it’s not happening,” he clarifies.

The Minister confirmed around 13,000 people are awaiting a decision on their residency application and denied some media reports (not NewsViews) suggesting this number to be over 35,000.

When asked if a time-frame could be given to applicants to get a decision, he said it was difficult at this stage. Continue reading P.2

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