Reports on restructures at Immigration New Zealand show warnings

10:52 am on 10 July 2019

Redundancy payouts to 250 staff at Immigration New Zealand have cost almost $8 million - and the restructure has achieved a fraction of the savings it set out to.

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Newly released documents show the agency's business plan in 2017 forecast a $32 million benefit over four years based on 25 percent savings in workforce costs.

But with a 4 percent saving in those costs now predicted over four years, there is a $0 benefit.

The programme was designed to achieve efficiencies and more consistent decision-making by cutting down visa processing offices from 25 sites to 10 globally and continuing Immigration New Zealand's (INZ) move from paper to online applications.

Offices, such as Auckland central, Shanghai, Moscow, Jakarta, Hong Kong, were closed last year and Bangkok, Washington, Dubai and Pretoria were downgraded to only deal with local risk and verification work. This year London and New Delhi were also converted.

Reasons given for the benefits of the restructure not being realised include the speed of change, increases in visa applications and a greater focus on fraud.

The National Party said the restructure had a good rationale but was badly implemented.

Its new immigration spokesperson Stuart Smith said businesses, education providers and tourism operators, as well as applicants themselves, were frustrated by delays caused by delays which have followed and a lack of responsiveness to increasing visa volumes.

Stuart Smith Kaikōura MP

Stuart Smith Photo: Supplied / National Party

"They've been very slow to react to what's happening actually on the ground," he said.

"So they had an increase in applications, they had changed things around and hadn't adequately resourced people to manage that increase and to do it in a timely manner.

"And I think that any kind of change requires people thinking on their feet and adapting to the situation as it goes forward."

The INZ reports show staff warned of the cost of losing local knowledge and experienced employees and suggested slowing down the three-year restructure, which ended up taking 18 months.

The visa processing offices remaining are Mumbai, Beijing, three Pacific branches and seven New Zealand offices.

The Henderson office, which was to follow Auckland Central in being closed, will now not only stay open but will also expand. Manila's closure has been deferred.

INZ was planning to make 340 people redundant, and create efficiencies by cutting down on over-processing, and through technology improvements.

It lost 248 people, with redundancy costs of $7.7 million and consultants' costs of $1.7m, but eventually, it needed to recruit more staff across different sites. Those numbers do not include more than 100 staff at the Immigration Contact Centre, which was taken out of INZ into another MBIE group last year.

Its figures now forecast that after eight years, it will almost have reached the benefit prediction it made for 2021.

The scope and pace of change were described as "materially different" to the business case, leading to more staff being needed to support "expedited change activities along a truncated delivery timeline".

The branch closures and conversions happened in 18 months, which the report notes was always going to be an "ambitious task".

The result of inexperienced staff in training taking over from offices based near local markets, coupled with the rise in visa applications, has led to long delays.

One year on

A year into the programme, unprocessed applications had soared, and calls were going unanswered at the immigration contact centre.

The programme budget increased due to the condensed timeframe and increased redundancy costs.

"The onshore system, in particular, is currently under stress with visa volumes higher than predicted, and compounded by the arrival onshore of work from closed or converted processing sites," it said in its April report, looking ahead to continued workforce transition and human resources related risks, system capacity pressure and stakeholder feedback.

But the report does signal the successes of the programme, including better quality, more accurate and consistent decisions, and an improvement in identifying risk patterns.

It also expects more efficiencies as staff become experienced.

Cost per decision was falling and economic benefits of having more visa processing done in New Zealand would follow, it said.

Meanwhile, INZ figures show the agency itself is not immune to labour shortages in New Zealand - it has granted seven work visas for immigration officers over the last three years.

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