28 Apr 2020

Visa issues: Government delays 'playing with people's lives'

2:41 pm on 28 April 2020

The immigration industry says officials are being hamstrung by the government in their efforts to sort out visa problems.

17128221 - a stack of passports and stamp isolated on white

An advocate says Immigration NZ can't progress visa matters without sign-off from the government. Photo: 123RF

Immigration New Zealand (INZ) quickly renewed temporary work visas expiring from April to July.

But immigrants who have lost their jobs, were waiting for visas or who were locked out by the border closure say they have been left in limbo.

Association for Migration and Investment chair June Ranson said INZ had told her it had to clear all ideas to resolve visa issues with the government.

June Ranson, chairperson of NZ Migration and Investment

June Ranson Photo: Supplied

"Immigration cannot progress on anything without sign-off from the government," she added.

"And that's really hamstringing them because they'd like to be more public, coming out with ideas but they can't move forward.

"So it really is being extremely controlled, it's time-consuming and of course immigration - because it's not seen as an essential service - they've only got a small skeleton staff that are able to operate and in many cases remotely.

"It has shown up, like many government departments, a weakness in technology."

The industry wanted to work with immigration officials on a plan for what would happen as New Zealand emerged from lockdown, she said.

She questioned what stance the government was going to take on overseas workers after the crisis, and said many immigrants were facing tough decisions.

Some work visa holders were overseas when the border closed, either preparing to emigrate or on holiday, and their belongings were either here or being shipped here.

They do not know what to do about their homes, cars and other possessions, she said.

Others had lost their jobs or were waiting for new visas when the lockdown happened.

"Whoever's looking after them, be it an immigration adviser or a lawyer, it's their responsibility to give them some guidance, to really hold their hand because it's a very emotional time," she said.

"And to be prepared to go in to bat for them to see what can be done, because I'm a great believer, you don't just sit back and wait - you have to be proactive because you're playing with people's lives."

INZ has been approached for comment.

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