Immigration NZ should be investigated over residence visa 'shambles' - industry

3:12 pm on 9 December 2021

The immigration industry says heads should roll over the launch of the 2021 residence programme which was dogged by IT issues.

Residence visa application form

The cost of fixing the latest visa rollout will be huge, the Association for Migration and Investment says. Photo: RNZ / Samuel Rillstone

The beleaguered agency within the Ministry of Business, Innovation and Employment faces calls for a root-and-branch probe of its operations, policies and spending.

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The Association for Migration and Investment (NZAMI) chair June Ranson said she was concerned the latest "shambles" will be swept under the carpet.

"There should be an auditor general investigation," she said. "The cost to the taxpayer for fixing this latest failing will be astronomic, when third party IT advisers had been engaged overseas. NZAMI and the immigration industry offered many times, after the immigration minister's plan for the new 2021 residence visa was released, to be involved in the online testing and preparation of the application form.

"We were told everything was under control. Immigration NZ has a failing that they are not prepared to involve the practitioners who know what is needed, they just continually go it alone and then wonder why things don't work out. With the latest failing with the 2021 new residence visa, we were advised that Immigration NZ was following what the government had stipulated for no involvement of the industry."

The technical issues that went wrong - as with previous failures in policy, IT and general operations - had been compounded by the lack of transparency and accountability, she said.

Immigration adviser Arunima Dhingra said a second form INZ sent advisers and lawyers last week, aimed at circumventing the residence system problems, was full of bugs.

"Questions like 'are you pregnant' would pop up for a dependent child, in one of our cases for a child aged three years," she said. "Error messages all the time.The acknowledgement email has no client details. Advisers are left to their own guesswork to figure which client's application has been submitted and which one has disappeared in thin air.

"We would like to see some real accountability for what has happened - hours and hours of advisers and migrants trying to work out the system that was broken to begin with, loss of revenue, time, extreme stress that this caused everyone on the other end, the list goes on.

"INZ being a government organisation often escapes the scrutiny that is applied to others in the same situation. Given the length and extent of the ineptitude of this rollout, I think all stakeholders need answers. INZ should not hide behind its public organisation privileges - they can and they will probably get away with it, but if they go down this road, they can never hope to regain the trust of the masses, which is now lost."

Despite the problems, 9418 applications were received last week and 20 have already been approved, with residence visas issued by Monday.

Sources said INZ needed a 'clean-out' of a hardcore of managers who had to go. "If this was a commercial enterprise it would never survive, it's atrocious," said one. "It's like we are the trainers and they are the apprentices."

Immigration lawyer Richard Small joined NZAMI in calling for the auditor general to look into what was going wrong at INZ. A problematic reform programme, Vision 15, was exonerated in a 2017 AG report and he said there was no further oversight from there of the remainder of the programme's implementation and results.

Issues that came out of an older report were meant to be solved by Vision 15 and had slipped out of sight. "The core issue for me is management culture," he said "Everything else are symptoms. I would like to see an AG investigation into both this debacle but also the wider but linked issues of decision making, information handling, which is a major issue, complaints handling and transparency by INZ.

"Crucial information disappears off the pages of AMS (INZ's computer records) into Word documents, often not acknowledged - we've had three Ombudsman's findings from our office alone in the last two years, and dozens of useless complaints are just shrugged off. Every instance is apparently a one-off accident. There's a difference between substance and window dressing."

Applications being submitted successfully - INZ

INZ's general manager Geoff Scott said it was not aware of any applications being lost.

"While we acknowledge the frustration that was experienced in the first few days, people were still able to submit their applications, and once the alternative form was available, we quickly saw applications being successfully submitted across both application forms.

"By Tuesday this week, we had seen continued improvements and the Immigration Online system was performing well. It was reliable for our customers to use to submit their 2021 Resident Visa applications and as a result, the alternative option is no longer needed. As at 7 December, we had received 9418 applications. That is around 70 percent of the total number of applications expected under phase one.

"We are now working hard to process those applications as quickly as possible. This continues to be priority for us. Delivering the 2021 Resident Visa is a top priority for INZ and we continue to work hard to prepare for phase two applications opening on 1 March 2022. This includes external consultation to help us learn and improve from phase one."

INZ established a focus group with a representative from the immigration professionals community, as well as representatives from the business sector and migrant communities, he said.

"Ahead of 1 December, we regularly met with this group to seek feedback and advice on various products, including the application form and other communications products. We have also had regular engagements with immigration professionals, including webinars and email communication. Since 1 December, we have provided regular updates about the technical system issues to ensure they are informed."

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