Short on time? Here are the highlights:
- Immigration officials in New Zealand are moving to centralise visa processing
- Two-thirds of the country’s offshore visa processing centres will be closed within the next two years
- Applicants will be encouraged to use online and telephone services, or to access visa services in person via a global network of Visa Application Centres
In a series of related announcements over the past year, the New Zealand government has set a clear course toward a much more centralised processing model for visas, including student visas. The new approach will rely heavily on online and telephone access to visa applications and related services, with much of the processing occurring “on shore” – that is, within New Zealand itself.
The government began closing public service offices for visa processing across New Zealand late last year. Four offices were shut down at that time, and the process of winding up public counters continues this year. Another office in Wellington was closed on 17 November, the Christchurch location will close on 21 December, and the one remaining office, the central branch in Auckland, is scheduled to shut its doors by June 2018.
On the closure of the Wellington office, as in all other such cases this year, those requiring visa services within New Zealand are being directed to alternate channels. “Apply online if possible using our Online Services, or send your completed application by post or courier to the address provided for your application type on our Office and Fees Finder,” says an accompanying statement from Immigration New Zealand. “If you are in the Wellington area and require any assistance with your current or upcoming immigration application, call the Immigration Contact Centre.”
Offshore offices will also close
Most recently, Immigration New Zealand (INZ) has announced plans to begin closing most of the department’s overseas visa processing offices over the next two years.
Within that period, 12 of the 17 current offshore processing offices will be closed.
This move includes six processing centres that will close altogether: Ho Chi Minh, Hong Kong, Jakarta, Moscow, New Delhi, and Shanghai. Visa processing will also cease in five other offices: Bangkok, Manila, Washington DC, Pretoria, and Dubai. However, the department notes, that it will maintain some non-processing operations in these cities in order to “gather market intelligence, manage risk and carry out verification activities.” Another office in London will also close, but may maintain some non-processing operations as well pending a final decision by year-end.
Leaving London aside for the moment, the other 11 offices will close between March 2018 and June 2019.
This will leave two sizeable processing centres in key Asian locations. The first, in Beijing, will be responsible for Chinese visitor and student visas. The second, in Mumbai, will process student visas for applicants from the rest of the world (that is, everywhere other than China).
Three additional offshore processing centres – in Fiji, Tonga, and Samoa – will remain open for the time being “to provide additional service delivery stability as INZ works through this significant period of change.”
Beyond the capacity of the five remaining offshore centres, visa processing will otherwise be heavily concentrated in five processing centres within New Zealand. These will be located in Manukau, Hamilton, Palmerston North, Porirua, and Christchurch. And INZ is now planning for a significant increase in processing staff within New Zealand in order to deal with the increased volumes of application files from overseas.
Immigration officials have been quick to provide reassurance that a reduction in overseas offices will not lead to a reduction in service. INZ Head of Visa Services Steve Stuart said of the more-centralised approach, “I’m confident that we will now have the right operating model in place to meet our ongoing commitment for world class service delivery and customer excellence in a digital world. There will be greater transparency and certainty for our customers and it will be easier for them to apply for a visa through simpler processes and instructions.”
Mr Stuart points out as well that INZ will continue to utilise Visa Application Centres (VACs) to provide in-person service in markets around the world: “Even for customers who don’t apply online there is no need for visa applicants to physically go into an INZ office to lodge their applications. VACs have been operating effectively all over the world for more than five years and provide services on behalf of INZ, including receiving applications.”
There are currently 39 VACs providing services on behalf of INZ, including locations in Australia, Indonesia, Japan, Philippines, Russia, Singapore, South Korea, Sri Lanka, Taiwan, Thailand, and Vietnam.
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