Short on time? Here are the highlights:
- A new briefing document sets out that processing times for New Zealand study visas have grown considerably this year
- The longer processing times are a function of increased application volumes during the peak summer period as well as a consolidation of New Zealand’s offshore applicant operations to two major centres in Mumbai and Beijing
- The government is now actively working with international education stakeholders to try and improve visa processing times
A recently released ministerial briefing document from Education New Zealand (ENZ) makes it clear that the country’s educators are concerned about substantial delays in student visa processing this year.
The brief, which was originally provided to Minister of Education Chris Hipkins on 28 March 2019, was recently published by the ENZ under its “proactive release” policy.
“Immigration New Zealand (INZ) has provided fortnightly visa processing updates to the sector, containing statistics on processing times and approval rates,” notes the report. “This data shows a significant slowdown in processing times…ongoing visa processing delays are impacting negatively on New Zealand’s attractiveness and competitiveness as an international education market.”
While all types of institutions have been affected by the slower processing times, ENZ notes that delays have been especially severe for the institutes of technology and polytechnics (ITPs) and private training establishments (PTEs) sectors. INZ statistics, that were also published as part of the ENZ brief, highlights that the percentage of files for ITP-admitted students that were decided within 30 days dropped to just under 54% for the period 1 November 2018 through 11 March 2019, compared to 91% of applications decided within 30 days for the same period the year prior.
Similarly, the proportion of visa applications processed within 30 days for PTE-admitted students, dropped from 91% to 65% for the same reference period.
The brief makes clear as well that the severity of the delays varies not only by provider type but also by the student’s home region, and adds, “ENZ’s international team is hearing every week from agents and students frustrated by the process and documentation requirements for student visa applications…Where markets are experiencing an increase in risk and/or delays, agents are questioning whether they should continue to market New Zealand.”
ENZ adds that the widespread delays could impact on New Zealand’s current goal to increase the value of its education exports to NZ$6billion by 2025. It estimates the lost revenues for ITPs alone at more than NZ$33 million in just the four months from November 2018 through February 2019.
Restructuring and the summer peak
For its part, INZ attributes the slower processing times this year to higher application volumes during the peak summer period as well as two structural changes within the department.
First, late last year, New Zealand consolidated all of its visa processing operations for offshore applicants into two major centres. Under this new approach, the first, in Beijing, is responsible for Chinese visitor and student visas. The second, in Mumbai, now processes student visas for all applicants from the rest of the world.
ENZ has observed significant differences in processing performance between the two centres, with processing times in Mumbai lagging well behind those in Beijing. INZ officials point out that Mumbai is working to manage higher annual volumes of applications this year, and also handles a higher proportion of first-time applicants than does Beijing.
“INZ’s Mumbai office is the primary hub for first-time student visa applications, and is boosting processing capacity to manage the increase in volume, with additional staff already recruited,” adds INZ’s Assistant General Manager, Education and Tourism, Jeannie Melville.
Second, the department has now also implemented more stringent visa screening process under its Striking the Balance strategy, which, as the name implies, seeks to strike “the right balance between facilitating legitimate travellers and protecting migrants and New Zealand.” In a separate statement, ENZ reports that, “Since the start of the peak student visa processing season in November 2018, INZ has seen an increase in applications from students who require a greater level of assessment and verification. These applications take longer to process and, as a result, people have not received visas within the period of time they expected.”
Speaking to Radio New Zealand, Immigration Minister Iain Lees-Galloway expressed the government’s commitment to improving visa processing times. “I have raised those concerns with Immigration New Zealand,” said the minister, “and have asked that they report to me regularly on this issue. Officials from INZ and ENZ have been directed to work together to find a solution to this issue.”
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