Govt expected to reveal new border reopening date on Wednesday

Source:

The Government is expected to unveil a new border reopening date on Wednesday - and future residents are being warned they may face a longer wait to settle permanently.

Traveller arriving at Auckland International Airport from overseas (file picture).

By Gill Bonnett of rnz.co.nz

Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern will address a Business NZ lunch in Auckland at which she is expected to bring forward the October border date - allowing tourists, families and students from countries needing visas to travel here.

Minister of Immigration Kris Faafoi and Covid-19 Response Minister Chris Hipkins will also attend the event, covering issues of reconnecting New Zealand and rebalancing immigration.

National party immigration spokesperson Erica Stanford said Faafoi would step back on his commitment to process 80% of one-off residence visas (R21) within a year.

Immigration New Zealand was only processing half the R21s required to meet the target it promised in September 2021, she said.

An answer to a parliamentary written question showed Faafoi received advice at the start of March to extend the timeline to process the majority of applications from 12 months to 18 months, in order to allocate more resources for reconnecting New Zealand with the world.

"Six months have passed, and INZ is averaging just 892 per week, roughly half of the 1692 required to meet their 80 percent promise. Based on those numbers, INZ won't even hit their target until October 2023 even though R21 visas have been the agency's primary focus," Stanford said.

"Confronted with a clear failure, the immigration minister is set to backtrack on this 12-month target."

The Government failed to get enough staff to process residence visas and re-open the border simultaneously, she said.

"Our immigration settings are causing needless bottlenecks in our economy, reducing productivity and driving up prices. This is at a time when businesses are closing due to a lack of skilled workers and tourists, and the country experiences the highest inflation in 30 years.

"Kris Faafoi will be pulling resources out of the resident 2021 team to put onto SMC [skilled migrant category] and onto work visas and visitor visas, meaning that those people who have been waiting patiently for many many years for their residence are now going to be waiting a lot longer."

Changes are also expected from the Government on what skilled migrants and investors will have to do to gain residence, she added.

"We're expecting a few things from the immigration announcement - one to pull that stage five of the border reopening forward after significant pressure on the government. We're also expecting some announcements around changing of the investor category settings - trying to get much higher net worth people and in much higher risk areas, which the Australians have tried and failed.

"So we were expecting that, but really what we need to see is how quickly can we get skilled workers into this country - that will be the single biggest thing that I'm looking for. Also making sure we can get split migrant families reunited as well."

Visa processing speeding up - INZ

Immigration New Zealand remained committed to completing the majority of one-off residence visas by the end of the year, chief operating officer Stephen Vaughan said, and decisions on visas were expected to speed up during May.

Phase 2 of applications for the 2021 resident visa opened on 1 March, and with an unprecedented number expected, applications were held across the month to ensure priority could be given to people with visas expiring first.

"Since the beginning of last month, application processing has started based on the expiry date of the principal applicant's current visa," Vaughan said in a statement.

Much of the processing for phase 2, such as identity verification, assessing health evidence, or police checks, went through the new Immigration Online platform rather than being carried out by an immigration officer.

This allowed for a greater number of applications to be processed within a given timeframe, Vaughan said.

They were then assigned to an individual immigration officer for a final assessment and decision.

"We expect the number of final decisions made on phase 2 applications to steadily increase across May," he said

Processing information and timeframes for the 2021 resident visa are available on its website.

As of 7 May, 46,197 people had been issued with a 2021 resident visa.

Faafoi's office has been approached for comment.