Kris Faafoi pressed on Govt's new immigration changes

Source: Q and A

Immigration Minister Kris Faafoi has been pressed on detail about a new package of visa and border changes that the Government announced last week.

Kris Faafoi.

The immigration "rebalancing" has seen criticism from National over whether officials could deliver on new plans that might see some migrant "visas processed within 30 days once an employer is accredited." Meanwhile, others have said the new changes don't go far enough to resolve workforce shortages.

Speaking to Q+A's Jack Tame, Faafoi responded to claims that the Government had missed processing time targets on its 2021 Resident Visa scheme.

The one-off residence pathway scheme had been offered to roughly 165,000 migrant workers and their families that were stranded in New Zealand due to the pandemic.

"What we've said this week is - the original timeframe - we're giving [immigration officials] six months more to do it," he said.

"The commitment to those people to get residency doesn't wane, but we want to make sure we've got the processing capacity to do everything else that we've talked about as well."

On Wednesday, National's Immigration spokesperson Erica Stanford said the targets were a sign that the Government wouldn't be able to deliver on its plans.

"The Labour Government promised that 80% of the 110,000 Resident 2021 Visa applications received would be processed within 12 months. Six months have passed, and INZ is only processing these at half the speed required to meet that target.

"Today’s announcement should have eased the minds of businesses by explaining how the Government is going to get skilled workers into the country right now. However, a cloud of concern remains due to a track record of under delivering."

READ MORE: Major reforms to NZ immigration settings announced

In response, Faafoi said it continued to be an "aspiration" that visas under the 2021 scheme would be processed within the original 12-month processing target.

"It's quite simple, [we said] 80% in 12 months, this week we said 80% in 18 months, but I want them to keep as close as possible to their original timeframe."

He said that immigration officials hadn't expected the border to be reopened so soon. "We didn't know when it was going to open," Faafoi said.

The one-off residential visa scheme had been announced at the end of September, and first opened for applications in December last year.

"We're doing as much as we can to get those residency visas processed, and now we also have to make sure we can do, in a timely way, visitor visas - so that when tourists want to come here, they can do that from non-visa waiver countries. [And] also the accredited employer work visa starts up on July 4th," Faafoi said.

Meanwhile on Thursday, the New Zealand Nurses Organisation's president told RNZ that she was "flabbergasted" as to why overseas nurses could only go into a work-to-residence pathway under the new 'Green List' system.

Other professions, notably doctors, can be fast-tracked through a "straight to residence" pathway.

READ MORE: Shock after nurses left off fast tracked residence list

Speaking to Q+A, Faafoi said the decision to not further prioritise nurses was based on sector consultation. He said not further fast-tracking nurses had been about "making sure that they stay in their roles".

"There's some evidence that when people come from offshore and get into nursing roles, that they might leave a bit sooner - if they get residence - and we want to make sure that we can meet the needs of the sector to make sure that they have nurses in those jobs," Faafoi said.

"I think in the nurses space, my understanding is in the past we've had a very narrow ability for types of nurses to be able to come into the country.

"Now we're kind of broadening that to 13 types of nurses, so I think we're doing all we can to make sure we can attract those kinds of workers".

READ MORE: Faafoi defends immigration reforms from hospo criticism

When pressed as to whether processing times would put off applicants, Faafoi said he was focused on new technology that would "streamline" the application process by moving paper-based systems online.

"In terms of the back office situation, we've got the investment in technology, and also the investment in resources that we think we're going to be able to get the types of visa processing - which whether rightly or wrongly people have perceived to be a long time - [to] be much streamlined and smarter in the future."