Officials are confident the roll-out of a "one-off" resident visa is on track despite a fall in the numbers being issued.

Announced in September, the one-off path to residency is aimed at skilled migrants already living in New Zealand and is intended to clear a large backlog of applications that built up during the covid response.

During last week’s question time, immigration minister Kris Faafoi told Parliament the roll-out was “on schedule” with nearly 6,000 applications approved since phase one opened on Dec 1.

Known as the 2021 resident visa, the government estimated about 15,000 were eligible to apply for it in phase one, with 150,000 eligible to apply in the second phase, which was due to open on March 1.

Immigration NZ has brought forward processing of about 10,500 applications which were going to be part of phase two.

Immigration minister Kris Faafoi promised that 80% of the resident visas would be processed within one year (Image: Getty)

The National party's immigration spokesperson, Erica Stanford, had told a select committee Immigration NZ (INZ) was falling short of the 1,700 applications a week it needed to get through to keep Faafoi’s promise of 80% being completed within 12 months.

“The target for the year is 80% of all of them by December, which means we need to do 1,700 a week.

“I can see that we haven't even come close to that yet, and we're about 7,000 behind.”

Immigration NZ’s output peaked at 1,255 at the end of January and has since dropped by half, but Faafoi's office told BusinessDesk he is advised that "the work is advancing as expected".

Made with Flourish

Immigration NZ head Alison McDonald told the committee she was still confident the minister's target would be met and that background checks by other agencies meant the approvals didn’t flow through at an even rate.

“We process as much as we can as Immigration New Zealand, and then we have several things we quite often have to do: one is police checks in every case, and in some cases, security checks.”

McDonald also said they had recruited 198 extra onshore officers, with many now being trained up to process the resident visas.

“We have 105 people working on the resident visa. We will be doubling that for phase two of the resident visa processing.

“We've got faster as we go along. We're really confident we'll make it but it won't be an even flow, I'm afraid, of 1,700 a week.”

Police undertake to process Immigration NZ requests within 20 working days, providing the volume is evenly spaced across the year. 

BusinessDesk understands that applicants from countries such as Russia and China routinely require security checks, which can take as long as six months to process.

An Immigration NZ spokesperson told BusinessDesk that output had fallen by nearly 50% in the week after Jan 31 because of Auckland anniversary day, with only 30% of immigration officers working on applications that Monday.

Output fell even further in the following week, which coincided with Waitangi Day.

Staggered approach

Immigration NZ began inviting early applications from phase two on Monday.

The service's general manager Geoff Scott said this was being done in a staggered way, in the order of the date the individual submitted their expression of interest. Up to 1,500 individuals will be able to apply each day. 

“This will limit the number of applicants trying to apply at any one time, and will help to reduce pressure on the online system,” said Scott.

Immigration NZ’s website did not cope with the sheer volume of applications it received when phase one first opened in December.

The chief executive of immigration advisory firm Malcolm Pacific, David Cooper, said it was a good move by the government to open phase two early so there wasn’t a massive wave of applications on the first day.

He also said it meant those who had waited the longest - some as long as three or four years - could get on with their lives.

“They've been paying their taxes, working, contributing. They can't keep their lives on hold forever. It's not fair on them. They've been kept waiting long enough. Let them get on with it.”