Post lockdown: Impact on migrant workers
Most employers and migrant workers are aware that all Immigration New Zealand (INZ) offices, onshore and offshore offices included, are currently closed due to the COVID-19 pandemic and the current lockdowns happening around the world.
Some INZ staff are working out of the INZ head office in Wellington and some are working remotely. As a result, visa processing capacity is currently limited and will remain limited even when New Zealand moves into Alert Level 3 on Tuesday, 28 April 2020. This is understandable given that INZ does not have capability to deliver their essential services remotely even under Alert Level 3
To date, INZ has focused their processing resources on COVID-19 related applications but they are now in a position to start processing some visa categories for applicants who are already in New Zealand, including:
- Visas for victims of domestic violence
- Partnership category temporary visas (including reassessments)
- Full fee paying international student visas
- Post study work visas
INZ advised the assessments of these applications or requests may take longer than usual. Applications will generally be assessed in date order and will be allocated to an Immigration Officer as soon as possible.
Applicants will only be contacted if further information is required or once a decision is made on their application. If additional information is required, no deadline will be set to provide this information as INZ appreciates it may be difficult to obtain documentation in current circumstances.
INZ advised that while they will focus on the above visa applications, immigration officers will retain the discretion to prioritise other applications where the circumstances of the application require particular urgency. INZ did not provide any guidelines on when immigration officers could use their discretion. We believe that this type of decision will only apply to exceptional cases.
There is an indication that INZ may review these priorities. We expect that they will be able to process more visa types as soon as we move in at Alert Level 2 or below. We however, do not expect that all processing timeframes will return to normal due to the fact that hundreds of temporary visa applications are normally processed in overseas INZ offices. As we know, other countries are also in lockdown and may not have capacity to work remotely.
As we move to Alert Level 3 on Tuesday, 28 April, we expect the flow of immigrants into the country will continue to slow down. Applying and renewing temporary work visas will be challenging.
As the pool of unemployed skilled labour increases (even after the lockdown), employers will have difficulty securing work visas for a worker unless they are able to prove that there is no other New Zealander who is available to perform the job.
Many migrant workers who are currently stranded overseas will also find themselves unable to return to New Zealand following the announcement from the Immigration Minister in regards to maintaining the current border restrictions for a prolonged period as the country recovers from the COVID-19 crisis.
We expect to see more amendments on NZ immigration policy which might assist the majority of the migrant workers who are already in the New Zealand. There are many sectors that rely on migrants for labour and skills, and amending the current policy to accommodate all the sectors’ needs could be a possible solution.
INZ policies are constantly evolving during this COVID-19 crisis. Our advice, therefore is to keep an eye out for future policy announcements from the government. Also, if you require any specific immigration advice that may affect you or your future application, please get in touch with O’neal Mendoza or one of our lawyers to assist you.
The advice above is current at the time of writing, 24 April 2020. This article is published for general information purposes only. Legal content in this article is necessarily of a general nature and should not be relied upon as legal advice
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