City's immigration office may be closed

Immigration New Zealand is considering closing its Dunedin office and contracting out work to a third-party provider, placing six more jobs in the city in jeopardy.

Immigration New Zealand general manager Nicola Hogg yesterday confirmed the office's closure was being considered as part of a wider revamp of service delivery, to be rolled out over the next three years.

Six staff, including one manager, were employed in the Dunedin office and were being consulted about the change, she said.

The closure, if confirmed, was expected to take place by October next year.

The proposal is the latest blow for employees in Dunedin, following last month's news up to 23 jobs were to go at Delta and job losses - affecting about 50 employees since last year - within KiwiRail's Dunedin operations, including Hillside Engineering.

Ms Hogg said it was hoped Dunedin staff affected by the change could be deployed elsewhere within the Ministry of Business, Innovation and Employment.

"Redundancy is only considered as a last resort."

The closure - together with a proposal to shut another office in Sydney, Australia - was part of a wider restructure to improve customer services and consolidate visa decision-making into fewer, larger hubs and satellite offices, she said.

The offices in Dunedin and Sydney would be replaced by Visa Application Centres acting as collection agents for visa applications, she said.

The centres would be operated by specialist third-party providers performing administrative tasks, but would not provide immigration advice and would have no influence on the outcome of an application for a New Zealand visa, she said.

Processing of all South Island visas, including those submitted through the Dunedin centre, would be centralised at Immigration NZ's Christchurch office, which would become a processing hub. Existing arrangements were spread across a large network that was expensive to operate and slow to respond to changes, she said.

The future of "eight to 10" additional branch offices - including two overseas - would also be reviewed, with final decisions made during 2014 and 2015, she said.

The management structure of Immigration NZ's Visa Services division - which employs about 1100 staff nationwide - was also to be rejigged from July next year.

That would result in 66 branch, regional and immigration manager roles disestablished, but the creation of 41 new positions would mean overall job losses restricted to 25 positions, she said.

Public Service Association assistant secretary Basil Prestidge said the "major shakeup" nationwide would cause "yet more stress and uncertainty" for staff, but could also see face-to-face services removed from communities "which need them the most".

The revamp was being driven by the introduction of new technology, but the extent of the proposed restructure had taken staff by surprise, he said.

"While technological advances are inevitable, the push towards online transactions and services throughout the public sector is happening very quickly without any real thought to the implications for the workforce or people without computer access.

"There needs to be some clear planning."

-chris.morris@odt.co.nz

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