Contenders being lost, OSEA says

Virginia Nicholls. PHOTO: ODT FILES
Virginia Nicholls. PHOTO: ODT FILES
Significant delays in processing migrant visa applications are meaning some very good candidates are being lost, Otago Southland Employers Association chief executive Virginia Nicholls says.

She had received a lot of feedback on the issue from across the region, as businesses expressed their frustrations.

"We understand that there needs to be a balance between welcoming migrants to come and work in our region, and protecting New Zealand.

"However, the time that it is taking to consider these applications is too long, and we are losing some very good candidates," Mrs Nicholls said.

It was occurring at a time when there continued to be some significant skill shortages. In the June quarter Quarterly Survey of Business Opinion from the NZIER, 43% of businesses reported they were finding it difficult to source skilled labour, while 34% reported it was hard to find unskilled people.

Employers felt there were steps in the process that could be removed, Mrs Nicholls said.

"To provide an example, when supporting an unskilled worker application, employers have to prove that the role has been advertised locally, and they have also listed the vacancy with Winz [now Work and Income].

"Winz will only allow a business to list a vacancy four weeks before the role is vacant. If there are no applications after five working days, then the employer sends the application off to Immigration NZ, but this leaves less than three weeks before the role is vacant.

"Businesses would like to see the Winz step removed," she said.

Workers wanting to renew their visa could get an interim visa but no earlier than the day before the current visa expired, which created a lot of uncertainty and also made it difficult for the business to plan their workforce requirements.

"It is also difficult if the worker is applying for a different type of visa.

"If, for instance, they have a working holiday visa, and wanted to change this to a work visa supported by their employer, they are not able to get an interim visa," Mrs Nicholls said.

"It would work better if they could get an interim visa to bridge the gap while a decision is made.

"We have instances where employees have had to stop working while their application is considered."

New roles have been added to the skills shortage list, but that is not always speeding up the process.

It would be helpful if Immigration NZ could talk directly with the employer (if the employee gave permission) if they have some specific questions, to speed up the process. At the moment, Immigration NZ was only able to talk with the employee.

The delay in processing visasmeant some of the documents attached to the original application could get out of date, which then slowed down the process.

INZ manager operations support Michael Carley said INZ was "doing everything possible" to minimise any delays.

It was committed to processing visas as fast as practicable and generally did a good job of that when the applications were complete and low risk.

However, processing times would always depend on the complexity of an application. Approving a visa was very complex and "not a simple `tick box' exercise".

Visa application volumes had been steadily increasing across all visa types, which was continuing to impact the timeliness of some visa types.

In 2017-18, visa application volumes grew by 8.6% which was higher than forecast and, this year, a further 8% volume growth was forecast across all visa products. That equated to more than 40,000 more applications than expected in the last 12 months.

INZ had - and was - taking steps to address current visa processing times and that included communicating directly with stakeholders, Mr Carley said.

While INZ acknowledged there were improvements that could be made "at our end" to address processing times, it was also working with stakeholders and businesses to ensure the applications received were complete and decision-ready.

INZ had also made various operational decisions to hep improve processing times, he said.

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