Immigration NZ office closing in Dunedin

Brenda Pilott.
Brenda Pilott.
Dunedin's Immigration New Zealand office will close, it was confirmed yesterday.

In a New Zealand first, a visa application centre, outsourced to a third-party provider, is planned for

Dunedin, an INZ spokeswoman said. The remainder of the office's work would be transferred to Christchurch.

Closure was scheduled for October at the earliest, with no firm date yet.

Six jobs will go in the branch closure. However, INZ was trying to redeploy workers to other parts of the Ministry of Business, Innovation, and Employment. It was unclear what sort of provider would seek the visa application centre contract, how many staff it would hire and whether the provider could be required to take on any of the workers.

The visa application centre would do front-line immigration work. It would not provide immigration advice, or have influence on the outcome of visa applications, which could only be decided by an INZ officer, the department said.

The visa application centres were used by INZ overseas, and were likely to appear in more New Zealand centres. Seven other New Zealand offices were under review.

Public Service Association national secretary Brenda Pilott said the Dunedin staff did not understand why their jobs were being transferred and outsourced. The Dunedin office was high-performing and low-cost, she said.

The centralisation of the public sector was hurting Dunedin, which did not have an abundance of other jobs, Mrs Pilott said.

According to union figures, 106 public sector jobs were lost in Otago last year, the bulk of which were likely to be from Dunedin.

Otago and Southland seemed to be hit harder than other regions by the large-scale centralisation under way.

In the past four years, Otago had lost 154 public sector jobs, compared with 158.5 in Canterbury, which had a bigger population. Southland lost 92 jobs in the same period.

Mrs Pilott said Dunedin and Invercargill had cheaper overheads than larger centres, so it made little sense to remove what was often straightforward processing work.

The union had ''real concerns'' about the potential entry of private providers into the sensitive role of processing visas. She warned more public sector job losses were likely in Otago this year, when district court cuts take effect, amid other changes and cuts.

Dunedin Mayor Dave Cull said he thought one of the lessons of the Canterbury earthquakes had been the undesirability of centralising services. Aside from making its displeasure known, there was little the Dunedin City Council could do about centralisation, which presumably saved money, he said.

In a prepared statement, INZ said closing the Dunedin branch was part of implementing a new service model which included centralised processing, fewer branches, simplified processes, increased online access, and outsourcing.

''Immigration services are currently delivered through a large global network which is expensive to manage and operate, and slow to respond to variations in application volumes, and to the changing needs of New Zealand employers and tourism and education providers,'' the statement said.

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