Immigration New Zealand (INZ) has confirmed plans to bring the bulk of visa processing back onshore and to employ 110 more local staff to do them.
This comes after the Herald revealed last month the agency was paying its overseas officers as little as $4 an hour, and much of the visa processing was being done in countries such as Thailand and India.
The sweeping changes under the new plan will see the closure of eight overseas offices –
Ho Chi Minh, Hong Kong, Jakarta, Bangkok, New Delhi, Pretoria, Moscow and Shanghai – and two in New Zealand.
Processing will also cease in four other offices – Manila, Washington DC, London and Dubai.
Just two overseas offices, Mumbai and Beijing, will be kept open and retain their visa-processing capacity.
The New Zealand Association of Migration and Investment (NZAMI) is “cautiously” welcoming the proposal.
INZ general manager Steve Stuart said: “INZ can confirm it is consulting staff on proposals to align and consolidate visa processing, which will create 110 extra jobs in New Zealand over the next three years by moving more visa processing onshore.”
Under the proposals, INZ’s overseas presence would be reduced from 17 locations to five – with just the Beijing and Mumbai offices, as well as three offices in the Pacific, remaining.
The agency earns more than $200m each year from visa fees and currently has about 560 overseas officers.
“Retaining the Pacific offices … provides additional service delivery stability as INZ works through a significant period of change,” Stuart said.
“Mumbai and Beijing … are proposed to remain to reflect the high volume of student and visitor visa applications made in those markets and for business continuity reasons.”
He said a “significant investment” in the agency’s technology platforms and the increasing popularity of online visa applications provided an opportunity to “evolve our operating model”.
The agency also plans to significantly reduce the number of public service counters here, closing both its Auckland Central and Henderson offices.
Only Manukau, Hamilton, Palmerston North, Porirua and Christchurch would remain in operation.
“There is a diminishing need for public service counters at our offices, and we already operate a contact centre for customer inquiries,” Stuart said.
The agency was discussing the proposed changes with stakeholder groups including immigration advisers, and the staff consultation period will run until Friday, September 29.
Stuart said a decision was expected by the end of the year.
NZAMI director Simon Moore said he was concerned that verification in risk markets could suffer by not having overseas officers with an understanding of cultural intricacies and trends of fraudulent behavior.
“We do feel sympathy for those officers from offshore branches … who will lose their jobs and livelihoods,” Moore said.
“The association is concerned that … visa processing times are further delayed, then the move will have a negative impact.”
Toni Alexander, a licensed immigration adviser, is skeptical about the proposal.
“The fact that INZ is keeping Mumbai, Beijing and the Pacific branches open indicates clearly that it plans to continue to save cost by employing people in these low-cost markets – the same markets identified as risk markets,” Alexander said.