Student Visa Backlog due to “Capacity Issues”

Student Visa Backlog due to “Capacity Issues”

Immigration NZ: Maybe firing heaps of staff wasn’t a great idea…?

Despite borders reopening and Aotearoa once again officially ‘open’ to international students, eager student travellers have hit one critical snag: Immigration New Zealand (INZ). Processing struggles have left many overseas students in limbo as a result. 

Since April 12, Aotearoa has been officially open to international students, as long as you hold a valid student visa and offer from a university. The Otago University International Office said in a statement that they “welcome [the reopening] as a first step to once again allowing freedom of movement for international students”. 

However, “if your circumstances changed since you were granted your visa, or you no longer meet its conditions,” you need to apply for a new visa - and INZ will only begin accepting those applications in October. 

Even being able to apply, though, is progress: during the Covid-19 pandemic, INZ basically went into a coma, suspending processing of visa applications, cutting staff numbers and closing their overseas visa application centres. This has meant that, as borders reopen, they’re desperately playing catch-up. A statement on their website notes they’re now “resuming the processing of residence applications received outside New Zealand prior to March 2020”, over 2 years ago. 

While they plan to rehire staff and open a second visa processing office in Christchurch, they have a steep mountain to climb. Ricardo Menendez-March, the Green Party’s immigration spokesperson, estimates that every month from now until October, another 20,000 visas will become due for renewal and land in INZ’s rapidly filling inbox. This is in addition to the estimated 51,000 work and student visa holders still stranded overseas.

As a result, there is ongoing concern over how quickly applications will be processed after students are finally able to apply in October. Ramandeep Lalotra, who had been working in Aotearoa before being denied entry back after a trip to India, says that being stranded overseas has made it near-impossible to pay off the $40,000 he took out to study here. He’s now been left in a desperate state, he said: “I’ve got a final notice from the bank that if I won’t be able to pay, they will start doing the auction of the house.”

Some students were also eligible for a “Border Class Exemption,” allowing them effectively to jump the queue and arrive in time to start in Semester 2. However, only 6,000 students are eligible - including all ages from high-schoolers to postgrads. In addition, according to Ransford Antwi, an international student stranded overseas who wrote about this in issue 1, “education providers are not giving a straight answer to the question of what criteria is being used to determine which students are eligible for this kind of exemption.”

For international students currently stranded overseas hoping to gain a valid student visa in October, here is a rough breakdown of what you need. This is just a summary: a full, detailed breakdown is available from the INZ website. 

1. You need a refreshed offer of place of admission from an NZ tertiary education provider. Additionally you need proof of online studies if you have been studying remotely.

2. Check with your scholarship provider to reinstate your scholarship should it have lapsed.

3. You may need to provide a valid Police Clearance Certificate, General Medical Certificate and Vaccine Pass.

4. You need evidence of sufficient funds to support yourself while studying in Aotearoa, with a minimum of a cool $20,000 NZD annually (or NZD $1,667 for each month of study if your programme of study is less than thirty-six weeks).

This article first appeared in Issue 9, 2022.
Posted 1:59pm Sunday 1st May 2022 by Zak Rudin.