The ongoing nightmare of Immigration New Zealand decision-making

OPINION: If your boss found that you made mistakes 40 per cent of the time, do you think you’d keep your job?

Based on the rate of successful appeals to the Immigration and Protection Tribunal, Immigration New Zealand (INZ) makes mistakes in more than 40 per cent of the residence applications it decides.

This is in spite of residence decisions being quality checked by a second (usually senior) immigration officer before a final decision is made.

  • Ankur Sabharwal is the owner of immigration advisory Visa Matters.

Successful appeals then go back to INZ for reconsideration, so that INZ can have another go at getting it wrong.

Don’t expect INZ to decide your visa application any time soon, either. If you lodged a skilled migrant application in June 2019, it’s still sitting in a queue, waiting for a case officer to even look at it.

Little wonder that, eight months ago, INZ stopped inviting skilled migrants to apply for residence, blaming ‘Covid-19’ rather than its backlog of more than 30,000 applications from people who have skills New Zealand needs.

Welcome to my world

Welcome to the nightmare world of dealing with Immigration New Zealand.

A world where asking a straight question such as, ‘Which employment law do you consider my client’s employment agreement does not meet?’ won’t get you a straight answer, or, often, any answer at all.

(I asked that particular question three times, of at least three different INZ staff, and I am still waiting for a response.)

It’s a world where exactly the same individual employment agreement (IEA) submitted with three different work visa applications gets three different responses:

  • ‘This IEA is fine – your application is approved.’

  • ‘This IEA does not meet employment law and we may decline your application.’

  • ‘This IEA does not meet immigration law and we may decline your application.’

Not to mention that the IEA in question was accepted by INZ earlier this year.

INZ had then said ‘…we have now considered that the new Employment Agreement is acceptable with all clauses being lawful and all required clauses now being present in the said document’.

The only way I can explain such inconsistency to my clients is by telling them some get lucky, others don’t.

It all depends on the case officer processing their application, and possibly how they’re feeling that day.

Can I complain? No, thank you very much

There is no external appeal process for INZ temporary visa decisions, and INZ’s internal complaints process does not allow applicants to complain about incorrect decisions or question its decision-making processes.

I suggested to the head of INZ, Greg Patchell, that, given INZ’s history of poor decision-making, it should allow complainants to question the quality of its decision-making.

His response was, ‘INZ investigates complaints about the service INZ provides, or where there has been a poor process followed. However, INZ’s complaints process is not a forum to argue the merits of an INZ decision.

‘INZ’s position is that looking at the merits of a decision is equivalent to a review or appeal of the decision, and there are other avenues available to the individual if they wish to do that.’

These ‘other avenues’ include the right of reconsideration – which costs another $220 and takes up to five months.

Since 2017, different INZ offices process different kinds of visa application.

So, for example, the INZ Hamilton office processes partnership applications, and INZ Manukau processes skilled migrant applications.

Patchell says this helps INZ deliver faster, more accurate and consistent decision-making. These visa factories also regularly run ‘calibration sessions’ where they discuss complex applications.

Are these measures sufficient?

Unfortunately, in my experience, no. There appears to be no consequence if INZ staff make poor visa decisions or provide poor customer service.

When INZ writes to a temporary visa client, it normally allows them seven days to respond. If they don’t respond, their application will be declined.

After receiving one such letter, I asked the INZ officer three times to clarify her concerns, beginning the day I received her letter.

She replied seven days later – on the day my own response was due, and well outside its ‘standard operating procedure’ of 48 hours.

The INZ officer said she still expected my response that day.

When INZ makes a serious mistake, don’t expect an apology.

One client approached me to lodge an appeal against INZ’s decision to decline his resident visa.

I realised that he had no right of appeal, and pointed this out to his former case officer.

She acknowledged her mistake, but there was no apology for the inconvenience and cost the client had incurred in pursuing a futile appeal.

Finally, in preparing this article, I asked INZ when we could expect to see their 40 per cent error rate reduced.

I did not receive any reply. That’s an answer in itself.

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