Sunday, 28 Nov 2021

Covid 19 Delta outbreak: Paper-based processing delays as INZ Auckland office remains closed at level 3

A Northland man claims his daughter and her partner’s plans to relocate from Australia is in limbo because their immigration application is “sitting unopened in the mail tray” at Immigration NZ’s Auckland’s office.

INZ’s Auckland office has been closed since August 18, when the city went into alert level 4 and has remained closed through alert level 3 as a result of the Covid-19 pandemic.

Chris Lucas, from Maungaturoto, says his daughter Hollie Inger’s fiancé Paul Carr had been granted a partnership work visa and they were in the process of moving back to NZ permanently.

“With closure of the travel bubble (with Australia) they could not fly before October 7, their required date of entry,” Lucas said.

“They were advised that their application for extension of arrival date, and also to record Carr’s new passport details, must be made by hard copy by post.”

Lucas said INZ advised by phone that the applications were received on September 3 “but it has been sitting there unopened”.

He said the couple has not been successful in getting an MIQ room, and even if they got one, Carr – originally from Ireland – would have needed his passport details and visa date to be updated to confirm.

“I find the Immigration office closure is unacceptable, with no checks and balances or skeleton staff put in place for this frontline service,” he said.

Lucas has written to MPs, the Immigration Minister and Prime Minister asking for help. However, he had not heard back from anyone.

They met and dated in New Zealand, but moved in 2014 initially to Perth and then to the Sunshine Coast.

“They are returning permanently to New Zealand, intending to renovate the home they now own in Maungatoroto,” he said.

Lucas said Carr had booked flights for October 2 in order to meet his October 7 visa expiry date, but that flight was cancelled because the travel bubble with Australia had remained closed.

Lucas said INZ had advised Carr to submit his application to extend his visa, and a separate application to update his visa with his new passport number in hard copy to its Auckland office.

“INZ confirmed by phone that both applications were received at the Auckland office on September 3, but that they are still sitting unopened in a mail tray in the office because staff were unable to work at level 4, and that has continued throughout level 3,” Lucas said.

Stephanie Greathead, Acting General Manager Border and Visa Operations, said the agency was following the Government’s alert level 3 guidance, which meant most staff are continuing to work from home.

However, she said mails at its Auckland office were being received and opened by a small number of staff.

“A limited number of people are working in our Auckland offices and are primarily focusing on accepting and processing paper visa applications and receipting and opening mail,” she said.

“Some paper-based applications and mail are sent to offices outside of Auckland for receipt and processing.”

Last month, it was revealed that nearly13,000 key residence visa applications are among the mountains of paper-only files at INZ where processing is at a virtual standstill in the current upper alert levels in Auckland.

Some 6,109 Skilled Migrant Category residence visas and 6,765 Residence from Work residence visas are among the more than 20,000 paper-based visa applications held for processing by the agency.

These applicants are currently in New Zealand on another visa.

The two visa types constitute the vast majority of residency visa applications to New Zealand and they are held and processed exclusively at Immigration’s Manukau Office in Auckland. None can be accessed by case officers who are off-site.

The processing of both visa categories was totally suspended during Auckland’s five-week-long level 4 lockdown, and at level 3 Immigration said only a “small” and “fluctuating” number of staff would be able to return to the office to resume some work.

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