Last week Immigration announced a major change to how it handles offshore temporary visa applications.  (Note, this does not apply to people applying while in NZ,  and does not affect Residence applications).  Previously, if INZ identified any possibly negative issues they would set these out in a letter and give the applicant a chance to comment or explain.

From 21 November 2011 Immigration will only point out these issues if they come out of information that was not provided by the applicant.  For instance, this could be something which the applicant was not aware of before, perhaps from some other source.  Otherwise, if there are negative aspects to your case you are expected to know about them and give an explanation at the time you apply.

At one level that seems fair enough.  However, there are two big problems with this approach:

  1. People who apply on their own without any professional assistance may not realise that something in their documents or in their history could harm their case.  The Policy is huge and complicated, and there are many traps for the unwary.
  2. What happens if a visa officer forms an opinion – rightly or wrongly – that something is prejudicial, but the applicant did not think so?  “Information” can easily include “how I interpret the information” – and I have seen many cases when a case officer says that something is serious when it is trivial, or came out of a misunderstanding.  In situations like this the unlucky applicant will only find out when the application is declined.

There is no right of appeal from an offshore visa decision, and you cannot take the case to Court.  Immigration has said that people can then use its Complaints Procedure to sort things out.  However, this takes time to go through various levels of Management, and some managers are likely to back their staff’s conclusions by default unless you can show that the decision was just plain bad.

Experienced immigration advisers (and I do stress “experienced”) can identify most potential problems with a case, and will deal with these up front at the start to help things go more smoothly.  However, unrepresented customers will now be at a disadvantage.  They are not likely to know how to complain either.

In the meantime, Immigration is likely to get many more complaints from professional advisers.  This will keep managers and staff busy, and could well create a significant drag on processing times for their workload.