There is a dangerous little question in the Skilled Migrant Residence Expression of Interest online form:

Have you ever been refused a visa/permit for any country including New Zealand?

Answering this wrongly – even by mistake – can on its own wipe out your entire Residence application.  And you won’t find out until months (and thousands of dollars) later.  Here’s how it works.

The Problem

Immigration New Zealand) checks an Expression of Interest (EOI) in a “once over lightly” way.  As far as they’re concerned, it’s there for them to see what points you claim to get if you make a real application.  An EOI is not an application.  If the information on the form looks all right, and you appear to get enough points, they’ll invite you to make the full application.  They charge $510 for the privilege of this quick and snappy review.

Now, imagine that you got a Visitor’s Visa declined 10 or 15 years ago, and you had forgotten about it.  Or you thought it was so long ago that “Surely nobody cares about that now.”  Well, Immigration does.  After you file your Residence application they work through the information in that application (which comes off the EOI) more carefully.  Of course, they also have your full file record which shows exactly what applications you have made – and which ones were declined.  This is when they see that your answer in the EOI is wrong.

The Immigration Act and policy allows them to decline a Residence application solely on the grounds that wrong information was recorded on the EOI, even if the rest of the application is fine.  Now, they can choose not to decline for that reason, but our experience is that they do take this option quite often.  Maybe it gives them an easy way to dispose of one morecase from the pile on their desk.

The Damage

Why is this such a disaster?  Well, one good reason is that if your case is declined for this reason (providing”false or misleading information” or “withholding information”) then you have no right of appeal to the Immigration & Protection Tribunal against the decline.  You must start again.

At a meeting with INZ Management last Friday I put this issue to them and asked why it was so hard for them to just look at someone’s visa record quickly during the EOI check in order to see if the “decline” question has been answered correctly.  After all, it’s information they have immediately to hand.  They would be within their rights to throw out the EOI at that point because of a wrong answer.  At least the person could just file a new one with the right answer the second time.  I didn’t get a clear answer from the managers except that they had had this issue raised a few times recently.  My hope is that eventually they will realise that either they should add an extra step in their EOI checking, or else be more lenient about the way that they decide the subsequent Residence applications.

What is distasteful about the current state of affairs is that if INZ doesn’t check the EOI applicant’s answer, they will then issue an Invitation to Apply for Residence which encourages the person to go to all the effort, and spend the money, to prepare the whole application under a false belief that they have done their EOI correctly.  Remember, that’s $1810 for the Residence fee, and the whole application can be knocked out just because of that one question.  There’s is a saying in English for this – “Money for jam”.  It wouldn’t be so bad, except that there is so little that INZ needs to do in order to find out if that question (and a few others in the same section) has been correctly answered.

A Solution

Obviously, the moral of the story is to think carefully about that questions – and indeed every question – on the EOI to avoid getting into trouble months later.

But what if you just can’t remember?  If you suspect that you did have something declined once in the past, but the details are hazy, then put something down about it.  Even saying that you don’t remember when or what it was is better than declaring nothing.

In this, as in a number of other areas, Immigration usually gets much more bothered about someone giving them bad information than the actual fact or circumstance which has been concealed from them.  On the other hand, the fact may be a tricky one, which needs to be put forward as positively (but realistically) as possible.  That’s where we come in.