Immigration Minister Iain Lees-Galloway has returned back from his recent visit to INZ’s Mumbai-based offshore branch in early January this year, largely satisfied with the efforts of the staff and the operational decision-making. 

The Minister has announced about this visit in an earlier interview at the Indian Weekender studio  (November 26) amidst rising concerns within the broader Kiwi-Indian community about the prolonged delays, and summary-rejection of partnership visa applications emanating from INZ’s Mumbai branch. 

What does Minister has to say: Key Points

  • Of the 756 applicants invited to re-apply for a visitor visa on December 2, 2019, after their partnership visas were declined under older immigration guidelines, a total of 278 applications had already been received by INZ, as of on January 14, 2020.
  • The majority of these have been allocated to the Mumbai and Hamilton branches for processing (121 and 97 applications respectively).
  • Of the 153 applications which have been decided at 14 January 2020, 138 have been approved and 15 have been declined. This represents an approval rate of 90 per cent.
  • As of 1st September 2019, the Mumbai office is no longer processing new partnership applications from the India market.
  • It will take time to see what impacts the changed guidance [Culturally Arranged Marriage Visa] has on overall partnership visa numbers.
  • Visa processing has been slowing down since 2014. This government has focussed on doing something about it when the last government just let it happen.
  • The growth in visa applications INZ experienced from late 2018 was higher than had been planned for.
  • There has been a 55 per cent increase in international student visa applications from India in the last six months (Jan-June 2019)

At the height of the partnership visa delay crisis, there were around 12,000 applications waiting in the queue in July 2019, which subsequently reduced to 8000 by the end of September (RNZ story). 

However, the same period had also witnessed a dramatic rise in summary-rejection of partnership- visa applications (probably in thousands), for want of “living together” requirement, that has caught many newly married members of the Kiwi-Indian community off-guard, causing much concern in the community. 

The Minister had then made changes in immigration instructions (culturally arranged marriage visa), bringing some relief and causing some confusion around getting their overseas partners into the country on legitimate visas.

Around 800 applicants whose visas were earlier rejected were invited again by Immigration New Zealand to re-apply for a visitor visa. 

Subsequently, the Minister had then told the Indian Weekender that he planned to visit INZ’s Mumbai branch personally to understand the challenges in the processing of partnership-visas. 

Following that announcement, the Minister was in Mumbai from 16th-17th January 2020 and recently provided the Indian Weekender a detailed update about the trip and shared his understanding and expectations about the general visa-processing in the Mumbai Branch. 

“Visa processing has been slowing down since 2014. This government has focussed on doing something about it when the last government just let it happen,” Mr Lees-Galloway said. 

“In that last year, INZ made more than one million visa decisions, which was significantly more than forecast.

“To help manage processing volumes and timeliness, INZ has recruited more staff both onshore and offshore (including in Mumbai), and as the staff become more experienced, productivity will continue to increase, and timeliness will improve.

“I expect INZ to continue to do everything possible to minimise any delays. The processing times have been improving in most areas, including work visas,” Mr Lees-Galloway said.

However, most importantly, the Minister refused to comment explicitly on the “demand” or the efficacy of the newly announced changes in culturally arranged marriage visa category for facilitating overseas-based partners join their Kiwi-partners. 

“It will take time to see what impacts the changed guidance has on overall partnership visa numbers, but I am confident that it will address many of the criticisms levelled at the previous approach and is more in line with my expectations,” Mr Lees-Galloway said. 

On being asked what was he briefed by the INZ Mumbai branch as the most plausible cause for precipitating a huge delay in visa-processing and a backlog of applications, Mr Lees-Galloway suggested lack of accurate forecasting about the increase in the number of applications. 

The growth in visa applications INZ experienced from late 2018 was higher than had been planned for. It takes time to respond to such growth.

“In response to the increased volumes the Mumbai office had increased Immigration Officers from 35 in July 2018 to 71 Immigration Officers in December 2019.

“What I can assure you is that Mumbai aims to process visa applications as quickly as possible, but I also expect INZ to manage risk and ensure the right decisions are made for New Zealand,” Mr Lees-Galloway said. 

Responding to another query raised by many within the community about the perceived lack of training of INZ staff in the newly amended immigration instructions, Mr Lees-Galloway expressed satisfaction with the progress in staff-training. 

“INZ has undertaken training with all staff who process partnership visa, and the Mumbai staffs have all been trained,” Mr Lees-Galloway said. 

“On December 2, 2019, 756 individuals were sent invitations to submit a fresh application following the updated guidance for processing temporary visas where a relationship is involved. 

“Under the changes to the Culturally Arranged Marriage visa category and the updated guidance that was issued last year, only applicants with a New Zealand citizen or resident partner were proactively invited to resubmit an application. 

“However, the revised guidance is applicable to all partnership related applications,” Mr Lees-Galloway said. 

General information on partnership visa processing

INZ’s Hamilton office is now the processing hub for all family-based visa applications. This streamlining of work has taken place over the past 18 months as offshore locations closed down and the work transitioned to the larger onshore hubs for processing. The Hamilton office is now the primary office for family-based visa applications (excluding applications from the Pacific and Manila).

 As of September 1 2019, the Mumbai office is no longer processing new partnership applications from the India market as it moves towards its intended role as an Education and Tourism office. The Mumbai office is working through applications lodged prior to September 1 2019.

Mumbai office has received 115 previously declined applications from partners of New Zealand citizens or residents who may have been affected by the recent process changes. To date, Mumbai has completed 54 assessments, with one application being declined.