The appointment of a new Minister for Immigration just eight weeks ahead of elections have raised expectations, largely with temporary migrants - who are required to engage with the department on a regular basis - for a complete reboot in the manner the Ministry was operating.
Is it a far too big ask only time will tell.
Immigration industry experts are least hopeful of a sudden dramatic change within immigration portfolio, at least not before elections and the formation of a new government.
However, regardless of such apprehensions, the newly appointed Minister for Immigration Kris Fafooi will have a task cut out for himself as he will be inheriting a Ministry that was till recently plagued by failures and incompetence.
The inefficiency of the immigration department was most evident in the continuous increase in the sizes of the processing queues for different categories of visa and permanent-residency applications.
The last two years have witnessed the sizes of visa processing queues ballooning to tens of thousands, stretching the normal processing times of a couple of months for partnership visas to eight-nine months and residence applications for more than eighteen months.
Undoubtedly, this has held the lives of a lot of migrant workers in a temporary suspension, which was further aggravated with the onset of Covid-19 related global pandemic.
In a post Covid world, with a possible economic downturn staring us in the eyes, immigration, as we understand today, is already under a rubber, and might be due for a completely-revamped understanding.
However, the New Zealand immigration system has been suffering from some institutional bottlenecks that have been accumulated over the last couple of years, partly because of the closure of some overseas-based offices, but largely because of absolute lack of Ministerial leadership to provide meaningful oversight.
Immigration Lawyer Alastair McClymont said, “I do not envisage any change in immigration, at least before elections, with the appointment of a new Minister.”
“When this government came to power, they had an immigration program that they wanted to implement based on their ideological foundation that was based on the belief that the migrants were stealing New Zealanders jobs.
“Their second ideological belief was that if they force employers to pay migrants a lot of money, then everybody will be well-off. So based on that they implemented a number of policies and changes in policies which considered lower-skilled migrant workers offering no value to the country,” Mr McClymont said.
“So if we see all issues such as delays in visa processing, reluctance in allowing temporary migrant workers currently stranded overseas, delays in skilled migrant category applications and partnership visas, they all are emanating from their foundational belief where they do not want mid-level to low-level skilled migrants into the country.”
“I think it will not be any different for the new Immigration Minister as he will be required to operate under the same ideological foundation overseen by the cabinet," Mr McClymont said.
However, despite what some experts might concur, where the new Minister can shine immediately, will be in providing a better Ministerial oversight to the immigration department.
Often, the Immigration department has been successful in the last three years to take advantage of the inexperience of the previous Minister, by presenting information repeatedly in a manner the Minister got exposed to public criticism for no fault of his own.
The case of an internal bureaucratic instruction emanating from the Immigration New Zealand’s Mumbai office in May 2019 (Visa Pak 400) through which they sought to get rid of the burgeoning queues of partnership visa applications - as an OIA request from this publication had later revealed - was one such example where inexperience of the Minister was revealed.
To make it worse, after all, intense media-criticism, public attention and eventually Prime Minister’s intervention to remove institutional bias against the Indian marriages for the purpose of partnership visas, the changes brought-in the Culturally Arranged Marriage Visas by the Minister - were again - absolute shambolic.
As anecdotal experiences of many immigration lawyers suggests that there has not been a vast increase in the number of people applying under the Culturally arranged marriage visas - especially partners from India.
In fact, Immigration New Zealand had quietly reverted to the old process of assessing partnership visas, after months and months of a logjam, public protests, and media attention.
The new Minister would at least be expected to show enough agility and sharpness not to let the immigration bureaucracy run amok with the processes in place, while we wait till elections to see new immigration policies and a new-term of the government.