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Incoherence, Mistrust Cloud INZ Student Visa Process

Photo: 123rf | RNZ

In an era where global mobility and cultural exchange should be celebrated and encouraged, Immigration New Zealand's (INZ) approach to student visa applications is, in stark contrast, ridden with unreasonable and irrational decision-making.

The decline letters being handed over to offshore students reflect inconsistent decisions and ill-explained reasons permeating the decision-making process. The stakeholders’ perception is that such a process is less about safeguarding the country’s interests and more about creating uncertainty and unpredictability for those who seek to contribute, learn, and experience New Zealand.

Challenging the one-size-fits-all paradigm

The sanctity of a visa application process lies in the assurance that every decision made has a fair and just grounding. This is also reflected in the immigration instructions published by Immigration New Zealand. However, Immigration New Zealand's recent methodology paints a concerning picture of deviation from their own laid down principles. 

The once methodical and customised evaluations have now been replaced with a one-size-fits-all approach that demeans the genuine aspirations of countless international students. 



Decisions that should arise from careful consideration and evaluation are being delegated to templates and profiling. Some decisions also reflect that immigration officers may not have a complete understanding of documentation from different parts of the world and are making decisions without considering the complete documents and their import. This shift away from a nuanced consideration of an applicant's potential contribution to New Zealand's educational landscape suggests a move towards a more impersonal, assembly-line method of processing student visa applications, lacking the essential human element crucial for a fair evaluation.

Eligible students presenting compelling cases are bewildered by the lack of reasonable rationale behind the rejection of their applications. 

himanshu1Himanshu Rai 

The templated decline letters, as ambiguous as they are impersonal, leave many questions unanswered. What specific immigration criteria were not met? What information was unconvincing?  What led the immigration office to doubt the student’s intentions to study? These are not trivialities but indispensable guides for students and their parents who often plan to invest substantially to enable their children to gain an internationally recognised qualification and improve their future career prospects. 

Official Information Act documents, accessed in accordance with the Privacy Act, reveal that immigration officers are resorting to phrases such as "deal breaker"—phrases not recognised within official immigration guidelines. This approach prematurely terminates a detailed assessment of student visa applications, culminating in their rejection through the dispatch of a generic decline letter. 

This practice highlights a deviation from standard procedure and underscores the necessity for a more transparent and consistent application review process within the realm of immigration services.

Documents acquired via the Official Information Act also indicate that almost all offshore applications from India and Nepal are going to offshore Risk and Verification officers as per the protocol established by Immigration New Zealand for evaluating offshore student visa applicants. This strategy involves analysing applicants' educational backgrounds, work experience, nationalities, and selected study programmes to categorise them into high or low-risk groups.

High-risk applications are subject to enhanced scrutiny by immigration officers, influenced by comments from the offshore Risk and Verification officers, who apparently do not have access to the student's complete profile. In such instances, even a trivial comment such as “no online presence of the company sighted” can inadvertently trigger a biased approach by onshore immigration officers. This approach fosters inconsistent and subjective decision-making by immigration officers.

An appeal for coherence and consistency

There should not be  critique without a proposal for improvement. What is needed is a system guided by transparency and consistency, one that not only protects New Zealand's interests but also fosters an environment of mutual respect. Immigrants, students or otherwise, should be regarded as partners in a common mission to propel New Zealand to greater heights.

INZ officials often highlight the Client Complaint Resolution Process (CCRP) as the established way to tackle issues when a process failure is detected and resolved. However, due to the templated nature of decline letters, students are required to wait a month to receive the Client File Records, which are significantly redacted, before any issues in the assessment process can be identified. In addition, the complaints process is confined to just Stage 1, which mainly produces templated responses from the designated Immigration Managers of the Immigration Officers giving decisions; there is no Stage 2 as used to be the case till 2017.

It is paramount that Immigration New Zealand revisits its approach by discarding adhocism in favour of a transparent and consistent process. Every decline letter must contain a rationale and reason for the decline, and every decision must be based on a fair and reasonable assessment of each individual application. It is only through such means that New Zealand can truly claim to be an equitable destination for global talent.

The call to action is clear and urgent. The restoration of consistent and just immigration practices in the processing of offshore student visa applications needs to be immediate. Our collective future—rich in diversity and promise—relies on the courage to confront the current misgivings and the commitment to do better.

New Zealand, renowned for standing up for what is right, must lead by example in this regard, too. It is time to bring back the fairness that every international student and aspiring immigrant deserves, irrespective of their nationality.

(Colonel Himanshu Rai (retd) is a former Indian Army officer, now CEO and Director at Auckland-based Immigration Advisers New Zealand Ltd)

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