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Overseas Indian students fret over delays in NZ visas

Immigration advisers are complaining of frustrating delays in procuring visas for overseas students, putting in jeopardy the future of not just the applicants but also educational institutions, especially those that rely on limited annual intakes.

Immigration New Zealand (INZ) advises applicants to apply six weeks in advance, a timeframe immigration advisers say is not being delivered at the consistency needed for the country to be competitive in the global overseas student market. 

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“We currently have pending applications dating back to November 2023,” says Vandana Rai of Auckland-based Immigration Advisers NZ Ltd, which works closely with Indian students.

“Delays appear to be more of a norm than an exception this season, posing a particular concern for students enrolled in highly specialised courses with only one intake per year. 

INZ stirred up quite a controversy in November last year when it issued an advisory saying international students were better off applying for a visa four months in advance. 

Pawandeep Singh of Auckland-based Kiwiana Immigration, says the processing time was still better up until the fourth quarter of 2023, “but after then there have been significant delays”. 

“Based on the trends we've seen, a lot of student visa applications are being rejected on the grounds of evidence of funding, and it appears that INZ officers aren't sure what the problem is. 

“Some of the applications were re-evaluated after a complaint was filed, and INZ ultimately accepted them. One possible cause of delays in obtaining an offshore student visa is inadequate training.”  

In an email sent to immigration advisers in December, INZ said, “Please allow a minimum of eight weeks for student visa processing at this time, and an extra week for applications over Immigration New Zealand’s Christmas closure period from 23 December to January 2.”

But managing such prolonged timelines may not always be possible, says a Delhi-based applicant who is hoping to begin her post-graduate studies at a college in Auckland in July this year.

“I received my offer letter from the college only this month. That leaves me with a little over four months before my session starts,” says Anchal, name changed since she didn’t want to reveal her identity.

“My current job requires me to serve a three-month notice period. If I get my visa in more than two months, there’s no way I can serve the notice period and be in Auckland in time for the semester.”

When asked about the delays, INZ’s Student Visa Director Celia Coombes told The Indian Weekender the average time taken for Indian offshore international students to receive a decision on their visa application in the year to February 2024 was 44 working days, but warned this may increase this season.

“As of  February 5, 2024, there are currently 10,348 international student visa applications in progress (applications submitted from both offshore and from within New Zealand). The average processing time for these applications is 26 weekdays, however we expect this to increase as we have large numbers of applications in the system. We aim to process straightforward student visa applications within 30 working days.”

Immigration officials say they have deployed extra processing staff and opened a second student visa processing site. 

But Vandana Rai says proactive planning could have mitigated the delays seen these days, as mounting pressure on visa officers may lead to inconsistent decision-making. 

“These delays could prove counterproductive in the fiercely competitive international education market, potentially prompting students to seek alternative country options rather than endure a year-long wait in addition to the three-month-long processing time. 

“This situation could have significant repercussions, including wasting taxpayer funds spent by ENZ and universities for marketing educational opportunities in New Zealand.”

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