INZ forced to apologise and refund migrants

Immigration New Zealand has apologised for “informally” cherry-picking highly-paid residence applications, after the chief ombudsman found “INZ’s allocation of applications in accordance with an informal priority criteria was unreasonable”.

What happened

Chief Ombusdman Peter Boshier

The complaint dates back to early 2020, and relates to skilled migrant category (SMC) applications that were assessed between July 2018 and 23 February 2020. According to chief ombudsman Peter Boshier, during that period the agency informally prioritised applications with an annual salary of at least $106,080, as well as government jobs and roles needing occupational registration.

“The informal criteria were not published or communicated with applicants or potential applicants,” the ruling reads. “Applicants were left in the dark, wondering what was happening to their applications as estimated allocation timeframes came and went [in some cases, by a year or longer].”

Salary and occupational registry didn’t become official priority criteria until last year. But as it turns out, the practice had already been in place for 18 months, following a discussion with the national manager at the time.

The chief ombudsman ruled that the informal priority criteria exceeded the limits of authority and lacked transparency: “The act does not permit immigration managers to issue general instructions. Nor … authorise managers to create internal, informal priority criteria that superseded the general instructions. There is a fine line to walk between a reasonable exercise of managerial discretion, within the limits of delegated authority, and exceeding that authority. In this case, the chief ombudsman considered that the line had been crossed.”

Immigration NZ’s issued an apology

Immigration NZ was told to formally apologise and refund application fees to all affected migrants who decided to withdraw their applications.

“We absolutely accept that we should have been more transparent about the prioritisation criteria,” said INZ border and visa operations national manager, Stephanie Greathead. “We will be formally apologising to individuals who have made a complaint to the office of the ombudsman and a full refund will be given.

Talking about how the “informal criteria” came about, Greathead explained: “The rationale for the criteria was based on various indicators of value. So, one of the criteria is occupations that require registration as per immigration requirements, and the other was around twice the median wage. There is an inference around those occupations that require registration are of value to New Zealand, I’ve spoken about some of those – nurses, doctors, teachers. And remuneration is often used as an indicator of skill.”