New Zealand visa
(Getty Images)
  • New Zealand’s immigration offices in Pretoria, Mumbai and Manila will close by March 2021.
  • This comes as coronavirus-related travel restrictions cut net migration into New Zealand by 95%.
  • Visa application processes – including appointments – will move online as an expansion of the New Zealand Electronic Travel Authority programme.
  • For more stories, go to www.BusinessInsider.co.za.

New Zealand will close its immigration offices in South Africa, India, and the Philippines by March. The announcement comes after a year of strict travel restrictions and a sharp decrease in visa applications owing to the global Covid-19 pandemic.

New Zealand has the fourth highest number of South African emigrants. Trailing shortly behind the United Kingdom, Australia and the United States, New Zealand homes more than 60,000 South Africans, with 10% of this total number arriving as migrants in the 2019/2020 financial year.

More than 3 million people entered New Zealand – either as returning residents, students, visitors, or workers – between July 2019 and March 2020. Net migration peaked in February, with New Zealand accepting 15,065 people.

But the Covid-19 pandemic, which was beginning to sweep across the globe, quickly led to border closures and strict travel bans. In April 2020, just 1,885 people entered New Zealand, representing a drop of 99% from the month prior. Since then, the total number of monthly arrivals has remained below 5,000 compared to an average of 331,000 in 2019.

By December, net migration into New Zealand had plummeted by 95% to 672 people. For the duration of the pandemic, New Zealand’s borders have remained firmly closed, allowing only limited entry to returning residents and irregular flights from Australia and surrounding island nations.

With the pandemic changing the global standard for travel and migration, New Zealand’s decision to close its offshore visa processing centres coincides with the move towards an exclusively electronic application system.

“This is not a decision that we have made lightly,” says Deputy Head of Immigration New Zealand (INZ), Catriona Robinson.

“Our staff in these offices have made a significant contribution to INZ and New Zealand. However, these offices have been closed since March 2020 and with no certainty about when visa volumes may return to normal, INZ has had to make some tough decisions.”

The office closures are expected to impact approximately 329 locally employed staff across South Africa, India, and the Philippines.

“In addition, INZ is also planning to withdraw visa processing from our Beijing office, while strengthening our risk and verification presence,” adds Robinson.

South Africa’s INZ centre in Pretoria has been responsible for handling in-person appointments for visa applications. The office has also processed applicants sent via courier. These services will cease within the next week and all processes will move online as an extension of the New Zealand Electronic Travel Authority (NZeTA) programme.

“The roll out of new technology functions aims to improve efficiency and resilience throughout INZ, which will help to us to better manage peaks and troughs in visa volumes while giving users of the immigration system a better customer experience,” explains Robinson.

The move to close offshore visa application centres coincides with a long-awaited review of New Zealand’s Expression of Interest (EOI) requests. These requests refer to the Skilled Migrant Category and Parent Resident Category, of which the former is of particular interest to South Africans, which have been officially suspended since October 2020.

The six-month suspension is due to lapse in March and will be subject to review by INZ.

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