15 September 2021

Recent changes to temporary visa policy and processing

As a result of the ongoing issues presented by COVID-19, Immigration New Zealand has made a number of changes to temporary visa policy in recent weeks, with the aim of simplifying the visa application process and providing relief to sectors that rely on their migrant staff. We have recently seen the streamlined application process announced for Essential Skills work visa (“ESWV”) applicants, and the deferral of the highly anticipated accreditation scheme.


Since then INZ has announced further changes, including the removal of the requirement for partners and children of ESWV applicants to provide new medicals and police certificates. Further, variation of conditions applications can now be submitted online, subject to certain eligibility. Details of these updates are outlined below:


Health and character checks for ESWV applicants and their families

It was announced back in July that all applicants for ESWVs, whether or not they meet the criteria for a “streamlined” application, may not be required to provide new general medical, chest x-ray or police certificates even if their previous ones have expired. This has subsequently been extended to also include partners and dependent children who are applying for a visa on the basis of their relationship to an ESWV applicant/holder. They do not need to be submitting their application at the same time as the ESWV applicant.


It is key to note that just like with ESWV applicants, this only applies to those who have provided medical or police certificates to INZ at least once before with a previous application. Young children who are applying for a visa for the first time will still need to provide a medical certificate for example, and dependent children turning 17 will need to provide a police certificate, as these would not have been provided to INZ previously.


These measures are anticipated to remain in place until mid-2022 to align with the introduction of the Accredited Employer Work visa system.


This change serves to ease pressure on visa applicants, who will no longer need to pay for new medicals or deal with the processing timeframes for overseas police certificates to be issued.


Variation of Conditions online form

Variation of conditions (“VOC”) applications were the unfortunate casualty of the recent nationwide lockdown; with INZ officers required to work from home, paper-based applications posted to INZ could not be processed. This included VOC applications which until now were required to be submitted in hard copy, leaving many applicants stuck between jobs over lockdown, with many having already served out their notice period in their existing role but unable to get their conditions varied to begin working in a new role.


As a result, INZ has introduced a new online form for VOC applications. This applies only to work visa holders looking to vary their employer, occupation, or study conditions. Those looking to vary the travel conditions of their work visa, or to vary the conditions of a visitor or student visa, will still need to apply on paper. INZ have advised that requests will be processed in the order received, with priority given to paper applications submitted prior to lockdown.


It is important to note that the criteria against which INZ assesses a VOC application remain the same. INZ will still check that:

  • The new conditions align with the reason your visa was originally granted
  • You have met the conditions of your current visa; and
  • You still have a genuine intention to work in New Zealand

Not all work visa holders can apply for a VOC, and in some situations will a fresh work visa application will be required in order to change jobs. It is essential in protecting your immigration position in New Zealand to keep complying with your visa conditions, and as such, we would recommend contacting one of the team for assistance.


COVID-19 and processing timeframes

As New Zealand drops down alert levels and returns to offices outside of Auckland, INZ will be processing both online and paper applications. While Auckland remains in level 4 for the time being, some paper applications have been moved to offices outside the region for lodgement and processing. This will undoubtedly bring with it delays in the receipting and lodgement of these paper applications as they are transferred to other offices.


While offshore applications remain on hold for the foreseeable future, INZ has recently updated their average processing times for their most common visas. The below provides a snapshot of average processing times for the 3 months leading up to 1 September 2021.


  • Work visas


50% of applications

75% of applications

90% of applications

Essential Skills

33 days

47 days

70 days

Partner of a New Zealander

46 days

3 months

5 months

Partner of a worker

41 days

55 days

75 days

Variation of conditions (work visa)

30 days

34 days

41 days


  • Resident visas


50% of applications

75% of applications

90% of applications

Skilled Migrant

22 months

23 months

26 months

Partner of a New Zealander

4 months

6 months

10 months

Permanent Resident Visa

12 days

22 days

62 days

Variation of travel conditions

6 days

8 days

17 days


With processing times for Skilled Migrant category residence nearly at 2 years, it is important to be conscious of when your current visa is set to expire so you do not run the risk of being in New Zealand without a valid temporary visa.


For clarification on how the above may impact your immigration position in New Zealand, or for any other immigration assistance, please contact one of the team at Saunders & Co.