What will immigration in New Zealand look like next?

In short no one knows yet (at the time of writing), not even the New Zealand Government. We have had meetings and discussions on this subject and until the Government tells INZ exactly what they want to happen then immigration policy is a bit uncertain. 

At this stage we have to assume that it is business as usual within the restrictions we find ourselves in

All applications made must be assessed under the immigration instructions current at the time of lodgement. This means that except for some very special cases, if you meet the criteria for a visa now, and you lodge that application, even if the law changes later and you no longer meet the new criteria, INZ must assess your application under the old criteria (that you meet) and approve the visa if you have clearly proved that it should be approved. This is important because it is highly likely that criteria will change in response to the economic situation after the pandemic, so it may be best for many people to put in an application sooner rather than later.

Putting in an early application is probably good, but timing is still important, you still need to prove that you meet the criteria for the visa. This is a big point because if you do actually meet the criteria, but put in a substandard application, then it makes it much easier for INZ to decline the application later. Especially if policy changes and INZ is under pressure to decline applications, insisting that you met the criteria at the time of application is only going to work if you have proven this beyond reasonable doubt.

What is likely to change?

By conversations we have had, it seems likely that things will get tougher overall. This makes sense as most predictions are picking unemployment to rise and the borders to remain closed for some time. Kiwis will come first, so immigration overall is probably going to become more controlled and not less. Work visas and residence visas are probably going to get more strictly assessed, quota type visas probably will have their quotas reduced. The visas that will, likely remain unchanged are student, visitor and investment / business category visas. However visitor visas will most likely be tougher on bona fide travellers as there will be more people wanting to flee to New Zealand as the global situation gets worse.

INZ are assessing all of these factors and internal policies will reflect their modelling of such issues. One unknown is how partnership visas will change because this is relatively removed from economic factors, but one of the biggest issues with partnership visas is bona fide. Will there be an increase in fake relationships of people wanting an easy way to escape from the Covid-19 and economic situation in their home country to the relative safety of New Zealand? I think INZ may think that this is likely, so proving beyond reasonable doubt that your relationship is genuine will become even more important than it already is. 

What should you do?

I think that if you are in a situation to start applying for residence and want to do so, then you should start this process as soon as possible so you don’t get locked out. if you don't meet the criteria, or are not sure, then get professional advice and find out quickly what you need to do. If you are near the beginning of your immigration pathway and are still looking at 2 or 3 years before you will be able to meet the criteria to apply for residence, then the best thing is to look at how you can strengthen your situation. If you are studying now, is your course going to provide you with skilled employment in skills shortage areas? if not, you may need to reassess and change things. In general the higher skilled jobs will still experience skills shortages, so these are the positions that will be unable to be filled by recently unemployed Kiwis and the positions that will be more likely to be approved for work visas. 

There will be ways forward, but it is very likely to become tougher for everyone.