Zimbabweans looking to enter New Zealand as a visitor or on a long term basis can expect to be in for a very long wait as their applications are being processed. Let’s say for example someone in Zimbabwe wants to visit a son, daughter, sister etc. They will have to submit an application through the New Zealand High Commission South Africa branch in Pretoria which will set them back ZAR800 plus the cost of couriering the passport, application and supporting documentation to South Africa. In some cases they may need to get the person they intend on visiting to send supporting documentation to submit with the application. Once in SA, they will be told that they don’t process Zimbabwean passport holders applications and that it will sent to NZ for processing which will take two to four weeks (this timeframe seems to vary). The weeks that they were told it would take end up turning into months and at the end of it all the applicant gets a letter that reads along the lines of ‘we regret to inform you that your application for a visitors visa has been declined……’
The New Zealand Immigration Service (NZIS) set up a unit called Immigration Profile Group (IPG) which processes visa applications of citizens from countries it deems as high risk. If you are travelling on a passport from a country on IPG’s list and are applying for any sort of visa the application is sent to Wellington regardless of where in the world you are. Due to the situation in Zimbabwe, it happens to be close to the top of that list which makes it difficult to apply for a visa to travel to and enter NZ. With that being the case, family members of Zimbabwean resident in NZ have missed out on those very special and one off events in life that are just not the same without loved ones around. I have come across a number of Zimbabweans whose parents have applied for visitors visas and been declined after waiting for months and months for a response. A number of these declined applications have been for people who want to visit to attend their son or daughters wedding or the birth of a first grandchild. It is extremely heart-breaking for parents, sons and daughters when a visa application is declined even after explicitly stating the fact to NZIS that someone wanted to travel for those reasons.
When IPG receives the application it is put into a ‘managed queue’ as it waits to be assigned to a case officer and how long that takes or what position it is in the queue, no-one knows. If you call NZIS to find out the status of the application and it hasn’t yet been declined, all that they tell you is whether or not it is in the queue, with a case officer or notes if any that have been placed on the file. You cannot make direct contact with IPG via telephone with only way of getting in touch with them being via fax or email. Even if you are to get in touch with IPG, the chances of getting a response from them are slim to none.
Something else that becomes an annoyance for applicants is the length of time for which IPG holds passports for. Some people might need their passport to travel but when they get in touch with the overseas mission through which they submitted the application they are told that asking for their passport back means withdrawal of the application. But that is not the case, passports can be sent back to applicants as the application progresses in the queue. That shows that there is a break down in communication between IPG and NZIS overseas missions. One thing that is even more pathetic is that fact that if you call their call centre here you can have operators telling you that you can get your passport back as the application progresses and others telling you that if you ask for it back the application is effectively withdrawn. What information do you work on when some of the call centre representatives don’t seem to know how the process works and IPG cannot be contacted directly for the correct information?
Even after satisfying all the requirement there is no guarantee that a visa will be granted. Working on information from personal experience and that of friends whose family members applications have been declined, IPG does not seem to follow their own guidelines and wants excessive amounts of information in order to approve an application. As an example; for evidence of funds you need to show proof that you have enough money to support yourself during your stay. Their minimums are NZ$1000/person/month or NZ$400/person/month if accommodation is paid for. If you are not able to provide this proof, the other acceptable form of evidence is a declaration by a New Zealand sponsor that they will pay for accommodation and maintenance. A few people who have been able to provide proof of funds in the form of very healthy bank statements (not in ZW$) have had their applications declined on the basis that a sponsorship form was did not accompany the application. On top of that they have been deemed as people who were not likely to return to Zimbabwe even if they are well travelled and have enough money to pay for their visit and then some.
The common theme with declined applications is that they do not believe that the applicants will return to Zimbabwe once in New Zealand. Apparently New Zealand cannot send Zimbabweans back home once their permit has expired because of a United Nations Convention. Yes, there may be people who have ulterior motives but I believe that a large proportion of the applicants are genuine visitors. It just makes you wonder if it is worth it trying to go through the hassle of putting in an application, getting your passport back if you need it, following up on the application and having niggling thoughts for months of whether or not you will get the visa. For a lot of genuine applications it ends up being a very big waste of time and money.
Members of the Zimbabwean Community in Wellington (ZIMDARE) meet with Parliamentarians and presented the issue to them. They received a letter stating that the Minister of Immigration and the head of IPG were looking into the issue. It will be interesting to see what the outcome is. In the mean time though NZIS and IPG really need to get their act together and be able to provide clients with useful information in a timely manner. The also need to be more upfront about the application process and not be make applicants and sponsors run around to provide them with all the information they ask for and turn around to decline an application for petty reasons.