Immigration

Coronavirus disrupts NZ’s tourism systems

Efforts by the Chinese government to contain the coronavirus have an unlikely casualty: our tourist visa processing systems, Dileepa Fonseka reports

The shutdown of Immigration New Zealand's Beijing branch has also caused delays for thousands of non-Chinese tourists trying to enter New Zealand. 

Applications from over 6000 tourists and students, some from countries thousands of kilometres away from China, were stranded in Immigration NZ's Beijing office after it was shutdown over coronavirus fears. 

The Chinese government has closed schools and businesses all around China as part of its attempts to manage the disease. 

INZ relocated many of its visitor visa processing functions to Beijing after 2017. 

The thinking was that centralising visitor visa processing in a country where many of New Zealand's visitors came from would allow staff to specialise in that type of processing and turn applications around quicker.

Newsroom was contacted by a person representing tourists who had received an email early this week informing them that their application was one of 5600 on hold at the Beijing office while a decision was made on whether they needed to be transferred out. 

The person was surprised because the tourists concerned came from a country that did not have a single confirmed case of coronavirus. They also had no plans to transit through China. 

The tourists were granted a visa on Thursday. 

Applications transferred to other offices

INZ closed its Visa Application processing centre in Beijing in early February.

In a statement an INZ spokeswoman said the organisation had started transferring some visitor and student applications out of Beijing in January 28 when it became clear it would not be possible to re-open the Beijing office. 

The spokeswoman said other applications continued to arrive at the office and would be transferred out as they did. 

Nicola Hogg, general manager Border and Visa operations, said in a statement on Thursday that 6500 applications filed by non-Chinese tourists and students had now been transferred out of Beijing and sent to INZ's other offices including Mumbai and Porirua. 

Hogg said 5600 applications from mainland Chinese were still at INZ's Beijing office. 

"As these individuals are unable to travel to New Zealand due to the travel restrictions currently in place, they were not among the first applications to be transferred to other offices."

"It is likely that there will be some impact on visa processing times as a result of the temporary closure of the Beijing office. However, INZ is working hard to try to minimise the impact on processing time as much as possible."

Immigration New Zealand revealed more details of the impact the closure would have in an email they sent to Immigration advisers early Monday morning.
 
“This office closure means we have 130 fewer immigration officers in the network processing predominantly student and visitor visas,” they wrote.
 
“Applications are being taken from the Beijing office queue and transferred to other offices across the network…these branches include Porirua, Manila, Mumbai and Palmerston North.”

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