Delays in international visas see flight school enrolments plummet

Long wait times for international student visas have local flight training schools on the brink of collapse, Aviation New Zealand says.

Ahead of the pandemic, chief executive Simon Wallace said about 650 international students pumped more than $200 million into the economy each year.

But since then, enrolment numbers had plummeted to less than 100 overseas students in 2023.

He said Immigration New Zealand was typically taking 30 working days to process applications which in some circumstances could extend to 60 or more.

In Australia, a similar approval could be gained in three to five days.

However, Australia list their average processing time as 16 days, a little over half the time it takes, on average, in New Zealand.

Wallace said the delays were diverting large numbers of students to overseas competitors.

“Our competitors, Australia but also the USA, Canada are processing those visas in a much lesser time and aviation students from these markets like Vietnam, India and the Middle East they’re just not coming to New Zealand. We’re not providing the certainty that they need.”

He said only two students had come to New Zealand from Vietnam in 2023 and a group of flight training schools visiting the country late last year was told New Zealand had the slowest application process in the world.

Wallace said the Immigration New Zealand website, which only accepted applications in English, was not user friendly and was confusing for any international student who had English as a second language.

“We know this interaction is putting students off coming here, they are not even applying. Australian applications are accepted in Vietnamese, making the process much easier. Our flight training schools did it tough through Covid, with some having to close completely. But as we emerge from the pandemic, the ‘open for business sign’ is in jeopardy simply because our immigration system can’t respond quickly enough,” Wallace said.

He said Aviation New Zealand had appealed to Immigration New Zealand and Education Minister Erica Stanford for urgent action.

A spokesperson for Immigration New Zealand said they had “engaged extensively” with Aviation New Zealand.

They said of the 81 student visas applications for aviation students submitted last year, 79 percent had been processed within “the standard processing time” of 30 working days. They said applications missing key information could take longer to process.

Wallace said the cumbersome nature of New Zealand’s visa processing was letting down a once highly regarded part of the country’s education sector.

He said one major aviation trainer had shut down its New Zealand operations in 2021 and set up overseas.

“They are really struggling, our flight training schools, they are on the brink of closure and this needs to be fixed. It can be fixed if there’s a will to do it. We have to process those visas much faster to maintain the interest in what is now a very competitive market.”

Immigration Minister Erica Stanford said she was looking at ways to prioritise the urgent visa applications for overseas students.

She also pointed out 79 percent of last year’s applications from aviation students were processed within the standard time of 30 working days.