Immigration NZ’s visa processing times jeopardising lucrative flight training industry: Aviation NZ

Aviation New Zealand has criticised the country’s long visa-processing times for putting the flight training industry in jeopardy.

Chief executive Simon Wallace said significant delays by Immigration NZ (INZ) in processing visas – up to 30 days and in some cases 60 working days or more – were driving students to Australia and elsewhere. The processing times were longer than any other country’s.

Fewer than 100 international students came to New Zealand last year, compared with 600 before the Covid-19 pandemic.

Aviation NZ, the peak body for the commercial aviation sector, has taken up the matter with INZ and has written to new Immigration and Education Minister Erica Stanford seeking urgent action.

INZ deputy chief operating officer Jeannie Melville said it had engaged extensively with Aviation NZ and was continuing to do so.

Wallace said: “Australia can process visas in a much faster timeframe, sometimes in three working days with the same timeframe applying for visiting parents.

“Our timeframes are simply not competitive.”

Taking Vietnam as an example, he said just two Vietnamese students arrived here last year and a group of New Zealand flight training schools that visited Vietnam in November was told New Zealand’s visa process takes longer than any other country.

“It’s jeopardising our industry. Fewer than 100 students came from all countries in the whole of last year compared to more than 600 in 2020 before Covid,” Wallace said.

Other barriers were that the INZ website wasn’t multilingual or user-friendly, which made it confusing for prospective non-English-speaking students.

“We know this interaction is putting students off coming here – they are not even applying,” Wallace said.

“Australian applications are accepted in Vietnamese, making the process much easier.”

Aviation NZ estimates the flight training market was worth at least $200 million before the pandemic, with each student generating further economic activity of nearly $500,000 if their families and friends visited.

“Our flight training schools did it tough through Covid, with some having to close completely,” Wallace said.

“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.

“We have more flight schools on the brink of closure.”

He said the issue needed addressing quickly and one major international trainer had left New Zealand in 2021 to set up operations elsewhere.

Poor access to work was also putting international students off. “They come here to get their Civil Aviation Authority [CAA] licence, but to get work rights they must enrol in a degree or diploma-level NZQA-approved qualification, which goes beyond what they need.

“Yet students get work rights as the norm in Australia and other competitor countries, allowing them to get part-time work and improve their English, which is valuable.

“When we look at global demand for trained pilots and the very good training reputation our country has, it would be such a shame for this high-value sector of our international student market to disappear.

“What’s most galling about all of this is that New Zealand is so highly regarded, especially in Asia and the Middle East, because of the training provided by our flight schools. The calibre of the cadets produced is nothing less than outstanding. But the slow and cumbersome nature of our visa system is letting us down.”

Melville said INZ received 81 student visa applications for aviation students from outside New Zealand in the past year and 79 per cent were processed within 30 working days, which was the standard processing timeframe.

“Applications missing key information take longer to process.”

National has promised to revive international education by fast-tracking visa processing for international students who pay additional fees.

 It also said during last year’s election campaign that the hours international students could work would be increased from 20 to 24.