Thursday, December 9

Citizenship approval delays are expected to decrease by mid-2022

More than 30,000 people are waiting for their citizenship to be approved after an explosion in processing times.

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The introduction of an online system and Covid-19 restrictions are blamed for waiting times of up to a year, despite the number of applicants declining last year.

Government figures show 94,000 people have applied for citizenship since 2019, but only 64,000 have been approved. That includes citizenship granted to immigrants after at least five years of residence, and citizenship by descent, for foreign-born children of New Zealanders.

Grant citizenship now takes 10-11 months to be reviewed by a case officer and one to two months to decide after that. Citizenship ceremonies add another two to three months to the process, although they are suspended during the current outbreak.

Internal Affairs said it was focused on speeding up the process and hoped to reduce backlog by the middle of next year.

It has acquired new staff and retrained employees who would normally issue passports.

So far this year, 26,000 people have applied for citizenship and 11,700 have been approved.

Case officers first picked up a citizenship application five months after it was submitted, compared to two weeks two years ago.

Internal Affairs said in a statement that it understood that delays in citizenship decisions impacted people.

“We have prioritized this backlog and created a specific work program to improve it,” said its general manager for service and access, Julia Wootton. “This includes more training, investing in technological changes to speed things up, establishing a temporary workforce dedicated to working through people’s applications.

“We are confident that the steps we have taken mean that we will have the skills and processes in place early next year to ensure that we can slow down accumulation and begin to reduce it by the middle of next year.”

Staff were working hard to return to much shorter time frames after the disruption caused by a ‘realignment’ of the department’s life and identity services in 2019, he said.

“There has been an increase in processing times for citizenship applications in the last 12-24 months as we move towards a new citizenship processing system that gradually improves citizenship services and is being built and introduced in stages. Until fully implemented, we are working on both the old and new systems. This system moves us from a manual, paper-based system to an online system.

“The Covid-19 blockades have affected our ability to provide these services. Our citizenship system, which contains highly secure and privacy-protected data for individuals and their families, is only accessed from our offices with security control. Citizenship is not considered an essential service, so while the country or several regions are at alert level 4 or 3, we have limited staff on site providing essential services only. “

Thirty new hires since July last year included 11 full-time employees and staff that could process passport or citizenship applications on demand. More staff will be added this month, Wootton said.

“A team of temporary staff has been hired to process the approximately 9,000 cases remaining in our old system, freeing up existing staff to increase proficiency and speed in using the new system,” he said. “The new system gives us better data on applications and allows us to adopt new forms of processing, including automating some assessments. We will soon implement a feature that will allow applications to target properly trained officials, based on their complexity. These and other changes based on analysis of application trends will help us process faster. “

How many people applied for citizenship

  • 2019 – 35 274
  • 2020 – 32,030
  • 01/01/2021 – 09/22/2021 – 26,673
  • Total 93,977

How many people were approved for citizenship?

  • 2019 – 31,710
  • 2020 – 20,488
  • 01/01/2021 – 09/22/2021 – 11,719
  • Total 63 917

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