As the Christmas season approached, Russian Natalia Makutina and her daughter Maria were looking forward to a joyous reunion with her pregnant daughter Anastasia and her son-in-law Richard Cable in Whanganui. To make their travel plans happen, she and Maria applied for visitor visas on September 16th as Immigration NZ then promised speedy processing - 90% of applications would be processed within 44 working days or fewer.
Despite Immigration New Zealand's advice not to buy air tickets until the visa process was complete, Richard and his family were forced to purchase them on September 19 due to a lack of availability for their desired travel dates. They booked a flight for three months later, on December 10, with a stopover in Thailand and a scheduled arrival in Auckland on December 14.
Natalia and Maria anxiously counted down the days until their departure date, yet when they inquired about the status of their National Security Check (NSC), much needed for visa approval, they were sadly informed that it wasn’t in Immigration NZ's hands, but a third party entity.
With time quickly slipping away, an air of desperation filled the couple as they fled Russia without visas in hand. They took their flight to Thailand, hoping that their NZ visa would be issued within the next couple of days. However, INZ approved their visa on December 14, the day they were due to arrive in NZ and a day late after they had to reluctantly cancel their tickets to Auckland.
Cable was in a state of exasperation as the visa processing time far exceeded what Immigration NZ had originally predicted. Despite INZ's knowledge that flights were booked for certain dates, visas could not be expedited and granted even just one or two days prior.
Amidst the chaos of the pandemic, Immigration NZ is causing frustration for New Zealand’s 12-14,000 Russians with visa processing delays. The Agency's website advises that 90% of applications are processed within 60 working days - but this has been far from reality for many seeking to reunite with family during these uncertain times. Reports describe desperate pleas from people expecting their loved ones to arrive soon only to find out their visas have yet not come through and consequently having no choice but break down in anticipation of a long wait ahead.
Immigration New Zealand's head of border and visa operations, Nicola Hogg, reported a considerable spike in applications. She confirmed that Natalia and Maria Makutina had applied for their visas on 19 September 2022 but further information was needed before processing could occur. After conducting the necessary third-party checks, their applications were finally approved over three months later - 14 December 2022; however it was advised they not travel until then as tickets should not be purchased without having first secured valid visas.