A University of Auckland doctoral candidate has received a last-minute reprieve - eight hours from becoming an overstayer because of a visa delay.
Sean Longyu Ma, 33, applied for his student visa on January 29, and was granted a six-month interim visa on February 23 until today, September 2,
But with hours left to his visa expiry, Ma was still waiting for a decision on his application as Covid-19 restrictions contributed to visa processing delays at Immigration NZ.
However, slightly over an hour after the Herald ran a story about his plight, Ma received an email saying both he and his wife have been approved six-month visas as an "exception to instructions".
Ma said he was feeling extremely relieved at being issued the visa at the last minute.
INZ said it did not initially consider Ma to have sufficient funds to meet immigration requirements, and a request was made for additional information.
"Following receipt of the additional information, further assessment was undertaken and Mr Ma was granted a six-month interim visa," an INZ spokesman said.
The agency also requested further information regarding his employment, education, family background and a list of his previous publications, master's thesis abstract and doctoral research proposal.
"This has now been received and is being considered," the spokesman said.
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Ma is a third-year computer science doctoral candidate at the University of Auckland, and has been in New Zealand since early 2017.
"I came to New Zealand to get a PhD, but I was worried that I will be going home with a black mark as being an overstayer through no fault of mine," he said.
"When the lockdown happened I was counting down the weeks to my visa expiry, then I started counting days and then I was literally counting the minutes"
Ma said he was also worried that his 31-year-old wife, Yiwei Zhang, would become unlawful in New Zealand because her partnership visa was linked to his student visa.
"I didn't think processing a student visa would take months, but I guess it means there's hundreds of other visa applicants who could also (potentially) become overstayers," Ma said.
"I was so worried that we could become illegal and then ordered for deportation. This is not what we came to NZ for."
Ma claimed he was told by INZ that interim visas could not be extended.
In April, the Government extended temporary visas that were due to expire between April 1 and July 9 until September 25.
The Herald understands that the Government is considering a further blanket visa extension beyond September 25.
Delays had been caused to visa processing because all INZ offices had to be closed during alert level 4.
At level 3 and 2, the agency had to adhere to strict guidelines that included limiting the number of staff returning to offices which further impacted on the delays and number of applications it could work on.
The INZ spokesman said Ma's immigration adviser was contacted on Monday to confirm that options were being considered to ensure Ma remained lawfully in NZ.