Thousands of visa applications that have been in limbo for the past 12 months have been canned as Immigration New Zealand is unable to process them due to legal reasons.
The agency's border and visa operations general manager Nicola Hogg said they had been unable to process around 50,000 applications from people overseas as they couldn't grant a visa to someone who was unlikely to meet New Zealand's entry requirements — including under Covid-19 border restrictions.
New Zealand's border restrictions meant only citizens, residents, people granted an exception or those travelling from a quarantine-free travel zone could enter the country.
Hogg said most applications were for visitor, student and work visas and people impacted would be refunded their application fee and levy.
"Immigration New Zealand (INZ) is about to begin the process of lapsing or returning most of these applications and refunding the application fees and levies, if any.
"Refunding these applicants is the fair and pragmatic thing to do, particularly given the uncertainty that remains about when border restrictions may be eased or lifted."
There was around $14 million in refunds to be processed — made up of around $11m in application fees and $3m in levies.
Most offshore applicants paid between $246 and $495 in fees and levies, depending on the type of visa.
"Processing these refunds is a significant administrative exercise for INZ and is expected to take months."
Hogg said the agency was committed to ensuring everyone got their money back and would contact everyone who was due a refund at the time it was being processed.
"People can then use the refunds to apply for a visa in the future as borders start to reopen."
Hogg said INZ was reviewing its approach to refund requests for various additional groups, including some residence applicants, but no decision had been made.
INZ suspended the ability for people offshore to apply for a visa on August 10, 2020, Hogg said.
There were two groups of people whose applications would be refunded:
• Applicants who applied for a temporary visa from offshore before August 10, 2020 but whose temporary visa applications could be processed because of the border or associated restrictions
• Applicants who applied for a temporary visa from offshore after August 10, 2020 when the ability for people offshore to submit a visa application was suspended