Immigration New Zealand says people will be able to file their one-off residency visa applications from March 1 without a medical certificate.
The change comes after weeks of long overnight queues outside at least two walk-in clinics in Auckland, where hundreds of people have been seen sleeping on the streets to get their immigration health checks.
One Auckland clinic on Queen St has had to turn a hundred people away every morning, while other clinics that offer the service by appointment are booked out until March or April.
INZ now says Phase 2 of the 2021 Residency Visa opening next month will use an enhanced Immigration Online system that allows applicants to file even if they haven't been able to get a medical certificate beforehand.
"If a medical certificate is required, you will be asked to provide one later," according to an INZ website update on Saturday.
But applicants for the ongoing Phase 1 category will still need to provide a medical certificate with their application by July 31.
Sikh community leader Daljit Singh says the change is a relief that takes the pressure off migrants keen to file for residency as soon as possible.
The spokesperson for several Sikh temples including the Takanini Gurdwara says he has been getting calls from people desperate to find available Auckland panel doctors.
Migrants from as far as Palmerston North and New Plymouth were travelling in to queue at the walk-in Auckland City Doctors, often trying for days before they could get a spot at the front of the queue, he said. "This is an absolutely sensible decision by Immigration."
With Omicron cases on the rise, hundreds of people in a line also posed a health risk, he said. "There is no social distancing, and some are not even wearing masks, it's a bit concerning for their safety and for others in the area."
The Migrants NZ Facebook has been abuzz with comments and questions about the queues.
"While we are sleeping peacefully, I feel for those migrants who are sleeping on [sic] street tonight and for next few nights," said Vasav Jadav.
"I'd rather go and fall in line for hours ... Stop blaming the Government. This queue won't happen if there's no One-off Residency," said Avie Gallard.
The New Zealand Government announced the one-off 2021 Residency Visa in September last year, a Covid-19 silver lining for the estimated 165,000 migrants in the country, many of whom have had their residency applications caught up in a pandemic backlog and recent immigration policy changes.
The first round of applications opened on December 1 for migrants who had filed for residency earlier. A second round for all other eligible applicants opens on March 1 and closes on July 31.
More than 9000 people have been granted residency under the fast-track scheme so far, out of more than 30,000 that have applied.
To be eligible, migrants have to be "settled" (in New Zealand for three or more years), "skilled" (earn $27 per hour and above), or do "scarce" work (work in a role on a scarce list).
Immigration New Zealand had earlier said there is plenty of time to apply ahead of the July 31 closing date, and applicants should check if they actually need to provide a medical certificate.
There are 140 medical clinics providing immigration medical exams across the country, 39 of them in the Auckland region and appointments can be made, said an INZ spokesperson.