Immigration New Zealand is bringing the processing of all new partnership visa applications from India back to NZ amid huge delays at its Mumbai office.
A backlog of cases and staff shortages are being blamed for delays to visa processing, and thousands of people are believed to have been affected in India.
More than 1600 people have signed an online petition asking Immigration Minister Iain Lees-Galloway to "sort out the partnership visa-processing delay at INZ".
Immigration NZ assistant general manager Jeannie Melville acknowledged the delays and said the agency was taking urgent steps to rectify the situation.
"From September, INZ will be moving all new partnership applications from the Indian subcontinent to its partnership processing hub in Hamilton," Melville said.
She said there was a backlog of partnership visas at its Mumbai office.
"This reflects increasing volumes in the India market across all visa types," she said.
Melville said partnership visa applications needed careful consideration.
"Whilst INZ is committed to processing visas as fast as practical, it is critical that the right level of scrutiny is applied to ensure the right decisions are made."
The agency has recruited more staff overseas and in NZ to meet demand, she said.
"INZ is prioritising low-touch, decision-ready applications to ensure these are processed as quickly as possible," said Melville.
"Those which are incomplete or acquire verification are placed in a queue and are processed in order of receipt. INZ will take longer to process applications where additional information or further checks are required."
Anto Puthussery, 29, who returned to India in February to get married, said he is frustrated that INZ "keeps moving the goal post".
Puthussery has applied for a visitor visa for his wife, Siphiya Jose, to join him in Auckland.
"The website says it takes 18 days to process the visa, but we have been waiting for months," he said.
"When I contacted INZ, they say it may take another five to six months."
An agency spokeswoman confirmed the visa application was received, and said it had been placed in the queue and would be processed in order of receipt.
Puthussery said he personally knew of people who had been waiting for seven months with still no visa in sight for their partners from India to join them.
"The situation is a nightmare, many of us are really struggling," he added.
An INZ visa officer said in an email forwarded to the Herald that visas lodged last November were still being processed.
The Mumbai-based officer said staff were working extra hours, including Saturdays, to cope with the demand.
In an agencywide restructure last year, 10 INZ branches were closed and visa processing was centralised in Mumbai, Beijing and the remaining NZ and Pacific offices.
However, this has left the agency struggling to recruit and train staff to keep up with the volume of applications.
A briefing document from Education New Zealand last month expressed concerns that visa processing delays and other immigration related issues were costing the sector dearly.
Institute of Technology and Polytechnics (ITP) alone lost an estimated $33 million in fees in just four months.
Delays are also being blamed for a drop in Indian visitors, which Tourism NZ said cost the sector between $30m to $50m over nine months to April following an unexpected decline of visitors from India.
Tourists from India were down almost 20 per cent in May compared with May 2018, and this followed a 14 per cent fall in April.