Immigration New Zealand decisions on post-study work visas are being slammed as "overly harsh" as one in two applicants in Auckland are being declined.
Figures obtained through the Official Information Act revealed that Immigration's Auckland Central offices had the highest rejection rate in the country - with 49.5 per cent of the 222 applications processed declined in May.
Massey University immigration expert Paul Spoonley said the rate could be because of the way the centre is administered or "something about the applicants".
Immigration's Henderson office was the busiest office for processing this type of visa with 4064 since January last year, compared to Auckland's 2051.
However, of the 327 applications it received in May, just 39 were declined.
New Zealand Association of Migration and Investment chairwoman June Ranson said: "We believe they are being overly-harsh at this point in the immigration process."
The agency, however, said it did not accept that the rejection rate in Auckland was unusually high.
The post-study work visas are aimed at giving students an opportunity to work and gain practical experience to a later skilled employment.
"Immigration NZ needs to look at the potential of these students," Ranson said.
She said the decline rates also indicated how international students are being misguided in their study paths in New Zealand.
"With the bulk of international students being in Auckland, these figures reflect a sad situation," Ranson said.
"We question what is happening now to help these students before they leave their tertiary institutions."
Mark Anthony Pacifico, 35, who graduated with a diploma in IT level 7, had his application declined at the Auckland office despite having his employer's support for work as a technical support representative.
"My brother, who took an identical pathway, was approved a couple of years earlier and is already a permanent resident," Pacifico said.
"It's really like a game of roulette, because Immigration's decision making isn't structured.
"Who knows what the outcome would have been if I had applied through another branch."
Maricel Weischede, a licensed immigration adviser, said the way visa officers assessed applications had changed "dramatically" this year.
"What becomes important now in the assessment is that 'the Immigration Officer is satisfied' that the employment provided practical experience relevant to the applicant's study," she said.
"How an officer can be satisfied seems to be discretionary, and the application process is clearly unpredictable."
Weishede said she was planning to lodge a complaint against the agency.
Immigration area manager Marcelle Foley acknowledged that approval and decline rates can vary between offices.
"For example, the approval rate for applications dealt with by the Henderson office tend to be higher than elsewhere as they are submitted by licensed immigration advisers," Foley said.
"Every visa application is rigorously assessed on a case by case basis against Immigration instructions and may be declined for a wide range of reasons."
Foley said a graduate work experience visa would only be granted where an immigration officer was satisfied that the offer of fulltime employment was one which would provide practical experience relevant to the applicant's course or qualification.