A civil engineer working on a major housing development is one of thousands in the residency application queue, while the Government struggles to recruit for his field.
Applications for New Zealand residency have come to a near standstill since the beginning of the pandemic, with the Government suspending Expressions of Interest (EOI) for the Skilled Migrant Category (SMC) in March last year.
An Auckland-based civil engineer says his pleas for an exemption have been ignored by Immigration New Zealand, in spite of working in an area of skill shortage and on a major Government-approved programme.
He applied for residency after being in the country for two years on a talent (accredited employer) visa, and now waits alongside more than 11,000 other skilled migrants for his application to be processed.
Concerned about jeopardising his chances at residency, the engineer asked to be kept anonymous, but said he worked on a Kainga Ora project to prepare land for a state home development.
"Civil engineers are on the skills shortage, I think on about two or three of them - and yet there's no recognition or pathway for people in those fields to get residency," he said.
Under the Employment Visa Escalation (EVE) process, a request for residency to be fast-tracked will be considered under compelling personal circumstances, humanitarian factors or matters of national interest.
Given New Zealand's critical housing shortage and demand for skilled engineers, he thought his case might qualify for an exemption, and wrote to Immigration NZ with letters of endorsement from his employer and an Auckland councillor.
"My main issue was being in a field of skill shortage, where the country needs skilled people in those fields specifically, working on a major Government-approved programme, actually mentioned in the INZ operation manual," he said.
"Workers on this project are able to come into the country right now because it classifies them as a critical worker, and yet I am in this country right now, I'm actually on that job."
The Herald has seen his email chain to Immigration New Zealand, which copies in Immigration Minister Kris Faafoi and Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern.
It was several weeks before he received a reply from Immigration NZ outlining that his request for an escalation had been declined.
The response stated the application would remain in the queue pending allocation to an immigration officer, and they would "not be responding to further communication regarding this request".
After further appeals for Faafoi or Associate Minister Phil Twyford intervene in his case, he finally received a one-line reply from Twyford's office.
"I regret to advise that Minister Twyford will not be making any intervention for your application for residence to be given priority processing."
The engineer said he had been surprised by the "standard, generic replies".
"I thought I had an edge in notifying them that I'm a civil engineer, and on top of that I'm working on this very specific project.
"And generally civil engineers are in demand around New Zealand, not even working on any Government project."
"I've gone through every avenue, I've sent through my EVE request, I've sent an email to Minister Faafoi, I've sent one to Phil Twyford. There's nothing else I can do."
Faafoi has previously said suspending EOI selections was considered the "most pragmatic approach" because of a sharp rise in residency applications over the past few years.
He said the Government acknowledged the impact the suspension was having on individuals in the queue, and they were working through advice on how best to reopen selection.
Last month Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern signalled the stalled residency application queue was next on the Government's to-do list, with decisions for those in the residency queue in "short order".
To legally remain in the country, the engineer has paid a further $1200 for a work visa but says he's not surprised migrants are making the choice to quit New Zealand altogether.
In June regional GP Dr Harding Richards, who had 1300 patients on his books, left New Zealand after a year in limbo, unable to even apply for residency.
Emails shown to the Herald revealed Richards' employer had pleaded with Immigration NZ for the chance to meet and make the case for the doctor's residency to be considered.
In August a Taumarunui family of skilled workers told the Herald they were considering moving to Auckland for a better chance of meeting the salary threshold to have their application fast-tracked.
As at September 13, 11,541 people in New Zealand were in the queue for residency. There were 69 in the priority queue.
The Herald has asked MBIE to provide figures around the number of people who have applied for their residency applications to be fast-tracked since the pandemic began.
They have declined to release this information, saying it would take too much time to collate.