Tripping Up on Online Visa Applications
Tripping Up on Online Visa Applications
Would anyone, especially anyone like me who has suffered a computer melt-down, argue with the proposition that: The Internet is wonderful until it is not?
Likewise, we could say that the ability to apply for a visa through the Immigration New Zealand’s online system is a convenience both for applicants and Immigration New Zealand.
For immigration lawyers and immigration advisers it can be a cumbersome process, particularly when a client comes to you after they have initiated an online application through another lawyer or adviser, who used their personal Real Me account to commence the visa application process online.
Clearly, no one should handover their Real Me account details - this would give an adviser access to nearly all of a client's interactions with the NZ Government. But where does that leave us? Often we are forced to start from scratch and re-enter the information, delaying the process and incurring further fees for our clients.
This exposes a clear flaw in the current design of Immigration New Zealand’s online system. I suggest that advisers should have a separate log in that gives them access to their client’s online visa applications. Alternatively, Immigration New Zealand should have its own, distinct verification and online visa application lodgement system separate from Real Me.
Another problem with the online application forms is that they do not provide a mechanism for an applicant to explain the nuances of his/her situation, for instance where an applicant’s second marriage is not legally recognized in New Zealand but is valid in another country. How do you record the client’s relationship status?
It is reassuring to see that our colleagues across the Tasman, in Australia, are struggling with the same technical issues with their equivalent online visa applications lodgement system (ImmiAccount).
An Australian Federal Court case decided in January this year Salama v Minister for Immigration and Border Protection (2017) FCA 2 (9 January 2017) provides a graphic illustration of the downside of Internet visa applications.
In this case, there was a question in the online form which required the visa holder to provide his relationship status. And a pop-up explanation on the electronic form indicated that an applicant should select the term that ‘best described’ her or his status.
The difficulty for the visa holder was that his marriage to his second wife, entered into before he was divorced from his Australian wife/sponsor, was valid in Egypt but invalid in Australia. So what was the correct characterisation of his current relationship status? There was no facility to record this information. So the visa holder indicated that he was divorced in the online form.
This response did not sit well with the Australian Department of Immigration and Border Protection. The Immigration department proceeded to cancel the visa holder’s visa, on the basis that his answer that he was ‘divorced’ was not correct.
Similarly we have seen Immigration New Zealand refuse visa applications on the basis of 'incorrect' responses made, for example, in online Skilled Migrant Category Expression of Interest applications.
Here are some lessons which I suggest can be drawn:
- Immigration New Zealand cross-references the answers provided by applicants between different visa applications. So it is really (really!) important that the answers provided on one application form be completely truthful and consistent with other applications made by the same applicant.
- The online visa application forms do not accommodate subtlety, complexity or nuance. They are binary in asking for “yes/no” type answers. Therefore, in situations where there is a lack of clarity, or where a simple “yes/no” type answer might not adequately characterise the facts, it is a great idea to communicate directly and immediately with Immigration New Zealand to provide detailed explanations and to provide the subtlety, nuance and complexity so that your client is not faced with unpleasant and unnecessary action from Immigration New Zealand. A cover letter uploaded with any online visa application can often help, but a follow up phone call never hurts.
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Disclaimer: This article should not be used as a substitute for immigration / legal advice tailored for your specific circumstances.