My first news item to you isn’t what I expected to be writing about, but I suppose that is indicative of the industry we find ourselves in. I’ll say this for the world of immigration though – no two days are ever alike.

And so it is that we are faced with our current hot topic of the day: medical referrals.

To set the scene, allow me to first (in the shortest way possible) give you an idea of how we get to the stage of a medical referral for a work visa application.

When you need to apply for a work visa, we need to ensure that all your documents are in order first and foremost (no point in applying for a job that catches your eye in New Zealand if you don’t have your paperwork in order). As any of our clients will tell you, that’s one of the first things we run through with them.

Part of what comprises these documents that are sent along with your application to Immigration New Zealand (INZ) are the medical examinations that all applicants need to undergo. This entails the standard battery of tests such as chest x-rays, liver function tests, your blood count, cholesterol, BMI and so on and so forth. These tests are done in order to confirm that the potential migrant has an acceptable standard of health. No arguments from me on this point, so far so good.

However, if an aspect of your medical examination appears to raise a flag (a high blood count for instance, or a person falling out of the acceptable range for the BMI) then the medical can be flagged for a referral to a team of Medical Assessors (MA’s for short).

Now here’s where we find our proverbial spanner in the works, as well as what is making Licensed Advisers, New Zealand employers, applicants and INZ case officers either turn grey or pull our hair out (or both)

Medical referrals are currently taking 10 weeks (yes, TEN weeks) to be finalised. As you can imagine, this can cause frustrations for employers in New Zealand wanting to get their skilled applicants working as soon as possible.

All referrals are placed in a global queue from the moment they are submitted (and when I say ‘global queue’ I’m referring to applications from around the world to INZ are all queued in order of when they were referred – it has nothing to do with the type of visa being applied for, or the company or the country that the person is from).

The other point to take note of is that the Medical Assessor team is only made up of 4 doctors.

But the main issue we believe is resulting in such delays is as follows:

–  Previously, when medicals were submitted to INZ, they were either marked as ‘No Significant Findings’; ‘Abnormal But Not Significant Findings’; and ‘Significant Findings’

–  The INZ case officers themselves could then view the medicals and use their experience and discretion to discern whether or not a medical needed to be referred to the medical assessor.

– These days, INZ case officers no longer view the medicals, due to the fact that all medicals are now submitted electronically. The medicals are then sent to a Health Assessment Team (HAT)

– What appears to be making things difficult is that where previously the examination grading offered the previous 3 outcomes as mentioned above, it now only offers two outcomes: ‘No significant history and abnormal findings’; or ‘Significant history or abnormal findings present’.

This results in a myriad of medicals all being sent the way of the MA’s, but some of them would not have been referred on to them in the old days.

I have had countless meetings and discussions with INZ regarding this (as have other offshore and onshore-based licensed advisers) but I’m afraid there is nothing any one can do except wait out the process.

Immigration New Zealand appear to acknowledge there is a fault on their side of things and we are asked to inform our clients and their employers accordingly (so don’t shoot the messenger).

Look, with any new system there are going to be some teething problems, and I can tell you that INZ are at great pains to rectify this, as these referrals have an impact on their productivity levels too. Unfortunately this is something clients don’t seem to understand – some even believe they are ‘specifically targeted’. Nothing could be further from the truth.

These delays in the medical referrals are affecting everybody – again, it doesn’t matter which adviser you use; or what country you are applying from; or how big or small your NZ employing company is – the reality is that the MA’s have no knowledge of such factors nor are they concerned with any of those things. All they concern themselves with are the medical results.

As a Licensed Adviser, I see both sides of the story: on the one hand we want our clients’ work visa applications to be approved so that they can start work in New Zealand and get that one step closer to residency; on the other, I see that INZ are making genuine attempts to resolve this – I just wish they thought this through properly.

I have though been informed by one of the Immigration Managers that they have tasked their support teams to schedule daily checks of the Immigration Health system so that they can identify any change to status and at the same token also update the client if there is no feedback.

There is also a drive to prioritise and fast track medicals for the skills New Zealand needs but I’m told that priority may still mean a couple of weeks processing times once a client has responded to any repeat tests the MA’s may request (and certainly does depend on the volumes).

So there you have it. If you know of anyone who is currently experiencing a severe delay on their work visa application, it’s probably due to these referrals.

Whilst we all share the frustrations of this, I have to stress that there really is nothing we can do until the system sorts itself out.

If you’re one of the applicants affected by this delay, you and your employer will obviously not like this current scenario. But neither do we, nor do the specific INZ case officers working on your case.

We’re all in this quagmire together, but I’m a positive kind of guy – I believe there will be some light at the end of this tunnel we all find ourselves in….someday!

Adviser Number 201300670