Part 2 – The Visa Process

Our “story” of the Visa Process

DISCLAIMER: There are a lot of different visas to choose from if you are looking to move in New Zealand.  We recommend you reach out to immigration directly for questions based on your specific circumstances.   We wanted to be open and share our story so people could get an idea of the process we went through, even though your experience will probably differ.

They say age is just a number.  I will agree with that to some extent but not when it comes to applying for a New Zealand visa.  Our “number” indicates we are old.  If our number was less than 30 we would have been able to apply for a working holiday visa.  This would allow us to work and travel through New Zealand for up to 12 months (23 months if we were from the UK).  From what I have read, the process is pretty straightforward and doesn’t take much time to get approved.

We also learned of a Silver Fern Visa that is available during certain times of the year.  There are only 300 visas available and you apply online through a lottery.  From stories I have read it seems a lot like trying to buy concert tickets through Ticketmaster.  You wait at your computer and log on at the exact date/time, complete the necessary info, and click submit while crossing your fingers.

The Silver Fern Visa allows you to work in NZ for up to 9 months.  You can’t include partners or children on the application so that means we would have had to find and apply for a separate visa in the event both of us didn’t get one.  Regardless, during the time we were starting the visa process the Silver Fern Visa wasn’t available as an option.

Anthony found the resident visa under the skilled migrant category in December 2015 when he was looking for engineering jobs abroad.  There are some professional skills that are in need in New Zealand and engineering is one.

There are a lot of steps involved when applying for this type of visa.  We knew selling our house and obtaining the visas were the two main goals so we had to try to time each accordingly.  Based on the information we researched and where we were with plans for selling the house, we began the visa process in March 2016.

The first step in the skilled migrant visa process is to submit an EOI (Expression of Interest).  This is a detailed questionnaire that Anthony had to complete (since it is based on his skills) in order to determine a point value as to whether we met the criteria to be considered to even apply for this type of visa.  We submitted our EOI on 3/11/16.  Some of the criteria included on the EOI are education, English proficiency, work experience, confirm we are under age 55 and healthy, etc.  The EOI’s are normally reviewed every 2 weeks.  Based on timing of when we submitted the EOI, we received the EOI approval and invitation to apply on 3/17/16.

The invitation to apply (ITA) is based on the points you receive from the EOI.  If you have points of 140 or more you are automatically invited to apply.  If you have points between 100-135 points you are able to submit an EOI but it is based on demand so you may not be selected initially from the pool.  (You know your point value when you complete and submit the EOI.  If you don’t reach 140 points you don’t have to submit the EOI if you don’t wish to have to wait in the pool.)

The EOI is almost like the bouncer at a bar.  If you have enough points he’ll let you “in.”  If you have points between 100-135 he will let you stand outside and wait until the bar isn’t too crowded and will then let you “in.”  The “in” of the visa process is getting the Invitation to Apply.  In the visa process world, the bouncer let us get out of the cold and elements but he hasn’t let us into the actual bar area. We need to prove everything we indicated on the EOI is true before we can order any drinks and get into the actual bar area.

Since we got the ITA, our next step was to review the Application for Residence under the Skilled Migrant category.  It was pre-populated with the information provided in the EOI.  We now had to provide “proof” of everything that Anthony indicated in the EOI.  This included items such as birth certificates, passports, marriage certificates, information to indicate Anthony and I have been (and are) in a committed relationship, college transcripts, FBI background checks, English-speaking ability, proof of skilled employment, and results of medical exam completed by a doctor on the approved list of panel physicians for New Zealand.  We had 4 months to compile this information and submit the application along with paying the applicable fees.  Based on this type of visa I am considered Anthony’s partner so my information had to be included in the process.  A partner doesn’t necessarily have to be a spouse.  For purposes of this visa you do not have to be married to receive the partner visa as long as you can prove you are in the committed relationship.  (Way to go New Zealand!  I’m glad you aren’t super-traditional and making people conform to the institution of marriage in order to be a partner.  Link to blog on my feeling on marriage.)

We read that it could take up to 6 months to get an FBI background check completed from our request so we opted to get an FBI Channeler, which helps expedite the delivery.  We used Inquiries, Inc.   We paid $55/each to get an emailed copy and mailed copy of the results.  We could have paid $45/per person to get the emailed copy only but I can be a little neurotic and wanted to ensure we had both¸ just in case.  FYI – the emailed copy and the mailed copy were exactly the same so no need to spend the extra $10.  We had to send 2 sets of fingerprint cards in order to get the completed background check.  Our local police department was able to do this for free for us since we were residents.  Otherwise it would have cost $25/per person.

We were fortunate that there was a panel physician in Pittsburgh that completed our medical exam.  Anthony and I were able to get appointments on the same day/time.  We had to complete an eye exam, get blood taken, complete a physical, and get a chest x-ray.  The doctor office was very familiar with the process and was able to submit the paperwork electronically to immigration.  We completed the paper forms prior to our appointment so we were familiar with what we would be required to provide the doctor.  The panel physicians used to have to complete the forms by hand and mail them to the immigration office prior to going electronic.

It took us a little over a month to compile and finalize the needed information for the application.  Since we are US citizens we dealt with the New Zealand immigration office in London.   Here are some key dates throughout the process.

4/30/16 – We mailed the application and supporting documentation.  It had a guarantee delivery date of 5/5/16.

5/6/16 – Package was signed for and officially received at the UK Immigration Office.

5/25/16 – Our immigration officer, Cameron, was assigned.

6/8/16 – Anthony had an interview with the immigration officer.  He woke up at 2:30 AM EST to have the call during the early business hours in London.  The interview asked specifically about Anthony’s skills since his employer only provided job title information and dates of employment.  He also asked about what support network we would have in NZ, jobs we were looking to get, finances, etc.  The immigration officer had to work with Anthony’s HR department to get more detailed job description and skill information before he could make his recommendation.  Once he received the information he indicated that it would take him approximately 2 weeks to get the recommendation submitted.  It would then move to the second tier of immigration and their review would take approximately 2-4 weeks.  Overall, he indicated the process should take 4-6 weeks.

6/29/16 – Anthony’s HR Department forwarded info to immigration.  Since Anthony worked for a government contractor there is always red tape to get information released to the “outside world,” even though everything being provided was public knowledge.

7/27/16 – We followed up with Cameron because we hadn’t heard anything.  Anthony had sent him an email once he knew HR sent over the needed information and he didn’t hear back.  (In Cameron’s defense, Anthony didn’t ask for a response.)  Cameron indicated that he was out on sick leave but did receive the information from HR.  He still had to review it so it would be approximately 4-6 weeks.  Long story short is nothing happened with our application between 6/29 and 7/27.

8/9/16 – Cameron emailed informing us that he submitted his recommendation.  (This was a good sign because at this point we knew his recommendation was either the resident visa or a temporary visa.  If we weren’t getting a visa it wouldn’t have had to go through quality check.)  He indicated that, on average, quality check was taking 2 weeks to be completed.

8/11/16 – Anthony had reached out to TTS (TT Visa Services, LTD) on 8/8/16 since he hadn’t heard back from Cameron.  TTS handles general inquiries, and we had reached out to them with questions earlier in the process.  They responded on this date to inform us that we were approved in principle.  We weren’t exactly sure what this meant so we had to do a bit of research.

8/18/16 – We received the official email that our resident visa under the skilled migrant category was approved in principle.  This meant that we had to mail our passports and a courier fee to London to get the visas put in our passports.  While we pretty much knew this was the case based on the response from TTS it is so much sweeter to get the official notification!

8/19/16 – Mailed our passports and courier fee to London with a guaranteed arrival by 8/23/16.

9/1/16 – The courier fee hit our credit card so we knew our passports and visas were being sent back to us!

9/2/16 – Our passports and visas are in the US.  We missed the delivery by 40 minutes.  Since it was a holiday weekend we had to wait until 9/6/16 for delivery.

9/6/16 – I didn’t leave the house all day because I didn’t want to miss the delivery.  5:00 PM came and went so I started losing hope that the package would be delivered that day.  Anthony was on the phone with DHL customer service when the van pulled up at about 5:25 PM.  The visas had arrived.  It was official that we had New Zealand resident visas in hand!

As a side note, here are the 3 possible outcomes with this type of visa submission.

  1. Approval of the resident visa – Skilled Migrant (this was our approval)
  2. Temporary visa approval – we would be given temporary visas that would allow us up to 6 months to be in country to apply and find jobs. Once we found jobs they would “reopen” our case to reevaluate to determine if we would be approved for the resident visa.
  3. No approval

With the resident visa, we are allowed to work and travel throughout New Zealand indefinitely.  During the first 2 years we are able to travel outside of New Zealand and come back as residents.  After 2 years we will not be able to travel outside of New Zealand and return as residents.  We will need to apply for a permanent resident visa or some other visa to return.  If we don’t leave New Zealand after 2 years, we can still stay¸ travel throughout the country, and work indefinitely.

Here is a list of milestone dates and costs:

Milestone date Skilled Migrant Resident Visa Cost
3/11/2016 EOI submitted $360.00
3/17/2016 EOI Approval $0.00
3/25/2016 Fingerprints $0.00
3/27/2016 FBI Check – Anth $55.00
3/27/2016 FBI Check – Kristy $55.00
3/31/2016 FBI results emailed $0.00
4/5/2016 Mail FBI results – Anth $0.00
4/6/2016 Mail FBI results – Kristy $0.00
4/8/2016 Kristy College transcripts $6.00
4/11/2016 Medical exam $485.00
4/11/2016 Medical exam $485.00
4/30/2016 Mailed visa app $65.00
4/30/2016 cost of visa $2,140.00
5/6/2016 Service Fee $24.00
5/6/2016 Courier Fee $16.00
6/8/2016 Anth interview $0.00
8/9/2016 Immigration submitted recommendation $0.00
8/18/2016 Email resident visas approved in principal $0.00
8/19/2016 Mailed passports $76.00
9/1/2016 Courier Fee $16.00
Total $3,783.00

Based on the information we saw, this visa appears to be more costly than a lot of others.  This is because this is a resident visa and we will get some benefits that you don’t receive from a temporary visa.  We went through the entire process on our own, however, you can pay to have a licensed immigration advisor work with you to complete the process.

Here are some websites that we found helpful through our process:

New Zealand Now: Working and Living in New Zealand

New Zealand immigration

TTSERVICE New Zealand

At the post office mailing the visa application
At the post office mailing the visa application
The visa application and documents we sent to immigration. This doesn't even include the 50+ pages that were sent electronically for our medical exams.
The visa application and documents we sent to immigration. This doesn’t even include the 50+ pages that were sent electronically for our medical exams.

Jobs and Visas

The first question we get most often is, why New Zealand?  The question that immediately follows is, do you have jobs?

That brings us to the topic of applying for the visa and applying for jobs.  For the skilled migrant visa, you get a lot of points if you have a job offer when you apply for the visa.  If you meet the other criteria and have a skilled employment job offer, it seems as though it is almost a guarantee to be granted the visa (based on what we’ve learned and our opinion).  However, when you apply for jobs in New Zealand you have to indicate if you have a visa/are eligible to work in NZ.  Most jobs will indicate that you cannot apply if you don’t have a visa.  With having a background in HR, I knew securing a job prior to having a visa was going to be difficult.  Therefore, we took the route to secure the visa before the job.  We aren’t saying this is the best way.  This is just the option we chose.

When we started looking into New Zealand I told Anthony I was 100% on board if he got a job offer before we moved.  As we researched more, we learned that most employers want to meet applicants face-to-face so being in New Zealand is the best way to get a job.  Sometimes you just need to go with the flow and see how things turn out.