The National Trade Academy (NTA) has put its plans for a dairy farm training school at the Oamaru Airport on hold because of processing delays caused by international visa office closures.
Plans to establish the school, next to the NTA-affiliated New Zealand Airline Academy, were announced in August last year. It was due to open in March this year, but the NTA had not been able to fill classes, managing director Craig Musson said.
The issues arose when six overseas visa processing offices were closed by Immigration New Zealand last year, Mr Musson said.
Typically, about 25% of students at the NTA dairy courses were international, he said.
Without them, NTA was focusing on its courses in Christchurch, rather than expanding its operations, he said.
The closures had led to a backlog of applications, and changes to the way visas were issued, as much of the processing done overseas was now undertaken in New Zealand, he said.
“What was acceptable in the offshore offices all of a sudden became not acceptable onshore,” Mr Musson said.
“We haven’t been able to get enough visas approved to satisfy us that we would be able to get enough students to enrol in the course in Oamaru.
“I am struggling to get enough [students] for our courses in Christchurch, whereas this time last year they were full two or three months in advance.
“At the moment, I can’t commit staff and equipment and leasing buildings until I can satisfy that I can get enough students.”
Ministry of Immigration border and visa operations acting general manager John Gilray said the visa processing office closures consolidated services and introduced an enhanced risk and verification model.
“This change, coupled with higher than forecast volume growth and other factors, did put significant pressure on the processing of some types of visas,” Mr Gilray said.
The streamlining of services meant some applications were submitted without all the required information, he said.
Mr Musson has been in contact with Immigration New Zealand, and said he was hopeful the issues could be resolved in the coming weeks.
“We all had to re-look at how we are doing things and meet the new requirements,” Mr Musson said.
“It’s taken time; it doesn’t happen overnight.”
Mr Musson also feared the delays could lead to labour shortages for dairy farmers.
There was no shortage of people overseas who wanted to take the training courses and farmers were “crying out for staff”, he said.
“We had a good response from farmers in the Waitaki district who are waiting to start the programme.”
Students would be taught the basics of dairy farming during 12-week courses, preparing them to help fill labour shortages on farms in Canterbury and Otago.