National MP Erica Stanford says Immigration NZ has "been on a deliberate go-slow" when it comes to processing residency applications, and could easily process more.
The problem is the Government won't let them, she said on Saturday.
"That is the one single biggest thing that holds Immigration NZ back," Stanford, the party's immigration spokesperson, told Newshub Nation. "They work to a target, and they have been on a deliberate go-slow to meet that low target. If you just up the target, they'll meet that target."
There are about 30,000 people currently in the queue, and thousands more waiting to get on the queue. Residency applications were frozen as the pandemic hit last year, leaving thousands in limbo. Some are now leaving the country, frustrated by the delays - right when employers are screaming out for labour, with unemployment dropping to just 4 percent.
Immigration Minister Kris Faafoi earlier this year said they were frozen because "the numbers of applications that were coming in were way larger than were expected and the ability to process them in a timely manner was blown out".
"It's a crisis for the migrant communities who have been here in New Zealand contributing to our economy and our society," said Stanford. "It's also a complete crisis for our businesses who are losing staff and who can't attract new staff."
The problems began before COVID, she said, when the Labour-led Government invited "multiple thousands of people into the country, more so than they ever have before", but reduced the number of residency places available. Stanford acknowledged that National also threw open the border, but at the same time "upped the number of points that you needed to get residence" to reduce the number of would-be applicants.
"We sent a message to the world: actually, if you want to come to New Zealand, this is the bar you have to cross. We upped it, we pulled one lever as we adjusted the other. These guys did exactly the opposite - they reduced the number of residency places available, but invited hundreds of thousands of people to the country without changing that level. Everyone came in expecting to get residence."
Faafoi declined Newshub Nation's request for an interview, but has in the past said officials were trying to process the existing applications "as fast as we can".
National has proposed giving visas to all migrants who were here when the borders shut, in recognition of their contribution to New Zealand through the pandemic. The Greens have also proposed a form of amnesty.
"This is a government that prides itself on kindness and fairness.. how is this kind or fair, or do anything for the wellbeing of our country?" said Stanford.
"We're talking about people who came to New Zealand with an expectation of getting residence in a certain period of time. When we left office that wsa between six and nine months - that has now blown out to three years. These people are here, they're working in industries that either Kiwis don't want to work in or we can't find workers in."
She said later this year she'll be getting together with "iwi, chambers of commerce, sector leads, immigration specialists and lawyers" to find innovative ways to fix the "bottle-necked" system.
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