Immigration New Zealand's new complaints procedure will be able to adjudicate on poor grammar, tasteless office decor and rudeness, but not unfairness in visa decision-making processes, according to an immigration lawyer.
The new process will be launched later this month following two reports which detailed criticism by immigrants and their advisers about giving feedback, having it investigated and receiving a response.
A review commissioned in 2014 showed more than half of respondents were dissatisfied with the complaints procedure and only 13 percent were satisfied.
Immigration lawyer Richard Small, who is a director of the Association of Migration and Investment (NZAMI), said Immigration New Zealand dragged its feet in implementing the review's recommendations and now seemed to be rolling back the scope of what people could complain about.
"It is most unfortunate that INZ did not consult with users or advisers over the principles of its new process before implementing it," he said.
"It would be a shame if INZ accepted complaints about the style of its website, the decor of its offices, poor grammar in letters and rudeness, but did not allow any complaints about actual visa processing.
"Presumably lessons can only be learnt about visa processing, INZ's core function, if complaints are accepted about visa processing."
Immigration New Zealand said it would address specific complaints about the process immigration officers followed.
General manager Stephen Dunstan said the Client Complaint Resolution Process (CCRP) provided customers with an accessible, straightforward avenue to seek resolution of a complaint about the service they received.
"As a result of a review of CCRP commissioned in 2014, a new IT system and supporting team is scheduled to be launched later this month. Changes include a new central feedback team to receive, triage, acknowledge and allocate customer complaints and feedback, an online feedback page where INZ customers can submit feedback or a complaint [and] a new name, the Complaints and Feedback Process.
"INZ consulted extensively on the review, including with NZAMI. Complaints of breach of instructions where those instructions relate to the processes an immigration officer needs to follow will be investigated under the new complaints process if they are determined to be specific and evidenced."
But Mr Small said the process and the decision-making were intertwined, and the agency's response seemed to be a whittling-down of the principles in the complaints process.
The Office of the Ombudsman is now considering a complaint Mr Small has made about the new process.
Thousands of complaints over two years
The 2014 review of the agency's complaints resolution service found 2326 people complained between July 2012 and June 2014.
None of the staff the review team spoke with, including the complaints co-ordinator, had received formal induction or training on the procedure.
The Chief Ombudsman also weighed in, saying his office was receiving complaints about the complaints process itself.
That review followed an inquiry in 2009 by the Auditor-General, which highlighted difficulties that people faced in making complaints about Immigration New Zealand.