Opinion: Why have EOIs been paused, and what might happen next?

(written by Alain Koetsier, Licensed Immigration Adviser)

A question that seems to be on everyone’s lips: When will Expression of Interest selections restart for the Skilled Migrant Category?

The short answer is that nobody knows. The last EOI selection took place on 18 March 2020, and shortly thereafter it was announced that there would be no further selections for at least six months. When that six-month period was up in October 2020, the deferral was extended another six months. That deadline came and went, with no official announcement since then, and the situation remains as uncertain as ever.

Nonetheless, we have made a few predictions based on recent trends we’ve observed.


Is reopening the Skilled Migrant Category an urgent priority for the New Zealand government?

According to the government, yes. However, given that selections have been closed for 17 months, it is difficult to reconcile their words with their actions.

There have been multiple announcements from the Minister of Immigration that a decision on EOI selections is in its final stages. To give just one example, here is a news article reporting that the government is due to make a decision “soon” – the article is dated 13 April 2021. Four months later, we are still waiting.

In other statements, the Minister has said that “A review of the skilled migrant category is one of my priorities for this term” – if one presumes that restarting EOI selections is tied to the new immigration settings, then this means that a ‘priority’ decision should be due sometime within the 2020 – 2023 parliamentary term.

A significant development occurred in May 2021, when the Minister decided to seek advice from the Productivity Commission on what the best immigration settings would be to maximise New Zealand’s long-term economic growth. The Productivity Commission report is currently being prepared, and will not be completed until 30 April 2022.

Since it is highly likely that the findings of this report will inform any future SMC policy settings, it is our view that EOI selections will remain closed until after the report has been submitted to the Minister in April of next year. We are not aware of any urgent circumstances that would motivate the government to restart selections before the report is issued (or at least, no circumstances that are more urgent now than they have been for the past 17 months).

To emphasise: our prediction that the deferral will last into mid-2022 is just speculation – this is not based on official announcement, and we may be wrong.


What reasons have been given for the closure of EOI selections?

Though no official explanation has been given, on 05 August 2021 the Minister had this to say in a television interview:

“We took the decision early last year to suspend the expressions of interest […] we’re still going through residency applications roughly at the same rate we were pre-COVID […] We made the decision to suspend because of two reasons: 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 […] and also some of the capacity that we usually use for the processing of Skilled Migrant Category or residency applications had to be used to process Critical Purpose Visas […] Immigration [New Zealand] is under pressure [due to COVID-19], but as we said earlier this week we’re going to be making some decisions very soon about how we can deal with the queue and get on with making sure we can give these people some certainty.

According to the Minister, two factors have forced him to close Skilled Migrant Category EOIs:

  1. there was an unusually large number of applications in the last few years; and
  2. COVID-19 has caused capacity issues in Immigration New Zealand’s ability to process SMC. But he assures us that the speed of decision-making is at pre-COVID levels.

Let’s look at published statistics to see if these claims are true:

Let’s address the first claim: that processing times exploded because demand for SMC has been unusually high in the last few years. This was explanation was also used by the previous Minister of Immigration when processing first started to slow, but the claim is incorrect: in the 2018-2019 financial year, 23,094 SMC applications were lodged, compared to 31,575 in 2015-2016. Yet in 2016, when demand for SMC was at its all-time high, waiting two years for a residence decision was utterly unthinkable.

Let’s now address the claim that decision-making capacity is still running at pre-COVID levels. We went from 10,072 decisions in 2017-18, to just 5979 in 2020-21, representing a 41% drop in processing efficiency. We are clearly not deciding SMC visas at pre-COVID levels.

Finally, let’s look at the claim that processing delays can be attributed to COVID-19. If you match current data with important recent events, you will see that poor decision-making in 2018 caused this crisis. It has nothing to do with COVID-19:

From December 2018 to September 2019, the number of undecided applications on-hand doubled in just 8 months, long before we had even heard of COVID-19.

So what exactly caused the backlog? The reason is surprisingly simple: it is due to the previous Minister’s June 2018 decision to slash the 18-month residence targets from 85-95,000 per 18-month period to just 50-60,000, yet fail to adjust immigration settings to ensure that the number of eligible applicants would correspondingly decrease. What resulted was a vast imbalance: the artificially suppressed supply of residence could not keep up with natural demand.

Another thing we take away from the data: if the goal of suspending EOI selections was to clear the application backlog, the move has been largely unsuccessful: while the number of on-hand applications has decreased significantly, it would take years to clear the backlog at this rate.

Note that the 2018 planning range (the Residence Programme) expired on 31 December 2019, and has not been updated since: in other words, INZ is still operating today based on 2018 targets, absent any direction from the Minister of Immigration for the last 20 months. We remain shackled to the disastrous 2018 Residence Programme, which the government seems unwilling to update.


How strict will the new SMC requirements be when selections restart?

If you’ve read the above explanations, you might have an idea already. There are three possibilities:

  1. The government will make modest increases to requirements, and increase residence targets to ensure supply matches demand;
  2. The government will keep current residence targets, and drastically increase requirements to ensure supply matches demand;
  3. The government will maintain its current mismatch between supply and demand, resulting in a continued residence backlog.

We will refrain from speculating at this stage – when the Productivity Commission report is released next year we should have a better idea.


Should you submit an EOI now, or wait until an announcement is made?

Very broadly speaking, we cannot make an informed recommendation on either course of action: there is no apparent advantage to submitting an EOI at this stage, but there is no apparent disadvantage to doing so either.

Your EOI will not expire as long as selections remain paused. Note that there are currently over 11,000 EOIs in the pool awaiting selection.


How might the government manage the overfilled EOI pool?

Of the 11,000+ EOIs currently in the pool, a significant portion will not lead to ITAs as they will become ineligible once residence requirements are tightened. However, there will remain a large number of EOIs that continue to meet new requirements.

How the government plans to manage the EOI pool is the area we are least certain about.

The current system of automatically issuing ITAs to any EOI with sufficient points is unlikely to be tenable, as it could lead to thousands of people applying at the same time.

It is possible that the government will lapse the entire EOI pool and refund all EOI application fees, as they are currently doing for many undecided offshore temporary visa applications submitted during the pandemic. It is also possible that INZ will keep all EOIs in the pool and issue a limited number of ITAs in each selection cycle, for instance drawing the 200 EOIs with the highest points score. This is roughly how the Investor 2 Category EOI pool is managed, though capped EOI draws would likely be problematic for the much larger Skilled Migrant Category EOI pool, given the sheer number of expressions that are submitted every week.

Another possibility is that a certain portion of EOIs will be drawn from the pool in sequential order, ie. on a ‘first-come-first-serve’ basis. If this is the case, it would be a strong argument for submitting your EOI now, so that you can get your place in the queue. However, we consider this relatively unlikely, as it would effectively create a ‘queue to get into the queue’ and lead to highly skilled, highly paid workers being given lower priority than others who applied before them.

As stated, we are very unsure about which direction the government will take, but it seems that ‘clearing the pool’ would be the simplest way to be rid of the highly anomalous glut of EOIs we have now.


Frequently Asked Questions

If I submit my EOI now, will my future application be assessed according to current immigration requirements?

No. Submitting the EOI today does not ‘freeze’ your eligibility, ie. force Immigration New Zealand to assess your future application based on what the requirements were on the date you submitted your EOI.

EOIs will be selected from the pool based on requirements on the date of the selection draw; the residence application will be assessed based on the date the application is made. In short, the date of EOI submission has no material effect on your eligibility for the visa. For example, if you can claim 160 points today (the current minimum required for SMC residence), but by the next draw the points requirement has increased to 180, then your EOI will not be selected.

Can I submit an EOI now, and edit it later when the requirements change?

Yes, though we would recommend getting professional advice if you plan on doing this.

It is possible, in theory, to add points to the EOI after it is submitted by editing the online form. For example, if you have 3 years and 9 months of skilled work experience, you can claim 10 points in the EOI for now (claiming more than 2 years’ experience but less than 4). Three months later, when you have accumulated 4 years’ experience, you can claim an additional 10 points (claiming more than 4 years’ experience but less than 6).

However, please note that we neither encourage nor discourage strategically editing a submitted EOI – INZ will have a record of any changes you have made to the form, and the appropriateness of editing your submitted EOI depends on your individual circumstances. Please get in touch with us to find out more.

I haven’t sat my IELTS test yet, but plan to do so soon. Can I submit my EOI before sitting my IELTS test?

This is highly inadvisable. If you do this, you could later be accused of falsely declaring in the EOI form that you had met English language requirements on the date you submitted the EOI. False declarations are grounds for visa decline, and can present character issues in future visa applications.



We at Choose New Zealand are all about positivity and we take great pleasure in helping our clients to reach happy outcomes in their residence pathway. It is not in our interest to promote pessimism towards the New Zealand immigration system, the system on which we depend. However, we will always commit to being direct to you and not make false promises or create unrealistic expectations.

We are regrettably unable to provide concrete information on when EOI selections will reopen, or make expert recommendations on whether you should submit an EOI now or wait for further news.

If you choose to submit your EOI now, we recommend getting professional assistance, as the way you complete the EOI form could have an impact on the application later on.

Please keep in mind that our predictions here are just that: predictions. It is possible that we are wrong, and that EOI selections will restart a week after this essay is published! We hope everyone can remain positive in these difficult times, and that your decision to Choose New Zealand as a migration destination will one day prove to be a wise one.


Disclaimer: This post reflects our personal opinions only, and is not based on official government announcements. There has not been any official decision on the date EOI selections will restart. Our opinions here are not immigration advice as defined in the Immigration Advisers Licensing Act 2007, and we do not accept legal liability for any inaccuracies present in this text. Please contact us if you would like us to assess your individual circumstances.

If you wish to calculate your EOI points, you can use our EOI Indicator here

Book your next consultation with one of our Licensed Immigration Advisers.

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