Some foreigners should be able to apply for New Zealand visas online, this year. The online channel will eventually become the only option, Immigration Minister Michael Woodhouse says.The Labour Department is spending $80 million on a new computer system, the Immigration Global Management System (IGMS), which will let it centralise decision-making and offer more online services.Kiwi company, Datacom won the contract to build IGMS in January last year. IGMS was on track to be completed by the end of 2015, Woodhouse told Parliament's transport and industrial relations select committee.By the end of 2017, the department's goal was that 70 per cent of visas applications would be received online. Several Immigration branch offices - possibly including those in Hamilton and Queenstown - will be closed as a result of the changes, which will result in job losses. Offices in Sydney and Dunedin will be replaced with "visa acceptance centres". Woodhouse said about 10 per cent of Immigration staff left the service each year and he expected most job losses would be through "natural attrition". The investment in IGMS was first proposed by the Labour government in 2007 after a Thai national working for Immigration New Zealand in Bangkok had been caught swindling thousands of dollars from Cambodian visa applicants in 2003. A subsequent auditor-general's report found flaws in the department's ability to prevent and detect identity fraud.The new system will let migrants and other visa applicants check the progress of their applications online. It is hoped it will also speed up visa processing. Immigration has contracted out the job of receiving paper documentation and payments from people who apply for visas overseas.Woodhouse said a tender would soon go out for a provider that would process visa applications lodged within New Zealand by people who could not transact online.The decision on whether to grant visas would in all cases still be made by Immigration staff, he said.
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