As employers grapple with visa delays, Immigration New Zealand is blaming its slow processing times on unforeseen demand.
Ninety percent of applications for an essential skills work visa are taking three months or longer to process - sparking concern from Education New Zealand as well as local business owners.
Restaurateur and entrepreneur Fleur Caulton of Go To Collection owns nine restaurants including the Madam Woo chain, and said her businesses' need for immigrant workers was "just becoming greater and greater".
But she said her company - and others in the hospitality industry - was getting sick of the delays.
Ms Caulton said the Madam Woo Takapuna branch hired a new manager in February, but were left in limbo until June due to visa delays.
It put both the employee and the restaurant in a very difficult position as the manager could not earn money while she waited - and having received her signed contract, the restaurant could not legally hire anyone else, she said.
Business NZ Immigration Manager Rachel Simpson said it was the same story up and down the country with a range of businesses.
"All of the industries we know are struggling with this," she said.
It came as the country's unemployment fell to 4.2 percent and labour shortages became prevalent in horticulture, age care and other industries.
But the reality was "no businesses looking to immigration is the first port of call for recruiting staff," even though it was essential that they were able to get more people into their industry, she said.
"Consistency, timeliness and communication around what's going on, is really important for the immigration process."
Immigration New Zealand Assistant General Manager Peter Elms said the delays could be attributed to increasing volumes of visa applications having "far exceeded the the forecasts".
"Over the last two years, we're averaging over 8 percent year-on-year growth in visa volumes. And that was against an original forecast of 3 percent," he said.
In the top five areas occupations listed in essential skills visa applications - chef, dairy farmer, carpenter, retail supervisor and retail manager, he said there was no way to legitimately prove an applicant's skill level - and that led to a lot of people inflating their skills.
There was a series of changes underway to streamline Immigration New Zealand's visa application processing times, put employers "front and centre", and resolve the current issues, he said.
But Ms Simpson said getting service levels up to an acceptable standard should be their priority before going down the path of introducing more changes from employer roles.
And Mr Elms conceded there was room for improvement in Immigration New Zealand's communication processes.
"Absolutely our communications can be better. We can be communicating with the applicant better than we do and we can have better communications with the employer."