Thousands of people have been waiting at least a year to get their New Zealand citizenship approved despite an automated system designed to speed up the process.

The latest figures from the Department of Internal Affairs shows there are 26,801 applications in its system. It’s down from a peak of more than 37,000 in March-April 2022. But more than 6000 of those waiting have been doing so for a year or more.

Silvia Michelone is originally from Argentina, but calls New Zealand home. She lodged her application in February of last year, but is still waiting on an outcome.

Speaking to 1News, Michelone said: “I know things can take time, but I think it has been a bit long, and I have not been assigned a case-officer either,” she says. “I’m pretty sure that I am trying to do something for this country, I have two sons, I brought two people with me that are in the workforce in New Zealand.

“How much more do I need to do to prove I can be a citizen?”

Getting citizenship is the first step to getting her hands on a Kiwi passport – something she feels would make it easier for her to get a new job, do additional studies and travel. The New Zealand passport is currently ranked the sixth most powerful in the world, with visa-free travel to 190 destinations.

The Department of Internal Affairs says on average applications approved last month had taken seven months, but it acknowledged some do take longer.

Deputy chief executive of service, delivery and operations, Maria Robertson, says while around 40 per cent of applications have been in the system for just over a year, that number is easing.

A system put in place just before Covid has automated the process and can see some applications completed in as little as two months.

But Robertson says that’s not always possible.

“It’s really about the ease with which we can authenticate whether people have met the criteria laid out in the citizenship act,” she says. “In some cases like Australia, it is really easy for us to authenticate a birth record.

“In other cases you only need to look at the conflict in the Middle East, it makes it very hard for a government to authenticate a record form.”