Letters from Southern Man

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Letters from the Southern Man

Migrating is more than just filling in forms and submitting paperwork, its a complex process that will test even the most resilient of people. 

Understanding New Zealand is paramount to your immigration survival and to give you a realistic view of the country, its people and how we see the world, read our weekly Southern Man blogs. Often humorous, sometimes challenging, but always food for thought.

How Licensing Fails Migrants...

Posted by Iain on March 28, 2014, 2:14 p.m. in Government

Did Confucius or some other sage (at Saatchi and Saatchi?) once say that self-flattery is the lowest form of compliment?

I am not sure.

I learned this week just how good the team at Immagine really is when compared to the rest of the immigration advice industry. This week’s blog is not so much about my team as it is the abject failure of the New Zealand Government’s licensing scheme in protecting migrants from shoddy Advisers but it demonstrates I hope just how good we really are at what we do.

I long rallied against regulating this industry but have concluded that sensible regulation that is enforced can be beneficial. I didn’t need a license to build a name and a company off the back of delivering what migrants struggled to achieve without professional advice but I concede now having a license can reinforce that ‘brand’. 

This business has been built on three key principles:

1. Treating clients as we would have them treat us if the roles were reversed

2. Don’t’ make promises you cannot keep

3. Offer value for money

We have now helped by our estimation over 21,000 people negotiate the residence process. Our success rate on visas filed is over 99.8% and possibly higher (but my math isn’t quite that good). Suffice it to say that if we file a Visa for someone there is very little chance it will not be granted.

I always assumed that while we are very good at what we do we were one of many. I learned this week that is not the case and we are among a tiny minority of Advisers with success rates this high.

Globally there are around 600 individually licensed immigration advisers.

I am not about to break confidences or name my source (the source is impeccable) but I have learned that if your immigration advisers/lawyer has been practicing for 5 years there is only 20 (something) on this planet who have better than a 90% visa approval rate.

To say I was shocked at this is an understatement. If among the best two dozen advisers there are any that have decline rates even approaching 10% on visa applications then it has to be concluded that the Government has allowed too many people to obtain licenses too easily and not enough is being done to lift the standard of entry into the industry or ensuring the standards of those with licenses remains high.

As a result of intense industry pressure late last year the Government announced a review of the Immigration Advisers Licensing Authority at which a number of us had levelled serious criticisms about their failure to offer much in the way of protection to so called ‘vulnerable migrants’, in large part because they were dishing out licenses to people simply unqualified and who lacked the experience to be given the responsibility. A few weeks ago the Registrar fell on his sword and resigned. I could be generous and say he will be missed but that would be untrue given migrants are, in my view, still not getting the protection the Authority was legislated to provide.

The Authority’s programme of creating a (pathetic) Immigration Advice Diploma course at the end of which ‘graduates’ are given a full licence to practice was always foolhardy and they were warned of it. Setting loose on the markets people who have no practical experience with the real world of migration laws and processes, migrants and the Immigration Department was a recipe for disaster.

And so it has now proved.

The first mistake of the Authority was having no real understanding of what good, competent and ethical Advisers like us do all day. Their focus was on making us comply with odd business practices rather than the quality of the work we do. It surely was simple enough to monitor approval rates on visa applications which in my view is the measure of the value and competence of an Adviser.

The second was to believe that graduates of their course were somehow entitled to employment and are being given licenses to practice. Who believes that graduates of any course are entitled to anything? Auckland University School of Law doesn’t promise law graduates jobs. No one promised me a job when I left Auckland University.

For some reason the Authority believed they needed to create an industry – when one already had been in existence for a quarter century and generally working well (certainly no worse) than when it was created six years ago.

As a consequence the market has been flooded by about 70 Advisers a year most of whom have no practical or real world experience. People who are sanctioned by the State to wave a license around and offer advice to those thinking of making the biggest decision they will likely ever make in their lives.

We have strongly advocated (and will continue to do so through the formal review of the Authority) that given the serious damage (financial and emotional) of getting eligibility advice wrong no one should be given a full license to practice without either working under the supervision of an fully licensed, experienced, competent and ethical Adviser for 2-3 years (law graduates in New Zealand for example cannot work on their own account for I believe three years after qualifying) or if they wish to be self-employed until they have filed a certain minimum number of visa applications across all categories, whose applications and outcomes have been closely monitored by the Immigration Department and/or the Authority and who cannot demonstrate an approval rate of at least 97% (I’d exclude refugee claims from that given they are a whole different kettle of legal fish).

There is also the issue of beefing up complaints and compliance.

In every market we work in overseas we are constantly meeting migrants who have been ripped off or poorly advised on their options by people with full licenses but who should quite simply not hold them. Particularly in South Africa and Malaysia.

The Authority clearly has real problems trying to enforce NZ law on overseas based Advisers but it is hoped once they get their house in order under new leadership they will focus every more rigorously on cleaning out those with licenses in South Africa, Malaysia, India, Philippines, China and beyond who are giving inaccurate, misleading and often woeful advice to would be New Zealanders whose visa applications are failing to be approved.

While I hesitate to compare helping people relocate and settle with selling milk powder, New Zealand enjoys a reputation globally for openness, transparency and above all quality of product and service. The national Farmer Co-op, Fonterra, got into big trouble last year in its biggest market, China, through a botulism scare in some of its infant formula product. While it turned out to be a false alarm it did serious harm to one of New Zealand’s key industries, cost the country several hundred million dollars in lost income and more than that brought into question New Zealand’s reputation for only dealing in quality and reliable products and services. While the milk powder and infant formula markets have bounced back and continue to lead the economic expansion of the economy it was a good lesson for not settling for less than 100%.

My industry is no different to all those New Zealand exporters competing around the world. As Licensed Advisers we have the power to shape futures positively or negatively. The Immigration Advisers Licensing Authority was set up not just to protect migrants from dodgy or incompetent Advisers but to help protect the reputation of New Zealand as a migrant destination and every Adviser that lets the side down by filing inadequate or incorrect visa applications lets ‘team New Zealand ‘down. 

To learn this week that Immagine New Zealand probably employs 4 of perhaps two dozen people on this planet with a success rate with visa applications higher than 90% was truly a shock to me. 

Our aim is 100% and probably would be if all clients were honest about everything from the get go. I can probably only expect 99.8%. 

It isn’t bad even if it isn’t perfect. And it does put our team in a minority of perhaps 3% of all those with licenses. 

Things have got to change and I intend continuing to be part of the charge.

Off to South Africa Monday for three seminars across the Republic For further details. Click here for details.

Until next week

Iain MacLeod - Southern Man

Everybody, Somebody, Anybody and Nobody…

Posted by Paul on April 4, 2012, 12:13 p.m. in Government

As you will no doubt be aware from last weeks blog, the Southern Man has taken a leave of absence this week, pursuing his own personal equivalent of the Tour de France, through Central Otago on the world famous (in New Zealand) Otago Rail Trail. 

He has been updating the office regularly with tales of climbing great peaks, pedalling for hours, freezing cold mornings, and stunning scenery; all part of the fun I am sure. Thus far it appears he will be back in one piece next week and no doubt reporting on his adventures, but in the meantime he has entrusted the weekly blog to me. 

It wasn’t difficult for me to pick a topic for this week’s blog, simply because when you do what we do there are always interesting stories to tell. There is one, however, that has been a simultaneous source of laughter and frustration for me and one of my colleagues over the last couple of months. A story which I believe has to be shared. For those of you in South Africa, this will be familiar territory; for those of you in other parts of the world, it may surprise or shock you (or might also be familiar), but will definitely prompt at least a few chuckles.

Before I tell my story let me share with you a great and very relevant quote, which I have stuck on the wall in my study at home:

“There was an important job to be done and Everybody was asked to do it. Everybody was sure somebody would do it. Anybody could have done it, but Nobody did it. Somebody got angry about that because it was Everybody's job. Everybody thought Anybody could do it, but Nobody realized that Everybody wouldn't do it. It ended up that everybody blamed Somebody when actually Nobody asked Anybody.”

I often refer to this during heated conversations with my wife, over why various domestic chores never get done (don’t try this yourself - it doesn’t work) and also to remind me to remain calm when doing my day job. We deal with Government departments all day every day, not only in New Zealand but all over the world in an attempt to gather together all of the bits of paper one needs to file an application for Residence. If there was ever a position created to administer every Government department in the world, and I was elected the Chief Executive, my first point of order would be to add the above quote to the mission statement.

For anyone that has had to deal with a Government department in South Africa, I am pretty sure they would want that quote emblazoned across the department’s front door in neon flashing lights.

The following is just one example of the hundreds of stories we could tell, but it is a particularly humorous one (something light for the Easter break).

We routinely send off requests to the South African Police for ‘Clearance Certificates’ on behalf of our clients. It is supposed to be a fairly straightforward process where we send the applicant’s fingerprints, a copy of their passport and the fee to the SA police in order for them to search their database (rifle through stacks of paper) and issue the clearance.

For this particular client we followed the ‘normal’ process and the application was sent away by courier. Eager to follow up on its progress and knowing that they usually take around 6-8 weeks to do anything about it, my very diligent (and patient) colleague Jo, followed up a few weeks later to check on progress. What followed on from there makes me laugh every time I think about it.

Firstly the person in charge of this request (let’s call her Janice – not her actual name) asked whether or not our client was a South African citizen, this would have been plainly obvious from the copy of the passport that had been provided; nonetheless we confirmed that he was.

The next email from Janice was a request for his South African ID number, which again would have been pretty obvious from his passport; however we confirmed his ID number and asked for an update.

We were then advised by Janice that the cheque payment included with the application was ‘unacceptable’. We still to this day don’t know why it was unacceptable or where the cheque is, but that doesn’t surprise me greatly. There was also no suggestion as to what to do next, so of course we asked and shortly after we were given bank account details to complete a telegraphic funds transfer for the R59.00 fee. Despite the fact that the fee in New Zealand dollars was equivalent to $6.00 and the cost to send the transfer was more than the fee itself, the client immediately did this and we advised Janice accordingly.

Having received no update we followed up again and received the following response: “Hi, Are you an (sic) SA citizen”. At this point I was about to give up and I was conjuring up all sorts of expletives to put down in an email as a response. My very patient colleague however responded politely (not sure how she managed that) and reiterated the fact that the request was for my client and they had all the information they needed.

Shortly thereafter, Janice informed us that the clearance was ready for collection. We contacted our courier company to collect it and have it returned to us. The courier called the next day to advise that it was in fact not yet ready and hence no Police Clearance for my client. It turns out that the bank details that Janice had given us were incorrect and the payment hadn’t been made. I am not sure how that translated into her email that the Clearance was ready, but frankly at this point I wouldn’t have been surprised if the Police Department had relocated its offices to the moon and they actually wanted us to complete an intergalactic funds transfer.

We emailed Janice again and, understandably, Jo’s patience by now was about as thin as the paper you would print a Police Clearance on. Janice in her wisdom sent back the same account details – leaving us all scratching our heads. Searching for a solution, as we do, we suggested that the client pay the fee again, this time asking someone in South Africa to physically deposit the money; which he did. 

Today we have sent off what we hope is our final response to Janice to try and track down one piece of paper which has taken three payment attempts, 20 or so emails and a good deal of patience to obtain. I only hope they spell his name right.

You might be wondering what the client thought about all of this, which is best summed up in his email to us (and is going to be the next quote on my study wall – perhaps in neon lights):

“Hi Jo, ‘If you are not confused, you are misinformed’ - South African Police credo.”

With any luck we will almost be at the end of the process and within a few days he should have that lovely yellow certificate that we have been chasing for the last two months, that is of course unless Janice, (who is all at once the Nobody, Somebody, Everybody and Anybody from my original quote) still isn’t sure whether he is a South African citizen, or we are or whether or not she is … I’ll keep you posted.

Until next week when the Southern Man returns – Paul Janssen (acting Southern Man)

Elections and Imbeciles

Posted by Iain on Dec. 1, 2011, 1:38 p.m. in Government


We have just had our national elections and as expected the centre right National Party was returned to power and will form the next Government with two (very) minor parties in coalition for the next three years.

I was going to write about the upcoming election last week but decided it was too dull and boring (one thing about living in a highly stable democracy is that politics here really will put you to sleep most of the time) but an article that appeared in the New Zealand Herald this morning has made me think.

The article suggested that significant numbers of new immigrants do not register or vote in elections.

Given the fact that many of our migrants come from countries that do not have true democratic elections or come from (effective) one party states like South Africa I would have thought that most would jump at the chance to be involved in this process.

On Saturday only around 65% of all eligible voters (not just migrants) turned out for this year’s election which is the lowest in percentage terms for 120 years.

I don’t know if migrants vote or don’t vote (feedback please!!) but in terms of those who have been here a few years or were born here I rather suspect the main reason for this is that the two major parties that slug it out to be the biggest political party in Government were polling so differently that many people probably thought it just wasn’t worth turning out to vote.

The National Party were so far ahead in the polls that I am sure some of their own supporters probably thought there was no point in turning up. Arguably the major  opposition Labour Party supporters perhaps thought the same – their ticket was polling so poorly that they were going to lose heavily and thought that their vote would make no difference.

Which I find really odd.

I wouldn’t miss voting for the world.

When I have been overseas during elections I have always cast a special vote.

My eldest son turned 18 in September and I felt it was extremely important that he register to vote and to then accept the responsibility that comes with living in a democracy and have his say in this his first election.

It is so easy here – you can register online to vote and it takes all of five minutes. Within a few days you will receive a pack where you have to decide which of the Electoral Rolls you wish to be on – the General or the Maori (those who identify as being of Maori descent have a small amount of seats available to them out of the 120 seat Parliament – that is another story for another day).

Even if you can’t get to a polling booth on the day the Electoral Commission will arrange for someone to either come and pick you up (seriously) or if you are disabled or sick they come and help you to cast a special vote. My colleague Chris flew out to Malaysia late last week and there was even a polling booth in the Qantas Lounge at Auckland airport! How cool (and organised) is that?

Back to my son, I even took photos of him with his first ever ‘quick vote’ card outside the polling booth. He of course thought I was “being a dick as usual” but having taken both my sons down to the local polling booth every year since they were very young to share in this three yearly rite I was so keen to join him as he cast his first ballot. More excited than he apparently was to have me with him…

In fact it has to be said that I was extra excited this year given we had another contributing member of our great little democracy off to do his bit.

When I enter the local polling station to cast my ballots I am always struck by how serious and solemn I feel about it – as if my vote really will make a difference to the country in which I live.

Which when you think about it is kind of silly but I guess democracy is based on the whole being greater than the sum of its parts.  I always feel as though my votes are the most important ones made on the day. Really, I do.

We get two votes under this system – one for the local electorate candidate and one for a political party. It is a system called Mixed Member Proportional representation or MMP for short. It means that parties end up with the number of seats in Parliament that reflects the percentage of their national vote (more or less). Similar to Germany it generally leads to coalitions with one dominant party supported by one or two smaller ones.

The system is effectively designed to prevent any one party having an outright majority of seats in Parliament and exercising unbridled power. I for one am a bit of a fan of this system although critics will tell you that it means too much horse trading. Some might just call it compromise. Tails don’t wag dogs in our Parliament however and by and large it seems to work.

This year we also got to vote in a referendum on whether we wished to retain the current Mixed Member Proportional voting system or change it. As a result we had two ballot papers – one for the referendum and one to vote for Parliament.

Having entered the hall, handed over my ‘Quick Vote’ card and being ‘ticked off’ the electoral roll (all in the space of about two minutes) I was handed my two voting papers – one orange and one purple. 

I solemnly reminded my son how the system worked and how he goes about selecting his Party and candidate and in grateful reply received a “Yeah dad you’ve like, only explained it, like, a thousand times already” so I left him to it, scuttled off into a ‘booth’ and made my sacred marks on the coloured ballot papers.

Having done so I then went to the very helpfully marked orange and purple boxes and proceeded to put the purple referendum voting paper in the orange box and the orange election voting paper  in the purple box!

I couldn’t believe it. I broke into a cold sweat. I laughed nervously when I told my wife what had happened. Would my votes be disallowed? Not counted? Would ‘my’ party not get elected? What if my local candidate lost by one vote? I couldn’t bear the thought of it. You may well laugh dear reader but in the Christchurch Central electorate there was a dead heat on Saturday with two candidates getting something like 10,349 votes each so it does happen!! 

We’ve all heard of the butterfly effect – had I just changed the course of New Zealand history owing to my idiocy? 

I felt like a complete imbecile of course and had to ask one of the ‘officials’ if they would recognise my precious votes when it came to counting time. They actually didn’t say yes but I think they indicated they would. I was so gutted that I may have  blown it that I wasn’t really listening.

My son just laughed. You have to love teenagers. He ticked his boxes, made his  ‘political statement’, placed his votes in the correctly coloured boxes and went to the sausage sizzle being run by the local Russian Orthodox church members (in whose hall the voting was being done) and snacked merrily on a snag in bread dripping in tomato sauce. No doubt secure in the knowledge he really is the son of a ‘dick’.

So it is over for another three years.

And just for the record my party ‘won’ and the local candidate I voted for was also elected to Parliament.

For those of you recently arrived or not yet here a few ‘need to knows’ on voting:

1. It is mandatory as a citizen or permanent resident when you turn 18 to enrol to vote and to get registered on the Electoral Roll.

2. Voting however is not compulsory.

3. You get two votes – one for the party you wish to see in Parliament and a second electorate vote where you vote for the person in your local electorate you want to send off to Parliament.

All rather simple really.

A little bit of housekeeping to finish up.

We are closing for our Christmas break (I’m counting the days) on Thursday 22 December at mid day and we re-open on 9 January 2012. If you have any visa applications you need filed please ensure they get here no later than Friday 17 December. The Immigration Department will close on 23 December and likely reopen on Wednesday 4 January so nothing will happen over that time with applications even if filed. 

Over the Christmas break we will not be clearing phone messages. Emails may be answered from time to time but I will leave this up to each consultant. Any mail that arrives will be held at the Post Office/Courier depots etc. awaiting our re-opening on 9 January. 

Those of you in Singapore – Chris Noakes is heading your way to present his final seminar for 2011 this Saturday. You can register here.