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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 Australia & New Zealand at a grass-roots level is paramount to your immigration survival, and to give you a realistic view of both countries, its people and how we see the world, as well as updates about any current or imminent policy changes, subscribe to our regular blog posts by entering your details below.

Protecting "Vulnerable" Advisers

Posted by Iain on Dec. 15, 2017, 2:58 p.m. in IMMagine

The Immigration Department and most of our clients appreciate how seriously we take our jobs, the importance we attach to getting things right and the professional pride we feel every time we can tell a client ‘visa approved, hope you enjoy your new life’. However, that is not an externally driven process; it has always been something that we demand of one another as Advisers and is the reason we have watertight internal systems to ensure two sets of ‘licensed’ eyes check every strategy we are retained to execute and visa application that leaves this office. 

As part of our licencing, we are required to operate robust systems and we had these in place long before this industry was regulated and it became mandatory. I suspect this was part of the reason why, when the Immigration Advisers Authority was being established, I was asked to sit on the Government’s working group to advise on the appropriate structure for it and then was invited to sit on the reference group during its first year of operation. It is fair to say I believed that those of us who believe in the simple adage of ‘treat others as you’d like them to treat you’ (with a pinch of caveat emptor), these regulations controlling everything we do was not required. I have come to accept, however, that not all Advisers are as good, honest and professional as we are.

I never thought that the IAA might, in a roundabout way, protect us from our own clients but as this piece demonstrates, an unintended consequence of making sure our systems are extremely robust is that we are protected from the rare client that might have questionable ethics.

We have only ever had two complaints filed against us in the ten years we have had licenses (during that time we have processed in excess of 10,000 visa applications) and both have been thrown out as baseless.

While both in my view were always destined to fail, the second was an interesting test in my mind of whether the Registrar of Advisers would come down on our side and accept that no company does more to ensure that their processes and systems are possibly the most robust in the industry, but that we cannot be held responsible for clients that choose to be less than honest with the evidence we are asked to present on their behalf.

During the investigations into the first complaint, our internal processes were scrutinised, tested and stood up to very close examination, and the complainant thoroughly discredited given she was clearly the master of her own misfortune.

A few years ago we agreed to represent this particular client who, like most of you reading this, required a job offer to secure a resident visa under the skilled migrant category. Having represented other members of her family and having delivered to them everything we’d promised, this client came to us to replicate that outcome. 

My partner assessed her eligibility whilst she was in South Africa and considered matters beyond her potential points score as well as (as we always do) how employable she might be at the time within the NZ labour market. A strategy was presented to her and the factors for success all carefully explained in detail in writing before the process began.

She came to NZ, but struggled to get work (this was around the time of the GFC). After several months she secured employment as a ‘Store Manager’. Before suggesting she accept the job, we got a copy of the proposed job description, the draft employment contact, and we spoke to the employer to satisfy ourselves that the job itself ticked all the Government’s boxes for being ‘skilled’. We were satisfied - based on the written advice we received..

We filed a work visa based on this information and it was approved and issued. The client began working. To be approved, INZ had to accept that it was a skilled position based on the evidence presented, which they clearly did having taken the evidence at face value. So far, so good, and no surprises. 

A skilled migrant residence application followed. INZ carried out routine verification on the job by way of a telephone call to the client. She panicked (at the time we just presumed it was because she was very highly strung) and terminated the call to INZ and then called my colleague handling her case. She wanted to know what she should tell INZ when they called back. Although he was confused by the question his advice was simple and transparent. Tell the truth. According to the employment agreement and job description your job is skilled, so answer whatever questions they put to you.

When INZ called back, the description that she gave of her duties differed materially to the written job description she had presented us. We read the interview transcript later provided by INZ and the evidence was irrefutable. While she was busy shooting herself in the one foot, her employer had been busy blowing off the other one. He had received some written questions from INZ, which had corroborated her version of what she told INZ on the phone that she actually did all day – not what her employment contract and job descriptions said she was actually being employed to do.

While we did what we could to get her out of the mess she had just created through being less than honest with us about the true nature of her job, the application was understandably declined.

She demanded her money back from us and threatened a complaint against my colleague if we didn’t. She was basically accusing us of negligence (saying that we didn’t prepare her for the telephone interview with INZ) and incompetence (saying that we should have been able to make INZ realise her responses on the phone were contestable – they weren’t). 

I knew that we had been rigorous in our assessment of the job she told us she’d been offered, INZ had agreed that based on that contract and job description the job was skilled and gave her a work visa, so the only reason her residence case was declined was because the truth about her position was apparently different to the written information we had advised her on. 

I refused to refund a cent and invited her to go through with her threat to file a complaint with the industry regulator. She did.

My colleague didn’t thank me for it and he hardly slept for the next 18 months as we waited for the IAA Registrar -not known to be kind on Advisers - to rule on the complaint. In my view, not unsurprisingly, the complaint was dismissed following submissions from us presenting file copies (which we were more than happy to do) and explaining that in the end we have to rely on the honesty of clients and cannot base our advice on anything but the evidence they provide us. 

We asserted that the client had clearly misrepresented her actual daily tasks and responsibilities (as had her employer) in the employment agreement and that they had been caught out. We can hardly be held responsible for that. The IAA agreed and the case was dismissed with the observation our systems are very robust and the appropriate checks carried out and records of all that took place were kept.

What I didn’t know is that the client, who it seems must be a sucker for punishment, didn’t let it lie. Unbeknownst to us she then filed an appeal against the decision of the IAA not to uphold her complaint with the New Zealand Immigration Advisers Complaints and Disciplinary Tribunal.

That too was dismissed as lacking foundation.

The Tribunal ruled it is not for us to check the veracity of the offer unless we have reason to believe it might not be genuine or was misleading. We had no reason to presume the client or her employer were being anything less than 100% honest with us. Our internal checking and QA systems meant that three of us had sat together, reviewed the job offer and decided that it was skilled.

The reason I am writing about this is that there are lots of Advisers out there in the market and they are not all as ethical nor competent as those who work at IMMagine on both sides of the Tasman Sea. Equally not all clients are honest, either, and this was an interesting test of whether we could be held responsible for the actions of a rogue client.

In its decision (2016-NZIACDT -66 Edana Blieden vs Registrar of Immigration Advisers which you can read here) the Chair of the independent authority found that IMMagine ‘had robust review processes in place’ and found the complaint was without foundation and the appeal got the short shrift it deserved.

The Chair raised the obvious question; given the client went on to secure a resident visa when employed in the ‘same’ position with the same employer in the same location through a second and subsequent application, how was INZ able to approve it? 

That is a very good question and one we also asked Immigration New Zealand. How could they approve a second application when they found the first time they looked into the job offer it was not skilled? What changed? The employer didn’t, that much we know. The client advised the title was the same. 

I asked INZ to audit the decision to approve the later application and they said, without showing me any evidence, that both decisions were correct. That points to only one explanation – the second job offer was modified and INZ, for reasons only they can explain, accepted it. My suggestion INZ might want to investigate thoroughly to ensure the client and/or her employer hadn’t filed misleading information was not taken any further. I suspect INZ didn’t want to investigate because it could have gotten very embarrassing for them as well.

In the end we can only control our own systems and processes and ensure our quality assurance is the best in the business. 

That means ensuring nothing leaves this office that is not 100% accurate. I have always insisted that a second licensed Adviser check all case strategies before we agree to represent any clients, all temporary visa applications, skills assessments, qualifications assessments, all online EOIs, and all Resident Visa arguments and put their name to it on the file, as one seemingly small oversight can be the difference between success and failure. Two pairs of eyes is what leads to our success rate of almost 100% on visa applications.

Although there is no accounting for clients that mislead us or are doing jobs different to what their employment contract says, it is somewhat reassuring to see the Regulator helping to protect ‘vulnerable’ immigration Advisers, even though that isn’t their role.

Unfortunately in this social media driven world we are always at risk that a disgruntled client who shot her own feet off has the opportunity of running us down and we don’t have any way of countering it. 

Her complaint to the IAA is part of the public record as is her appeal against that decision so I feel quite justified in writing about it.

The takeaway is both the Immigration Advisers Authority registrar confirmed in dismissing the complaint that the quality of the systems at IMMagine is the highest possible quality, that our QA process is robust and, in the end, clients trying dodgy things cannot hide behind us - they can get caught as INZ carries out its verification processes (that is, after all, what they are designed to do). Should they try something less than honest, they cannot blame the Adviser who acted in good faith and had the records to prove it. This was reinforced by the independent Chair of the Immigration Advisers Complaints and Disciplinary Tribunal.

Apart from being honest, it pays to stick with Advisers with robust assessment and detailed checking systems, track record of success and water tight QA processes, as we do.

Until next week...

Iain MacLeod, Southern Man


Is there a flood of migrants?

Posted by Iain on Sept. 9, 2016, 3:09 p.m. in IMMagine

Edmund Burke famously said “The only thing necessary for the triumph of evil is for good men to do nothing.” 

I told myself following the screening this week of Nigel Latta’s The Hard Stuff: Immigration that I wouldn’t lower myself and comment on the ill-informed, ignorant garbage that people have been posting online, on our Facebook page, in emails and I'd be big enough to ignore the usual political suspects and their xenophobic rantings in response to the episode, but I can’t. 

I have long said I know nothing about a lot, but when it comes to this subject, I know a lot about immigration.

Winston Peters, leader of NZ First has (as one might expect for someone that feeds local xenophobia presumably and at least in part to keep his tax payer funded Parliamentary salary) this week released a press statement, and among other things said:

"Mr Latta claims the level of immigrants coming to New Zealand has been stable for the last 10 years and people are not flooding in."

"That's odd considering last month Statistics New Zealand said New Zealand's population grew by 97,000 in the year ended June 2016 – the largest increase ever – and that it was driven by record levels of international migration."

Yes, the population has grown (we do have babies) and there are around 65,000 more people here than the year before through net migration, but only 45,000 or so were 'foreigners' and the recipients of a resident visa, meaning they can stay long term.

What Mr Peters wilfully exploits is how Statistics New Zealand defines a migrant.

Latta explained this very succinctly and accurately. Peters, ever the grandstanding and ultimate celebrity Politician, continues to twist these numbers to tell a story that is frankly false.

Here is how a migrant is defined: anyone that enters or leaves this country is required to complete an arrival and departure card. If, when you land, you state that you ‘intend’ staying for 12 months or longer, you are classified as an immigrant.

If, when you are leaving, you state that you intend spending the next 12 months outside of New Zealand you have emigrated and left the country ‘permanently’ for statistical purposes, irrespective of what you actually end up doing.

And this, as Nigel Latta correctly pointed out, paints a distorted picture of migration because the bulk of those arriving and declaring they ‘intend spending more than 12 months’ in New Zealand are in fact a mix of Holiday Working Visa holders, other temporary work visa holders, international students and New Zealanders and Australians coming home or to settle. 

The Holiday Working Visa, other work visa and International Students do not hold and the majority will not ever get (and it might be noted, do not want) a resident visa. If they do stay and qualify for a resident visa they form part of the Government’s annual target of 45,000 resident visas which has not changed for years and has not been exceeded, meaning, simply – the number of places available to permanent migrants is more or less completely static and is strictly controlled. Has been for years and years.

There is no flood.

Thing is, Peters is not as stupid as those that believe his press releases – he knows full well the majority of those he labels ‘migrants’ are here on finite short term visas.

Holiday Working Visas are not renewable and most are valid for 12 months. Some are a bit longer but never more than two years. These people statistically have all migrated to New Zealand. Yet the overwhelming majority leave when their visa is up.

Equally, International Students, of which at any given time there are tens of thousands, all tick the 'staying for more than 12 months' box because their courses are usually 12-36 months in duration. These people statistically have all migrated to New Zealand "permanently".

It is also true that with strong economic growth and being a great place to live and raise a family, New Zealand is currently the victim of its own success. Far fewer New Zealanders are looking to leave the country for pastures greener and we are seeing unprecedented numbers of Australians joining us and New Zealanders returning home from Australia. When the Australian economy picks up again this trend might reverse and more Kiwis may head back that way for economic opportunity. 

This cyclic movement is contributing to house price pressure but the ‘flood’ that Peters and the "chatterati" keep going on about is not ‘foreigners’ but New Zealanders choosing not to leave the country or returning home and the least foreign of all, Australians, coming with them (often their partners).

Interesting also this week, the Leader of the Opposition weighed in and showed his own depths of ignorance – he commented that we have 6000 people in New Zealand on work visas to work as labourers which he will stop because we have "15,000 unemployed New Zealand labourers".

To be clear, to get a work visa all employers have to satisfy very stringent rules around genuinely trying to fill these vacancies locally and the Immigration Department must be satisfied these foreign workers are not taking the job from a local. And believe me, they do check. Rigorously. The only reason work visas are being issued to anyone is because local employers cannot find anyone locally – I’ll say it till I am blue in the face – no employer I have ever met is ever willing to go through the work visa process to employ foreigners when there are qualified and experienced locals with the right attitude to choose from. I never see it happen.

It takes too much time and effort to employ foreigners, so the need has to be very real. 

I should also add that one of the work visa rules states that the foreign worker cannot be paid any less than the local would for the same job and this is also checked – so the garbage spouted about migrants driving down local wages and this fairytale that migrants will work for peanuts is simply that – garbage. An employer caught doing it faces very strict penalties.

At the more skilled end of the scale there is another uncomfortable reality and that is the small number of locally unemployed no longer have the skills necessary to fill the tens of thousands of skilled jobs being created. There is a clear mismatch between what employers need and what is floating about the local labour market. That suggests we have an issue with our education system but not the immigration system.

Unfortunately in a world where immigration issues are increasingly dominating national politics we are going to continue to see Politicians without another platform exploit the innate sense of distrust we humans have about outsiders.

Our own IMMagine Facebook page received (predictably) a trickle of abuse following the Monday night programme. I have no issue with intelligent, informed, respectful and grown up debate, but one thing I will not tolerate is the ignorant, ill-informed and xenophobic attacking the clients we have helped make this place their home – filling jobs that locals could not or would not fill and who have risked an awful lot in bringing their skills to this country.

Yes it is a two way street – we get the skills and they get one of the world’s best keep secrets. But they have taken nothing, robbed us of less – in fact they have strengthened the country to a man (and woman) in so many ways that extend beyond their skills sets.

I just hope that as the election cycle heats up here over the next year, that people try and stay informed about immigration and see the grandstanding of the Political ‘elite’ for what it is – a desperate attempt to buy votes off a small number of backward looking people who are easily exploited. Adolf Hitler did it pretty successfully. Trump is looking not dissimilar. Brexit happened largely because of it. Europe is going to be in turmoil over this for years.

Permanent immigration to New Zealand is strictly controlled and let no Politician convince you otherwise.

Like it or not, understand the issues or not, we cannot and should not turn our back on the world. 

We should, however, turn our back on political peddlers of lies.

Until next week

Iain MacLeod - Managing Director, IMMagine Australia & New Zealand

Southern Man


When Data Makes the Decisions

Posted by Iain on April 1, 2016, 7:31 p.m. in IMMagine

You may or may not know it but Facebook often uses New Zealand as a test bed for its latest greatest idea on how to dominate the world. It seems we are very tech savvy and what is described as early adopters. 

I am not I suspect one of Facebook’s targets (or maybe I am and if they ever get me their domination will be complete!). I am coming up 52 years old and grew up in a more simple time when you got your news from the TV at 6pm, updates on what happened in the ensuing 12 hours by reading the morning newspaper and you found girlfriends at University not on Tinder. If no one ‘liked’ you they just didn’t come over to play.

I don’t have a Facebook account and nor do I want one. If I have something to share with you I’ll send you a blog. I have no interest in splashing my private life in your face and I am not terribly interested in you telling me how perfect and able your wife is on your wall (or wherever you do it). I don’t tweet. I don’t Instagram (but am being told it is high time I started).

What’s my point?

I have just seen the future and it is scary because it isn’t going to arrive tomorrow, it is happening right now.

Today my senior team which included my (oh how very 2016) in-house social media and marketing specialist spent the day with a Social Media trainer. I did realise that everything we touch online is turned into data that someone uses for or against me. I didn’t quite appreciate how all pervasive it is. I learned for example about ‘app scraping’. That’s right – ‘app scraping’. Whereby using one app but having others on your phone allows the information from those other apps to be used by the one you are using e.g. Facebook.

While masses of data about our behaviours, preferences, purchases and lives can be useful (have a read of my recent blog about how meta-data is proposed as what seems a very useful tool for identifying at risk children in New Zealand and providing greater education funding to them), I am not much interested in living in a world where I am bombarded with advertising for things I might want but do not need.

Yet I spent today learning how to do it as a business and why I am going to need to do it.

It’s in your best interests that I do dear reader...

Here at IMMagine we already collect very limited data on potential clients not to be nosy about them but to learn if the fortune we pay Google every year to put us in touch with people we can help to emigrate can be better spent, i.e. we spend less or at least spend the dollars we do more effectively to help find those that we can help.

I don’t think anyone would find that in any way invasive or sinister. Advertisers have forever wondered which of the 50% that they have spent is wasted and which is not. In that regard little has changed.

I do wonder however about all the other stuff being collected out there not least by Governments.

We already warn our clients who are travelling to NZ to find work not to advertise the fact they intend emigrating here by telling one and all on Facebook, forums and chat groups, because we know that Immigration New Zealand can find this stuff out and do look. More than one client has been told what they put on their Facebook page when being questioned about their ‘intentions’ at the border.

While collecting information by Governments can be put to good use for the betterment of all in the society being governed, I deal with one Government every day. It must be said ours is a pretty non-threatening and benign one and we have real legal safeguards built around who can access and use data about me.

I wouldn’t go so far as to say I trust everyone inside it however to act or behave responsibly, sensitively or even legally. No technology ever created that could be put to a different use to the one it was designed for, has not been put. And of course, it has been rumoured for thirty years that the CIA has always had access to our central police computer. I cannot imagine the Americans aren’t poking around in public and private sector databases as they fight the threat of global terrorism and try and stay on top of the economic pile.

It is all a bit of an eye opener really – just how easy it is to find out an awful lot about people. The surprising thing to me is how the younger you are the less you think or care about it. Possibly until you apply for that job but your employer to be sees you half naked and blind drunk swimming in a pool of your own vomit...

I understand Immigration New Zealand will soon roll out a temporary visa application assessment tool where no human will be involved in the decision – it will all be based on risk profiling applied through algorithms. God help us.

While I sometimes think computer algorithms might be more intelligent than some state functionaries, handing over any decision based on profiling and what ‘big data’ says about the risk someone might present is more than a little chilling. At least I can talk to the state functionary.

It is however the path we seem to have chosen or at least have not fought.

Sobering stuff indeed.

Oh, would you mind now clicking on the box below telling me if you enjoy reading the blogs and would like to learn more? 

Just joking.

For now.

Until next week

Iain MacLeod

Southern Man NZ


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