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Immigration Blog


Posts in category: Immigration

Immigration Blog

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.

What Are the Primary Differences Between Skilled Migration to Australia and New Zealand

Posted by Iain on Oct. 13, 2017, 7:42 p.m. in Immigration

What are the primary differences between skilled migration to Australia and New Zealand?

I spend my day explaining to those that aren’t certain which country they wish to move to that one is not ‘easier’ than the other, and that they both have their own complexities and vulnerabilities to applicants.

Australia by and large operates a skilled migrant selection process that is based on approving applicants that are ‘job ready’. That is achieved by assessing, for the most part, their age, their qualifications, their ‘relevant’ work experience and their English language ability. Some require the support via ‘sponsorship’ of an Australian State or Territory that operate their own, fluid, ‘occupations in demand’ lists. No points are gained for having a skilled job in Australia.

New Zealand on the other hand looks for people with similar skills profiles but is not so much interested in those that might be ‘job ready’, but those that have gone a step further and secured skilled jobs. NZ wants those with a demonstrated ability to break into the labour market.

In the New Zealand context, most points are awarded for age, qualifications, skilled work experience and having that offer of or current skilled employment. Jobs outside of Auckland attract more points and with the pass mark currently at historical highs, more and more migrants are being forced to try and secure work outside of New Zealand’s biggest city. Which is easier said than done given Auckland is the engine room of the economy.

Both countries offer minor ‘bonus points’ for other factors but they seldom make or break the deal.

If that makes Australia sound ‘easier’ I’d suggest that is to not understand it. Sure, there is no pressure to find work to kick start the process, but ensuring the right English test score is achieved, that the right occupation is nominated, predicting what States might be sponsoring an occupation months after the process begins when clients need it, is all very challenging indeed. We describe it as ‘precision brain surgery’.

I describe the Australian skills pathway as being less risky but it is far from risk free. While applicants get to negotiate the process from the comfort of their own home, consider the numbers that rely on ‘State Sponsorship’ for their final visa approval that cannot be applied for, generally, for around six months after English exams are sat and what are known as ‘skills assessments’ are carried out. With State occupation quotas often filling up in the first weeks of the immigration year, Australia has a seasonality to it that New Zealand does not have.  With skills shortage lists also being updated every 6 months in Australia there are enormous risks and the process is one that requires focus, dedication and as speed as humanly possible.

As Advisers, we have to work through, day by day how many places remain available in each State for sponsorship and it is hard and precise keeping up with all 400 odd!

On the other hand, New Zealand’s policy of requiring the majority of skilled migrants to find work creates its own challenges. Experience (and INZ’s own statistics) show that to get employment applicants almost always need to be prepared to:

1. Resign their job and go to NZ for long enough to find work (usually 4-12 weeks); and

2. Speak fluent English

3. Be a good cultural fit (usually with the dominant culture)

4. Have enough funds to survive for many weeks, if not months, while they look for work

To make it even more complex, most employers and recruiters demand work or resident visas before applicants can apply for the role. Only trouble with that a work visa cannot be issued without a job offer.  ‘Chickens and eggs’ abound. Approached with guidance and expertise (counselling and support along practical job hunting tips) around 95% of our clients secure skilled employment each and every year. Most sweat a lot to get the jobs but get them they do.

Being in NZ to prove an applicant is serious is critical to sending the right signals to employers. Even then rejection is the order of the day so job after job after job needs to be applied for. It’s a big call to make to resign a job and travel with no absolute guarantee of work.

So for those who might think getting into NZ is ‘easier’ than getting into Australia, should try doing it. It takes a degree of planning and a strategy that has a lot more downside than for those deciding to go to Australia. New Zealand effectively demands far more commitment of applicants than Australia.

I often describe the New Zealand process as ‘Darwinian’ and the survival of the fittest and most employable. Every year thousands fail in their efforts, yet our clients that don’t make it can be counted on one hand.

What makes our service offering in many ways unique is exploiting - quite legally - the fact that those with a permanent resident visa of Australia are entitled under New Zealand law, to a NZ resident Visa on arrival in New Zealand. That allows us to deliver the outcomes of residence of NZ without many clients (not all) needing a job and without leaving home, thanks to Australia.

I am increasingly pushing people to secure Australian resident visas even if they want to come and live in New Zealand simply to reduce the risk and stress of everything.

The understanding we have of both countries skilled migrant programmes allows us to weave strategies that deliver residence to more than 98% of those that decide to retain us, all the while minimising the risks of failure and the costs of securing the visas.

Until next week...

Southern Man

How Do We Prove Our Relationship is Genuine?

Posted by Iain on Oct. 6, 2017, 6 p.m. in Immigration

No matter which resident visa category you apply under – Parent, Skilled, Investor or Partnership, if you have a partner/spouse you need to demonstrate that you are currently (and have been) living together for a minimum of 12 months in a ‘genuine and stable relationship akin to a marriage which is likely to endure’.

There is no requirement that you be married – in fact this makes no difference to the assessment carried out by immigration officers. Living together means simply that – in an exclusive relationship – gay or straight, married or not, young or old - and under the same roof (and presumably in the same bed).

Breaking down the criteria all applicants need to demonstrate that:

  • The relationship is genuine – not entered into for any reason other than love (and where the relationship is ‘culturally arranged’, for the ‘right’ reasons even if love doesn’t yet feature)
  • It is stable – it is a relationship that is likely to continue into the future
  • You are ‘living together’ (note the present tense) –under the same roof (not the same as sharing a PO Box South African readers….)
  • There is a degree of financial interdependence

So how do you prove with pieces of paper that you share a common address, a bed, that there is love and that you don’t throw pots and pans at one another every night after work?

The truth is, it is extremely difficult. I don’t know how wedding photos and bank statements prove anything at all.

We base our advice to clients on how a Judge in a family court might assess whether a couple are indeed, for the purposes of divvying up assets in the event of a relationship split, a ‘couple’. 

The immigration rule book does not specify what evidence to present, only that whatever is presented must ‘satisfy an immigration officer’. The risk is no two officers will necessarily look at the same evidence and conclude the evidence of the relationship demonstrates it is genuine, stable and so on. 

We tend to present two types of evidence – what I call ‘circumstantial’ (but which to me carries the most weight). This might include letters from friends and family, colleagues and associates who are part of your circle of family, friends and social network. Photos of the two of you together through time. Facebook screenshots. Skype logs. 

The other is what I call ‘technical’ – evidence of joint ownership of or sharing property (rental agreements for example), insurance policies where your partner (and children) might be beneficiaries of a medical aid programme, invoices, utility bills, tax returns – essentially anything that shows a common address.

No two cases are ever going to be exactly the same and therefore the evidence is always subjective.

The biggest mistake we find, even with our own clients who get highly detailed and personalised instructions on what we want from them based on their personal circumstances, is they provide us their marriage certificate and their childrens' birth certificates. And that’s it.

What they fail to appreciate is that having a marriage certificate does not make a relationship genuine. Anecdotally there’s lots of activity around Auckland right now where former international students, having seen their pathway to residence being blocked by the Government are marrying locals, right, left and centre. 

A marriage certificate doesn’t demonstrate ‘stability’ of the relationship either. This is why officers want to see credible evidence going back over at least 12 months of cohabitation – it isn’t watertight evidence but it is indicative. 

A rental agreement or title deed to a property doesn’t prove you love each other and share a bed either. Nor I would suggest do joint (or multiple, single name) bank statements. Nor does showing birth certificates of children.

However, this ‘technical’ evidence is what INZ wants to see.

They can insist on interviews between couples or make ‘site visits’ (a euphemism for knocking on your front door without warning to see what the living arrangements are). 

I do wish they would make greater use of the interview options because many couples, in very long relationships, organise their affairs separately. It does not diminish their love nor commitment to one another or in any way disprove their claim to a genuine and stable relationship. Too often immigration officers ask for ‘joint’ bank statements – easy to set up but what exactly does it prove?

It is not always easy for immigration officers but it has to be said they very often do not make it easy for themselves. As I was discussing with two senior INZ Managers only yesterday there remains a culture of paranoia and distrust inside INZ and many officers have a hard time appreciating that 90% of applicants are quite genuine and make no attempt to defraud the visa system. These are two managers I have the utmost respect for but even they, if you raise the ‘culture of paranoia and distrust’ observation with them, will immediately trot out an extreme example to demonstrate their distrust is justified. They all tend to focus on the 10% than accept the 90% that are genuine. In the end the risk is all applicants are tarred with the same brush.

It’s a cultural ‘disease’ so common to all Immigration Departments everywhere – it isn’t limited to New Zealand. 

The result unfortunately is that applicants are generally treated as guilty and need to prove they are innocent.

This is why we provide our clients with a page of examples of the sort of evidence we need to ‘prove’ they live together once we understand their relationship. We even warn clients that for almost everyone we look after applying for a resident visa under any category, we will present as much evidence that they ‘live together’ as all the other evidence put together! 

And I tend to remind people of my golden rules including most importantly ‘assume nothing and suspend logic’.

Until next week...

Iain MacLeod - Southern Man

Australian Immigration Changes: The Good, The Bad and the Ugly

Posted by Myer on Aug. 3, 2017, 4:29 p.m. in Immigration

There seems to be a five-year cycle for governments to implement and then change immigration policy.

Given the fact that it had been 5 years since the general skilled migration visa policy had been implemented in Australia [with the split long-term and short-term skills shortages list] and the advent of Brexit and Trump, the time was probably ripe for wholesale change.

And change there was – on 17 April, the Australian Government implemented widescale reform to its immigration policy with further clarifications on 1 July. As a result, there’s been much confusion and speculation amongst the public [and also within our industry as well it has to be said] about the changes whether they be good, bad or simply ugly.

The Changes

The primary changes that affect most of our clients situated overseas were:

  1. Applicants 45 and above are no longer able to obtain permanent residence under employer sponsored pathway or general skilled migration visas [points tested]. The previous age limit was 50 years of age.
  2. Reduction of the number of occupations available for state sponsorship for work visas and general skilled migration visas by 216 occupations.
  3. Renaming of the consolidated skilled occupations list to the short term skills shortages list and the skilled occupations list to the medium and long-term skills shortages list with the implications that only those in occupations on the long term skills shortages list can be sponsored for permanent residence by employers. Those on the short term skills shortages list can only receive a 2 your work visa renewable for another 2.

The Good

Yes, it might surprise some of you that some good did come of these changes. State Governments seem to have realised that they are not going to be able to access certain skills on a permanent basis through employer-sponsored schemes and they’ve had to embrace sponsoring a more diverse range of occupations.

Already we have seen longer state sponsorship lists notably in Queensland, Victoria, South Australia, Northern Territory and Tasmania sponsoring more occupations and also a more diverse range of occupations. In fact there have been some occupations that I don’t recall ever seeing on state sponsorship lists that have appeared. This is definitely good news for those of you who often felt that your occupations had been overlooked by State Governments.

There has also been greater recognition of the role of families being able to offer support and acting as an incentive to remain in a state with Tasmania joining ACT and South Australia in sponsoring more “offlist” occupations. These are occupations that did not appear on the main state sponsorship lists but are accessible if one has a close family member living in one of these states.

The Bad

The big losers amongst all of these changes are those aged 45 and above in general skilled migration visas and employer sponsored visas.

When I started processing Australian visas in 2008 the age limit was in fact 45 but was increased to 50 approximately 2012. The reduction of age limit from 50 to 45 come to some surprise as we are living in an environment of people “ageing better” and we are being encouraged to work until 70 and not retire at 65.

No doubt this change will make it harder to acquire international talent and skills by Australian companies. It could also raise the cost to acquire the skills in Australia. No reason has been provided for the increase in age limit but clearly the government is concerned about the cost of healthcare provided to migrants and 45 probably equates to the cutoff age when the social welfare costs that government will spend on a migrant outweigh their expected productivity.

Interestingly the age limits for the business skills, investors and family stream remain unaffected, so if you are above 45, you still may be able to qualify for another visa stream. 

The Ugly

The main motivation for these changes was political gain. Nothing was broken in terms of immigration policy and the pretext of protecting jobs for Australians is a flimsy one. In fact as Australia's unemployment rate has tumbled to 5.5 per cent as another 42,200 jobs were created in May it prompts us to ask the question where are the jobless Australians who are in need of protection?

An unemployment rate of 5.5% is almost taken to represent full employment in Australia.

It is the eighth consecutive month full time employment has risen, with 124,000 full time jobs created since September 2016.

The Turnbull government jumped on the Trump/Brexit bandwagon, usurped the position of the political right and seized the opportunity to increase its popularity on the back of right-wing populism that seems to have taken hold in western countries.

Like most changes that occurred to immigration policy it’s not all good bad or ugly, and there are bound to be some winners and losers whenever immigration policy changes.

We are however entering a period of increased change to immigration policy [the short term skills shortages list is going to be changed twice a year with occupations added and removed]. If one adds the annual changes in occupational ceilings or quotas for occupations on the long term list and changing state sponsorship lists as occupational quotas are added and removed we are entering a paradigm of much more change much more often and it has never been more important to be able to objectively assess your chances of securing a visa whether it be employer-sponsored or general skilled.

It’s going to be important to realise that whilst there are immigration opportunities they might not be your first choice and you may have to compromise on type of visa and destination in Australia. There is a time to raise and a time to fold but equally one has to be prepared to accept what’s on offer. 

And if all options for Australia are no longer available, you can also consider the possibility of migrating to New Zealand; the age limit is higher and the occupation list broader. 

- Myer Lipschitz, Director, IMMagine Melbourne Office

Update on Immigration Rule Changes

Posted by Iain on July 28, 2017, 5:05 p.m. in Immigration

Earlier this week the media in New Zealand were abuzz with speculation that perhaps the Government was going to “back down” on their proposed changes to Skilled Migrant & Work Visa policies. As usual the twittersphere, Facebook, online migrant chat groups and forums went into frenzied overdrive and messages of hope to family and friends were sent around the world that it looked like the changes wouldn’t happen.

Upon closer examination, however, it was clear what was being reported in the Press was a confused interpretation of what the Government had proposed and what is about to be rolled out on 28 August. Just for a change...

As I am part of a very small group that has been working with immigration officials on writing the final version of these rules, the Media speculation came as something of a surprise - their subsequent confusion didn’t. I had received only a few hours earlier the latest draft of the Skilled Migrant rules for my comment and input. There was no evidence there that the Government was backing down on anything.

The Skilled Migrant rules will be put in place in four weeks’ time and everything the Government signalled seven months ago will be happening. 

As has been publicly reported this will see minimum salary bands attached to Skilled Migrant Category offers of employment to secure points (note – not Work Visas) of slightly under $49,000.00 for anyone seeking a resident visa.

As I have written about before, the winners here will tend to be those who have been in one career all their life e.g. Technicians, Trades people, Teachers, Nurses and so on and/or those with higher level qualifications such as Trade Certificates, Degrees and so on. There will certainly be some losers but the bar is not being raised as much as the Government wants everyone to think.

With regard to Work Visas, salary bands have been introduced, but this was also very well signalled many months ago.  Those in the lowest skilled groups will still be able to come to New Zealand and will still be able to get Work Visas for no more than one year which upon application and, subject to meeting certain criteria (none of them new), can be issued for a further twelve months and even a further twelve months after that. Thereafter, the applicant must leave the country for around 12 months before being able to re-apply. This is not news. This is not a change. The lower skilled workers have never been able to get work visas for more than 12 months at a time and each time they try to ‘renew’ it is meant to get progressively more difficult under the rules as employers are expected to try and find or train New Zealanders (which they could do if the government got tougher on welfare entitlements for the young). So in effect, there is no change here.

The only change in regard to these low skilled workers is that they will not be able to bring their partners and children with them as they can today, but those partners and children will still be able to apply for Visitor Visas, one presumes for short term (conjugal?) Visits.  The Government is clearly signalling to workers who are filling  low skilled jobs that they will not have a long term future in New Zealand. But they never did...

Despite the protest from certain industry sectors, in that regard nothing actually changes!  The Government has done a poor job of communicating it and employers don’t seem to understand that, while they can get Work Visas for people to come in and pick their fruit, or milk their cows or get the linen changed in Queenstown hotels, they have never been able to stay long term and they have never been offered a pathway to residency.

Government did signal today that there will be further reviews once the policy beds in - this is ‘political-speak’ for ‘we are about to unleash chaos and we know we will need to have to tidy it up but we need to get these changes in place before the election so we can look tough on what we know is for some an important issue in determining how they vote’.

I can see for example some regional salary band being introduced for those seeking points for skilled jobs. To have a one size fits all minimum salary of around $49,000 doesn’t take any account that the same job may pay more in Auckland than in Christchurch given the relative differences in cost of living. I would think such a tweak would be a very good idea. I’d put money on it happening over time.

I also remain convinced, understanding how these new rules will impact, that pass marks for skilled migrant residence will almost certainly fall.  I do not believe that will happen before the Election in September and it is reasonable to assume the Government will let the dust settle on these new Skilled Migrant residency rules before allowing pass marks to move.  I actually believe the Government when they say they are committed to filling 27,000 skilled migrant places, simply because the economy is adding tens of thousands of new skilled jobs a year and New Zealand simply cannot fill them from within the existing labour force.  The Government, however, is not so brave to let pass marks fall before an election where immigration levels is an issue.

Of course falling pass marks will bring back in to play the pathway to people for Residence of New Zealand who do not have job offers, a pathway effectively closed over recent months.  Another change that has been signalled is that those people will no longer be able to secure resident visas and their only option will be to be granted Work Visas so that they can find work, if they reach the pass mark without having a job offer.  This is going to, once again, open up a pathway for many people who are highly qualified and valued, but who don’t have jobs when they file their residency papers.

Overall, the changes that are being made are creating some incredibly complicated rules, particularly in relation to how work experience points are going to be able to be claimed toward residence.  Being part of the process in trying to assist the authors of these rules to come up with something coherent and easily implemented by Immigration Officers has been something to behold.  The industry “experts” that have been pulled in to assist have done their utmost to help come up with something cohesive, but Lord help us when Immigration Officers get hold of these new rules.  I predict chaos. 

Things are going to become so complicated that those trying this on their own are asking for trouble and I think never before has an expert professional adviser been as required as it is going to be in the months and years to come.

Until next week...

The Politics of Immigration

Posted by Iain on June 12, 2017, 12:53 a.m. in Immigration

"Labour attempts to pick low hanging immigration fruit...that's already been eaten" - Iain MacLeod, Managing Director, IMMagine Australia & New Zealand Immigration Specialists

The Labour Party’s announcement today that they will make moderate cuts to immigration numbers will make no significant difference to the numbers of permanent migrants coming to New Zealand.

Putting the brakes on the numbers of students transitioning to work and potentially resident visas is a move that will, later this year, have enormous potential impact on thousands of international students that were studying with a clear intention to use the pathway to residence created by the Government. Clearly, an informed Labour Party is aware that the National Party had already played this card. Having promised cuts in the ‘tens of thousands’, I guess they had to come up with something, somehow.

Just as the Government hasn’t actually cut a single visa from its residence programme, it appears neither has Labour in its announcement today.

It’s all smoke and mirrors designed to take the wind of our of NZ First’s sails. 

No one suggests that many of the jobs currently being filled by temporary work or student visa holders shouldn’t be filled by locals, they should – but most employers will tell you those young Kiwis are not around to fill these roles or don’t want the work.

Denying many employers casual migrant labour might make a headline and take a few votes off Winston Peters but it’ll be interesting to see what ideas the Labour Party comes up with to reform our welfare entitlements to ensure there are young New Zealanders being ‘encouraged’ to fill these roles. Let’s hope so because there are going to be lots of vacancies. (Labour provided the example of a paediatric oncologist as benefitting from "their" changes – truth be told, anyone with these skills and qualifications would always have qualified for residence: would under National’s upcoming changes and will under Labour’s proposed rules.)

On the plus side, there is no doubt the changes announced by the National Party earlier this year and the announcements by the Opposition today will increase labour market shortages particularly in hospitality and tourism, creating plenty of opportunities for young New Zealanders to find employment in these sectors and in other casual work.

The export education industry will take another hit with these changes. The Government’s (quietly dropped) goal of it becoming a $5 billion a year industry just took another politically inspired hit.

Iain MacLeod, Managing Director, IMMagine Australia & New Zealand Immigration Specialists

New Skilled Migrant Points: Analysis

Posted by Iain on May 5, 2017, 7:23 p.m. in Immigration

Information received under the Official Information Act proves (if any proof was needed) that the Skilled Migrant Category changes Government is implementing on 14 August are largely directed at stemming the flow of international students through to residence and will not radically reduce the chances of those over the age of 30 that would likely qualify today. 

INZ officials are quoted in advice to Cabinet:

The remuneration threshold is likely to have a bigger impact on former international students than people entering through other SMC pathways. International students will typically have less experience and therefore earn less than migrants with more work experience. Around 50-60 per cent of the international tertiary graduates who were employed in New Zealand in 20135 (sic) earned below the proposed threshold. 

Told you so...

The Government’s promise to international students to provide a residence pathway has, effectively, been broken. Under these new rules the minimum salary threshold of $48,800 will see significant numbers of graduates from our local institutions no longer qualifying.

That must hurt the $3 billion export education industry far more than they care to admit right now.

While I feel for them, New Zealand offers limited numbers of places to skilled migrants each year and demand far exceeds supply. We have an obligation to get the most for our visa ‘buck’ so while for me it is a shame these students have been let down badly and the Government hasn’t ‘fessed’ up to really stuffing things up in that quarter, something had to give and it was the 'lower value' migrants that are missing out.

It is worth repeating there is no cut to the annual target of 27,000 resident visas under this category.

So, what are the new points?

Those aged 39 and under will score 30 points for age. This represents status quo for those under 30 years of age but 5 more points for those aged 30-39.

We can also reveal that high paying jobs with remuneration (note, not necessarily salary it seems) of $97,713.00 will attract 20 new points. 

Masters and Ph.D. holders will see their points for these qualifications increase to 70 points from the current 60. Goodness knows why...... 

In possibly the biggest change, those claiming points for work experience will only be able to claim points for that experience that is skilled (and in the jargon, Skill Levels 1,2 and 3 in ANZSCO). Right now, all work that is ‘relevant’ to a recognised qualification or a NZ skilled job offer gets points up to a maximum of 30. 

However, the points that can be claimed from August 14 increases to a maximum of 50 points for ten years of skilled work experience. That's 20 more points available to those with ten years of skilled work experience than exits today.

A case of taking with one hand and giving with the other, reasonably in my view and recognising that those with greater levels of skilled work experience are better for the NZ economy. 

New Zealand based work experience points increases from 5 to 10 once 12 months of skilled work has been notched up.

Gone, as reported in another blog post, are:

  • future growth area bonus points, 
  • bonus points for qualifications in an area of absolute skills shortage, 
  • close family sponsorship points 
  • bonus points for being in a skilled job for 12 months in NZ (eliminating a double dip with rewarding NZ work experience under the work points claim for effectively the same thing)

So, if you are aged over 29, have University, Technical Institute or Trade level qualifications these changes will be more or less neutral as I have written about before. Those that qualify today are almost certain to qualify after 14 August because they were not the targets of this fine tuning of the skilled migrant category.

The high salary/remuneration bonus points will assist some who don’t have qualifications to qualify but it is possible some will miss out.

What the Government might need to do (and may in fact be considering) is a return to multiple pass marks so that, for example, someone earning over $98,000 might have a lower pass mark than someone earning under that. The system is designed with and historically always has had multiple pass marks.

My analysis of these changes suggests government will still struggle to fill the annual 27,000 skilled migrant target it has had in place for over ten years with this new points spread.

That analysis demands a drop in the pass mark but given that is a political decision I suspect what happens from here is the Government will be pleasantly surprised the media completely swallowed the announced changes as a ‘tightening’ and ‘cuts’ (both of which have not happened) and leave the pass mark at 160 till after the election in September. They’ll be hoping they’ve painted a (false) picture of ‘toughening up’, New Zealanders ‘first’ and all that ‘anti’ talk in order to neutralise the opposition parties calling for reductions in migrants.

Then, once they have been re-elected (possibly in coalition with a small anti-immigration party), they’ll let the pass mark fall, confident neither will look like they haven’t ‘tightened up’ and have delivered on a promise to force a ‘cut’ to immigration without having done anything of the sort.

Wonderful use of smoke and mirrors that represent a few tweaks and a bit of fine tuning that in reality only impacts on those would be skilled migrants under the age of 30. Most of whom are international graduate students.

And we might see a few restaurants close around town because of the new minimum salary threshold of $48,800 unless we are all willing to pay more for our Phad Thai and pay migrant Chefs more.

Until next week...

Iain MacLeod

Southern Man

When is a cut not a cut?

Posted by Iain on April 28, 2017, 3 p.m. in Immigration

It took about a week after the Government announced its changes to Skilled Migrant policy and announced a review of temporary work visa policy for the message to finally get through to the mainstream media that things might not be quite as they at first appeared.

Why the Government did what it did and who it was really targeting was, in my view, actually quite different to the press statements. 

I get an ironic chuckle the way a 24 hour, first-to-report-the-story news cycle meant that the way the Government ‘sold’ these changes was swallowed hook, line and sinker by the media and of course in this online and connected world of ours, on social media platforms around the world. Chat groups and forums are still full of jibber jabber about doors closing, migrants being unwelcome and more.

‘New Zealanders First’ was a tidy headline and in keeping with recent developments in the USA (Trump, walls, immigration), Brexit (‘too many bloody foreigners and Britain isn’t British any more’), Marine Le Pen’s right wing rise in France (‘immigrants won’t become French and they want to make us become Muslims!'), Australia’s ‘Australians First’ announcements last week set a nice scene. 

We are in an election year and the two smaller but main opposition parties are calling for cuts to migration levels. One always did and is rewarded every four years with 8-10% of the popular vote. The other, always strongly supported by migrants, should simply be ashamed of itself. They are polling in the low 20% and are of course a desperate five months out to lift their support (but anyone who is ‘anti’ immigration will likely vote for the other ‘anti’ immigration party).

Naturally, neither are being specific about which categories of immigration they’d cut or in what numbers.

There is no doubt there is real pressure being brought to bear on the Government to ‘do something’ about infrastructure pressure in Auckland; clogged freeways and rampant house price inflation caused by the fact’s a great place to live!

The economy is performing strongly, job growth is strong for the skilled, fewer Kiwis are packing their bags for overseas, more Kiwis are coming home and more Australians are joining them (there is a downside to every boom I guess!), pleasant climate, great public education and healthcare; the list goes on. Every year tens of thousands of wannabe kiwis want to join us.

How true is it that the changes announced last week represent some seismic shift and tightening...or indeed, any tightening at all?

The answer is pretty clear – the Government never announced any cuts to skilled migrant numbers.

Late last year the Government announced a modest, margin of error ‘cut’ to our overall residence programme which covers all migrants coming to NZ under all categories; not just the skilled. The two year residence programme was cut from 90,000 plus or minus 10%, to 80,000 - 85,000 plus or minus 10%. Do the math. The number of visas issued over the period may well be exactly the same.

The number of places available for skilled migrants has within that remained exactly the same – 27,000 plus or minus 10%. As it has for the best part of a decade. That did not change last week. An important fact that seems to have been missed by pretty much everyone in the media.

So if the numbers of skilled, investor and family migrants is going to be pretty much the same next year as it is this year then what is actually going on?

Again, I’d suggest it’s pretty simple. There are more people chasing those 27,000 skilled migrant places than ever before. Demand exceeds supply and that requires fine tuning from time to time to control the inflow. 

Over the past two years the numbers of international students treading the promised pathway to residence has been climbing. These youngsters were increasingly jostling with older and more experienced skilled migrants.

We simply don’t have room for them all (apparently).

I explain the Government’s dilemma like this. 

If there was only one resident visa left of that annual 27,000 to give away and there were two applicants on 160 points, which one is better for NZ if one was a 23 year old international student, recently graduated from Auckland University, no work experience but managed somehow to secure a job offer in Christchurch as a Retail Manager paying $38,000 a year? Or is it the 35 year old Software Developer with a degree in IT, ten years’ experience and a job paying $120,000? 

The answer is pretty obvious. The Software Developer. Trouble is the Government promised and marketed a study to work to residence pathway to international students. Creating in the process a $3 billion dollar a year industry employing 35,000 New Zealanders. As of last year something like 127,000 were in the country. Half leave at the end of their study. The other half want to stay. There are only 27,000 places for all skilled migrants available. Again, do the math...

So, what did the Government do last week?

They announced that those under the age of 30 will get fewer points for their age, all their work experience will need to be skilled to attract points and unless the job offer in NZ pays $48,800, the job would not be deemed skilled and there is no pathway to residence.

Who does that impact? The older software developer looking to come here or the young international graduate entering the labour market?

The country will still get 27,000 skilled migrants but there will be a slight shift that favours those over the age of 30.

No cut to numbers though. Just a change in the ‘mix’.

Pretty obvious really and if you were a political spin doctor you’d be sitting back this week adding another wee drop of whisky to your glass and admiring your handy work. 

You’d be thinking – it’s election year and immigration is a hot topic globally. Brexit started something; Government is getting it in the neck over not investing enough in infrastructure;   Aucklanders are getting grumpy over their traffic woes; sky high house prices are an issue...

One piece missing – immigration. Migrants drive cars. Migrants stay in houses. Migrants are different to us. 

So – announce a tightening to migration and let it be (mis)interpreted as a cut to get one headline out in front of the people – ‘New Zealanders First’!

I have to say I actually admire their gall.

Having created the problem of encouraging all those students to come here, they have been quietly pushing the knife into them for the past six months which, for the most part, the students never even felt (pass mark raised to 160 in October to ‘flush’ the pool of these youngsters). Most of these students think the cuts are to other immigrants and not the stinging in their own back. 

What we saw last week was part two of what, to me, is a very obvious and well-crafted plan to extricate the Government from the indefensible position over international students and the promises they made them with as little fallout as possible.

We do have population pressures and particularly in Auckland but what great problems to have? We are a ‘victim’ of a strong economy for which the government deserves some credit; interest in settling here has gone through the roof, Kiwis don’t feel like leaving, more are coming home and we only have room for so many new migrants and the government is right to be choosy.

Trouble for me is no NZ Government ever seems to have any sort of end plan when it comes to immigration; we have no population policy (and immigration is a poor substitute), we have all these students coming seeking residence, we have around 70,000 young Holiday Working Visa holders having a great time - many of whom are seeking residence and we only have 27,000 skilled resident visas to give away. 

What I cannot for the life of me work out is why the Government has not put the lid on these tens of thousands of young Holiday Work Visa holders.

At least the international students are spending big money to be here, are part of multi-billion dollar export industry and many are studying courses we cannot fill with our own young people.

At the same time the export education industry is going to be under severe threat if they don’t switch their focus to more ‘high value’ areas like Engineering, ICT, Medicine, Health and Architecture where entry level salaries will be above the newly announced minimum of $48,800, because thousands of students will go to other countries if the barriers to long term residence are lower.

In the meantime, if  there was going to be anyone ‘cut’ from the pathway to skilled migration the Government should be focussing on putting limits to Holiday Working Visa numbers.

That would be a ‘cut’. But last week was a fine tuning, dealing with the international student ‘problem’ and anything but a cut to skilled migrant numbers. 

Until next week...

Iain MacLeod

Southern Man

Criminal Convictions & Permanent Resident Visas

Posted by Iain on March 31, 2017, 3:40 p.m. in Immigration

We were approached recently by someone who had - whilst on their two year Resident Visa - been convicted for Driving Under the Influence (DUI).

On the face of it not the worst of crimes (however dangerous those that drink and drive are).

When she applied at the end of the two years for her (lifetime) Permanent Resident Visa (PRV), she was not only declined she was told she was to be deported.

We hadn’t come across this situation before and we weren’t completely clear on what the law said. So, we started to research and study.

If you’ll excuse the is sobering.

In effect, any person who commits a crime where the punishment handed down by the Court (whether in New Zealand or abroad) could be three months’ imprisonment (or more) not only won’t get their PRV, they are liable to deportation.

Black and white.

An appeal process exists and the person who called us had been through this herself. The appeal authority had clearly recommended to the Minister of Immigration that the appellant be given another chance. Seems reasonable to me.

The minister concurred and the outcome of the appeal was essentially a suspension of the deportation order for a further 24 months, and the appellant was told to ‘keep your nose clean for two more years’ and then apply for another PRV.

Unfortunately, the applicant was "DUI’d" a second time.

This time the deportation will take place.

We could not help. 

People inclined to do stupid things, at some point, must accept the consequences.

We are currently working with another client who is what might be classified as an ‘environmental activist’. Having secured a resident visa within the past two years, this person filed their own PRV application as well. INZ picked up on the fact that there was a conviction noted within the past two years against his name. This related to a charge for a non-violent crime committed during a peaceful protest in New Zealand. This person also happens to be married to a New Zealander.

INZ has now said, correctly, he too is liable for deportation.

The law is clear on this and it is not contestable with INZ – you get the conviction, you’ll receive the deportation notice. We have 28 days to appeal this to the independent authority and one would hope, if not presume, some degree of common sense might prevail here given the circumstances and nature of the conviction. 

One might expect the Minister to have a recommendation made that the order be suspended and one must hope this ‘warrior for a better future’ might be given another chance and will not go and get himself arrested or convicted again.

There can be no guarantee of that of course.

The message needs to be taken very seriously by anyone who does not yet hold that precious Permanent resident visa – if you transgress the law, even in a way you might think is not all that serious, it can have major implications for the rest of your (short) stay in New Zealand.

Without wishing to make light of this, we often say to our clients when their resident visa is approved to crack the bubbly and have a few drinks.

Now we will tell them to make sure they do so in the comfort of their home. 

For two years.

Until next week...

Iain MacLeod

Southern Man – letters from New Zealand

When will the Skilled Migrant pass mark drop (and why)?

Posted by Iain on Feb. 10, 2017, 3:18 p.m. in Immigration

A few people have asked me recently why I believe the skilled migrant pass mark will fall from 160.

The short answer is because it needs to.

My analysis can be found in the maths of the passmark calculations and a little bit of faith that the New Zealand Government is both serious and committed to issuing 27,000 resident visas under this category, which it continues to publicly state is its target.

Historically, for New Zealand to issue 27,000 resident visas in any 12 month period, they have had to select around 700 Expressions of interest each fortnight from the ‘pool’. Each EOI accounts for a little over 2 people. So, they select 700 EOIs covering say 1450 people every two weeks, and they do it 25 times a year (they skip one pool draw around Christmas/New Year). If all those selected were approved and granted Resident Visas that would mean around 35,250 resident visas issued in any 12 month period.

Which in turn tells you that more EOIs must be selected than are needed to fill the annual quota because many get no further than selection (they over claim or misclaim points and are either declined or thrown back into the pool by INZ following their selection as a result - it happens a lot). If they are lucky they will be invited to apply for residence based on a claim that looks credible but turns out not to be. 

Of those invited to apply for residence, we know something like 40% will never be offered or granted a resident visa and will be declined. 

There are many reasons for this - applicants often cannot satisfy INZ that the evidence to back their points claim is genuine, relevant, material or verifiable - each being a reason to knock points off - and decline. Furthermore, many people who had the pass mark at selection but did not have a job offer subsequently declined the offer of a job search work visa when INZ decided not to grant them residence at the end of the process. Finally INZ often makes poor decisions and it is they and not the applicant that gets things wrong.

So many more EOIs have to be selected because of the very high (some might suggest scandalously so) rejection rate.

Since the automatic pass mark increased to 160 from 140 back in October last year, each pool draw has seen around 350/360 EOIs selected each fortnight. This is simply because there are far fewer EOIs in the pool with 160 point claims.

So, extrapolating those selection numbers out to the numbers you might expect will be approved, it all points not to 27,000 resident visas being issued, but more like 15,000. Way below target.

I have little doubt there will be those in the pool that might, whilst swimming around, be able to legitimately claim additional points (you can edit your claim whilst in the pool). This may lead to higher numbers being selected. In recent weeks there was one draw for example where around 400 EOIs were selected. So, there is evidence of people ‘upping’ their points while in the pool.

Equally however as more people try and squeeze out more points, even more will be rejected following selection because they are not eligible for those points. We are seeing more and more of this when people come to see us.

If this whole process was objective and based purely on numbers the pass mark simply has to fall at least back to 140.

My best estimate of the earliest this will be allowed to happen is the end of April but I expect it will be later.

I have written before that it is clear the pass mark was shunted so high to ‘flush’ the pool of, in particular, large and increasing numbers of young, inexperienced, international graduates in New Zealand with (on the face of it) skilled job offers. Many thousands of graduates that did what our government, in partnership with local education institutions and their crooked offshore education agents sold them, came here, did courses that lead to a work visa as part of the deal when they finished their course and who - naturally - wanted residence. So they found or bought ‘skilled’ job offers to get them to into the pool with what they expected would be the pass mark. 

Increasingly they dominated ‘selectees’ from the pool through 2015 and 2016 and Government decided (correctly in my view) had to be removed because they were starting to crowd out what the system calls ‘higher quality’ migrants. 

So the pass mark was pushed up high enough that they would never be selected. 

An EOI stays in the pool for six months and if not selected, it lapses. Six months from the pass mark increasing to 160 is the end of April. By then thousands of these mainly young, often Indian graduates will have been flushed out of the system. Objective of the Government achieved (without looking like they had stabbed their international student customers in the back).

My pick for when the pass mark will be allowed to drop won’t be the end of April, it will be when the new skilled migrant criteria are released. We are told to expect these in July.

These new rules are going to make it far more difficult for recent graduates to get the points required - they’ll likely get less points for their age and their jobs often wont pay enough to meet the new definition of ‘skilled’ employment.

So, if it were purely maths driving the process the pass mark would fall now as the annual target is not going to be met at current selection levels.

Given however the Government has to dig themselves out of a hole they created by offering this (well intentioned but naive) study to work to residence pathway, coupled with this being an election year, is where my scepticism tempers my maths.

If the government is willing to box its corner, acknowledging the mismatch between the jobs being created here and the availability of locals to fill these vacancies, then we need at least 27,000 skilled migrants, their spouses and children every year and they will drop the pass mark in July when their new rules come out.

If they are really bold it could be as early as the end of April but being bold, being politicians and this being an election year tends to rule out anything resembling boldness. Especially when it comes to being ‘pro’ immigration. 

If they are looking a bit shaky in the polls my bet is they will let the pass mark fall quietly just after the election in September.

Here at IMMagine we have been able - even at 160 points - to give virtually all of our clients a solution that will get them residence or keep them here till the pass marks fall.

For others trying to negotiate this complex process on their own, this is for you.

Until next week

Iain MacLeod

Southern Man

You get what you pay for

Posted by Iain on Nov. 25, 2016, 3:52 p.m. in Immigration

Around nine months ago my colleague Paul sat with an Electrician (I’ll call him Peter, but that’s not his real name) in South Africa and outlined to him and his wife a carefully constructed strategy to get his family to New Zealand within about three months; with electrical registration in hand and with great job prospects. This strategy was tried and true with many other tradesmen down the years.

As we do, a fee was quoted to 'project manage' everything, from the electrical registration in NZ, visitor visas to work visas to resident visas. We advised that, based on our experience we should be able to do all of that and have the whole visa process completed by the end of this year, but more likely around October.

They went away and thought about it. They decided to shop around to see if they could get a better price. They found one (it isn’t hard; there’s always someone cheaper than us). This Auckland based consultancy quoted roughly half what we did. According to Peter, he was told if he paid the entire fee upfront, then the company would discount the price by 20%. When he tried to tie them up on the offer they apparently denied offering the discount. The full fee was handed over nonetheless.

Not being a man of great means and like so many South Africans staring down the barrel of an exchange rate of ten Rand to the NZ Dollar made the call to go with this other agency.

That was in March this year.

Fast forward to last week. He had been here over seven months, had a job on day one but still didn’t even have a work visa; let alone a resident visa.

He arrived in New Zealand around eight months ago. The pass mark then was 100 with a job offer and he’d easily have scored that before the pass mark was increased to 160 in October and now he doesn’t (but we have a solution to that as well).

He got the first job he applied for the day after he landed. Unfortunately, he says he wasn’t told he’d need registration here in NZ with the local electrical workers Registration Board before he left South Africa. Three months after he landed here, still unemployed, he had secured it. By then, his visitor visa was expiring so a new one had to be filed. He was advised to present medicals and a police clearance.

Unfortunately his medical showed high blood pressure (par for the course for stressed out migrants, especially from South Africa) and a further delay was incurred while INZ doctors decided whether or not he was healthy enough for NZ for a further short term stay. At the same time his two criminal convictions (relatively minor in his mind but not to the immigration system) then meant further delay while INZ decided if he met the temporary entry character standard for a Visitor Visa.

In the end the visitor visa was issued and now that he had his registration in NZ with the Electrical Workers registration Board he could file his work visa. 

For reasons best known to his agent, they filed a work to residence visa which created two immediate hurdles - he now had to meet a residence standard of health and the residence standard of character. What many people don’t understand is the health and character tests for short term temporary work visas are a lower test than long term temporary work and resident visas.

So there were further delays.

The most amazing thing about all this (but is testimony to the critical shortage of tradesmen in NZ) is that the employer kept the job offer open.

Earlier this week, Peter came to see me. I assessed the situation, scratched my head over how things had spun so badly out of control and came to the conclusion that the cheaper agency appeared to have badly mishandled the entire case.

Within two working hours of my intervening through my Relationship Manager (INZ has provided us with an amazingly proactive service oriented officer to work with agencies like ours) Peter had his work visa and the character waiver holding everything up was granted. Within 36 hours of that, his wife and daughter’s visas had also been approved. He hasn’t seen them for nine months.

This is less a story about the professionalism of IMMagine and the unprofessionalism of others but more about false economies and how not looking at the "big picture" financial costs and the cost of delays if you don’t choose the right service provider (or try this on your own).

If Peter had retained us back in February this year we would have told him to stay put in South Africa for about three months, keep earning his salary, we’d sort out his NZ registration with the Board and then he would fly to NZ to get his job. We knew he’d find work very quickly. Within 2-4 weeks all things being equal of finding work he’d have his work visa. His wife and daughter could have joined him about four weeks later.

So looking at the rough numbers - sitting in NZ unemployed for probably five months longer than he needed to be - cost him lost wages of around $30,000 (ZAR300,000). Maintaining a home in South Africa while spending precious dollars living here would have added several thousand dollars on top. More than that perhaps, he has been without his wife and daughter now for about five months longer than he needed to be and there is no price you can put on that (but his tears this week did serve as an uncomfortable reminder).

Our fee was twice what those that he retained were charging. However, had he looked at the bigger financial picture he’d have quickly realised that using us for his process would in the end have cost him in the order of $25,000 (ZAR250,000) less than what it has. 

And he is but one. We come across these stories all the time. If people have never heard of us that’s one thing but when people consult with us in many of the markets we operate in we know we lose customers to the cheap and nasty operators (who have no choice but to compete on price).

Our fees allow us to do just what I did for Peter. I could drop everything else because we are ‘boutique’ not ‘volume’ operators, focus on sorting his life out over a number of hours, use my contacts inside INZ, leverage the reputation IMMagine enjoys with INZ for high value and well presented applications and effect a solution so he could starting work and earning a salary on Monday - four days after he came to IMMagine for help.

Even more than that I had promised him when I sat down with him earlier this week I’d do everything in my power to reunite him with his wife and daughter in time for Christmas.

The moral of this story? You get what you pay for. Never more so than with immigration advice.

I see it all the time - in trying to save money we end up by spending a whole lot more.

A quick P.S. - I am off to Singapore shortly for a seminar tomorrow, Kuala Lumpur (4 December) and Hong Kong (10 December). For those of you in those countries this is your last opportunity for 2017 to come and hear what we have to say about how we can help you make NZ your new home; perhaps in 2017. If you wish to register you can click here.

Until next week.

Iain MacLeod

Southern Man

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