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Will you be denied entry into New Zealand because you’re South African?

Posted by danni on June 24, 2016, 4:08 p.m. in Visitor Visa

The Internet is a double-edged sword. It is the Great Proliferator. This is ideal when you’re sharing news, education or encouragement (or you’re an advertiser…) but when ill-informed discourse proliferates virally, this seemingly innocent “web-chatter” can thwart even the best made plans to move to New Zealand.

Imagine the moment at the airport. It’s the stuff of nightmares. You’ve packed your life up. You trust in your ability to get a job in New Zealand that might result in your permanent residency. You trust in your decisions and your research about the job market and your ability to fit in. You trust in the advice you’ve received from your licensed adviser which is that it is perfectly lawful to enter New Zealand on a temporary visa on a “Look, See & Decide” basis. (In other words, if within the 3 months that your visitor visa is valid in New Zealand (sometimes 6 if an extension is approved) you are offered a job, you are permitted to apply for a work visa and start the ball rolling on your permanent residency process.)

Sometimes it isn’t quite as straight-forward as that. 

By sometimes, we’re talking a small percentage of South Africans being turned away at the border, considered dishonest for arriving on a visitor’s visa after selling & packing their lives up with the intention to live in New Zealand. Of course, things would be much easier if everyone filling skills shortage gaps could be employed from offshore, but we all know that’s not how it works. Including Immigration New Zealand. 

Our senior consultants and Iain MacLeod, our company director, spent over an hour on the phone this afternoon with senior Immigration New Zealand officials and came to an understanding that further mitigates the already small risk of being denied entry into New Zealand specifically to IMMagine clients by applying for Visitor Visas for some South Africans coming to find work.

These are the actual statistics to dispel the myth that New Zealand has something against South Africans:

  • 3.2 million tourists entered New Zealand in the last year
  • of this, 3,780 visitors were either offloaded before arriving in New Zealand or were denied entry upon arrival (that’s 0.12%...)
  • 294 of these visitors offloaded or turned away were South African

Sensationalism is rife in digital media and your decision to migrate must always be based on fact, not bitter discourse. (For example, chat forums for the thousands of happy migrants don’t exist online; only those for people who’ve encountered problems making it somewhat one-sided.)

Armchair advisers and keyboard warriors don’t have contextual access to the latest information and misinformation could so easily impact your decisions to migrate and as such, any opportunity moving to New Zealand might provide you. 

Given our relationship with Immigration New Zealand and their dedicated consideration of our qualified clients coming in to the country on a Look See & Decide basis, the tiny risk is even tinier. Spread the word. 

(For those of you interested in attending our free upcoming South Africa seminars about moving to New Zealand, please visit this link to register)

Decided, Looking and Seeing or Looking, Seeing and Deciding?

Posted by Iain on Nov. 27, 2015, 12:01 p.m. in Visitor Visa

That is the question...

Regular readers in South Africa will know that in recent times increasing numbers of South African citizens travelling to New Zealand are being questioned about the purpose of their visit when they check in to their flights in South Africa, in transit en route, during a stop over or on arrival in New Zealand.

It is causing understandable consternation among many.

I have been trying to get the NZ Government to acknowledge that it is quite legal to come to New Zealand to look for work, to attend interviews, to check out schools, cost of living, lifestyle and so on because you might think you fancy settling here if everything falls into place. And they have. What they don’t have though is a formal class of visa for this. 

I believe there is a relatively simple solution to that.

To once again explain the issue; with New Zealand employers overwhelmingly demanding face to face interviews, demonstrations of commitment to the settlement process, fluency in English and cultural compatibility, there is only so much you can do through CVs, emails and Skype. In the end, our experience clearly demonstrates that employers want to see your boots on the ground here, evidence of real commitment and availability to start work subject to having appropriate visas.

As I have written about previously, we are finding about 10% of our South African clients are being questioned at check in, en route, or on arrival as to the purpose of their visit. The other 90% have no issue so this is not a big problem...unless you are one of the 10%.

On what to say if asked we have always advised clients to tell the truth - they are here to 'Look, See and Decide' if they want to settle here - primarily on vacation and as a secondary purpose to see if they are employable and might want to live here.

What happens when people are questioned depends very much on who does the questioning, rather than the answers given. Around half of the clients questioned are not hassled further and are allowed to board their flight or receive a ‘normal’ Visitor Visa on arrival. This means once they get their job they can stay in NZ and change their immigration status later e.g. get a work visa once they have secured their job rather than fly home secure the work visa and then come back to NZ a few weeks later.

About one in 20 of our clients has been given a 'Limited' Visa on arrival meaning they could not change their status once they found their job which as I understand it, all have done.

Realising this is a very subjective area of the rule book INZ recently issued one of their internal information circulars to their staff which sought to offer further guidance to their officers - what to do when someone standing in front of you says they are on a ‘LSD’ trip.

Officers have been told that if the person who might become the main applicant for residence i.e. the potential job seeker has sold their home and resigned their job then in the mind of Government the person has in fact ‘Decided’ and is only now ‘Looking and Seeing’ and should be as such given a Limited Visa.

Government is not wrong on this - given most South Africans fund their migration through the sale of their home many will have had to have sold it to raise the funds and to get the process under way.

Equally, given most migrants take 2-4 months to find employment once landed here they are forced to resign their jobs in order to have enough time to find work here. If they come for two weeks and try and land a job I’d suggest 99% would fail to secure the job.

So all the migrants (ones we will later congratulate on securing residence and adding to our nation’s skill base) here looking for jobs are effectively being forced to resign their jobs at home to maximise the chances of the outcome they seek here eventuating.

Given New Zealand employers ultimately determine who gets residence (because they decide who gets jobs) this situation is still highly unsatisfactory.

It is not unreasonable for migrants to want a degree of certainty they will be able to enter for the purpose of finding work - because this is what NZ employees demand and there is little to no evidence that South African citizens overstay their visas if they don’t find work - they go home.

It is not unreasonable for them to have to have the money to do it - and like most middle class skilled migrants their wealth is tied up in property.

Nor is it unreasonable for highly skilled, fluent english speaking migrants from anywhere to have resigned their jobs. Time is needed on the ground in NZ because most employers demand work visas before they will offer a job and the only remedy for that is applying for many roles to find the one employer willing to play the visa game. Time on the ground is the only solution on offer today.

At the same time New Zealand has a right to protect its borders and it is very clear that our Government has an opinion on what is happening in South Africa that has led to the ‘risk profile’ of South Africans being elevated to the level where people are even being stopped in South Africa before they board the plane.

There are some obvious solutions to this which would require tweaks in immigration rules but I continue to be disappointed no one inside INZ seems terribly interested in listening to what they might be even though it increases certainty for migrants and acts to protect the border at the same time.

The simplest solution would be if a person is employed in an area of immediate or absolute skills shortage that they file an Expression of Interest in residence, and if they meet certain criteria - age, qualifications in that area of skills hostage and X number of years experience, they be invited to apply for residence and at the same time are subject to health and character requirements being met. They'd then be issued an open work visa, valid for perhaps three months, so they have that long on the ground in NZ to find the skilled job offer to ‘top up’ their points claim.

That allows the Government to keep these people ‘at home’ until the risk is assessed, allows a detailed assessment of their employability and whether they tick the other ‘risk mitigation’ boxes and then give them work visas to travel (possibly alone and without any family which further mitigates the risk) to NZ.

If they find a skilled job offer in the three months, the process can move on from there.

Not difficult and it wouldn’t require immigration officers to do anything more than they do now in terms of assessing people against the set criteria we look to attract - it would simply change the order of bureaucratic and visa events.

To my way of thinking, that makes far more sense than sending out signals that a significant target market for skilled migrants might be increasingly excluded. To be fair I have no doubt the Government is NOT trying to exclude South Africans - their concern I would speculate is people who can get here visa free are people who can raise they hands at the airport and say ‘I want asylum’. If South Africa continues to deteriorate as it has in recent years that is a distinct possibility.

However, and in the meantime, we are having to advise clients not to sell their homes (just take out a flexi-bond or increase your mortgage if you don’t have the cash for the process saved) and think seriously before you resign your job and travel.

Remember, 90% of South Africans travelling here for the purpose of finding work are not challenged along the way and only 10% are (in terms of our clients anyway). Of that 10% less than half were given limited visas. So we are talking one in 20 with a problem, so it needs to be kept in perspective.

Our concern is that the number is increasing and it is unsettling. We do not know if we should raise the possibility that 10% have an issue and frighten the other 90% or just say nothing. Our morality doesn’t allow that unfortunately - we feel obligated to advise clients of all the risks just in case.

The internet is abuzz with false rumours and jibber jabber about this issue and for the sake of changing the system to accommodate principally the needs of NZ employers, INZ and the Government need to get with the (their!) programme.

Right now they are expecting the same people they want as skilled migrants (and it should be said not just from South Africa but from another 30 odd countries from which people can travel here without visas) to either not tell the whole truth or simply lie when asked the purpose - in order to meet the same Government’s residence programme criteria.

It isn’t fair to say to the highly skilled - 'we want your skills and we want you to secure a job but at the same time won’t let you in potentially to look for one when it’s what the employees who have the skills shortages demand'.  

I would even be so bold as to say more it's more than a little crazy, when there is a pretty simple, risk free solution that I can offer.

Until next week

Iain MacLeod

Southern Man

Visitor Visa Lottery

Posted by Iain on Sept. 25, 2015, 2:01 p.m. in Visitor Visa

Before a game of rugby at the World Cup it is common for the two coaches to sit with the referee and ask how various rules might be interpreted and enforced given there is always a degree of interpretation of many rules.

All parties to the game leave with an understanding so they can prepare in order to play within the rules once the whistle is blown for kick off.

Getting a Visa can, depressingly, often seem like a game without rules let alone interpretations at times.

As advisers to hundreds of families each year making life changing decisions, we need to know exactly how each immigration rule will be interpreted before kick off. 

What an exercise in frustration it has been in getting straight answers about who will and who will not be given ‘General’ Visitor Visas for the purpose of coming to New Zealand to test themselves against the labour market. Which, if successful, leads them to score enough ‘points’ to ensure they will able to be part of the NZ Government’s much marketed Resident Visa Programme.

I have blogged about this before. The issue is there is no such thing as an ‘I-want-to-come-NZ-to-look-for-skilled-employment-so-I-can-then apply-for-Residence’ visa.

Unfortunately no one in the halls of power seem very interested in acknowledging how migrants and the labour market go together - not helped by dysfunctional and contradictory rules undermining ‘big picture’ residence outcomes.

If you are seeking to enter New Zealand because NZ employers demand to meet you in order to know that you are serious and available to take up any job you apply for, you need a Visitor Visa - either issued before you travel or issued on arrival if you are able to travel visa free.

Unfortunately only ‘tourists’ can get Visitor Visas, so if your purpose is to (among other things) look for work, you are clearly not on vacation and you are not a Tourist.

So what are you? You are a square peg looking for a round hole is what you are...

You can lie and say you are entering for a vacation but the problem with that is you can later be accused of a false declaration once you have a job and are applying for a work visa (I have seen it).

You can tell the truth and risk being denied entry or the visa to travel to NZ by an officer who doesn’t wish to apply a flexible risk assessment.

As recently written I have had a number of meetings with senior officials in Wellington and the Branch Manager of INZ in Pretoria (as it seems to be South Africans that have the biggest problem with this). The Branch Manager, to his credit, was most supportive and because he understood that the specific ‘risk profile’ of the clients of IMMagine (low risk because about 118 out of 120 who come to NZ each year get jobs and go on to get residence) was such that they should be treated fairly and based on the facts of their application - or in INZ-speak - ‘each case on its merits’.

One basic ‘rule’ interpretation was agreed to. If the applicant intended, before flying to NZ, to sever all their ties to their homeland (resigned job, sold house, etc) then it was envisaged such Visitor Visa applicants could expect to get what are known as ‘Limited Visas’ i.e. allowing travel and/or entry but which could not be changed to say a work visa when the job hunt was successful. The applicant would have to return home and apply for a work visa - an expensive waste of everyone’s time and money.

It was however a line in the sand that we were resigned to working to.

So we filed three applications for Visitor Visas through INZ in Pretoria - two families both of which said one partner would travel over to NZ while the other remained behind but the family home would be sold and the main applicant’s job resigned by the time the main applicant landed. The other one young single male who had no house to sell and who INZ knew would be resigning his job.

All, based on our understanding, should have been given Limited Visas.

All were granted ‘General’ (they can change their status once they got their jobs in NZ) visas. While this was great news it went against what we thought the ‘rules’ were. And left us confused. if the line in the sand was over there but is now over here - can we expect that it will remain there?

Maybe...but the Branch Manager left and he passed the ball to his incoming replacement.

Knowing that in this game it is the referee that counts and not the rule book we asked the new guy what he thought.

He ‘thought’ that the three visas were issued in error and he would review the decisions (but honour them - which legally he had to do as they were not granted in error at all) as he thought they were incorrect.

He said he’d sit down and speak with his staff as he believed all should have been given Limited Visas.

When pressed on why and where the line in his sand was he ducked for cover and suggested the discussion was above his pay grade and passed the ball to his bosses in Wellington.

This has left Team IMMagine half way through the game once again wondering what the rules are we are playing to.

It gets better.

One of the clients that we secured the Visitor Visa for was a South African who travels on a British passport. While British Citizens can apply on arrival for ‘entry permission’ (a Visitor Visa), it is not guaranteed so we advised this client to get the Visitor Visa through Pretoria before travelling to make sure they’d not be stopped and questioned as to the purpose of the Visa at the border if stopped.

On arrival the person was stopped and was questioned because they had a Visitor Visa in a British passport! The officer was suspicious. Wanted to know why it was issued. How much they paid for it (the clear implication being that we had created some extra work for an extra fee - for the record we charged nothing extra to do this). The client was granted ‘general’ entry.

It really is quite unbelievable. And ludicrous.

Even when you try to do the right thing and tell the truth it is still not enough for some officers at the airport and inside INZ. They are programmed to be suspicious of everyone and anything they say.

INZ have a problem - they now seem to have (finally) recognised that when the majority of skilled migrants require jobs to gain entry to the country it is NZ employers who will determine whether as a nation we get the skilled migrants we want or not. They call the shots. 

The temporary entry rules are at odds with the way employers work.

Employers won’t change and frankly nor should they have to.

Government won’t change the visa rules even when the visitor visa rules demonstrably undermine the intended outcomes of the resident visa rules.

So our solution?

We are now advising all our South African clients and others who can travel visa free when they come over to look for work to simply travel visa free. We know 90% of our clients are not stopped and questioned but given ‘general’ visitor visas on arrival, meaning they can change their status to work visa once they get their job without leaving the country.

Perhaps 10% will be stopped and they are being told to tell the truth about the visit  - about half of them will be given general visas if they do. The other half will be given Limited Visas in the great NZ border lottery.

I am meeting again with the senior officials on 2 October in Wellington and the issue again features on the agenda. However this time I am simply going to tell them that as they seem incapable of explaining to their own ‘referees’ how to interpret their own (simple) rules, or coming up with some new sensible ones we are simply going to advise the ‘players’ to follow the rules as we understand them.

Given there is nothing illegal about coming to New Zealand with the primary purpose of ‘vacation’ and the secondary purpose of testing yourself against the local labour market it seems the obvious way forward. Just get on the plane.

If the Government wants to seriously work with us to find a solution to a problem they know they have but seem incapable of solving, we are, as always, standing by to render assistance.

Until next week.

Iain MacLeod

Southern Man



Tags: visas

The Truth, The Whole Truth & Nothing But The Truth

Posted by Iain on Aug. 8, 2015, 8:22 a.m. in Visitor Visa

I am sure that you were always told by your parents to tell the truth. As the old line goes, if you have nothing to hide you have nothing to fear by being honest and truthful. Right?

What happens however when one rule contradicts a second that you must comply with later in order to win the game – and you have to comply with both to get what you need?

Should you lie to achieve the aim of the second if the first stops you achieving the outcome the second rule requires?

What am I talking about?

Most skilled migrants need jobs to achieve the stated aims of the Government residence programme. To get jobs, employers demand that a candidate be in New Zealand. That means getting permission to enter New Zealand either before you travel or at the border.

Only trouble with that is Visitor Visa rules are not compatible with Residence Visa rules.

Many people are being stopped at the airport on arrival and if they say they are on holiday but also intend looking for work (because they are interested in the skilled migrant residence programme and with the job have enough points, they now risk being turned around, given a visa that does not allow them to change their status or they get a normal visa.

My team and I have been wrestling for some weeks now over what to advise those clients who need job offers to secure their skilled migrant visa points who can travel to New Zealand without a visa, but to enter the country must get a visa at the border. Although this is not exclusively a South African issue we are in particular concerned about South Africans...

This condundrum has arisen because about 10% of our South African clients are now being stopped at Auckland airport on arrival and questioned on the purpose of their visit.

If they tell the truth – that they are in the country both on holiday and to check the place out as a possible settlement destination (all of our clients - if they can secure skilled employment - meet the points threshold for a resident visa) then recent history tells us telling the truth can get some into trouble.

It all depends which officer stops them and questions them at the airport - not the rule, but how the rule is applied and by whom.

Most are given ‘normal’ visas which allow them to change their status to a work visa once the job is secured. Others are given limited visas which allow them entry but if they get the job they then have to leave the country and return home to apply for their work visa offshore. I am even hearing of people (not our clients; thank goodness) being turned around at the airport and denied entry.

The only thing they all have in common are their South African passports. Thereafter, it is random – no pattern to who is stopped, who gets a normal visa and who gets the limited visa. The outcomes are consistently inconsistent. The outcome is determined by an immigration officer and how they feel.

Therein lies the dilemma.

If 90% of South Africans entering New Zealand are granted ‘normal’ visas that allow a change of status, why are we seriously considering advising all to apply for Visitor Visas before they travel? If 90% don’t have a problem and 10% do, isn’t this creating an additional cost and bureaucratic burden for all when only 10% have a problem?

I guess it depends on whether you turn out to be one of the 10%.

For the record it is perfectly legal to enter New Zealand as a ‘tourist’ and if you decide you wish to stay longer or even permanently or had even entered wanting to stay subject to finding a skilled job and you find a skilled employment, you are allowed to change your status. Given the significant majority of work visas are issued within New Zealand this clearly happens a lot.

I have met with everyone from Immigration New Zealand’s head of global border security in recent weeks to try and come to some agreement on resolving this issue and eliminate the risk for those 10% highly skilled ‘wannabe’ migrants who are hassled at the airport or to get some agreement that all of our clients coming over will be granted ‘normal’ visitor visas subject to demonstrating that they are not a risk to the country.

You might think that is easy when you can demonstrate that the number of our South African clients who have overstayed their visas is as far as we know – zero.

So if our clients tell the truth at the border about their intentions, some officials at the airport hold it against them. Some don’t. These officials are the same ones employed by the Government that is encouraging skilled migration and demanding that the majority secure work.

In trying to meet the Governments permanent residence rules, the client can be damned if they tell the truth and damned if they don’t at the border.

After three weeks of discussions the outcome I always expected happened a few days ago.

The Government suggested all of our clients should apply for these Visitor Visas offshore before they travel BUT they would not guarantee the client that on arrival at the border in New Zealand they would be granted a visa that would allow them to apply for a work visa onshore. That of course completely defeats the purpose of applying for the visitor visa offshore in the first place because once such applicants find jobs (and in the case of our clients about 98% do) they have to leave the country, apply for a work visa and return a few weeks later.

In the end this refusal to come up with a solution that is geared toward my low risk clients and to manage them as a subset of some greater perceived risk is incredibly disappointing but hardly surprising. If there is one thing Immigration New Zealand is not very good at it is holding the system to account and demanding consistency of outcomes whereby similar applicants with very similar circumstances be treated the same and should be able to reasonably expect the same outcome.

It leaves me concluding that it is not always smart to tell the whole truth. Applying for visas before a South African travels isn’t going to solve any problems. 

Forcing visa applicants to be less than completely truthful in order to give the Government what they want in terms of the Residence Programme is a nonsensical and stupid way of dealing with risk.

However for the time being it seems to be just what Immigration New Zealand is demanding.

The discussions continue.

Until next week.

P.S. There's still time to enter our competition which runs until the 23rd of August - submit your photo and you could win $1500 in cash and 2 luxury nights for two at the Azur Lodge in Queenstown. To enter, click here:

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