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Letters from Southern Man

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Letters from the Southern Man

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

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

Skilled Migrants Needed Now!

Posted by Iain on Nov. 1, 2013, 10:57 a.m. in Immigration

I don’t pretend to understand what goes through New Zealand politicians’ heads but “How do I get re-elected next time round” is probably right up there.

Only that thought can explain to me why we are not seeing Government increasing now, with a degree of urgency for next year and beyond, the numbers of well targeted skilled migrants allowed into New Zealand without job offers.

In the past three weeks media headlines have screamed:

  • Business Confidence remains at 5 year high (31 October)
  • Building consents at record levels (31 October)
  • Booming NZ game industry facing skills shortage (30 October)
  • Skills Shortage hamper rebuild (26 October)
  • Are you ready for the economic boom? (21 October)
  • Skills crisis needs fixing (8 October)

Recent statistics suggest that around 90% of all skilled migrants still require skilled employment before they can get enough ‘points’ to qualify for residence. Understandably, given the potentially real or perceived risks associated with getting those jobs, many choose not to join us in New Zealand for fear they will not be successful in their hunt (or as per last week’s Southern Man Letter from New Zealand they will be denied visas to come and look for work or be stopped at the border). 

For every ten families we consult with that would have an excellent chance of both securing employment and gaining enough points for residence, probably two actually go through with it. 

New Zealand and in particular Immigration New Zealand doesn't make it easy, so understandably many potential migrants don’t take up the challenge. Of course for those that secure the right advice and guidance, the process is overwhelmingly successful.

On the one hand with local unemployment sitting stubbornly around the 6.5% mark it must be tempting for Government not to be seen increasing the numbers of skilled migrants allowed in without needing jobs. As recently as two years ago they did when around 50% of skilled migrants gained Resident Visas that way.

On the other hand there are very real, concerning and increasing levels of skills shortages across many sectors. Not a day goes by when the headlines don’t scream we are short of architects, quantity surveyors, CAD experts, construction related trades workers, IT professionals and many many more. The Government risks losing the support of some of its traditional business power base at next year’s election if companies feel constrained by a lack of available labour to fill roles vital to their businesses.

Of course politicians the world over know that standing on a platform of increasing immigration wins no one any votes anywhere. This, despite the reality that skilled migrants do not compete with the locally unemployed in this country and skilled locals will always be ahead of migrants in the job queue. So the skills difference between these two sets of people mean their paths will seldom, if ever, cross and politically our Government should be confident enough to call it how it is.

Oh that they were so brave.

In the past two years the Government has issued 18,000 fewer skilled migrant visas than their own programme demands. So far they don’t seem bothered about it but when the good people of Christchurch continue to step over the rubble of their humbled city in a few years or Aucklanders face building costs going through the roof because of a lack of skilled workers it might have some political fallout.

If skills shortages start filtering through into wage/price inflation and all home owners watch their mortgage interest rates increase it won’t do anything for the Government’s popularity.

As the construction boom has moved to Auckland this powerful bloc of voters could easily be turned off the Government if they see their ability to maximise their commercial opportunities impeded by lack of skilled workers or it feeding through into cost of living increases that have largely been absent these past few years with inflation well under control and under 1%.

The New Zealand economy is on a roll – growth is forecast at between 3 and 4% over the next year. Every sector of the economy is expanding. Thousands of jobs are being created and hiring intentions are high and climbing. The country’s terms of trade are the strongest in years.

In recent months net migration has turned positive but not thanks to new residents being granted visas – instead largely by New Zealanders returning home from Australia as their economy cools following the end of the mining boom.  This is adding several thousand skilled and semi-skilled workers to the local pool which is a good thing but Government cannot target the specific skills sets we require – we might just be getting back many low to semi skilled workers chucked out of manual work in and around the mines. Again the skills mix might not be what the businesses of New Zealand need.

So there needs to be a sensible balance struck. Right now the Government is on auto pilot when it comes to migration and it would be nice, if only once, a New Zealand Government was proactive and ahead of the game rather than reactive and two years behind.

A skilled migrant who has the points to qualify for residence without needing a job is at least 12 months away and probably closer to two years away from being able to deliver these skills to the labour market of New Zealand.

A sensible approach would be to slowly ramp up the numbers of migrants approved who don’t have jobs but who have excellent English (given linguistic compatibility more than anything drives employment outcomes) and who have the skills sorely needed in New Zealand – Engineering, construction and IT being at the forefront.

A real problem for the skills strapped employers of New Zealand in 2014 is an election year and I cannot see the Government changing its current insistence on the majority of migrants burning bridges at home, travelling to New Zealand, running the airport gauntlet, trying to find work and taking the risk they will be successful.

Perhaps it is time for the politicians to look beyond next year’s election and get bold about migration.

Until next week

Iain MacLeod - Southern Man


INZ Short of the Mark

Posted by Iain on Sept. 13, 2013, 11:31 a.m. in Immigration

We have just ended the second year of the Government's three year residence Programme.

They are woefully short of their targeted Visa issuance at the 2/3rd stage of 54,000 skilled migrants and this has serious implications on the labour market, available skills and honesty about its intentions.

According to its own public statements the Government plans (and planned) on issuing 85,000 Skilled migrant Resident Visas by the end of June 2014.

That's 27,000 plus or minus 10% every 12 months.

They issued 18,000 in the first year.

Here we are shortly after the end of year two. How many Resident Visas have been granted this year?

Another 18,000.

So whereas the Government stated it wanted to issue 54,000 Resident Visas (plus or minus 10%) they have granted just over 36,000.

Now you might think 'who cares?'

Well I do.  All those thousands of people every year who file Expressions of Interest with a view to obtaining residence because they have 100 points or more are never told that the Government has absolutely no intention of selecting them, inviting them to apply for residence or granting them residence.

Each Expression of Interest costs NZ$510 (that's about US$460) and there is no warning by INZ that to be selected applicants really need to meet one of the following points profiles

  • 100 points or more including an offer of skilled employment
  • 140 points (which usually includes an offer of employment but doesn't always)
  • 135 points with at least 15 bonus points for six years or more of work experience in an area of absolute skills shortage.

All those people with 100 points or more who do not meet one of the profiles above are, without doubt, wasting their money - the Government of New Zealand has no intention whatsoever of selecting them from the Pool. 

I have no doubt that they will stick to the same level of approval in this the third year of the Residence programme. That will, by June next year, mean New Zealand has missed out on around 25,000 people the Government has included in its target.

A great many of those 25,000 did try, they did file Expressions of Interest - the Government simply never told them that in doing so, they were wasting their money.

Is that fraudulent? Taking money off someone who has no chance of getting what they are told they are paying for?

If it isn't fraud it is certainly less than honest.

I am convinced the Government moved from a 12 month target of skilled migrant visas they wished to issue to a thirty six month one in order to deflect accusations that they were cutting the numbers. There is no other explanation for it.

They can publicly deny cutting but when you have lost (at the end of three years) 25,000 people those are serious numbers indeed.

There is no doubt that as a Licensed Adviser if we take money off a client who has no chance of getting what they think they are paying for we can lose our licences. As we should.

So how does the Government get away with it?

Because they are the Government I guess. This makes our input so much more valuable as we are able to guide those who have enough points to file Expressions of interest but who will never be successful, not to bother or to find an alternative strategy.

I am about to board a plane to Malaysia to give a seminar tomorrow in Kuala Lumpur and then in Singapore next weekend.

One of my key messages will be to ensure that there is a strategy in place that should work to gain the Resident Visa clients seek with a high degree of probability.

Our philosophy has always been that morally we owe this to our potential clients given the enormous emotional, logistical and financial investment that is migration, and to ensure that people are not wasting their time, energy and investment.

Pity the New Zealand Government isn't as honest.

Until next week

Iain MacLeod - Southern Man


Computer Says No...

Posted by Paul on June 28, 2013, 3:06 p.m. in Immigration

A couple of weeks ago we wrote two interesting pieces on INZ’s proposed attempts to drag their IT systems into the 21st century, namely their website and online visa processing systems. 

INZ have for several months now been touting a rather substantial investment in their IT infrastructure as potentially revolutionising the way that people integrate with the Immigration Department; making for faster decisions through largely automated processes. 

Computers deciding the fate of would be migrants. 

Naturally we were sceptical and although we support the use of modern technology to make things easier for people (we invest a lot in to that around here) there are simply some things that computers can’t do or at least can’t do very well.

A number of weeks ago INZ released their ‘Live Eligibility Calculator’, an online system designed to tell you whether or not you qualify to migrate and if so which visa options might be suitable in your situation. A powerful tool indeed! 

That is if it worked.

To give INZ’s ‘whizz bang’ calculator a good test run my colleagues and I engineered an ideal scenario for the system to see how well it could determine the visa options available and with any luck point me in the direction of the visa type I should apply for.  Sort of like a Jeremy Clarkson road test for a migrant.

The scenario we concocted was the following:

A 34 year old South African client living in South Africa 

Married with two young children

Qualified with a Bachelor’s Degree in Information Technology

Ten years of work experience as an IT Systems Administrator

Wife holds a Bachelor Degree in Commerce

A close family member (brother) in New Zealand

All family members healthy and no criminal convictions

This would represent a very good candidate for a Skilled Migrant Category Visa and one that by all accounts would be able to secure Residence in New Zealand whilst sitting in South Africa. This scenario, we thought, wouldn’t be too much of a stretch for INZ’s system to handle.

So off we went, like the Stig from Top Gear (although without the race helmet) on this internet ‘road test’ and our first step was to select one of four options that most closely matched our scenario. We selected the ‘Live in New Zealand Permanently’ option from the main menu and then started answering questions.

Our first step was to tell the system our age, nationality, location and intention to work in New Zealand. Pretty standard stuff.  So far so good.

We were then asked if we were bringing our spouse or dependent children to which we responded in the affirmative. Twenty percent of the way through by my calculations and heading in the right direction.

The next questions required us to confirm if we had a job offer in New Zealand which we didn’t (at least not yet anyway). We selected ‘No’ from the options.

Now this is where it all became very disappointing.

Expecting to be quizzed on qualifications, work experience and so on, we waited for the little spinning circle to load the next page, imagining someone hauling out and dusting off the CV and Certificates if they were a real life punter. What popped up in the next 10 seconds wasn’t at all what we were looking for.

Based on the seven questions we were asked by the system we were given the following response:

“Unfortunately, based on the information you have entered, no results have been returned. However you may be eligible for one of the following”

The system then went on to give me Skilled Migrant, Visitor Visa and Student Visas as three ‘possible’ options. I didn’t need a computer to tell me that, I could have just read a brochure.

Now for us sitting here in the office, having worked with the immigration rule book for so long we can tell you that this ‘assessment’ is about as far off the mark as Jeremy Clarkson calling a Toyota Prius a sports car. The scenario we had devised should have had the system probing into our education and work experience and leading us to a pretty solid conclusion.

What was of even deeper concern is that the average potential migrant has no idea of the rules and requirements that get them to the point of being eligible and thus someone in the scenario we came up with who, by rights should be skipping their way down the immigration aisle, has just been told that there are no results that match their details..?

To give the system the benefit of the doubt we tried varying the scenario and in almost all cases the advice we were given was wrong or simply not there. Ironic when you consider that as licensed advisers who routinely give out advice on people’s potential options to migrate we would be hauled over the coals for presenting information like this.

The point of the eligibility calculator was, as INZ described it, a means to encourage and attract good potential candidates to apply and give them direction as to how to go about it. On that point (and all other points) it has failed at the first hurdle. 

Surely some more user testing would have been a good idea, or perhaps INZ has employed the same project management team as the Ministry of Education when they implemented Novopay.

This isn’t, however, surprising and for those of you who read our previous posts on the topic you will know why.

Determining whether someone qualifies for residence requires skill in fact some would say it’s an art form; one learned through years of experience and some good old fashioned intuition. There are numerous variables that need to be considered and assessed and not all of these can be done through a website, no matter how sophisticated (or in this case simple) it might be. 

It remains to be seen whether these bugs will be fixed or whether the next stages of INZ’s online system will fare any better, however, what we would say to all potential migrants keen on pursuing a new life in New Zealand, don’t put too much stock (if any) in so called online assessments. If you are serious about this and want to make sure that your situation has been fully accounted for and all the right questions asked, then contact us. 

We might do it the old fashioned way, but it’s a way that works.

Until next week

Paul Janssen – standing in for Iain MacLeod


Ill Be Back...

Posted by Paul on May 10, 2013, 2:12 p.m. in Immigration

Anyone remember Skynet? 

For those of you out there who have no idea what I am talking about, Skynet was the global computer system in the movie franchise ‘Terminator’ that went rogue, creating a race of robots which it then sent out to destroy mankind. 

It was and thankfully still is the stuff of sci-fi fantasy; however life may imitate the cinematic arts sooner than we think. 

Technology has moved ahead at such an incredible pace that there is really no gauge as to what we will be able to achieve in ten, twenty or even two year’s time. This is particularly alarming if you consider that in 1937 the first electro-mechanical computer was born (the Z1) which could perform basic multiplication in approximately three seconds; compare that to the Cray Titan, unleashed in 2012 which can perform the same calculation 20,000 trillion times per second.

What we can do now with computers, even the basic ones that we have at home, is nothing short of miraculous, and at the same time the proliferation of technology into almost everything we do is expanding at a similarly alarming rate.

I remember when email was becoming ‘mainstream’ and I would head to university to fire up the computer (which took enough time to boot up to prepare a cup of coffee and two slices of toast) and download, if I was lucky three or four messages. Back then emails were important and it was like receiving posted mail – just electronically – incredible really.

In the modern world emails are still important, but they are slow. People demand much faster and instant responses such as Tweets. Electronic mail has been surpassed by Instant Messaging. People send photos, videos, books and music rather than the written word. Our entire lives are lived virtually through social networking and there really isn’t any way to escape it. Technology is also no longer the domain of the ‘nerd’ or the ‘geek’ or the ‘young’. The elderly are becoming as IT savvy as Gen Y and ‘nerds’ and ‘geeks’ are now actually pseudonyms for ‘cool’ and ‘hip’. We have entire TV series devoted to being a ‘geek’ and the technology that kids carry around in their pockets today has more power and potential than the systems used to send man to the moon. Its enough to give you a headache, but don’t worry there is an ‘app’ that can help with that (seriously there is).

Right about now you might be wondering what any of this has to do with immigration.

A few weeks ago I attended a presentation held by INZ, where the senior managers attempted to unveil the first signs of their new online processing system. It would have been an event similar to something Microsoft would do, had the video presentation worked. Technical issues aside the presentation was revealing in a number of different ways.

Firstly Immigration, like many Government Departments, is slowly starting to realise that technology can replace a lot of their tired, paper based and slow processes. If you can fill it in on paper you can do it online and save a few trees in the process.

Secondly online systems bring cost and efficiency gains, removing bricks and mortar, speeding up lodgement procedures and making the entire process accessible from anywhere on the planet. 

Thirdly, these systems have the potential to replace people. Not in the ‘rogue robot’ kind of way but in the way that you don’t need to pay ten people to open envelopes and shuffle papers.

On these points I am all for an investment that brings the immigration process into the 21st century – long overdue in my opinion. They have tried it before and failed, just look at what happens when ten thousand hopeful migrants apply online for 300 Silver Fern Visas. I hope this time they get it right.

But there is a flip-side.

Immigration is not only talking about filing applications online but going a step further and having an ‘eligibility engine’ of sorts that will assess certain applications against pre-defined criteria. If the applicant ticks the right combination of boxes and the ‘engine’ completes a background check against its rules a decision will be made to issue or not issue a visa. All with little or no human interaction.

Other countries have introduced similar systems. Australia, for example, demands that practically everyone secures a visa before visiting, yet you can get one (if you are from certain countries) online and within 24 hours. No paper, no visa label just an email you print (or have on your smartphone) and show at the border. 

This removes the ‘visa-free’ status that many countries used to enjoy but allows the Australian Government to monitor and track any and all visitors, all of the time. They also collect a bit of extra revenue doing it. 

New Zealand appears to be following suit but, in typical fashion, wants to go one step further (because we can always do it better).

Not quite Skynet and I don’t envisage a rogue army of robotic visa officers being unleashed on the world; but still an interesting concept. 

Migrating is a uniquely ‘human’ process and whilst INZ is not indicating that people will be removed from the equation entirely it does look very much like fewer people will be asked to make decisions. Instead a large number of applications will simply be measured against a list of rules.

The minute you take the ‘human’ out of what is a very human process things get complicated. They might become quicker but decision making quality won’t necessarily improve. People are complex and migrants are amongst the most complex people, so having a computer decide on one’s fate is a relatively scary thought.

A number of other advisers who attended the same seminar were overcome with fear and dread that an online system would replace the need for advisers in the future. These people clearly don’t bring a lot of value to their clients with the current process.

If anyone had asked me whether this move to a virtual immigration world worried me, my response would have been – absolutely not. You can make an online system with all the bells and whistles, but you will never be able to replace the knowledge that a good adviser brings to the table and in the flesh.

I don’t anticipate this new system ‘taking over’ in the immediate future and if this Government has any sense they will have learnt from their recent mistakes with Novopay (the $30 million teachers’ payroll system that still doesn’t work) and take this all very slowly. However, as an ICT enthusiast, I shall be watching its development closely and keeping you all updated.

And of course we aren’t immune from the advances of technology here either. 

We are currently working on a new online software platform (all very hush hush) that will provide our existing and future clients with an entirely new and interactive way to work with us. We have made a pretty big investment in time and money developing this system, which we hope will enable clients to see more, do more and be involved more with their entire relocation. Ironically finding talent to build this system wasn’t easy, but despite an extensive search in the local market we wound up hiring a highly qualified and skilled ICT professional from the Philippines. Stay tuned for more developments!

For now however I need to respond to 35 emails that have arrived whilst writing this, post my regular ‘Tweets’ and check out what is going on in the world of Facebook…and if I have enough time post a good old fashioned letter to my mum for Mother’s day.

Until next week when the Southern Man returns

Paul Janssen


Inconvenient Truth Meets Classic Government Spin

Posted by Iain on Feb. 22, 2013, 6:39 p.m. in Immigration

What a week.

And stick with me. Yes this week’s Letter from New Zealand is longer than usual but it is a goodie. I think you’ll find it one of the most interesting ever.

I had a brush this past week with state spin doctoring in respect of an article that was being written by the Christchurch Press for which I was being interviewed.   It was an interesting lesson in the power of state officials and politicians to talk crap with a straight face.  Although not surprised by the verbal gymnastics of the Minister and his Spin Meisters it has been more than a little Orwellian. I do hope the good readers of the Christchurch Press can spot Government spouted B**S when they read it.

The article was premised on my view that the unwillingness of most NZ employers to head offshore to recruit prospective staff but expect them to come to NZ first is going to severely slow down the rebuild of Christchurch. Sectors like construction, trades and engineering are going to see real and crippling skills shortages in the coming years if employers don’t work with people like us who are in constant touch with a database of over 20,000 highly skilled, motivated and fluent English speakers – who on the whole need skilled jobs here to gain Resident Visas.

I mentioned, by way of background to the journalist researching the article, that employers looking offshore are going to be increasingly important because of Government cuts to skilled migrant numbers over the past two years.

I said this with great confidence knowing the statistics and truth were very firmly on my side.

Like a good journo he went to the Department’s own website to check on my claims about cuts and then to get comment from the Ministry’s spin doctor and the (new) Minister himself.

The spin doctor denied my explanation of this incontrovertible truth (I assume without giggling) and the Minister also chimed in with a well-rehearsed line he and his predecessors have been trotting out every time I have raised this issue over the past two years. ‘Not true’ he cried.

‘Funny that’ I told the journalist – I have it in writing from the Head of the Immigration Department.

Even without that it is easy enough to demonstrate.

The Government sets out its three year rolling totals in its Operational Policy Manual and to quote the current Residence Programme in respect of skilled migrants:

‘The allocation of places within the NZRP for the Skilled/Business stream is approximately 80,700 to 89,925 places across the three year period’

The current three year period started on 1 July 2011 and finishes on 30 June 2014.

Business Migrants also form part of that quota, but they can be measured in the hundreds each year so are statistically not significant.

For the sake of simplicity call the ‘average’ target in a year to be 27,000 Resident Visas to be granted (being 1/3 of 81,000). So how many skilled migrant Resident Visas have actually been issued over the first 18 months of the three years?

The answer is around 28,000.

Why so low when the target was 40,500 at this mid point?

Simple. INZ cut the numbers.

How can I be so sure?

The Department’s stats (checked and quoted by the journalist) show that in 2010 INZ was selecting 750 Expressions of Interest  (EOI) from the Skilled Migrant Pool each fortnight as they had been for nine years before that in an attempt to hit that midpoint target of around 27,000 skilled migrant Resident Visa approvals a year. Even selecting 750 a fortnight to further process toward residency they seldom, if ever, reached their annual target. 

Two years ago they started routinely selecting only 550 EOIs a fortnight.

Last year they selected on average about 580 EOIs a fortnight.

If you needed to select from your ‘Pool’ 750 Expressions of Interest a fortnight to try and get close to reaching your annual quota of 27,000 people but you never actually achieved quota how can you expect to meet your annual quota if you select 1/3 fewer people? 

You with me? It isn’t rocket science.

So what did INZ say in response to this glaring if inconvenient  truth?

The Minister said ‘There's no directive to cut the numbers of skilled migrants, but we're not going to lower the threshold for applicants just to try and hit or maintain a number.”

Oh really Minister?  Who ordered INZ to cut the numbers being selected from the Pool from 750 a fortnight to 550 and then back up slightly to 580? 

And what did the INZ spin doctor say to explain this mysterious fall off in skilled migrant numbers (of which there had apprently been no cut)?

The Christchurch Press reported that an Immigration NZ spokeswoman said the number of skilled migrants was not being kept low by design.

''The numbers are influenced by current skill shortages.

''In times of lower unemployment, more offers of employment are made resulting in more approvals under [the skilled migrant process], and vice versa.''

Oh if only it were true.

Demand to be one of the lucky 27,000 a year to get these (supposedly available) Resident Visas is as great as it has ever been. The evidence for this is equally clear – after each Pool draw there are now more EOIs left in the Pool, hoping for subsequent selection, than at any time in the past.  This means that as many people want to be selected as historically have, but fewer are being selected leading to greater numbers sitting in the Pool after each Pool draw.

INZ’s mouthpiece claims these are ‘lower quality applicants.’ Well, they were certainly of high enough quality and good enough up until 2011 to be selected and in most cases approved for residence so how come they are now labelled as ‘lower quality’ and shouldn’t be selected?

Anything to do with potential political concern that with unemployment around 7% the Government does not wish for there to be any perception we are letting in migrants when our own unemployment rate is uncomfortably high? Despite of course every study ever carried out on Planet Earth that proves skilled migrants do not compete with, let alone take jobs from, the unemployed?

So I can assure you this fall of over 10,000 migrants year is nothing to do with the local labour market conditions - it is everything to do with fewer being selected from the pool. And that was a conscious decision by the powers that be.

It goes without saying  if you continued to select 750 a fortnight these latter day ‘lower quality’ applicants would suddenly become, in the Spinner’s manual, ‘quality skilled migrants who have demonstrated a high potential to settle and contribute to the NZ economy’. That’s how the spin doctors used to publicly justify letting in people who did not have job offers……before the cuts that is.

Put any spin on it you like but a cut is a cut. 

Funny how even with the knife in their hands the spin doctors and Minister want to deny they have used it.

I am not sure how dumb these people think we all are.

So all in all an interesting week and a tale which one might be tempted to pass off as simply a case  of lies, damned lies and statistics.

Pity then the employers and people of Christchurch who need skills to rebuild their homes, schools, workplaces and city. It’s going to take a whole lot longer than any of them realise, in my humble opinion, to rebuild it all unless and until the Government gets serious about ensuring it delivers to this economy 27,000 highly skilled, English speaking and motivated migrants a year. 

That coupled with employers getting off their chuffs and starting to look offshore for skilled employees before they have exhausted their efforts to find those skills locally and starting to panic over not having enough staff.

What would be really smart is a combination of the two – Government lets in more carefully screened migrants with the skills we will need in the years to come by returning to their pre-2011 selection numbers of 750 a fortnight and employers in Christchurch (and the rest of the country) understanding they may well need to look offshore through companies like Immagine and iPlacements – our migrant to business placement service.

Until next week

Iain MacLeod

Southern Man


Immigration Spin Doctors...

Posted by Iain on June 22, 2012, 9:26 a.m. in Immigration

 

If you have no choice in where you have to go to obtain a service are you a customer or a captive?

I so tire of Governments and the state functionaries they employ using the language of the private sector and acting as if they have ‘customers’ when the poor sods that have to use them have nowhere else to go and are at their mercy. They are not customers - they are captives and as a consequence cannot expect the same market efficiencies and business disciplines to apply to that institution that apply say, to your or my business.

Nothing better illustrates the captive versus customer illusion of these state functionaries than last week’s announcement by the Immigration Department that they are putting up their visa fees from 2 July by an eye watering (and market damaging) 16.7%.  This in a country where inflation is around 2%.

In what must be the cheekiest bit of spin ever in my 23 years in the industry, the Government justified the increase in fees of over 8 times the current inflation rate on the fact that migrant numbers are lower than what the Government was expecting.

Ah, hello…….for the past 18 months the numbers of Expressions of Interest  (EOIs) being selected from the Skilled Migrant ‘Pool’ has been cut by a third from historical levels by the Government, yet apparently the Departmental Spin Doctor is surprised that they are not approving as many Resident Visas as before those cuts.

Maths 101 anyone?

If your quota is 27,000 Resident Visas a year and you used to have to select around 19,500 EOIs annually to ensure you issued 27,000 Resident Visas, how do you expect to issue 27,000 Resident Visas when selecting only 14,300 EOIs??

If a 270km car journey usually takes a full tank of gas but for this trip you decide to only put in two thirds of a tank of gas you should not be surprised if you run out of petrol.

They are either more stupid at maths than even I believe and someone really is surprised that numbers are down or the Government is lying. Again.

Regular readers of the “Letters from New Zealand” will recall I finally got the Immigration Department to admit around a year ago that they had slashed Skilled Migrant numbers by around a third. One can only conclude on the orders of the Government.

At the time they advised me that they were confident they would issue their quota of Resident Visas. It was as obvious then, as it is obvious now, they could not.

And they haven’t. Not even close.

My allegations were initially met with denials and as always the senior state functionaries inside the Department probably hoped that if they ignored me, or told me I had it all wrong that I might go away.

Unfortunately for them the evidence did not lie.  And I did not go away.

In the end, they confirmed they had cut Skilled Migrant numbers and further advised that until the economy improved and unemployment fell, EOI selection numbers would remain lower than they had publicly stated they wanted.

Yet now they feign surprise that migrant numbers are down!

The cuts in numbers that began 18 months ago has had huge implications on many levels. Not least the fact that no one (but us) appeared to be telling prospective migrants that although historically they may have had sufficient ‘points’ to be selected from the Pool, they now stood no chance and should not waste their money filing these EOIs.

If Expressions of Interest were free and migration was not an enormous logistical, emotional and financial exercise for applicants my anger might not be as intense as it was.

However, at $440 a pop for Expressions of Interest that now stand no chance of success still leaves a very bitter taste in my mouth. Thankfully our clients were not adversely affected because we realised what was happening and advised them accordingly. 

An important point in all of this is that the Immigration Department is self funding – that is to say, user pays. It is the migrants that fund this inefficient and monopolistic Department.

If I ran my business in such a way, issued such misleading statements and continued to encourage clients to file applications that were now 16.7% more expensive and certain to fail I would lose my licence to practice and would probably be charged with fraud.

This fee increase means the average migrant family of four applying for Skilled Migrant entry will now pay between NZ$5000 - $7000 in Government fees and charges. 

Will migrants now get a service that is 16.7% quicker? Or 16.7% more efficient? Or 16.7% more accurate? Or 16.7% more consistent in its decision making?

If this sort of fee increase was announced as applying to anything that New Zealanders had to buy in the current environment such as car licences, passports, local body rates or even visits to the doctor there would be an absolute outcry. 

The Government should have had the courage to call it how it really is – they can increase the fees so they have and skip the Spin Doctors’ pathetic attempt to explain it.

Naturally they will get away with it because migrants are largely defenceless against the monopolistic juggernaut that is the Immigration Department.

And when the unemployment rate falls to 5.5% and the Government decides they want more migrants so they return to selecting the 19,500 EOIs required to fill their annualised rolling quota of 27,000 will they drop the fees they charge by 16.7% given this is only a self funding operation and the increase is only a consequence of fewer visa applications?

I somehow doubt it.

Until next week

Iain MacLeod - Southern Man

 

 

 


Who Needs Business Investors?

Posted by Iain on May 18, 2012, 4:11 p.m. in Immigration

 

There is an ongoing, but thankfully small scale debate in New Zealand over whether we gain much from wealthy migrants.

James Cameron (of Titanic and Avatar fame) has just bought a large farm here. We know Shania Twain owns a chunk of the South Island. Peter Thiel (of PayPal and Facebook fame) is investing heavily here and seeding many exciting start ups through his venture capital firm.

The issue of allowing the wealthy and extremely wealthy to be granted residence of New Zealand through investments, either active or passive, is one the politicians wrestle with as being wealthy (and therefore successful) in New Zealand has historically not always been celebrated by the voters.

Right now we have a Government that is very ‘pro’ wealthy migrants investing in New Zealand and getting residence visas as a result. The previous Government, it has to be said, was more reluctant about it for ideological reasons given their politics were left of centre and they like to think they represent the ‘working classes’.

To be the best rugby players and win a Rugby World Cup is a show stopper for New Zealanders and is in the eyes of many seen as the pinnacle of New Zealand achievement. To win the America’s Cup yacht regatta is almost as good and even attracts Government funding. To make blockbuster movies and get rich is kind of okay.  But to be successful in business sometimes has a stigma attached to it here.

It stems, I believe, from the attitudes of my ancestors who left Scotland, Ireland and England to create a new egalitarian society and escape the aristocratic class and economic oppression. They wanted a classless society where the poor were as valued and respected as the rich. This has shaped our world view for over 150 years.

This distrust of the money makers runs deep in our DNA and is rampant among policy makers in Wellington. If you are rich you can’t be like ‘real’ people. You must have exploited the workers. You can’t be generous or be making a positive economic impact in your adopted country given capitalists make their money out of the sweat of, or by ripping off, others.

This past weekend I returned to Kauri Cliffs which makes something of a lie of the idea that rich migrants, in particular, only take and do not give to their adopted homeland.

Situated a comfortable 45 minutes drive from the Bay of Islands in Northland Kauri Cliffs is a golf course and lodge established by Julian Robertson and his late wife Rosie. He, a wealthy American hedge fund billionaire, and his wife visited New Zealand over 30 years ago and simply fell in love with the place. They moved here not long afterward but have, like many wealthy migrants divided their time between their home country and New Zealand.

Among other investments made Mr Roberston decided to build this dream golf course which I understand is ranked among the top 20 in the world. I cannot begin to imagine what it cost him to develop it and what it costs to maintain but it is in every way incredibly special. 

From the Plantation Style Lodge with its elegant furnishings to the manicured fairways and greens this is arguably New Zealand’s ultimate golfing experience.

I was up there with my wife as she and her sisters had bought her parents a night there as celebration of her father’s 70th birthday. As an avid golfer this would be the golf experience of a lifetime.

Horribly expensive to stay at it really is for those one off special occasions such as reaching your three score and ten. Or those with a disposable income most of us simply dream about. I poked my nose in the Visitors Book in the Lodge and noted not a lot of New Zealanders had stayed the night.

My in laws stayed at one of the ‘villas’ for the night which my wife and I had a brief tour of before the menfolk headed off to be torn to shreds by this difficult course. Nothing opulent about the rooms, nothing ostentatious – just special with every little detail carefully thought through and presented in a timeless and elegant way.

Mr Robertson is now an old man and has a home as part of this collection of villas which I understand he stays in when in New Zealand.

I would be surprised if he made any money out of Kauri Cliffs although judging by the numbers of vehicles in the car park it might be more than just a good tax write off. But that is unfair – this course can only be a labour of love and not driven by any tax or financial advantage. Traditionally only 30 odd golfers are allowed on the course at a time and at $1500 or so a night for the villa it is, as I say, reserved for the very wealthy or those who are celebrating and want something very special. A bit of a one off.

Mr Robertson also farms the adjacent property which his guests can stroll across to some amazing stands of native forest with waterfalls and streams and see a working New Zealand farm. So even for the non-golfers this is a wonderful retreat.

The golf course itself is, as I have intimated, the toughest I have ever played. It is absolutely unforgiving with its wetlands that need carrying, sheer cliffs guarding many of the holes, bunkers that would turn the stomachs even of professional golfers and tussock rough that if you gently placed a ball on top of would quickly ‘melt’ through it and disappear. I think I lost 8 balls and several of those were about 6 inches off the fairway. Once in the rough – seldom retrieved. This place takes no prisoners. If you can’t hit straight (and I can’t consistently) you need to pack a dozen balls in your cart.

For all its golfing terror the views are unsurpassed and it is impossible to get angry out here with your game and the value you are adding to the shareholders of the Srixon golf ball manufacturers. Many of the holes run along the top of the cliff where an accidental hook or slice will see you hit the ball farther than you ever have in your life – 600m is not unusual - unfortunately close to 400m of the journey will be down.  Straight down into the Pacific Ocean far below.

We had fairly benign conditions – an 18 degree (Celsius) day and a light northerly. Last time I was here the day was cloudless and there was no wind to speak of and the temperature a very pleasant 28 degrees. The course this time played completely differently. The 9 iron in the first round on one of the Par 3s became a Hybrid 5 this time. The greens were so fast it was ridiculous and talking to the club Pro at the half way lunch stop he told me because they can get a lot of wind given the course’s elevation they have a lot of trouble keeping the speed of the greens down as the day unfolds.

Needless to say my score was not very good but I didn’t care – this place is truly one of New Zealand’s best kept ‘special weekend away’ secrets.

But back to wealthy migrants who apparently don’t give much to New Zealand. A few years ago Mr Robertson and his wife donated over NZ$105 million worth of art from his extensive private collection to the people of Auckland. It was his way of saying thank you. This collection which is on permanent loan until his death, is now housed in the wonderful new adjunct to the Auckland Art Gallery and includes 15 works by Matisse, Gaugin, Braque and Leger among others.

At the time of making the gift a few years ago here is what Julian and Rosie Robertson said:

"We have had a lifelong love affair with New Zealand. We love Auckland. And we love these pictures. That's why we were so pleased when we brought these works to New Zealand that New Zealanders seemed to enjoy them as much as we do. Frankly, bringing the pictures was probably the most appreciated thing we have ever done. We are delighted to be able to make this gift."

Investors come from many different backgrounds and countries and not all are as generous as Julian and his late wife Rosie. However I have yet to represent or come across any wealthy investors who do not bring far more to New Zealand than they take. Whether that is creating jobs, funding start up projects, supporting sports and the arts and even the less well-off, we seem to attract the sort of business investor that have a social conscience who see their investments and living here as a two way street - they find a haven providing them with real peace as well as financial opportunity and that should be welcomed here.

After all without the likes of Julian Robertson we would never, I am sure, enjoy golfing experiences so special and so uniquely New Zealand as Kauri Cliffs. This is without doubt one of our major tourism draw cards for wealthy international tourists who expect the very best. He has created I would imagine at last 30 fulltime jobs and many more indirectly (we stayed at a local hotel for example). And if that wasn’t enough he has a second golf course, Cape Kidnappers, in the Hawke’s Bay near Gisborne where the exercise has been repeated. They tell me it is better than Kauri Cliffs. I am not sure that could be possible.

For those that can swing a golf club and want a golfing experience you will never forget you just have to make a plan to get to this place. If you can afford it, stay the night and toss in a relaxing spa after your golf before being treated to some of the best food and wine available in this country by some of the best chefs.

While you are lying there getting your massage or enjoying the view (having lost your ball) from the 15th hole over Matauri Bay perhaps it might be timely to quietly thank the Government for recognising that successful wealthy business migrants have a positive role to play in our economy and society.

And thank the wealthy migrants for coming here, investing their hard earned cash, being ‘bridge builders’ between this economy and theirs and for providing all sorts of opportunities for New Zealand and New Zealanders.

Until next week

Southern Man – Iain MacLeod


Four Golden Rules Sorely Tested

Posted by Iain on April 27, 2012, 5:45 p.m. in Immigration

 

I think I have in the past shared with you my four golden rules for surviving the immigration process with some of your mental faculties left intact:

  1. Assume nothing about your eligibility
  2. Suspend logic – there is little to be found in the visa process
  3. There’s a good chance when you think you understand the rules your Visa will be processed by an immigration officer who does not understand the rules
  4. Don’t believe everything you read on the Immigration Department’s website

If this sounds a little uncharitable to the Department become a client of ours and you will very soon see what I mean.

Only this week I can give you good examples of all four rules in action.

Last week I wrote of the little drama over claims coming from the Christchurch Branch Work Visa Manager that he and his colleagues were going to ‘get tough on those entering New Zealand as visitors and subsequently applying for Work Visas’. This was obviously a real concern because entering New Zealand as a visitor with a view to exploring the country and checking it out (including employment opportunities) as a visitor is entirely lawful. If someone decides they like it, they find a job and wish to apply for a Work Visa that is not only entirely lawful but the way the labour market works. The Work Visa Manager in Christchurch expressed his surprise that employers and recruiters demanded to interview applicants in person and in New Zealand.

I asked his boss, the Branch Manager, to both explain what her position on those comments were and to consider granting my client a short term Work Visa as an exception while we resolved a relatively minor health issue that was holding things up.

If you recall both the case officer and the Work Visa Manager had flatly refused to consider this simple request.

To her credit she agreed and the client is now working with a 12 month work visa granted as an exception.

She has also in a nice sort of way put her employee back in his box by confirming my understanding of the law is accurate.

Which is good news for the city of Christchurch because if they wish to avoid living in the ruins of their downtown for all eternity this office is going to need to take a sensible and pragmatic approach to the conflicts that exist across Visitor, Work and Residence Visa policies and take a ’big picture’ approach to those, like my client, who travel to New Zealand as visitors, establish they are employable, establish this is a country they wish to settle in, secure work and apply for work visas followed, quite legitimately, by Residence Visas.

The Government could of course assist the officers in their task quite simply.

If a person has been selected from the skilled migrant pool with a job offer and they have been invited to apply for residence, the prima facie claim to that residence has been established. While we know that guarantees nothing in terms of Residence Visa outcomes and significant numbers of people who are invited to apply for residence are subsequently declined (often through no fault of their own) surely the creation of a temporary class of Work Visa for these people does not threaten the integrity of the immigration process?

To do so of course would be a clear breach of Golden rule # 2……

I have also been analysing some statistics on skilled migrant approval, decline and work to residence rates for INZ London, Beijing and Shanghai branches as part of our ongoing monitoring of decisions in those markets.

Those of you that have been reading this blog for a while will know that skilled migrant decline rates coming out of China two years ago were significant and hovered around 80% in Shanghai and Beijing for some time. After months of work and investigation we were able to force change on the Chinese branches which has led to the decline rates plummeting for all applicants. Although none of our cases were being declined we were being asked constantly to help those that had been declined who used other agents or had tried negotiating the process themselves.

In the latest statistics Work To Residence (WTR) Visa decisions still dominate with Shanghai granting around 80% of all Skilled Migration applicants the WTR visa and Beijing coming in just behind at 75%. Without tempting fate (or immigration officers) I can confirm that all of our clients since these officers were given ‘refresher training’ in the policy some 18 or so months ago have been granted Residence Visas following their interviews without leaving home.

Officers in those two Chinese branches continue to appear to ask them after the interview – ‘Is there any compelling reason why I should grant this family a Residence Visa?’ when the question policy actually asks is ‘Is there any compelling reason why I should not grant this family Residence Visas?”

While the fact that decline rates have plummeted is a vast improvement it is clear the de facto position of these two branches is to think that a Work Visa is the most appropriate outcome for applicants from their ‘catchment’. They expect virtually everyone they want to approve residence to get on planes, fly to New Zealand, find employment and then secure their residence.

When their colleagues in London continue to grant Residence Visas to the significant majority (upwards of 80%) of applicants from their markets of Europe, Africa, North and South America one can only ask why? What is the difference between Brazilian, German, French and Swiss applicants all of whom have English as a second language (and processed in London) and a Singaporean, Filipino and Malaysian most of whom have English as a first language (processed in China)?

Are Germans more employable in New Zealand than Singaporeans? Not in my experience. Are French more employable than Malaysians? Not in my experience.

So you see what I mean about my four golden rules – so much depends not on what category you apply under, whether that be temporary Work Visa or skilled migrant Residence Visa – it is where your visa is processed that is the single biggest indicator of the outcome on your application.

And that is quite wrong.

Until next week.

Southern Man - Iain MacLeod

 


Immigration changes and review...

Posted by Iain on Dec. 15, 2011, 3:43 p.m. in Immigration

As the end of the year bears down on us like a runaway freight train and I ponder the holiday season ahead it is worthwhile reviewing some of the changes to immigration policy and processes that have taken place this year.

Those of you that have followed our strong and sustained efforts to effect change in Immigration New Zealand (INZ) Beijing and Shanghai offices will be interested to know that Skilled Migrant decline rates this year:

have fallen in Beijing from roughly 85% of all applications filed a little over a year ago to 35% today which brings that office pretty much in line with global INZ averages; and

have decreased in Shanghai from roughly 85 % a little over a year ago to 50% today. That number is still too high and it is hard to understand with new management in place in both offices why this office has persistently high decline rates totally out of step with the rest of the world; and

for all our clients through those two offices remains zero. In fact it is better than that – as far as I am aware every client, bar one,  in 2011 has been granted a Residence Visa following their settlement interview, one were granted Work to Residence Visas and none were declined. This reinforces the view that if you know what you are doing in this environment and don’t mind investing in  services like ours there is no reason for your application to be declined.

On 5 December new Long Term Skills Shortage List criteria have opened the floodgates to Engineers of many disciplines. Up until last week most Engineers needed job offers to qualify for residence of New Zealand. 

To avoid the need to get jobs, most Engineers had to gain bonus points for qualifications or work experience but the policy made this difficult for most as it was incredibly prescriptive and restrictive. The policy limited bonus points only to those Engineers who had a degree comparable to a New Zealand degree and whose degree was issued by a Washington Accord Signatory country (and only from the date the Accord was established). This meant those bonus points were very hard to get.

The new rules will allow far more Engineers to potentially qualify for Residence Visas without having job offers first which, as we all know, is like being helicoptered half way up Mount Everest rather than being made to climb it one step at a time from the bottom.

If you are an Engineer who holds a Bachelor’s Degree we urge you to get (back) in touch with us – your Christmas might have just come early.

However the party might be short lived given these lists are reviewed every six months and in a meeting with senior Government Officials earlier this week we did warn them that in our view they have gone from the sublime to the ridiculous and this change really opens the floodgates. 

Their response was just as we expected ‘Well, we can always take the occupation off the List of course…..’. 

Therefore there is a window of opportunity here that might not remain open for long. So this is a call to action for all those Engineers who might fancy moving here……

 

In other changes the criteria for ICT Specialists has changed but in discussing this with the INZ Officials we pointed out their changes were practically meaningless because of the way the new policy is worded. I won’t bore you with the detail but we are talking about the use of the word ‘and’ when they say “they think” they meant ‘or’.

How important it is to get this right because the policy as it is currently written will have zero impact when it was designed to open the game up a bit in particular for Telecommunications and Communications Engineers.

Change the word ‘and’ to ‘or’ and the outcomes will be very very different.

In the meantime however immigration officers and advisers can only base decisions and advice on the policy as it is written not as it was meant to be written. So right now it is no easier to claim and be awarded those bonus points but it may be soon. Watch this space.

We also raised the issue with INZ about English language. As many of you will know my colleagues and I have been undergoing in-depth training on Australian General Skills Policy by my business partner and great friend Myer Lipschitz who runs our Melbourne office. It seems logical to have a working knowledge of the policy and experts at our fingertips when the New Zealand Government has made it so hard to get in here and given it is often far easier to get PR of Australia.

One clear advantage of the Australian policy over ours is that applicants can score points for their level of English language. Certain applicants from particular countries are exempt from mandatory English testing so long as they are citizens of and ordinarily live in that country. If they need more points to qualify they can sit the IELTS and are rewarded for it – the better the English the higher their score and the ‘easier’ it is to meet the current pass marks.

We don’t operate like that but we should and we have suggested Immigration New Zealand look to  adopt something similar.

The reason for this is clear – there is no greater factor influencing a migrant’s ability to secure meaningful employment at the level they want and our policy settings seek than English language. The better, more fluent, less accented your English the more attractive you are to a New Zealand employer.

This would allow for better settlement outcomes through employment and we have urged the officials to take this message back to Wellington. 

It has also been fascinating to learn through Myer how for some clients who might need a job offer to qualify for New Zealand can in fact get PR here using Australia as the back door – and without a job.

This is because Australia is less concerned about jobs before dishing out PR Visas. In fact there are many clients that we can get into Australia without their leaving home. 

Which is brilliant because if they really wish to settle here in New Zealand all they have to do is travel through Australia on their way to NZ; activate the Australian Residence Visa automatically at the Australian airport on arrival, get on the next plane and be granted a Residence Visa of New Zealand automatically on arrival here. And we are done – hey presto! New Zealand PR.

Australia has become the welcome doormat to paradise!

Delicious!

If then we have assessed you as not qualifying for New Zealand without a job offer but you wish to explore using Australia as the welcome doormat and back door to New Zealand let us know and we can assess the possibilities. This pathway won’t suit everyone but if it works, is less risky and gets you here without having to actually live in Australia it might be worth some serious consideration.

With this the second to last Southern Man letter before I head to the beach house and spend a few weeks fishing, planting some more native trees and drinking (in some unhealthy quantity) great NZ, South African – just arrived by boat - along with Australian wine, sleeping in, swimming in the warm Pacific Ocean, barbequing in my new fire pit and lying on the beach under that quintessentially New Zealand of trees, the Pohutukawa, I look back on what has been another crazy year. And crazy it seems to have been.

Crazy economy

Crazy Earthquakes down south

Crazy bureaucrats

Crazy Europe

Crazy America

Crazy Julius Malema

Here at Immagine we are finishing on a very busy note which augurs well for next year. As we all take a bit of a break and reflect on our lives and the futures of our children where ever we may live, the uncertain economic times in which we exist, the seeming never ending pressures to deliver economic comfort to our family, being slaves to the capitalist machine, doing our best to keep our heads above the stormy economic seas economically, I hope gives us an opportunity to pause and think hard about what sort of future we really want for ourselves and our family.

Notwithstanding the difficult journey that migration presents, New Zealand really does present something of an oasis of sanity in a world seemingly mad and getting madder by the month.

As we always say, ‘NZ ain’t perfect’ but there are few places better in the world to raise a family than right here.

Until next week

Iain MacLeod -Southern Man


Once Were Communists

Posted by Iain on Sept. 29, 2011, 2:10 p.m. in Allocations

 

I remember quite distinctly when I was ten years old, sitting in the passenger seat of my mother’s old Austin 1100 being driven home from school having an in-depth discussion about the merits of communism with her. As you do when you are ten…… I simply couldn't comprehend a world in which people went hungry, where there were very rich and very poor people and I could not understand why everyone shouldn't receive the same advantages as everyone else.

My ten year old brain saw communism as the perfect solution to inequality in all its forms.

That of course was at the height of the Cold War and no doubt my mother was a little horrified at my left leaning tendencies given I was being raised in an otherwise upwardly mobile middle-class household. Knowing my mother she was probably also quietly proud of my caring, sharing attitude (which of course did not extend to offering to help with the dishes or mowing lawns…….).

But when I was ten I hadn’t yet heard of the Immigration Department and ‘public servants’ and the role they play in our lives.

Three decades on I confess I still wonder why there is reason for any child to go hungry on a planet with such abundance, but I can safely say I am no longer a Communist. Only because experience suggests that it doesn’t work. And I have the Immigration Department to ‘thank’ for that.

Before I go on I am the first to question unregulated total free market capitalism and concede it is far from ideal. But thus far nothing else has served us as well. It is arguably just less bad.

There is still nothing better than competition and the profit motive to drive efficiency, sensible decision making, innovation and growth – which of course creates, albeit unevenly at times, the means for all to partake in the advantages of everyone’s effort.

When you have no skin in the game and your salary rolls in each and every week regardless of performance, any incentive to improve output or the quality of your decisions evaporates.

In the 23 years I have been working as an Immigration Adviser one thing I have come to realize is that when there is no profit motive, the incentive for customer service and sensible outcomes flies out the window.

There are plenty of people who will advise would be migrants not to “waste their money” on Immigration Advisers or Lawyers to help them negotiate the complex bureaucracy that is moving from one country to another. The very fact that we are still in business after 23 years lends something of a lie to any belief that we don’t add value.

I could write a book about the stupidity and culture of paranoia we deal with all day with the Immigration Department and a second which might be titled ‘How many lives can I screw up today by not thinking too hard?’.

The Immigration Department likes to talk the talk but they can’t walk the walk and it takes a special kind of lunatic to continue working in this industry.

Although we deal with a handful of very good immigration officers and I believe that the majority do not set out to ruin lives, separate families, make inconsistent decisions and contradict themselves the lack of any profit motive and competition for the whole organisation diminishes their individual and collective need to think differently and no meaningful accountability does create the situation where the quality of decision making and service is poor.

Let me offer a couple of examples.

The first concerned an exchange that we were having with a senior officer inside the Immigration Department recently on a point of policy. The particular branch is known for exercising wide discretion i.e. ignoring the rules when it suits. Of course, sometimes this can work to a client’s advantage but equally it can also sometimes work to a client’s disadvantage. As a consequence we asked for clarification on where exactly this particular office was drawing the line in the sand over a particular criterion under the Skilled Migrant Category. The reply we got can best be summarised as follows:

We have no discretion in applying the policy, however, each case needs to be assessed on its merits as each is unique.

Now, is it just me, or is that somehow oxymoronic?

What they are saying is that they must follow the rules except when they don’t.

How is anyone meant to negotiate a process where an officer says we must strictly interpret and implement the rules yet it is each case on its merits?

The second recent example of what happens when you operate a monopoly without competition is revealed in a letter we received last week from INZ Shanghai. Many of you will be familiar with our dealings with that Branch, the problems they have had over the last 18 months with implementing consistent visa decision making outcomes, staff turnover and the resulting appalling level of knowledge of the rules by newly appointed and inexperienced case officers (compounded by employing staff who cannot adequately communicate in English).

We had filed the client’s residence application under the Skilled Migrant Category and the Department was writing to acknowledge receipt. This is what they said.

“Your application will be allocated to an Immigration Officer within seven months. Please note that as you are applying for residence without a skilled job offer from a New Zealand employer, it may be necessary to perform a settlement and contribution interview.

These can take time to plan and while we endeavour to complete these interviews and follow up assessment within our time frames, they can take longer to finalize and your application may take up to twelve months to complete from when it is allocated to an Immigration Officer”.

I did a double take because in the past three or four months it has taken between four and six weeks for clients’ Residence Visa applications to be allocated to a Case Officer following receipt; not seven months in this branch. Processing times thereafter to get to interview stage have generally been between two and four months with a final decision coming two to three weeks later - nothing at all like twelve months on top of seven.

The ‘time to plan’ an interview is in every other branch between a week or two.

I then wrote back to the Head of the Skilled Migrant Team asking if processing times had suddenly quadrupled and, if so, why?

The reply was dated 16 September:

“The good news is that our allocation today took us up to applications lodged on 5 August 2010. So right now the wait time is short.

We haven’t changed the acknowledgement letter ...... These acknowledgement letters are generic – applications for your clients wouldn’t usually take twelve months as they don’t tend to have the range of issues that some other applications have, for example, medical conditions where further tests are needed, and that then need to be considered for medical waivers”.

Someone help me to understand why they would do this?

Why would you write a letter to an Adviser talking about a nineteen month processing time when what you really meant was two to three months given the quality of the applications we present?

From where I am sitting any Government organization that has charged my client NZ$2,500.00 just to get to this point in processing fees owes it to its customers to not write generic letters, but to send something meaningful that won’t scare the bejesus out of the applicant or the Adviser.

Interesting also that the Senior Officer who penned this reply seems to feel that clients of IMMagine New Zealand are fitter and healthier than the norm. I strongly suspect this is not the case as many people come to us because they perceive their case is more complex specifically because of issues around health among other things (like the dangers of putting your lives in the hands of a jobs-for-life state functionary).

In my experience the Immigration Department mindlessly puts out letters saying processing times will be nineteen months so they can, with hand on heart, (and a degree of false pride) announce to anyone who wishes to listen that they meet 95% of their processing targets within the deadlines they lay down for themselves.

Which makes me wonder why they don’t say it is going to take ten years to process your Residence Visa and then they can say that they have a 100% success rate achieving their KPIs.

I strongly suspect if there was some competition for the work that they carry out then they might not adopt double speak in emails that would not be out of place in George Orwell’s novel 1984 and they might be a little less lazy and stop sending out generic letters and send out letters which correlate to processing reality.

Competition with some oversight inevitably brings efficiency and better service delivery. If only there was some competition for the Immigration Department.

Until next week...

Iain MacLeod - Southern Man