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Migrating is more than just filling in forms and submitting paperwork; its a complex process that will test even the most resilient of people. Understanding Australia & New Zealand at a grass-roots level is paramount to your immigration survival, and to give you a realistic view of both countries, its people and how we see the world, as well as updates about any current or imminent policy changes, subscribe to our regular blog posts by entering your details below.

Skilled migrant processing times - update

Posted by Iain on Jan. 31, 2020, 5:09 p.m. in Skilled Migrant Category

Two weeks ago I wrote a blog which explained how the immigration department is allocating Skilled Migrant Category (SMC) Resident Visa applications and how they are choosing to prioritise.

I did that in part because we have received a small number of emails from clients in recent months along the lines of "Why is my application going to take one year to be allocated when my friends were allocated more quickly and they lodged their application after we did?”

I contacted the Regional Manager and the Resident Visa Operations Manager for the Manukau branch where all SMC migrant cases are now processed and put this question to them.

They replied, very emphatically, that unless an application meets the criteria for priority processing, which is either the principal applicant has a high salary ($104,000 per annum) or they work in an occupation for which registration in New Zealand is a statutory requirement and they hold that registration, they would not be afforded priority. All those applications are going to be allocated in ‘strict chronological order of receipt’. I have no doubt that once allocated, our cases will be processed very quickly because they are "decision ready" when they are submitted. Those going it alone I imagine will take many months even once allocated so most people are probably looking at 18-24 months more or less from the time the file their application.

These Managers went on to confirm that the only cases being bumped up the queue are those that are already in the priority queue.

That is to say they are now prioritising some of the prioritised cases! One example I was offered was a surgeon living in a regional area i.e. outside of Auckland. I have no idea why that person is more important than the local electrician (registration) or the Accountant earning $104,000 but there you are. A priority system within a priority system - how very INZ.

What we tend to find is when clients give us their “But my friend…” stories and we get more information about those friends, we usually find that the applicant meets one of the criteria for prioritisation.

I don't believe that the senior managers are lying and I do stand by the piece I wrote two weeks ago in which I explained that the backlogs are growing because the government is now holding INZ to what appears to be an annual quota of SMC resident visas they can issue, rather than the "target" they previously described the annual visa numbers as.

There is no doubt in my mind that it’s politics at play and the fact that we have an election coming up in September, the country is groaning under an infrastructure deficit and the last thing the government wants going into a new election is even more population pressure and the house price inflation that has been created in recent years. Especially when all three parties to the current government campaigned in 2017 on cutting immigration numbers and set out to do so.

I am going to be intrigued to see what the biggest party making up government, the Labour Party, announces its immigration policy to be this time round. Given that they rule at the pleasure of the very small New Zealand First party, a small anti-immigration party (at least whilst not in Government), I am not sure they will have the courage of their historical convictions that migration is a positive force not a negative one. Things change when you want to get your hands on the levers of power.

I outlined three possible options two weeks ago that the government might adopt to deal with the backlog that is rapidly growing:


1.       Increase the pass mark significantly but that has downside economic risks particularly in Auckland as we need every single skilled migrant that is finding work in New Zealand or live with the economic contraction keeping them out will almost certainly cause; or

2.       Let the visa allocation times get longer and longer and effectively kick the can down the road at least till after the election. I suspect this is what they will do until the election is out of the way. All bets are off once a new government is in place.

3.       Nuclear option - shut down the policy temporarily. They did it with the parent category but I don't believe they would be stupid enough to do it with the skilled migrant category. There is simply too much at stake economically.

The smartest move would be to recognise that every skilled migrant who jumps through the hoops to find a job whilst on a Visitor Visa is obviously in acute demand in New Zealand. No New Zealand employer employs migrants and deals with the Visa process if they can find locals. A simple truth, always ignored by all those who complain about "mass migration" and filling up New Zealand with "cheap foreign labour” (and you would be quite surprised how many people think that!). We have neither mass migration, nor is New Zealand being flooded by cheap foreign labour. Foreigners actually have to earn around 20% more than locals or they don't get work visas.

The government should have the courage of their economic convictions and revert to describing the annual number of resident visas they are prepared to issue as a ‘target’ and not a quota. Funny how when they weren't filling the annual numbers two years ago we were told the ‘magic number’ wasn't a quota but a ‘target’ and it was about ‘quality not quantity’. Now however it seems to be a quota and it is about quantity and not quality.

Back to the ‘My friend’ stories however. If you know of anybody that has filed a resident Visa application under the SMC policy who is not earning $104,000 a year or does not hold registration in New Zealand in their occupation, but has been given priority, I would very much like to hear about it. Email me at

I do believe the senior departmental managers when they tell me they are not prioritising anybody else and not allowing people to queue jump but at the same time I know the immigration department is consistently inconsistent and its management doesn't always know what is going on at counter level.

I don't rule out INZ management believing people are not jumping the queue, but that doesn’t mean queue jumping is not taking place nonetheless.

I'd like to find out.

Iain MacLeod


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Melting Pot

Posted by Paul on June 5, 2015, 5:01 p.m. in New Zealand Employment

The Southern Man is travelling through South Africa at present dealing with the masses looking to make the move to our (currently rather soggy) part of the world. It therefore falls upon me to take his place for this week’s blog post.

A client of mine mentioned something in passing to me today which has prompted this post and a whole lot of thinking about the labour market and working environments in New Zealand from the perspective of a migrant.

After all for the vast majority of ‘new’ New Zealanders, securing a job offer, whether before or after the Visa process is a pretty important step and whilst getting the job is one challenge, adapting to a different working environment with all its various idiosyncrasies is another.

This client had heard on the migrant grapevine that there was an element of workplace “bullying” that went on here in regards to how migrants are treated by their “New Zealand” colleagues. That made me think, not only about whether the statement was possibly true but, if it was true, how could it be when the bulk of New Zealand work places are similar to a miniature United Nations Forum. 

Whilst we here tend to focus quite heavily on how our clients can secure jobs and the various tools they need to employ to break in to the labour market, the ‘what happens after they get a job’ part of the equation is something I must admit, I haven’t thought of in great detail.

So think of it, I shall.

A good place to start would be this very business, which is what I would call typical of the small to medium sized enterprise operating in New Zealand; which incidentally forms the bulk of our economy – small to medium sized business.

Surrounding me are three South Africans (all of which have moved to New Zealand at varying times in recent history), a gentleman from the Philippines who was up until two years ago residing in Singapore. We have me, although born in New Zealand of Dutch descent and then the remainder hailing from New Zealand (although ultimately their lineage would stretch back to other countries).

In previous companies that I have worked for there have been British, Indian, Chinese, Japanese, Argentinian and a whole host of other nationalities lumped in together, stirred around and coexisting in a cultural melting pot quite happily. 

All of these different cultures, backgrounds and value add to a mix that, I believe, makes New Zealand a more productive place to work and for the new entrant (read migrant) potentially far more welcoming than other countries.  This is reinforced by New Zealand’s strong migrant history, having imported large sections of our workforce over time to support a) a growing economy and b) a slowing birth rate. 

I don’t dismiss the fact that there could be people out there that see migrants as a threat, principally because of the values they bring to the work place and the different levels of work ethic that they carry with them. Migrants on the whole have either suffered more to get here and thus value the opportunities they secure or simply want to contribute to this place that they now call home. 

Historical statistics reinforce that (yes we have and do track these things). In a long running study conducted over several years, 93% of migrants indicated they were quite happy with their decision to migrate here (we can’t please everyone I guess) with 60% of people confirming that the friendly and open nature of the people here contributed to that satisfaction. Other leading factors included being able to achieve their desired lifestyle and the fact we are so clean and green.

These statistics although slightly dated now (from 2010) come from a long running migrant survey conducted by Immigration New Zealand and Statistics New Zealand to monitor the outcomes of both the migration programme and the benefits that those migrants bring.

Whilst there may be isolated incidents of work place bullying, I wouldn’t go so far as to suggest this is an “us” versus “them” thing and I would prefer to see it as a case of one or maybe two bad apples that should be squashed and turned into juice. 

You would be hard pressed in a country like this to find a work place made up of just one nationality; it’s just not possible. We import a large portion of our skills and logically that creates both a diverse and rich labour market but also a much more tolerant working environment. The same applies to schools, hospitals, the Public Service and so on and so forth. We are just one big melting pot of cultures for the most part getting along quite nicely.

There are differences in the way working environments operate here, for example, the emphasis is on productivity but not the “whoever stays the longest is the most productive” type, but more the “how can we do more in less time” type. There is a focus on work-life balance. We are a more modest bunch, meaning the grizzly bear tactics that you might have to employ in other countries to get things done, don’t always work here. These adjustments, however, have less to do with whether or not you are going to singled out as a migrant by others but more to do with how we are as a people.

So to those of you heading this way to find work, I wouldn’t put much stock in comments relating to work place bullying, in fact I would encourage you to think in the opposite direction. You will have to adjust to various ways of doing things, and the peculiarities we have here in NZ, the pace may be a little slower, you may have to get used to different cultural attitudes (or the variety of them) but you can pretty much guarantee that you won’t be the only new kid (migrant) on the block either.

As for the writer, I enjoy the variety different cultures bring and it reminds me daily that the world is getting smaller and smaller. I don’t have to travel far to understand the different cultures sitting right next to me.

Enjoy the weekend, it is almost upon us (for some a little further away) and until next week, when the Southern Man returns.

Paul Janssen

Cricket, Power Cuts and Root Canals

Posted by Iain on Feb. 14, 2015, 10:47 a.m. in Living

It’s been a big week and my apologies for the later edition of the Southern Man. 

It’s that time of year when the Accountant wants to see me, the Dentist decided on a bit of root canal, I had a mediation over a leaky house issue before it gets to the Courts and somewhere in among all that did a week’s worth of work. Collapsed on the couch last night and dozed instead of sending this out.

Hey, I am only human and Southern Man’s letter from new Zealand just had to wait.

A bit of a hotch potch this week of thoughts and events.

Paul is off to South Africa on Monday for two weeks of Seminars in Johannesburg (now looking to be virtually fully booked), Durban and Cape Town. Suggested he pack a good torch and some extra batteries. How far has this once proud nation fallen that there is now four hours a day of power blackouts (something the South African spin doctors call ‘load shedding’). Call it what you like if but you can’t boil the water it’s a power blackout……. My partner Myer has been there the past two weeks talking to packed houses about moving to Australia. He wryly observed - they seem to have got used to 20,000 murders a year, a rape every three minutes, rampant Government corruption, public service inefficiency but cut off their power for four hours a day and they all start running for the door. It’s curious what we get used to.

I’d suggest the last one out should turn off the lights, but the lights it seems are likely already off.

Locally, we have electricity in abundance but as happens in most years we now have drought conditions declared on the east coast of the South Island (cricket fans might not believe that as this morning’s first game of the Cricket World Cup in usually very dry Christchurch is threatened by rain  interruptions). Up here in Auckland (nearly 1000 km away from Christchurch) there has been no substantial rain for over 6 weeks - the back garden needs regular watering to keep it alive. 

Temperatures have been a very pleasant 25 - 28 degrees Celsius now for six weeks and we are told to expect this through to April. Wonderful, unless you need to grow things for a living.


The World Cup of cricket kicks off n about an hour and it is filling all local cricket fans with an excitement not really experienced before. For the first time in a very long time, if indeed ever to be brutally honest, New Zealand can consider itself among the favourites. Those of us who enjoy this sport have been in that ‘I can’t wait’ mode for at least the past week. My apologies to those who think thesis like watching paint dry but can 1 billion Indians all be wrong? I don’t think so…….

Wonderful to see Christchurch playing host to the (rather low key but a hell of a lot better than what Australia put on as co-host!) opening ceremony. This was a chance for New Zealand’s second city to show the world it is back. out of adversity comes some wonderful opportunities including the new ‘village green’ type of cricket field at the Hagley Oval. Compare that venue set in a huge park with grassy areas and ‘low rise’ seating stands to the concrete jungle that is the MCG, where England take on the typically cocky Australians later today. The MCG is magnificent but in typical low key New Zealand style Hagley Park oval somehow seems more intimate.

In a final thought before i grab another coffee and settle into the couch for the Black Caps versus Sri Lanka I get the feeling that momentum is building for the addition of a compulsory IT qualification for all school leavers. Shockingly for a country that exports over $7 billion in ICT products and services every year only 6% of school leavers have a recognised IT qualification. The fact that there are in Auckland alone today over 1500 unfilled high skilled IT roles reflects the fact that our universities and technical institutes only produce 50% of the graduates this booming industry needs to satisfy it’s demand. 

Around 20% of all my clients work in IT and they are the one group of clients that can generally expect to find work in a few short weeks of landing with a high degree of certainty. This industry is also showing the most rapid increase in salaries with graduates starting around $60,000 and with 5 years experience most are on $85,000 plus. Thereafter the sky really is the limit. There has been a sea change here in this industry and New Zealand, if it can find the workers required, will see ICT exports become one of our top three or four exports within the next few years. it is already in the top ten.

For any of you (or any of your family and friends) might be thinking of joining us we are still trying to help a local IT recruiter fill some 200 IT roles and while we don’t hold ourselves out to be recruiters, we may be able to help some wannabe Kiwi IT specialists into roles locally if they retain us to handle the entire visa and settlement process.

Our New Zealand bound clients will shortly (if they haven’t already) receive an invitation to start using our sexy new in house developed client management system called HuM (as in ‘Helping U Manage’). In development for the past 18 months HuM was designed to help us better manage our clients visa applications in an electronic environment given from later this year more visas will be filed with the Department electronically and we wanted to be ready.

It has also given us the opportunity to provide our clients a one stop shop on our server to upload documents we need to see and to manage the logistics of their move - a place to create folders specific to the move such as ‘Bringing the Dog’,  ‘Shipping my personal effects’, ‘Finding accommodation’ and ‘Finding jobs’. Rather than have folders for this stuff all over your desktop you can save it all in your secure personal file on their own protected cline file on our server. Noting earth shattering but we hope a tidy solution designed not just for migrant but any small(ish) business with multiple clients that need to be managed in an increasingly electronic and cloud based world.

We will roll this out to our clients using our Melbourne office a little later.

Last but by no means least in about a month’s time you are going to notice a change to the IMMagine branding - principally to shades of blue. This change is the final step in the re-brand of IMMage new Zealand and IMMagine Australia to better reflect the ‘one company, two country solution’ we offer to those seeking a better life.

We will be rolling out a new website which we believe better reflects who we are and what we do across these two countries.

Okay, the umpires are making their way out on to the field shortly so I need to get to the couch before my son ‘shotguns’ it.

Until next week

Iain MacLeod - Southern Man

Chicken & Egg

Posted by Iain on Nov. 7, 2014, 3:25 p.m. in Jobs in New Zealand

I have written many times about the “chicken and egg” situation that exists for migrants trying to enter the labour market before they have a Resident Visa. That is that the employers generally demand Work Visas before they will offer jobs but the Immigration Department cannot (on the whole) give a Work Visa without that job.

It is the reason why many migrants fail in their quest to get New Zealand Residence (I hasten to add not our clients as we seem to do a pretty good job at identifying those who have all the appropriate attributes to secure employment).

I had an interesting experience this week which is worth sharing and might help employers who are willing to engage in the immigration process but who don’t want floods of applications from people not in New Zealand.

A client had applied for a job whilst in New Zealand through

He received a computer generated rejection on the basis that he did not have a Work Visa (it was one of the questions asked).

He then followed up with a phone call to the company and asked if they would be interested in talking to him or reviewing his CV. They suggested they would and he seemed like a very interesting and qualified candidate.

He then rang me to see if I could call the employer and explain how the immigration process worked given they were somewhat reluctant, he felt, to engage with the visa process.

I called the employer and quickly learned that contrary to the perception they might not be willing to engage the immigration process (a perception they created by their online advertising), they already employed ten migrants on various forms of temporary Work Visas.

I then called the client back, who has now had a conversation with the employer to be, which I hope leads not only to an interview, but a job offer and I will secure him the Work Visa within two or three weeks.

What would have been a more sensible approach from the company when advertising online, was to have three questions that they ask and which may trigger an automated response. These would be:

  • Are you a New Zealand Resident Visa holder or citizen of New Zealand or Australia? Yes/No
  • Do you hold a Work Visa that allows you to take up this job? Yes/No
  • Are you in New Zealand but do not have a Work Visa? Yes/No

In this instance, had the employer done that they would have avoided getting thousands of applications from applicants who are not in New Zealand, not available for quick and easy interview and who might not be seriously committed to the process of migration, but they would have identified my client who is here, serious and available.

It continues to amaze me in this connected world how employers and recruiters still only deal in their minds with two types of potential “foreign” candidates – those who have Permanent Residency and those that do not.

There is clearly a simple way for them to further refine their criteria which both protects them from a deluge of overseas applicants but which provides them with access to potential employees who can get Work Visas who are in New Zealand.

Food for thought for all you employers out there facing increasing skills shortages.

Until next week

IMMagine New Zealand - Southern Man

My Kingdom For a Job...

Posted by Paul on June 28, 2014, 12:35 a.m. in New Zealand Employment

This week’s Southern Man comes to you a little late (apologies). The Southern Man himself is in Europe; we had two of the team in Singapore earlier this week and now one in Malaysia (me). All the while the rest of the faithful crew were busily working away in Auckland, fighting the good fight on behalf of our clients. A truly global effort!

This week’s topic is one often visited in our blog and almost always discussed with our clients both at the initial consultation we have with them and then throughout much of the journey. In fact I have just had this conversation over 40 times in the last week, speaking to hopeful migrants in Singapore and I am about to do it 30 or 40 more times in Malaysia.

So a good time to perhaps share it with the rest of you.

Whether you need the job offer to qualify or have enough points to secure Residence without one, at some point, you will become a member of the ‘job search’ club. You will be standing at the bottom of what looks like an insurmountable wall, wondering how on earth to scale it; but scale it you must and scale it, the well prepared will.

Having worked in recruitment for a short stint, I can speak with some authority on the subject and having helped many a migrant to tackle the task there are few tips I can share. These aren’t ‘magic potions’ or ‘simple fixes’, these are strategies, tools and hints that in almost all cases require a considerable amount of effort to implement.

Firstly, forget any idea of this being easy, it isn’t. Yes there are a few lucky souls that manage to secure work relatively quickly and without too much effort, but for the majority it’s a hard slog. It requires patience, persistence and perseverance, the same you might expect to find in a long distance marathon runner. 

The people that succeed understand this. They prepare for the challenge and gear up suitably. Understanding that the road ahead is a difficult one is half the battle won. I have seen many would be migrants arrive with delusions of grandeur, expecting jobs to be raining from the sky – they aren’t. We prepare people for what will be a fairly gruelling task and coping with the mental battle goes a long way to winning the war.

Secondly, you can dismiss any hopes of securing jobs from your home country, unless you are uniquely skilled and qualified and in an occupation in critical demand (don’t be fooled by INZ’s ‘Skills Shortages List’). Almost all clients secure jobs by being in New Zealand. We are possibly a bit unique in that sense. New Zealand employers like to meet people face to face and securing a job offer is as much about your personality profile and attitude as it is your skills. This is why you need to be in New Zealand. It displays a level of commitment and readiness that you simply can’t achieve sitting in your home country.

A lot of New Zealand employers don’t really know what they need until they really need it, or in many cases until it's too late. This is why most of them won’t entertain offshore applications, because they have no idea of when you might be ready to start, and they wanted you yesterday.

Thirdly, use recruiters but don’t rely on them. I know this for a fact. A lot of recruiters overlook good quality migrants, because to them, a migrant is in the too hard basket. They present a delay in achieving their commission and as such get filed under ‘R’ for ‘Recycling’. The good ones, do deal with migrants and see the skills and expertise rather than the quick commission cheque, but they aren't in ready supply. So don’t expect all recruiters to be able to solve your job search woes.

Going directly to employers is the key, alongside direct networking, Linkedin, Facebook and industry events. Get out there and make yourself visible. Talk to people in the business, make phone calls (yes cold calls) and get your details spread far and wide. Don’t just sit in your hotel/motel room, friend’s house or Starbucks on free WiFi sending your CV via online portals. It won’t work. Yes online search engines such as and are useful and a good way to find jobs and employers but if you are sitting in NZ sending your CV out, you might as well be anywhere else in the world (refer to previous paragraph).

Finally, there are a few rules around ‘selling yourself’ that you need to bear in mind, after all this is essentially the key to it all – marketing yourself effectively to employers.

Some do’s:

  • Keep your CV simple, effective and relevant.
  • Tailor your CV and cover letter to the role you are applying for.
  • Build your LinkedIn profile and use this to network with people in the industry, but don’t ‘over connect’.
  • Research the companies you are applying to, find out who they are, what they do and their core business values and goals (you can usually find this all on their website).
  • Prepare yourself for the call/walk in, show you are serious and have done the research.
  • Be presentable, you can never ‘dress up’ at an interview if you are too casual; but you can dress down if your interviewers aren’t dressed as formally (remove the tie, jacket etc).

Some don’ts:

  • Don’t add a photo to your CV. Even if you fancy yourself as a GQ/Vogue model, leave it out.
  • Don’t overdo the task list in your CV’s. Keep it relatively short and focussed. Add in key achievements to show you not only can do the job but can do it well.
  • Don’t add in qualifications that you haven’t finished. This is a particularly strange trait for many countries. If you didn’t complete a degree, you don’t have a degree.
  • Don’t be over confident. Employers like confidence but not arrogance. Remember to talk about your skills and how you can accomplish the tasks required. You don’t have to talk about whether you met the queen or toured with Led Zeppelin.
  • Don’t put anything on your CV that you can’t explain. Nothing goes against you more than not being able to recall details from your CV accurately and clearly.

There are many other tips and tools that we utilise in the job search process but ultimately it comes down to hard work, patience and knocking on as many doors as you can. We can also guide you to 'career coaches' who are experts in this field and can give you a lot more guidance. For those that approach this process with a strategy in mind and a clear goal, they are overwhelmingly successful.

For anyone out there doing this, good luck and for those of you out there contemplating doing this, hopefully the above gives you a little bit of guidance along the way.

Until next week 

Paul Janssen – standing in for the Southern Man.

What does 2014 hold for NZ?

Posted by Iain on Jan. 17, 2014, 11:43 a.m. in New Zealand Economy

Happy New Year to all our regular Southern Man Letters from New Zealand readers.

The team is back in the office, tanned and relaxed (that lasted about two days!) and looking forward to an extra busy year. For us it is going to be a year of firsts – we are now dipping our toes in the Hong Kong and Indonesian markets. Across the Tasman Sea our Australian colleagues are heading to Botswana, Greece and Turkey to test the migrant waters there.

And what of New Zealand in 2014? How are the tea leaves looking?

If you can believe the various surveyors and economic forecasters we are in for a very good year and several beyond this. A few key points in recently released surveys show:

  • Business confidence is at a 20 year high
  • All sectors of the economy are growing – manufacturing, agriculture, services and tourism are all showing strong growth
  • All regions of New Zealand are in positive growth and confidence territory (spreading out from Auckland and Christchurch which dominated 2013)
  • ‘Own business’ confidence is running at multi year highs and this suggests GDP growth of at least 3.5% this year
  • Retail sales through Christmas were up 7% on the year before and have continued through the early part of January
  • Skills shortages are starting to bite (told you!!!!) - especially in the construction and IT sectors – everyone from Architects, Civil Engineers, Quantity Surveyors and Planners through to related trades workers. In ICT some are now calling the shortages ‘dire’ which might be a slight exaggeration but these shortages are going to be biting across most sectors within the next six months in my view .
  • Unemployment which currently stands at 6.2% is predicted to fall to 5.5% by years end and 4.5% by the end of 2015. It is worth noting that once unemployment gets down to 5% in New Zealand you’ll not be able to find a Secretary to do your word processing……or find someone to make you a cup of coffee. It is also worth reminding readers that skilled migrants seldom compete with the unemployed 6.2% - they tend to be un-skilled or semi-skilled.
  • Inflation is expected to remain subdued overall at around 1% but dog with rabies crazy in housing. There continues to be a chronic shortage of new housing supply meaning house values  are expected to continue their seemingly relentless increase by around 10% this year (higher in Auckland and Christchurch). This is feeding through into higher rental prices also.
  • Interest rates are predicted to increase by 25 base points each quarter for the next 5 quarters (starting March). The word is the economy is robust enough with exports booming even with a high exchange rate to offset any inflationary build up. I’d be expecting floating mortgage rates to be around 6.5% - 7% by years end.

Short of any major external shocks things are looking overwhelmingly positive. No one is talking about an overheating economy or boom times but there is a real and broad based momentum that has been building across all sectors and all regions.

This, I suspect, will embolden the New Zealand Government to continue with high skilled migrant pass marks and forcing a majority (note, not all….) of would be migrants to come and find jobs in order to have certainty of residency approval.

Those employers unwilling to recruit form the ranks of those offshore or who refuse to travel overseas to interview and recruit are within the next few months going to be staring into a very shallow pool of local talent. This will have an upward movement on incomes (we are already seeing it in construction and IT in particular).

While no one who reads this who thinks they may make a move this year should take getting work for granted, there is no doubt that 2014 for the vast majority of you will be a year of greater employment opportunities. Through 2013 we saw average times for most clients to find jobs here get down to a few weeks rather than a few months as it was through 2011-2012. If you are fluent in English, skilled, do your research on demand in the labour market for your skills set and are willing to get on a plane and get here, chances are you’ll find work within 4-6 weeks.

As we reported in December the Government has closed the Long Term Business Visa or self-employed pathway to residence while they think about a new ‘improved’ visa class for Entrepreneurs which they hope to launch in April. We have been offered an outline of the new criteria which we have agreed will remain confidential but what we can say without breaking those confidences is that the new criteria is less a pathway for the self-employed to demonstrate financial self-sufficiency to a move to focus on greater job creation and export related businesses as priority for approval. For the first time the amount of funds invested comes with a minimum and the more invested the higher the chances of success. In essence what we will gain is effectively a new sub-class of Investor – lower investment thresholds than those who apply to many looking to secure residence under the Investor Categories but a much higher threshold than historically in place for the self-employed. As always there will be winners and there will be losers.

Skilled Migrant Category also underwent its standard three year review during 2013 and I expect we may see changes this year. My own view is the changes will be minor (why change a formula that appears to be working?). My only two suggestions to Government were that we should be more prescriptive in regard to English language as the Australians are (better your English the higher your points) and I would also be re-instating points for those with capital they can transfer to New Zealand. Although it is proven that those with more money find it easier to settle I cannot see the Government taking me up on this suggestion; they might on the English language however. We shall see.

I head overseas today for the first round of seminars for 2014 and will be in Singapore this weekend, Jakarta next weekend and Kuala Lumpur the following. The seminar in Jakarta is now fully booked.

My colleague Paul will also be in South Africa in early February kicking for our first round of seminars there.

It is going to be a big, exciting and nerve wracking year for some of you as you pack up and join us here in New Zealand. For some 2013 was the moving year and 2014 will become the year of return to some sort of normality. For others 2014 will be the year of the ‘big decision’ to migrate or not. Wherever you are on that spectrum the Immagine team and I wish you every happiness and success for the year.

Until next week

Iain MacLeod

Southern Man – Letter from New Zealand

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

The Invisble Hand...

Posted by Paul on July 26, 2013, 2:41 p.m. in Immigration

In the mid 1700’s Adam Smith revealed what would arguably become the cornerstone of modern economics; the suggestion of an invisible hand that guided the self-interest of individuals in a society to promote the wellbeing of that society as a whole. Smith’s dictum was summed up in the following quotation from his opus, the Wealth of Nations:

“It is not from the benevolence of the butcher, the brewer, or the baker, that we expect our dinner, but from their regard to their own interest…”

This philosophy has been debated, contested and argued throughout history, but there is little denying that in a free market self-interest and self-gain within the economy will generate the highest level of productivity and arguably the best overall result. It’s when Governments attempt to steer the course of that productivity and become the (not so) invisible hand, that outcomes falter (and fail). 

Whilst this might seem like the beginning of an Economics 101 lecture its actually incredibly relevant to the issues migrants face when attempting to secure Work Visas in New Zealand. For many migrants the path to Residence is bordered by the need to secure an offer of skilled employment first. This employment then gives them sufficient points to qualify for Residence as a Skilled Migrant.

The problem with this strategy is that a Residence application will take between 6 to 9 months to process to conclusion and no employer (well very few) would be willing to wait that long for the applicant to be in a position to commence their job. To overcome this situation, we routinely file temporary Work Visas for our clients which only take three to four weeks to process (all things being equal) and allow the client to start work, allow the employer to fill their staffing needs and luckily for INZ gives them the time needed to process the Resident Visa application – sounds simple enough.

There is one problem with all of that. 

Skilled Migrant policy has no interest whatsoever in whether or not there might be a local New Zealand Citizen or Resident available to do the job being offered to the applicant. There is no ‘labour market test’ to find out if suitably qualified locals are available or may be readily trained. Work Visas on the other hand are a different story.

Work Visa policy has a very different agenda and, like in most developed countries, is designed to simultaneously help employers to fill their skill shortages whilst protecting ‘jobs for locals’. Immigration New Zealand does this by using two different methods. There are lists which include occupations where a shortage of supply in applicants has been identified (the Long Term Skill Shortage List and the Immediate Skill Shortage List for example), although applicants need to meet very specific qualification and work experience requirements to be eligible under these lists. For all other roles they use a series of labour market tests.

When a Work Visa application is filed for a role that doesn’t appear on any of INZ’s shortage lists, it is the responsibility of the applicant (or their advisor) to argue that there is in fact a shortage of suitably qualified people for the position and that the employer has attempted (genuinely) to find someone. If INZ are satisfied that this has been done then a Work Visa can be approved however, if INZ are not satisfied or if the role is below a particular skill level, then INZ deflects that responsibility to another branch of Government called Work & Income New Zealand or WINZ for short. 

WINZ like many Government Departments in New Zealand is given multiple tasks; the first is to administer social welfare benefits to those in need and those in between employment. At the same time they are given the role of being our ‘national recruitment service’ in trying to get those unemployed beneficiaries back to work.

This is where Adam Smith’s invisible hand becomes the very visible hand of central Government interfering directly with the way the local labour market works.

Mr Smith may have been referring to Butchers, Bakers and Candlestick Makers when he outlined the theory behind economic self-interest and productivity, but he could have equally been discussing recruitment. When you are trying to fill gaps in the local labour market, you need to have an organisation or organisations that have a commercial interest in doing so. They need to be commercially driven to put unemployed people into available roles and they need to do it as if their mortgages and dinner on the table depended on it. Anything else is simply going to be lip service. We see this regularly with employers who are rail-roaded into dealing with WINZ in order to prove that they can’t find suitable staff within New Zealand; in spite of the employer having advertised their vacancy on Seek or Trademe (two of New Zealand’s largest recruitment websites). For some reason Immigration believes that active job seekers enrolled with WINZ don’t know about these websites and insist on asking WINZ to conduct labour market tests.

I cannot recall a time when an employer that I have dealt with has contacted WINZ and been given good quality people that match or even vaguely match the skills required for the role and that is if WINZ manage to understand what the role is. A couple of years back I dealt with an employer who filed their vacancy for an IT Accounts Manager with their local WINZ office. They got a lovely introductory (template) email from the WINZ ‘Work Broker’ introducing themselves and confirming that the role had been placed on the website. Ten days passed and not a whisper, let alone a suitable candidate. The employer eager to find out what was going on; contacted the Work Broker, who replied with something along the lines of “I have been unable to find any Accountants on our database”. I wouldn’t be surprised if there was a string of IT Account Managers queuing up for interviews at Deloittes. 

All too often WINZ fail to deliver a suitable applicant that is if they respond at all. However, when the employer takes a proactive approach to the problem and other Government Departments are involved, then WINZ will want a slice of the action. We recently assisted an employer with an application for an ‘Approval in Principle” to hire offshore staff. Basically an Approval in Principle is a license that allows the employer to recruit foreign nationals, having already established that there is a shortage of skills. This employer had been in contact with WINZ for months before the application was filed with INZ with zero result. There was little to no follow up on the part of WINZ and no supply of suitable candidates. Although as soon as the sniff of an “Approval in Principle” application surfaced, WINZ wanted a ‘round the table, we want to get to know your business’ meeting. Too little, too late.

The fact (one that INZ seems oblivious to) is that employers given the chance will recruit locally if suitable candidates are available. When no suitable local candidates are available they will source internationally and the best judge of when a skill shortage exists is not some public servant with little to no incentive to put people in to work as long as they receive their 9 to 5 pay-check. The best judge of a skills shortage is the employer, people in the industry, people who have recruited in the industry and understand the challenges faced in finding the right staff. 

Governments do have a role to play in reducing unemployment levels, but they will never achieve that with a system that employs people with no commercial incentive or profit motive to achieve those outcomes. In this writer’s opinion, the only way to realistically achieve this would be to bring back the ‘invisible hand’ and outsource the entire national recruitment enterprise to the private sector. When your livelihood rests on how many people you can place in to gainful employment you would be surprised how many people will get jobs. 

Finally, leave the free market to its own devices. Employers will continue to employ locally when possible and continue to recruit offshore candidates where shortages exist. Migrants will be better placed to secure Residence and meet the Government’s demand for increasing the skilled workforce and the great divide between Temporary and Resident Visa policy will get a little smaller. And if we remove the responsibility of recruitment from the public service, we might just save ourselves a little bit of money in the process.

Until next week – Paul Janssen (standing in for the Southern Man).

What To Do About Skill Shortages?

Posted by Iain on May 31, 2013, 2:55 p.m. in Immigration

The local media are increasingly reporting worsening skills shortages and a mismatch of the skills available for the vacancies requiring filling. I have written on a number of occasions and advise many clients in consultations that they should not be put off coming to New Zealand to find work when they read the unemployment rate is still around 6.2% (up from 3.4% in 2007 but down from 7.3% at the end of 2011 as we came out of the Global Financial Crisis).

This is because those who are registered as unemployed in New Zealand tend not to be skilled and therefore tend not to compete with skilled migrants seeking employment here in order to secure their Resident Visas. 

In a survey released this week 54% of local employers are now expressing their real concern that they increasingly cannot fill their skilled vacancies.

In particular, demands apparently are in following occupations:

  1. Engineers
  2. Sales Representatives
  3. IT Staff
  4. Skilled Trades
  5. Management/Executive (Management/Corporate)
  6. Technicians
  7. Accounting & Finance Staff
  8. Customer Service Representatives & Customer Support
  9. Machinist/Machine Operators
  10. Supervisors

None of this comes as news to us at Immagine (except possibly Sales Reps but that has to be a good sign of an economy growing across all sectors and heading we are told for 4% growth).

Potential migrants need to be wary of such lists because simply working in an occupation that might be in demand here in New Zealand does not make them employable. I have on many occasions at seminars and in individual consultations counselled clients that linguistic compatibility i.e. speaking a form of English that is readily comprehensible to us is far more important than being an Engineer or an IT Specialist. Almost as important is the perception of cultural compatibility. It is of particular interest to me that employers from Christchurch where private insurers, the Government and taxpayers of this fair land of ours are spending some $40 billion over the next 15 years to rebuild our second largest city are falling over themselves in the UK and Ireland to recruit people who on the outside appear just like them.

We continue to try and encourage local employers to work with us to identify their future labour needs so that we can refer clients to them in order to kick start the relocation process through securing skilled employment. I would be lying if I did not say that this is an exercise in frustration especially when it comes to Christchurch-based employers.

Up my end of the country where over 40% of my fellow Aucklanders were not born in New Zealand there seems to be a much more open attitude to fluent English speakers but who have a different cultural or ethnic background. I don’t think the South african, Irish or English in Auckland necessarily gain any major advantage over those from Singapore, Malaysia or any other former British colony where English is spoken fluently, but they appear to in places like Christchurch. On more than one occasion I have contemplated suggesting that if they don’t free their minds a bit on who they will employ and work with they will be stepping over the rubble of their city for a bit longer than the ten years they are expecting…..but I am too polite. With the unemployment rate in that city down to 4.2% you might think beggars cannot be choosers and a few attitudes might change.

Notwithstanding the fact that a few employers might need a change of attitude toward all migrants there remains the very real disconnect between what employers are looking for and the implementation of immigration policy. 

Policy is designed to have a clear wall between Temporary Visa (Work Visas for example) and Resident Visa applications. Temporary visa policy is designed to fill short term gaps in the local labour market, where demand for candidates outstrips supply. Resident Visa policy is aimed at fulfilling New Zealand’s economic objectives over the longer term with skills and money.

However the way the current system operates, with pass marks remaining at all time record highs for three years running, you can’t achieve the long term objective without migrants being able to travel here secure jobs and be granted Work Visas (the short term objective). Overwhelming most migrants now need an offer of employment to meet the Skilled Migrant Category threshold. A Resident Visa application will take anywhere from three months to 12 months to process and employers simply won’t wait that long for an employee to start their job. So these would be future migrants need Work Visas in order to take up the job which will then secure their Residence.

Unfortunately the separation of Temporary and Resident Visa policy often means that overzealous immigration officers forget the bigger picture and end up seeking to decline Work Visas for a range of often ludicrous reasons despite the applicant being exactly what the Government wants to meet its long term Residence objectives –employable, English speaking, taxpaying Residents.

We have immigration officers seeking to decline people who have been offered fixed term employment in highly skilled roles because they believe the applicant has no incentive to return? Aren’t these the kinds of people we want to keep?

So I don’t completely blame employers for not wanting to get involved with migrants when we are faced with such idiocy from power crazed state functionaries.

I can see increasing skills shortages across the different sectors biting hard within 12 months. If the Immigration Department continues to make it difficult for employers and many employers make it difficult for themselves (not to mention highly skilled fluent English speaking migrants) then the economy here will suffer and wage/price inflation will set in with a vengeance. We are already starting to see it.

What is also alarmingly clear is that New Zealand is not producing the skills that employers demand and the labour market needs. I recently offered a job to a young Lawyer and I was amazed to see that only 20% of those who applied for the position are currently working as Lawyers.

Government in New Zealand continues to subsidise the University education of Lawyers, among others, as much as they do Engineers and IT students despite their employment prospects being grim. That is just plain dumb. 

If we need IT workers and Engineers, why not offer greater subsidies to them?

As the economy picks up the needs for highly skilled people will only increase.

The Immigration Department needs to up its game and work with us to get Visas for those offered jobs instead of trying to prove the local labour market should be able to fill these roles or young Serbians are somehow a risk to national security. Equally the employers of New Zealand need to wake up – those unwilling to consider migrants because they have no work rights are going to miss out. Big time.

Until next week

Iain MacLeod - Southern Man

Farewell Maggie

Posted by Iain on April 19, 2013, 12:55 p.m. in Immigration

As the world reflects on a life well lived with the passing of Baroness Margaret Thatcher I have this week paused to give thought to her legacy. Saviour or demon? Reformer or wrecker? She was undeniably uncompromising and tough. She knew what she wanted. She was confident she was right on what needed to be done. She changed the landscape at home and abroad. Some say she saved the nation and others accuse her of economic sabotage. She set out to transform an inefficient public sector and union dominated economy into something that might ultimately provide a better future for her people. Yes, there were winners and losers but, let’s face it, someone had to do it. I am a bit of fan. Especially when comes to reform of ‘public services’.

We had our own (Sir) Roger Douglas who in the mid 1980s undertook economic reforms here at such a pace it made Margaret Thatcher look a bit like an economic Joseph Stalin. Douglas too was admired and reviled in equal numbers. The reality was New Zealand by 1984 was out of cash and on a one way trip to third world status. He effectively dismantled statutory rights of Unions to represent all workers, he worked on decentralising Government and sold off state run businesses – funny today to think that anyone might agree Governments can or should run telephone companies!  

One thing both Thatcher and our own Roger Douglas had in common and upon which experience forces me to agree was that the ‘public service’ is generally inefficient. When a public servant is in a service role but has no financial skin in the game, it is hard to get the best outcomes for the tax paying public. 

I am in the camp that says in New Zealand Government still pokes its nose into the affairs of many that it has no business being in.

Nothing illustrates that better than a visa case I am arguing right now.

In brief, the applicant has found a job in New Zealand as a Metal Machinist. He filed his own work visa. The Immigration Department indicated a few days ago they intend declining this work visa because they say the employer hasn’t made a genuine effort to fill the vacancy; there is labour market evidence which suggests that New Zealanders should be available to fill or be trained to fill the position and the salary (at $18 per hour) was too low and does not reflect ‘market rates’.

Earth to the Immigration Department - it is no great secret that local employers prefer to employ locals. Just ask any migrant who has looked for a job here. New Zealanders do not need the protection of the Immigration Department.  Employers do not enjoy dealing with faceless state functionaries who have little real world experience in how the labour market functions.  What employer in his right mind would play the bureaucratic, illogical and frustrating work visa game if he/she could find qualified, experienced locals who want to work?

No one outside of a mental institution.

In 24 years and thousands of work visa applications later I can with hand on heart say that I have never met one employer who employs non-residents unless they are forced to. Not one.

Migrants will usually confirm that they are always second in the queue.

Recently, one must assume as a way to lower our own unemployment rate, the Ministry of Social Development (who run WINZ – their arm where the unemployed are registered and who are tasked with finding jobs for these people) and the Immigration Department came to an agreement whereby when a work visa application is received this merry bunch of bureaucrats do the following:

1. Immigration Department alerts  Ministry of Social Development (MSD) in Wellington of the position and the location of the business offering the job; then

2. WINZ Wellington gets onto the branch of WINZ closest to the employer, sends them a  message to the effect of ‘there are some jobs going with employer X – get on the phone – try and help lower our national unemployment rate’; then

3. WINZ Branch ‘Work Broker’ (don’t make me laugh) makes contact with employer and comes over all eager with helpful offers to try and help them fill this vacancy; then

4. Employer usually says ‘Fantastic, I look forward to interviewing solid qualified candidates’; then

5. WINZ sends no one.

6. WINZ however tells the Immigration Department that there should be locals available with the skills or available to be trained; then

7. Immigration Department says to the employer ‘you didn’t try hard enough, WINZ says there are locals available so you cannot have the migrant’;

8. Employer scratches head and starts to weep……

The first five points cover the process. The final three the outcome.

In the past three weeks I have come across three examples of this.

Back to my client – the employer spent a month advertising late last year on which is by far New Zealand’s busiest online job website.  

Anyone unemployed or anyone interested in this position would, I assume, do what all my clients, friends and family do – they monitor it. When they are alerted to vacancies that match their skills set and profile they apply.

In this case the employer genuinely found no suitable applicants.  

Some time later however having all but given up on filling the role my client was referred to him through word of mouth.  The employer interviewed him by telephone. Checked his references. Checked his qualifications.  Offered the job thinking that given he had tried locally and just couldn’t find someone the work visa shouldn’t be a big deal.

After my client filed his work visa the employer got a call from his friendly local WINZ Work Broker. That person asked about the position, the pay, the conditions etc and then said that WINZ would check their records and get back to the employer with some candidates. Naturally they haven’t called back nor sent a single person for interview. After almost three weeks.

Not to be overlooked in this bureaucratic morass of stupidity is the fact that the Rotorua Branch of WINZ was already regularly in contact with this employer and had been for about two years to check on vacancies and to see how they might be able to assist. Two years!

However, no one in the Branch when prodded by their Head Office in Wellington appears to have checked whatever records they keep to see if in fact they already had a relationship with this employer as part of their usual processes.

Nice one. Really efficient.

Immigration Officers continue to make life hard for employers based on garbage advice from Ministry of Social Development. WINZ couldn’t fill a vacancy if they fell into it.

Margaret Thatcher had a point and so too did Sir Roger Douglas. Public servants rarely, if ever, are as efficient and productive as their private sector counterparts. While there are undoubtedly some good ones and a minority work hard I just doubt their ability to work smart.

Unfortunately we as taxpayers and in my line of work, migrants and employers struggling to fill increasing skills shortages, pay a heavy price.

Brilliant system.

R.I.P. Maggie – you changed the world for the better. But the job isn't done here.

Until next week

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