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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.

It isn't meant to be a lottery...

Posted by Iain on Dec. 6, 2013, 2:08 p.m. in Immigration

What you are about to read is a true story. It shows, if any evidence was needed, how inept the Immigration Department can be and how idiotic decisions can literally change lives.

I today met a Malaysian who on paper is possibly the highest scoring skilled migrant I have ever met and if he had a job offer would score over 220 points. Which, trust me, is about as good as it gets. A highly qualified Electronic Engineer he took his wife and young family to New Zealand and completed his PhD at Auckland University. Relying on the Immigration Department’s website and staff for advice he filed his Expression of Interest (EOI).  He had points to burn without needing a job offer. His family were well settled. They added to their family with a New Zealand born child. The eldest two went to school and considered themselves little Kiwis.

His EOI was duly selected, the Department carried out their credibility check and then invited the family to apply for their Residence Visas. They were not warned that their application was doomed before they wrote out their application cheque for almost $2000 and that they were destined to be declined.

They ran around and gathered everything they required at considerable expense, excited that they had been invited to file their residence papers.

Having filed their application they were in the fullness of time interviewed by an immigration officer tasked with the decision of whether they were likely to settle well and contribute to the great nation that is New Zealand.

For those unfamiliar with what happens after interview there are three possible outcomes – the case can be declined, the applicant can be granted unconditional residence or the applicant can be given a Work to Residence Visa (WTR). The idea is that those that have demonstrated an ability to settle well should be granted a Residence Visa. But someone forgot to tell this family’s case officer.  This family had lived in New Zealand for three years and they were as integrated as it is possible to be. The principal applicant was getting job interviews but understandably with a few months to finish his PhD he wanted to get that out of the way first. That did not prevent the granting of a Resident Visa - it was the obvious outcome.

Bizarrely, the officer said she could not grant them a Resident Visa (goodness only knows why) and she was going to offer a Work Visa but the officer explained she couldn’t do that either because he was a student. To give him a Work to Residence Visa would mean he couldn’t study any longer. Of course if he was granted a Residence Visa he could……

So the application was withdrawn/declined and the couple, frustrated, dejected and disappointed left NZ and returned to Malaysia where two of their children, who only really knew New Zealand education, felt dislocated and were teased for their accent and inability to speak Malaysian.

They were confused on many levels.

A good friend of theirs, also from Malaysia, was also studying a PhD in New Zealand and filed their own EOI and had enough points to be granted a Residence Visa. Following interview they were.

Same points profile, both studying a PhD in Auckland, both still to complete it – the parallels between these two cases are stark and obvious.

One application was processed in Auckland Central Branch and the other in Henderson Branch (both about 20km apart).

Though both were in Auckland there were two entirely different and potentially life changing outcomes.

How can that be? Two almost identical cases with opposite outcomes? 

Is there more than one rulebook?

No. There is only one.

So how could it happen?

Simple.  If you have two immigration officers and one rule you will often have two different interpretations of that rule.

I always remind audiences at my seminars that I have four golden rules to help them survive this process with any of their mental faculties left intact:

  1. Assume nothing about your eligibility and the process;
  2. Suspend logic – this process is illogical;
  3. Just when you think you understand the rules your visa is processed by an immigration officer who does not know the rules; and
  4. Treat with great caution what you read on the Department’s website – it can be both misleading and dangerous.

One family safely settling in Auckland, the other stuck in Malaysia looking for a way back to the life they loved and the city they want to raise their children in.

What happened to this Malaysian family should not have happened. And if they had known about Immagine New Zealand it would not have happened. We would not have let it.

It is utterly unacceptable that the Department continues to employ and deploy officers who have limited English and little to no understanding of immigration rules.

This family had uprooted and come to New Zealand in good faith. They ticked every box to secure their Residence Visa, but they were let down by a system that employs people you’d never employ in your own business.

Immagine will get them back to New Zealand.  They are just what the policy was designed to attract but what a shame they have wasted time and money in a fruitless exercise that should have been successful.

While it is always somewhat sad to listen to these stories (especially when the guy you are talking to is sitting there in his All Black jersey!), knowing his children will get the chance to recommence their lives in New Zealand once we sort of this avoidable mess is the reason my team and I get up in the morning.

The skilled migrant system is not meant to be a lottery but so often appears to be. We have the power to take the randomness out of it.

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


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


Work and Resident Visa Conflict

Posted by Iain on April 25, 2013, 4:32 p.m. in Immigration

 

When I started out in this game 24 years ago my first Boss had, until fairly recently, been a senior Cabinet Minister who had held a number of portfolios including immigration. He was quite fearsome, had an ego the size of Texas, detested the stupidity of bureaucracy and the way those rules were interpreted and implemented by state functionaries with little or no incentive to question them. 

No one would stand up more for the little guy than he.  Underneath the ‘bring it on’ exterior beat the soft heart of a man who would sweat blood for what he believed was owed to his clients.

And no one is more the little guy than a would-be migrant trying to move from one country to another.

I know, having lead a number of Ministries, he had great insight into what running a government is like. It is seldom pretty, giant egos clashing with giant egos, different agendas vye for their moment in the sun and where good politics is seldom the same as good economics. 

Being bright eyed and bushy tailed and very interested in the political process I recall asking him once if he entered Parliament believing he could change the world. He replied in the affirmative. I then asked him if he felt he had.

His hands flat on the board room table, he tipped back his head and gave one of his long, disconcertingly loud and gravelly laughs (he of the two pack a day habit).

He said no he had not. He conceded that at best he had tinkered around the edges.

Ultimately the machine was far bigger than he.

Which surprised me. A man of not insignificant ego – to effectively concede he changed little despite his best efforts I found deeply disconcerting. I always viewed him as highly intelligent and also a very crafty politician.

He has spent the rest of his working life both fearing and fighting against the machine he could never really control when he was one of the most senior politicians in it. I think it is fair to say the machine and its power actually frightens him to this day.

I suspect his world view can best be summed up as elected Governments come and go. The public service just keeps on.

Although since my old Boss’ day in the halls of power successive Administrations have tried to bring some order to bear and the public service today is far more accountable than it was in his day, meaningful reform has largely failed.  If I hear ‘culture change’ once when it comes to the Public Service I have heard it a thousand times in the past 24 years. Most Departments still seem to operate in their own reality vacuum.

I wrote last week about the Work Visa process and how the ‘system’ makes the assumption that employers would prefer to engage a sometimes hostile, always complex, generally inconsistent and confusing visa process and employ non-New Zealanders over New Zealanders despite every shred of evidence suggesting the contrary is overwhelmingly the case.

How, as a result of this utter misunderstanding of how the labour market really works, even when employers have already been working with Work and Income New Zealand (to no avail) the work visa application process still sees the Immigration Department engage through their own public sector channels the same WINZ functionaries who have so often been unable to assist the employer before the employer offered the job to a non-resident. And try, successfully in many cases, to deny employers access to the ‘foreign’ workers they’d prefer not to have to employ in the first place.

That process got me thinking some more.

The case I highlighted last week becomes even more surreal when you step back from the work visa process and examine it in light of the client’s intention to secure a residence visa.

The client in that case has a prima facie claim to a residence visa and once I get him his work visa I suspect he will apply for residency. I am confident based on what I know of him that he is eligible.

Bizarrely no labour market test is applied to Skilled Migrant Category residency applications that include job offers i.e. the employer is free to offer the job to the migrant and no one cares if a New Zealander is available or not. WINZ and local applicants simply do not enter into the equation.

However because the residence process takes so long the migrant inevitably requires a work visa to buy enough time to complete the residence process.

So on the one hand the Government demands most skilled migrants now have jobs before they can get the points to gain permanent entry but on the other will try and prove through WINZ, they aren’t really needed.

Government has a residence programme which it actively markets online and through employment and Immigration Expos to the world. It works alongside favoured employers at these Expos around the world (particularly in the UK and they now plan on running them in Singapore and Malaysia) and encourage these employers to go offshore and try and recruit.

However in the next breath and following receipt of a work visa application the Immigration Department is required to carry out the local labour market check which can and often does see the work visa being declined.

That said if the employer would keep the job open for the six months or so for the residence visa application to be processed, a residence visa is happily granted.

Why have a skilled work visa policy that so actively undermines your Residence Visa policy when the same job offer applies to both and you can get the residence without the work visa?

Seriously, this has been the case for my 24 years and no Minister, no Government and no public official has ever it seemed willing to question the insanity, inconsistency or conflict of these two intertwined policies and how badly that deprives local employers of highly skilled migrants.

A simpler solution would be to grant all those who have filed an Expression of Interest (in Residence) and been selected from the pool under the Skilled migrant category a work visa for say, six months.

No wonder my old Boss laughed that day. The machine is so big there is little mere mortal Ministers can do to change it. 

Didn’t he know it. Clearly Politicians in countries like ours are not experts in their portfolio. The Immigration portfolio is no different. Ministers are generally led by the nose by a Civil Service with no real clue how labour markets work and employers think.

The Skilled Migrant Category is currently under review and provides our political leadership an opportunity that only rolls around every few years to address the conflict between the two policies but I won’t be holding my breath.

Which is a little depressing for the employers of New Zealanders faced with increasing skills shortages along with all those highly skilled migrants looking to risk all to bring their skills to our country.

Until next week

Southern Man - Iain MacLeod


Is the New Zealand Qualifications Authority Being Totally Honest?

Posted by Iain on Feb. 1, 2013, 9:21 a.m. in Immigration

 

I remember being really surprised when I was in my third year of Primary School when my school report said among other things that ‘Iain never stops asking why’. My curiosity and unwillingness to take things at face value was clearly getting to my then teacher. I am pretty sure it wasn’t a compliment.

Yet to me to question and to delve deeper was, and remains, as normal as breathing. If something doesn’t sound right, requires clarification or to my mind requires deeper analysis or explanation it has never occurred to me not to ask. I’m not a face value kind of guy. And by nature I am curious.

Of late I have begun focussing on the International Qualifications Assessment reports (IQA)  that the New Zealand Qualifications Authority carry out which for so many of our clients can be the difference between qualifying for a Resident Visa of New Zealand or not. I did so because increasingly many applicants are spending significant money on this Department’s fees but receiving outcome reports that provide them neither benefit nor advantage in their plans to migrate to New Zealand.

Initially this interest was somewhat restricted to Philippine Bachelor Degree holders’ as their IQA reports were often, but not always, indicating that the five year of degree level study in the Philippines was only ‘comparable’ to the learning outcomes of a two or three year Diploma in new Zealand, if that.

I asked myself  why would something that takes five years of fulltime study at a good Philippine University only be deemed comparable to the learning outcomes of a three year Polytechnic level Diploma here in New Zealand?

Thinking about this and digging a little deeper by asking questions of senior NZQA officials and obtaining files under the Official Information Act  (OIA) has now made me question the entire assessment process for all countries and the honesty of this process.

What I have uncovered I have found unsettling.

It was always my understanding that NZQA would look at what you studied, where you studied it, what your grades were and what qualification you had. They would then compare this information to a range of NZ qualifications and if yours was similar then the report would be generated confirming the named NZ qualification e.g. your Bachelor of Engineering is deemed to be comparable to the learning outcomes of a named New Zealand qualification e.g. New Zealand Bachelor of Engineering (Level 7).

I no longer believe that to be the process.

What I could never work out is how by simply looking at an academic record/transcript of papers/units studied and grades any state functionary could work out how ‘similar’ that was to the content of say the NZ Bachelor Degree.

I am rapidly approaching the point of concluding NZQA does not do what they say they do.

The assessment, it appears, pretty much only focuses on whether the Institution that issued the qualification is accredited by some higher education authority (itself recognised by NZQA) in that country. If it is, then the assessment outcome seems to be Degree for Degree, Diploma for Diploma, Master for Master.

If the Institution is not recognised by NZQA then the assessment outcome states either ‘there is no comparable qualification’ or it is as assessed as being at a much lower academic level e.g. Degree equals NZ Diploma.

This has major implications for those needing points to qualify for residence, especially those Engineers, IT specialists and the like who can often qualify for residence visas without job offers if their degrees are deemed comparable to NZ degrees.

I am intrigued that notwithstanding the key criteria for recognition appears to be the status of the Institution and its accreditation NZQA still suggest there is far more to the process than these files might indicate. NZQA's explanation of the process they claim to have followed when they issue the assessment report is:

“……there are quite substantial differences in structure, focus, content and intent between your qualifications and similarity to the broad learning outcomes specified at the particular learning outcome level on the NZQF.  The academic level recognition afforded your qualification, internationally, by other qualification recognition agencies and databases has been taken into account in reaching this outcome.’

Phooey! My reading of a number of files obtained under the Official Information Act shows quite clearly that NZQA did neither analysis nor comparison of the ‘focus, content and intent’ of these qualifications to anything in New Zealand. They only apper to have looked at the status of the awarding University.

Which in some ways makes sense.  How can anyone tell by looking at an academic record of say a Bachelor’s Degree from a British, Malaysian, Singaporean or Philippine University and possibly know what the content of those individual  papers were, the scope, the focus and so on?  Especially given there are potentially tens of thousands of degree and other courses offered around the world.

So why doesn't NZQA advise those that have spent a significant sum getting the assessment of that? Or warn those considering it that from many countries their particular qualification is not going to be rated at the same level in New Zealand.

I would have thought the simplest thing to do would be for NZQA to publish lists for each country which says in effect and for example ‘If you have a five year fulltime Bachelor Degree from X University that was completed from Year Y to now or between 1970 – 2015 (or whenever)’ then your degree is deemed automatically comparable to a New Zealand Degree of the same type’.

They do not need to do it for all countries – just those from which most of our migrants come – so that’s about a dozen countries, tops. That would not prevent some people having to apply for assessments for immigration purposes but for many more would make their (potential) journey to New Zealand not only more affordable but involve less form filling and dealing with bureaucrats.

Only this morning I consulted with a young Malaysian for whom this assessment is necessary. To her the assessment fee this Government outfit charges to ‘assess’ her Degree represents two weeks of her gross wages.

Of course if NZQA were totally honest and transparent and perhaps published lists of which institutions are accredited and therefore recognised so that we could work out if an assessment is necessary or likely to yield the results the client requires to continue her journey to New Zealand it could save an awful lot of people an awful lot of money in wasted application fees.

But then maybe a few less people would need to be employed by the New Zealand Qualifications Authority, right?

Until next week

Iain MacLeod - Southern Man

 


Mythbusters!

Posted by Paul on Sept. 17, 2012, 10:45 a.m. in Immigration

 

Most people that know me, know that I have a bit of technology fetish, actually forget fetish its more like an obsession – if it has wires or flashing lights, it might as well be a teaspoon and I might as well be a magpie.

I also have a keen interest in engineering and science and one of the television shows I enjoy the most is the Discovery channel show - ‘Mythbusters’. It’s basically a show where two special effects engineers take common everyday myths and try to ‘confirm’ or ‘bust’ them. This usually ends in explosive mayhem, and a fantastic hour of television. 

The show itself is also a great concept, taking what most people believe to be true because they heard it from a friend (who heard it from another friend, who heard it from their uncle’s brother-in-law) and working out whether it’s fact or fiction. When you think about it the power of ‘rumour’ can be so strong that seemingly intelligent, ordinary people can be utterly convinced by it; so much so that they will use these rumours to make monumental, life changing decisions. 

So ‘myth busting’ can often be very entertaining (and enlightening).

The world of immigration is a breeding ground for myths, urban legends, and half-truths, which tend to originate from either slightly altered versions of people’s previous experiences or, on some occasions, the confusing information that flows from the Immigration Department itself. No matter where they come from, when it comes to immigration these myths can either be harmless, and simply make life a little frustrating or they can result in catastrophic failure.

I don’t have an industrial engineering workshop like they do on the Discovery channel show, but I do have quite a few successful applications under my belt and a significant amount of knowledge within the industry, enough to be able to ‘bust’ a few of the immigration urban legends I come across every day.

Let’s take a look at the top four on my list of greatest hits:

In fourth place, has to be one of the most common misconceptions among would-be skilled migrants, that being that you have to get 140 points to qualify. The Skilled Migrant Category pass mark system is incredibly confusing so most people can be forgiven for misinterpreting this one.

Yes the ‘automatic’ pass mark is 140 points; however you don’t have to get 140 points to make the grade. There are actually a number of different pass marks used to select people from the Expression of Interest Pool administered through six different ‘classes’. The Department introduces and removes these classes periodically with shifting pass marks for each. However, for those who have an offer of employment in New Zealand the 140 vanishes and is replaced by a much lower threshold - just 100 points (including the 50 points you secure for having a job) has been enough to qualify for as long as I can remember. 

I would need a separate blog to explain the system, but the shortest way to sum it up is; it’s not always how many points you have but rather what you are claiming points for, that makes all the difference. Check out our ‘immigration policy’ page to find out more about the points process

Coming a close third on the list is the belief that in order to secure Residence with an offer of employment your salary needs to be NZD$55,000.00 per annum. I know where this one sprung up. There are immigration policies where having a salary of NZD$55,000.00 is important, but it’s only for Visas filed under very specific categories.

For a skilled migrant, the most important thing about salary is that it is ‘market rate’. This means that if the labour market considers $45,000.00 to be a reasonable salary for your position, and that position is skilled, then it will qualify for Residence.  Unfortunately most applicants tend to focus on the salary and not whether the role is actually skilled (possibly a topic for another blog…stay tuned).

Coming it at second is people believing that you can 'renew' a work visa.

There is no such thing as a Work Visa renewal…seriously people there isn’t. 

A lot of people assume that when their Work Visa comes close to an end they can simply fill out a form, pay a fee and roll another blue sticker off the roll. Unfortunately it doesn’t work like that.

Temporary Work Visas are just that – ‘temporary’. There are a few circumstances where these Visas can lead to Residence however, generally speaking, they are a means for employers to fill a gap in the labour market that exists at that point in time, but not forever. There is an expectation from the Immigration Department (no matter how impractical it might be) that the employer attempts to train people for that particular job or that the labour market adjusts to have more available New Zealand candidates over time. The assumption is that you won’t be needed to fill that temporary skills gap forever.

Every time you file a new Work Visa application you need to meet the relevant policy requirements, and for an Essential Skills Work Visa that means showing that you are the only suitable applicant available…even if you have been in the position for years beforehand.

In first place has to be my absolute favourite, and kind of like the ‘Lord of the Myths’ – one myth to bind them all. It’s that old classic - “But my friend/sister/aunty/uncle/neighbour’s parakeet told me…”

There are very few people that understand immigration policy well enough to be able to decipher it and translate it into everyday English and I work with most of them. Even the people who create and administer the rules struggle to deliver them consistently or accurately. 

Yet staggeringly day in and day out we encounter people who have taken advice from either a New Zealander who thinks that owning a 1980’s version of the Reader’s Digest qualifies them to be a leading authority on all things legal in New Zealand or from a fellow migrant who has literally unpacked their suitcase the day before. Of course it’s natural to try and seek information from those who have gone through the process, but ask yourself this, if your oracle of information had made a complete mess of their own application with mistakes at every turn and simply managed to fall successfully through the gaps, would they tell you? 

No matter how knowledgeable Bob, Jim or Jacobus from down the road might appear to be, no one’s migration situation is the exactly the same, and everyone’s circumstances needs a different approach. What might have worked for someone before might not work for you now and the rule book often gets very lost in translation.

What friends, relatives, and well intentioned employers often tell you is far from accurate so that is why we rank “But my friends told me…” as the number one ‘myth’ on the countdown.

So there you have it, a small but popular selection of what could potentially be a very long list of myths and mistruths that we come across more often than we should. For most people these myths will do little more than cause some frustration but for an unfortunate few, misinterpreting the rules, following bad advice or simply making dangerous assumptions ends up in tragic circumstances. I have seen people whose applications have simply been delayed because of an immigration myth and then those who have ended up on a slow boat home. 

Like anything in life that’s worth doing, do it right the first time round. After all would you trust Jim down the road who works as an Accountant to fix the brakes on your car or would you Google open heart surgery as a DIY project? 

The Southern Man returns later this week…

Want to bust an immigration myth? You can always check in with us via our Ask Us A Question website: https://www.immigration.co.nz/ask-us/ 
OR
Visit one of our seminars in South Africa or Asia: http://www.immigration.co.nz/seminars/

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

 

 

 


An Elegant Solution...

Posted by Iain on June 15, 2012, 10:05 a.m. in Immigration

We have just helped a family get their Resident Visas under the Skilled Migrant Category in about three weeks. Although this isn’t the quickest case we have argued – I think the record is 24 hours - this was particularly pleasing given the complex policy barriers that seemingly conspired in an attempt to collapse the whole application.

In this case we needed to find a solution to the real conflict that exists between temporary (Essential Skills Work Visa) and permanent (Resident Visa) entry policies where labour market tests apply to one (the Work Visa) but not to the other (Residence).

A brief history is required.

The client travelled to New Zealand requiring an offer of skilled employment to secure the points to be granted Residence. Our client obtained a job offer to work as a Personal Assistant (PA). This occupation is ‘skilled’ for the purpose of the Skilled Migrant Category and is worth 50 points.  However, because it usually takes the Immigration Department 6-9 months to process the Resident Visa we needed to get a Work Visa.

So where is the conflict?

Essential Skills Work Visa policy requires that we demonstrate the employer had made a genuine effort to fill the vacancy, that our client was the only suitable applicant and that no New Zealander should be able to fill the vacancy. That, as I think you can imagine, is a fairly high threshold and helps explain why many Work Visas are declined each year.

Residence policy, however, does not apply this same test. A Resident Visa can be issued simply because the position is skilled and relevant to the applicant’s work experience or qualifications. There is zero interest in whether the position can be filled by a local or not.

This puts the Immigration Department in a difficult position.

In this case the client’s Expression of Interest (EOI) had been selected from the Pool at the same time as the Work Visa application had been filed.  An Invitation to Apply for Residence was, as it should be, issued a short time later, as the client had a prima facie claim to a Resident Visa.

Then the Department faced a real dilemma. On the one hand the temporary team processing the Work Visa advised us that it believed the position was one that should be able to be filled locally.  Therefore the Work Visa application was going to be declined in line with that temporary entry policy.

We countered that argument by saying that even if we agreed this is a position that should be able to be filled locally, to prevent the applicant taking up the position would be to sabotage the Residence application for which that the Department had just issued an Invitation to Apply.

The initial and predictable reaction from the Department was to tell us that the client was a little premature in filing the Expression of Interest. This of course is nonsense. Why would the client not file their Expression of Interest if they met all the requirements to obtain a Resident Visa?

We suggested that a way through this conflict in the two policies was pretty simple – grant the Work Visa as an exception to policy and let the Residence cards fall where they may a number of months later.

That was rejected.

We then suggested that there was an even more simpler solution – because our clients generally (if they have followed our instructions) have all the paperwork to prove their points, health, identity and character ready to file when they are invited to apply for Residence, the Department should, once the Residence application was filed,  prioritise it and process it with urgency. If they would agree to that it would allow the family to secure their Resident Visas and make redundant the need for the Work Visa.

Much to our surprise they decided this was perhaps the lesser of the two evils (from their perspective) following a private meeting with the Branch Manager.

This was a first for this local branch in all our years of dealing with them. It is a commonsense solution we have suggested to other branches that only some have acted on.

Of course the difficulty that this very sensible and pragmatic approach now raises is why we wouldn’t stop filing Work Visas for all clients with job offers where the argument could be made that locals should be able to fill the position offered to the migrant. Shouldn’t INZ offer all such clients ‘priority processing’?

In this way the clients would save significant money – Government fees are not cheap.

The Department becomes more efficient and productive – why process temporary Work Visas and ‘double handle’ paperwork when you can process one Residence application and be done with it?

This answer remains outstanding and as is usual we are told this is a ‘one off’ but we may be about to file another application for another PA who is also going to run smack bang into this conflict between Work and Residence policy.

It will be interesting to see if the same solution is offered to a second client in the same situation.

I have a view that current Work Visa policy is daft. Of course a New Zealander should almost always be able to fill any vacancy offered to a migrant but the fact of the matter is that there are many positions, that for all sorts of reasons, locals are simply unwilling or unqualified to fill.

Skilled migrants become the meat in the sandwich between a Government rightly wanting to lower local unemployment rates and employers wanting candidates willing and able to do jobs.

In the absence of any change in policy that, for example, allows the automatic issue of a Work Visa to an applicant who has been invited to apply for Residence (perhaps through licensed advisers like ourselves with a track record of close to 100%  success), the Department is going to repeatedly be put in the situation described above.

On this occasion I have to offer a bouquet to the Branch Manager for working with us so closely to quickly find a solution that worked for the family.

The clients of course, having suffered three weeks of sleepless nights wondering if IMMagine could solve the problem were elated (and very relieved).

A pity, however, that Government requires us to argue each of these cases individually rather than put in place some commonsense policy alternatives that might allow clients like these to not feel like the system is working against them until the minute when their Visas are actually issued.

It isn’t rocket science.

Until next week

Iain MacLeod - Southern Man

 


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