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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.

NZ Tops in Social Progress for 2014

Posted by Iain on April 4, 2014, 11:40 a.m. in New Zealand Lifestyle

I don’t often get excited by surveys but when one appears that affirms the message we give potential clients, I do get excited. Few have excited me as much as one released this week from the Washington based Social Imperative Forum that ranks countries by social progress. 

It’s not as dull as it sounds as it goes to the heart of what our society is about, how we got here and what challenges remain.

The survey asks three essential questions:

 

  1. Does a country provide for its people’s most essential needs? 
  2. Are the building blocks in place for individuals and communities to enhance and sustain wellbeing?
  3. Is there opportunity for all individuals to reach their full potential?

It ranks New Zealand top out of over 130 countries for social progress. While historically Gross Domestic Product has been the indicator of choice as a measure of the ‘success’ of an economy and a country, what I like about this report is that it looks beyond that purely economic measure and looks at overall wellbeing.

It paints a picture of an egalitarian society that is cohesive, relatively prosperous with real opportunities for all, irrespective of background, but which also confirms what we always advise people – it ain’t paradise and it does have problems. But as a client from South Africa once told me the big difference between countries like mine and his (that he was leaving) is having lived in New Zealand for a while this little country of ours has no problems it cannot solve.

What is interesting is that we have achieved this top ranked status through a mix of open economy, strong and transparent democracy along with the socialising of three sacred pillars of our society – tax payer funded education, healthcare and social security. 

What struck me is that we rank 25th in the world for per capita GDP proving there are 24 countries where people are wealthier but none are better off.

It also fidentified some things which at first glance appear at odds with a county where everyone looks out for everyone else – we have a relatively high rate of death through pregnancy, we come mid-table for suicide and we are getting very fat…

A closer examination of this explains these apparent anomalies.

With 15 deaths of pregnant women per 100,000 we rank 76th yet experts in New Zealand explain that this is because New Zealand captures the deaths of all pregnant women for many reasons other than death during childbirth (a rate which is actually extremely small) and captures those that die of pre-existing conditions and heart failure for example.

On suicides New Zealand is known for examining all ‘suspicious’ deaths through referral to the Coroner and where most countries will not call the death a suicide, New Zealand does. So it is not so much that New Zealanders are jumping off buildings in greater numbers,  so much as we investigate deaths and if the conclusion is suicide we call it as it is. Most countries, including highly developed ones, do not. We are statistics and accuracy freaks.

There is no denying New Zealand has an obesity epidemic and that is very real, dragging us down the ‘progress’ ladder. I have to say given what you put in your mouth is individual choice there is possibly not a whole lot that can be done about it. Except educate and try and change behaviour. 

So why are we doing so well?

I am convinced it is our history. The early settlers in New Zealand were determined to establish a (relatively) classless society where ‘Jack is as good as his Master’. I often speak to this at seminars and how deeply this egalitarian ideology runs in our DNA.

Simply put, we give a damn about one another and look after each other. It serves us all very well.

How did we achieve this?

  • A progressive but fair taxation system.
  • Tax payer funded healthcare, education and pensions for retirees.

The report in many ways explains our success but equally points out fairly where we can do better and where challenges remain (Maori, for example, make up 15% of the population yet represent over 50% of all prison inmates).

New Zealand is not perfect but we seem to be doing an awful lot right.

This helps to explain why I wouldn’t want to raise a family or live anywhere else. I urge you to read it (click here to download the report) if you are thinking of joining us in New Zealand (particularly pages 47-49). I could not sum up the essence of New Zealand better.

Until next week

Iain MacLeod - 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


T'was the night before Christmas...

Posted by Paul on Dec. 20, 2013, 9:38 a.m. in Immigration

When all through the house, not a creature was stirring..., except for a Government policy maker who decided that changing the rules at the end of the year would make a lovely Christmas present.

Late last week the Minister of Immigration released a statement relating to proposed changes to the Long Term Business Visa (LTBV) Category. Whilst the announcement didn’t reveal specifics over what the new policy would look like, it made a few references to the ideas being batted around inside the immigration halls of power.

Originally established as a pathway to residency for those who wished to come to New Zealand and become financially self sustaining, applicants were required to have a well researched business plan that met a fairly clear benefit test to the country. In hindsight that benefit test was set too low in the eyes of the Departmental officials who implement the policy.

When it was released it was a case of ‘anything goes’ and applications from Bed and Breakfasts to one man band lawn-mowing franchises were being approved in a matter of weeks. Then with a change in leadership came a change in interpretation (although the policy didn’t) and applications were declined en masse. This Category has always been subject to the ever changing mood of INZ, although none of those changes was ever set down in the rules. It was a case of getting to understand each new Branch Manager’s feelings on the benefit to New Zealand before advising your client on whether to proceed or not. 

This has led to a policy that is both poorly understood by applicants and immigration officers alike and open to widespread abuse by both applicants and the Department. Often seen as the ‘application of last resort’, INZ struggled with the ebb and flow of applications of questionable benefit to New Zealand, leading to very few residence approvals.

The current (to be no longer as of the end of today) policy sees around 500 applications annually which is quite a few considering the intent of the policy is for people to establish or purchase businesses in New Zealand.

Application volumes have been steadily increasing over the last three immigration years (2010 to 2013), although approval rates have been falling from 89% at the beginning of that period down to 71% in the current year to date. There are various reasons INZ attribute to this trend, some of which don’t appear to hold a lot of water, given they created and administer the policy; but the main thrust of the changes relates to what we have always argued is a clear lack of defined aim of the policy.

Let me give you a few examples. 

Part of the existing policy requires an applicant to have sufficient funds for maintenance and accommodation – and that’s about as far as the rule book goes in terms of specifying what that figure might be. It doesn’t give a guide as to the amount of money required and so its left up to an immigration officer to decide on what they believe is appropriate. The problem with that is each officer will have a different view on what is ‘sufficient’. Some might drive a BMW and scoff at the idea on living on anything less than $100,000.00 per year (or perhaps $150,000 a year which was a figure quoted to us by INZ recently). Other officers will live with more modest means and believe that a third of that is required. 

Then there is the definition of ‘benefit to New Zealand’ which is another criteria that INZ uses to determine if a proposed business is worthy of approval. There is a list of criteria within the rule book; however it was arguably poorly written and therefore open to various interpretations. Also where policy says ‘benefit’ can be satisfied by meeting one of the criteria (such as employing a single New Zealander), INZ recently decided what the policy actually meant was if only one person is being employed they will do a ‘measuring’ exercise to determine whether there is enough weight in the other elements of ‘benefit’ to grant an approval.

That of course is not that the policy suggests at all but this was the Department’s way of dealing to what they considered ‘low quality’ applications – even those that demonstrably met their own single benefit criteria.

So, out with the old and in with the new – but what is ‘the new’?

Before we dive into this, it is important to note that anyone who has a current LTBV in process will be covered by the existing rules and so the proposed changes only impact on those who have yet to lodge a formal application. That does mean ongoing uncertainty as we doubt INZ will be able to resist trying to implement a higher bar test of benefit to LTBV renewals at nine months and the Resident Visa that follows.

In terms of the new policy - put simply INZ is returning to form, trying to cut out as much thinking as they can and putting in place a points system which measures various criteria. The Government has decided to close the current policy down today, release the details of the new policy in February 2014 (date to be determined) and then actually make it effective from March 2014. This then gives INZ and, in particular the Business Migration Branch, a chance to play catch up.

What little we do know is that the policy will utilise a points system to allow applicants to gauge for themselves the likelihood of success and hopefully provide some clarity around the actual criteria. 

Points will very likely be allocated based on age, capital investment, level of turnover, business experience, job creation and the level of innovation (not sure how you measure that). There will be a total point’s score of 120 (proposed) and INZ will obviously be balancing age, investment capital and the kind of business to approve the most desirable applications. The focus has very much gone on targeting enterprises that will provide export opportunities and/or technological innovation. Essentially what they don’t want are B&B’s and corner dairies.

There will also be a focus on pushing businesses out to the regions and awarding additional “bonus” points to applicants who propose to establish a business anywhere outside of Auckland. Similar to the Skilled Migrant Category, INZ has always endeavoured to move migrants out of Auckland and in to the smaller parts of the country to stimulate growth.

The Minister sums up his intention of the new policy in the press release as follows:

“The Entrepreneur Work Visa will operate under a new points-based system that will result in higher quality, more productive businesses.

“It will also encourage business-savvy migrants to invest, settle, and create jobs across the country, by offering extra points for expanding or starting businesses outside of the Auckland region.”

But (and there always is a whole lot of these) INZ will also have the discretion to waive certain requirements for funds where the proposed business can ‘excel’ in other areas. So basically you have a set of rules and then another rule which allows an officer to do whatever he/she likes.  Let’s hope it isn’t quite as subjective as that.

We support any move to greater transparency that leads to both a higher success rate and a better outcome for New Zealand. Based on the information publicly released so far we question why it has taken INZ so long to work this out and whether or not they have done enough to fix the issues. Time will tell of course.

For anyone who is considering a Long Term Business Visa application stay tuned. We will be sending out the details as we receive them along with our interpretation of what they mean in the real world.

And with that the Southern Man and the IMMagine New Zealand team sign off for another year. It has been an interesting one to say the least as the New Zealand economy continues to outperform its developed country peers and surges into 2014, the Auckland Council debates whether to kick out the current Mayor who has a penchant for extra marital activities and the folks in Christchurch continue to restack the bricks and mortar.

We will be back in January (officially open on the 13th) with a new round of seminars kicking off in the same month – this time featuring for the first time Jakarta followed later by Hong Kong.

To all of our clients and those who have read and enjoyed our blogs in 2013 we wish you a very Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year. We look forward to working with you again in 2014 and hope you all enjoy the festive season (no matter where in the world you are).

For now we are off to the beach as summer settles into a warm dry pattern.

Adieu, Arrivederci, Totsiens, Salamat Jalan and Hasta La Vista…

Paul Janssen, Iain MacLeod and the Team at IMMagine New Zealand


A place to call home...

Posted by Paul on Nov. 8, 2013, 4:19 p.m. in Immigration

If there was a way for the officials that run the immigration system in this country to ‘walk a mile in my shoes’, I would gladly hand over my size 11’s. 

In this business we have learned that you can never underestimate what it means for someone to pack their lives into a box, burn bridges in their homeland and head for New Zealand in the hope that they will be able to establish a new life here. For some it’s a choice but for many it’s the only option.

And for all their talk about ‘customers not numbers’, ‘positive settlement outcomes’ and ‘trusted partnerships’ I doubt that there are many people within the immigration machine that truly understand (as we do) what it means to migrate. There are some officers out there who do get it and these are the ones we try to work most closely with, but unfortunately for the majority, it’s a system of numbers and forms, KPI’s and targets with little in between.

I recently came to the end of what was one of the most complex cases I have ever handled, the kind of stuff that gives a Licensed Adviser insomnia and cold sweats. The kind of case that also makes you realise just how much is involved in a person’s decision to migrate.

This particular client had, through a series of unfortunate circumstances, ended up being deported from Australia back to a country he had fled over a decade earlier. He had for a large part of his life been living under the immigration radar without a Visa and without being able to truly settle anywhere. In the midst of all of this he had met a girl and that girl, although she happened to live in Australia (where they met), was New Zealand born.  So not only was this particular client abruptly removed from a life that he had built over many years to one that was completely foreign; but he was also torn away from the love of his life.

They had been through the immigration process in two countries and failed. Their attempts to tell their story were never really heard and they felt like their options had been exhausted. I recall the first conversation I had with the New Zealand partner and it sounded like the wind had been knocked clean out of her. Put simply they were just another number in a statistic on someone’s spread sheet.

As an Adviser taking on a case like this you need all the facts. We need to know pretty much everything there is to know about the history and anything less just won’t cut it. I listened to this couple and the story they told made sense. In this particular case, as it is with anyone that has been anywhere unlawfully for that long and then deported, it was always going to be 50/50 and I had no reservations in telling them that we were in for a lengthy battle. My role in all of this was to simultaneously minimize the risk of failure whilst maximising the chances of success. There was a lot at stake here and this was a couple that were prepared to go to hell and back to make it work.

After 20 months, 520 emails and numerous lengthy discussions with Senior Immigration Officers that, to their credit, also listened; the outcome was successful. What this means for this couple is best left to the partner to say. Here is what she emailed me when she was given the good news:

“…he hasn't felt like he has belonged anywhere ever, he has never felt comfortable to call a place home and actually make solid decisions about how he wants to spend his future - he can now do that...”

Are we proud of this? Yes. Did we pull off a miracle? Well not quite. In reality we simply knew how to navigate this process, who in the system to talk to and how to talk to them. We listened to the client, understood the situation and then set about minimising failure and maximising success.  

As Advisers we constantly advocate that the machine should deliver consistent and fair outcomes. Sometimes, as was the case in the scenario above, we have to fight a little harder to secure those outcomes particularly when you have a round peg and a square hole. However, there are occasions when even though the system shouldn’t be a lottery, it can feel like you are rolling dice.

Take last week for example. INZ decided it would be a good idea to change the security settings on their online Expression of Interest (EOI) login system. As a result the system didn’t work for a few days and for anyone using Google Chrome there was not much hope of filing an EOI (there is probably a good blog in that). A week later INZ conducts their regularly scheduled EOI selection process and for the first time in seven months, the pass mark fell (ever so slightly). 

Why? 

It wouldnt be silly to conclude that the drop in the pass mark was because fewer people were able to file EOI’s, meaning INZ had less 'customers' to choose from and therefore to get their regular number of plus/minus 600, they needed to select those with a slightly lower score. Or it could be just the computer system making up numbers because demand was lower. Either way the thinking isn't necessarily being done by a person.

For the number crunchers and budget balancers within INZ this would simply have been an ‘anomaly’,  possibly a ‘glitch’ or perhaps just 'statistics'. For a few would-be migrants out there who have filed EOI’s in the hope that somewhere, somehow they might get selected, this would have been the very first step in that new life. 

No matter how hard you try to understand this process it can sometimes (thankfully rarely) come down to whether the guy manning the IT desk, put a semi-colon in the right place or which way the number crunchers lean.

I know that Iain (the actual Southern Man) has four golden rules when it comes to this process and one of them rings true here – “Just when you think you have the system figured out, they change it”. We know this and it’s probably why we have the success rates we do. Prepare for all situations and never underestimate the system’s ability to get it wrong. 

Above all, however, a good Adviser will go further than forms, paperwork and process to understand what’s involved with your situation, to navigate you through the system successfully and remove as much of the randomness and inconsistency as is possible. You should never just be a number.

For my client and his partner, I wish them all the very best. Having not only listened to their story but also being a part of it, I am privileged (and somewhat humbled) to know that New Zealand now feels like home for him, in the truest sense of the word.

For everyone else reading this blog who has thought about making the move but would like someone to walk the journey with them, drop us a line, or if you are in South Africa, Singapore or Malaysia (click on the links to register) we have our last seminars for 2013 in November and December coming up, so why not come and listen to what we have to say and perhaps share your story with us.

Until next week - Paul Janssen

Skilled Migrants Needed Now!

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

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

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

In the past three weeks media headlines have screamed:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Oh that they were so brave.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Until next week

Iain MacLeod - Southern Man


INZ Short of the Mark

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

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

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

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

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

They issued 18,000 in the first year.

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

Another 18,000.

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

Now you might think 'who cares?'

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

So how does the Government get away with it?

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

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

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

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

Pity the New Zealand Government isn't as honest.

Until next week

Iain MacLeod - Southern Man


How 'PR' works in NZ

Posted by Paul on July 12, 2013, 2:29 p.m. in Immigration

One of the most confusing pieces of Immigration Policy is the difference between ‘Residence’ and ‘Permanent Residence’. We spend countless hours explaining this to clients simply because INZ have made it rather difficult to understand.  So in this week’s blog we are going to explain it to you, unravel the mystery, tear down the myths and hopefully simplify what can be a pretty mind boggling set of rules.

Unlike many countries around the world, when you secure Residence of New Zealand it is exactly that – permanent. It doesn’t expire in five years, two years or two weeks and it doesn’t need to be renewed periodically. It also grants the holder essentially the same rights and privileges as a New Zealand citizen without having a passport of course. There are a few exceptions such as a 12 month stand down period before you can vote (after 12 months you can vote for whoever you want), a two year stand down on Student Loans and Social Welfare benefits and some restrictions on being able to represent New Zealand internationally for various sporting codes, however, these restrictions are few and far between.

Residents pay the same taxes, can buy the same houses and take advantage of the healthcare and education systems in the same way a citizen can. We are a pretty generous lot.

However, New Zealand does want you to commit in some way before they will make all of these things available to you permanently and this is where the difference between ‘Resident’ and ‘Permanent Resident’ Visas comes in.

So how does it all work?

The following rules apply to most application types however, there are some slight differences for Investor or Parent Category applicants. These come with some additional conditions which your adviser should explain to you.

When your application for Residence is approved the first thing you will be issued with is a Resident Visa. If this is granted offshore, all family members included in the original application must enter New Zealand within 12 months from the date that the visa is issued. This is called the ‘First Entry Before’ date and will be listed on the top right hand side of the Visa label. It is important to remember that all family members who were included in the original application must enter NZ at least once before this date or their Visa will lapse which means they will lose their Resident Visa entitlement. Having said that the family does not need to enter on the same date within that 12 months and can travel separately.

If your Resident Visa is issued when you are onshore then your Visa won’t have a ‘First Entry Before Date’ as you are already here.

The second condition contained within your Resident Visa (which is usually the one that confuses most people) is the “Expiry Date Travel”. This is usually valid for two years from the date of your first arrival. So when you and all of your family members included in the application make your first entry you will all be given further ‘Travel Conditions' (the ability to enter and exit NZ as a Resident) for two years from that date. As this date is not written down anywhere it’s important that you make a note of this somewhere.

If your Residence was approved whilst you were in New Zealand the two years starts on the day that your Resident Visa was issued as you have already ‘entered’ New Zealand.

The initial Resident Visa you have allows you to live and work in New Zealand indefinitely, so if you never left you could legally stay even if your two years’ worth of travel conditions came and went. However if you were to leave New Zealand after those two years and return your Residence would be deemed to have lapsed. 

This is where the Permanent Resident Visa comes into it.

A Permanent Resident Visa has the same rights and privileges as your Resident Visa however, the travel conditions (your ability to exit and re-enter NZ as a Resident) never expire. This is the ‘permanent’ part of the Visa. You can only apply for this at the end of the two years of your initial Resident Visa however, once you have it then you are essentially free to come and go and spend as much or as little time in New Zealand without jeopardising your ‘permanent residence’.

To qualify for a Permanent Resident Visa the principal applicant in the original application must satisfy one of five criteria. Generally it is only the principal applicant that must satisfy the criteria, however in some cases the other family members will need to have spent time in New Zealand.

The five criteria are as follows:

  • Significant period of time spent in New Zealand
  • Tax Resident status in New Zealand
  • Investment in New Zealand
  • Establishing a business in New Zealand
  • Establishing a ‘base’ in New Zealand

Explaining all five criteria would take a separate blog (for each) however the easiest one to meet and the one I will explain here is the first – significant period of time spent in New Zealand. In this case the principal applicant only must spend a period of 184 days in each of the two years from the date they first entered NZ. For example, if the whole family entered NZ on their initial Resident Visas (or were already here) on 01/01/14 then the principal applicant must spend:

  • 184 days in NZ between 01/01/14 and 31/12/14 and 
  • Another 184 days between 01/01/15 and 31/12/15. 

The 184 days does not need to be consecutive and can be broken up however, it must be 184 days in each year, e.g. you cannot combine the two 184 day periods into one year.

If you believe you may not qualify under this rule and would like to explore one of the other options you definitely need to speak to us. The other options can be complicated (not impossible) however we need to assess each situation carefully.

It is vital that you take steps to qualify for a Permanent Resident Visa within the original two year travel conditions; this will make your transition to Permanent Residence much smoother and less complicated. 

Remember that a Resident Visa allows you the same access to education and health services as an NZ citizen and once you have spent 12 months in New Zealand you can vote in local and National Elections.

You can only apply for Citizenship once you have resided in New Zealand for 5 years, can demonstrate you have settled and integrated, speak fluent English and this country is your home. Citizenship is decided on an individual basis – so it is not like a residence application which is a family affair in which if one qualifies all qualify. 

But that is a story for another day. We can assist you with your citizenship when the time comes but remind us in four and half year’s time.

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


Computer Says No...

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

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

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

Computers deciding the fate of would be migrants. 

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

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

That is if it worked.

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

The scenario we concocted was the following:

A 34 year old South African client living in South Africa 

Married with two young children

Qualified with a Bachelor’s Degree in Information Technology

Ten years of work experience as an IT Systems Administrator

Wife holds a Bachelor Degree in Commerce

A close family member (brother) in New Zealand

All family members healthy and no criminal convictions

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

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

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

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

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

Now this is where it all became very disappointing.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Until next week

Paul Janssen – standing in for Iain MacLeod


Handing The Thinking Over To A Computer...

Posted by Iain on May 24, 2013, 10:18 a.m. in Immigration

I was reflecting on my colleague Paul’s recent blog on the proposed computerisation of decision making at the Immigration Department and it sent a chill down my spine.

In 1985 I watched an excellent film called Brazil. Set in the future, bureaucracy was rampant, all powerful and unaccountable. Poorly maintained machines were the order of the day. Looking for a terrorist named ‘Tuttle’ the state incarcerated and killed under interrogation a man named ‘Buttle’ thanks to a fly landing on a typing key and getting squashed against the paper order to arrest. Once the squashed fly is flicked away the ‘T’ in Tuttle looked like ‘B’ and thus poor Buttle ended his days the victim of mistaken identity. The State, however, did not wish to own up to its mistake and the film centres on the farcical actions of the bureaucrats unwilling to admit this rather unfortunate error and determined to make the crime fit the error.

I have always known that public servants on the whole make poor decision makers and lousy business people. Love capitalism or hate it there is truth in the observation that the profit motive and competition spurs on service delivery and innovation. Monopolies do not. And the Immigration Department is a monopoly that has strayed far beyond what it was set up to do – process visas.

Over the years I have observed most of the good people leave the Immigration Department and to be fair a few good ones remain. They usually end up in management positions. Those that remain below them at the counter level who make life changing decisions on migrants’ futures are often people you wouldn’t employ in your own business. 

Departmental management know that they have a lot of deadwood below them with whom they have to work and who have to make decisions.

It must be tempting then for those in positions of management to try and produce ‘better outcomes’ by removing the inconsistency of these humans and hand the decision making to a computer.

As bad as many officers are in understanding and implementing their own rules handing this over to a computer is just plain frightening.

I was thinking that we spend at least an hour working through a family’s eligibility when we meet them for the first time. If we are considering using our sister office in Melbourne to get them Australian Visas (the backdoor process to New Zealand) we usually need about two hours of detailed assessment, evaluation, explanation and discussion.

Then there is the follow up questions over the ensuing weeks as clients get their heads around the time frames, the costs, the strategy, the logistical, emotional and financial implications of the process along with the potential risks and the rewards.  We help them arrive at a balanced decision by using the human brain which is possibly the most sophisticated piece of computing ‘hardware’ in the Universe. A big call I know, but I strongly suspect it to be true. 

I calculate each client gets about 3 hours of advice before they make a decision and we accept them as a client. 

How can a computer manage this as thoroughly, empathetically and technically given the nuances that exist in every family’s situation? After 24 years in the game I can with hand on heart tell anyone that cares to listen that no two cases are ever the same. 

There is so much that is subtle in policy and we must be very precise in interpreting and translating that in to an application to study here, work, visit or get permanent residence. It is hard and it is complicated. If it wasn't market forces would see me working as a bricklayer or author and not as an Immigration Adviser.

I could give you pages of examples but here are a few recent ‘real life ones’.

Client A has a 4 year old who doesn’t speak yet. He is in NZ and within the next few months will start public (tax payer funded) school.  We were told he has ‘mild developmental issues’.  Immigration policy can direct such an applicant to be denied a visa if that child is likely to be a cost on NZ’s education services. How would you design a question in an online ‘self-assessment tool’ to identify whether this child will be approved or declined when ‘mild is fine’, ‘medium might not be’ and ‘serious’ is a real issue? Through asking many questions and requesting significant additional information from the client we established that he will not require state intervention or serious teacher aid assistance (despite I should add INZ’s own Doctor advising us he would and therefore should be declined…). He has just had his residence approved along with is family.

Client B is from the Philippines. He holds a Bachelor of Science in Engineering from a University recognised for points under Skilled Migrant Policy. However, he needs the bonus points for work and qualifications provided by having a qualification ‘comparable to a Bachelor of Engineering’.  How do you design a failsafe question to determine who gets the bonus points when INZ itself has just told us this week for Engineers it is ‘each case on its merits’?

Client C is from Iran. Iranian males (and many other nationalities that are supposedly a closely guarded state secret) require additional forms to be completed as INZ needs to assess risk profiles in particular in respect of potential terrorism / military service / war crimes, etc.  How, when the public is not allowed to know who requires these additional checks, is the computer going to ‘know’ what to tell these people in terms of their eligibility?

Client D tells us (or the computer) he works as an Electronic Engineer and ‘claims’ this in the online eligibility assessment. However INZ may, in fact, define that period of work as an Engineering Technician irrespective of what the title is (titles mean little in the immigration world, it is job description which counts) and that changes everything in terms of residence eligibility. How does the computer tease out of the applicant exactly what they do all day, analyse it and pigeon hole that person as a Technician or an Engineer?

Anyone who thinks a computer can make a better decision than a well-trained and intelligent human is either deluded or an Immigration Department IT Manager. Or possibly both.

As good as we are thanks to the vagaries of the process we cannot always predict with great certainty how things will unfold even after we have made the call on eligibility. To think for a millisecond that a computer can even badly assess a person’s eligibility for a visa and to then approve or decline based on boxes ticked starts filling me with a certain dread, especially for those vulnerable migrants who might be silly enough to believe a computer can do it.

That fear is not that we as Advisers will become obsolete. Far from it - in that regard I agree with Paul - we will become more valuable and more vital to a successful application and only a fool would think otherwise. I do fear that we are living in an age where rather than find solutions for people by people we have a public service, hitherto unable to even advise us on simple interpretations of their own rules, about to hand it all over to a computer!

These people expect us to seriously believe that it is smart and rational to replace face to face discussions with potential clients with a questionnaire and an algorithm?

I call that the ultimate cop out and admission they simply cannot do the job. 

I am certain a computer will not be able to do it any better but will likely do it far worse so a bad situation may be about to become a terrible one.

The future has arrived people and it is a dark one indeed if we are going to let computers do all our thinking for the state functionaries currently paid to do it. While it might be a seductive thought to believe that cables and silicon can replace the human neuron we aren’t at that point just yet.

If I was punting my future on a computer spitting out an answer on my eligibility to settle, work, study or visit this country I would be afraid. Very afraid.

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 Trademe.co.nz 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