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And the winner is... virtually everybody!

Posted by Iain on Oct. 1, 2021, 10:29 a.m. in New Zealand Politics


In a blog a few weeks ago (read here) I explained how I would solve the current crisis sinking the government’s skilled migrant programme caused by multi year processing backlogs. Working quite closely with the National Party spokeswoman on Immigration, Erica Stanford and one or two others from the immigration consulting community in recent weeks, I was rather hoping the policy released by the Nats would be stolen by the current government as a solution to the problem it created.

Earlier this week I seem to have got my wish.

The Government has announced a pathway to residency for people in New Zealand who are working as of 29 September with fairly generous terms. Although it's not going to cover everybody in the country it is going to cover the significant majority who have been stuck in, or who have stuck by, New Zealand during the Covid crisis.

The government clearly, if belatedly, appreciated that without radical surgery the patient was going to die. To nurse the system back to health and clear the backlogs would take years. They could not hope to roll out their so called ‘reset’ until they dealt with this problem. I think they also became tired of waking up every morning to new nightmarish migrant stories in the media and they wanted to get in front of an issue that has been starting to hurt them politically.

In what could be described as a ‘big bang’ solution they have announced a pathway to residency for all virtually everyone who was in New Zealand and employed on 29 September 2021. As always the devil is going to be in the detail but one thing is very clear to me – the government is expecting to grant around 165,000 resident visas over the next 12 months or so (by the end of 2022). That can only mean one thing – the application process is going to be what we are referring to as ‘tick and flick’.

So who is likely to qualify?

All of those who hold an Essential Skills Work Visa, work to residence (Talent or long-term skills shortage list), post study work visa and who:

         Has been in New Zealand for three years or

         Earns more than $27 per hour; or

         Who work in an occupation that meets the criteria for the long-term skills shortage list; or

         Who work in a health or education occupation in New Zealand that requires local statutory registration; or

         Personal care workers (I'm assuming this is referring to Nursing Assistants and Nurse Aids and similar) and ‘other critical workers’ or

         Workers in primary industries – clearly designed to cover all those working on farms that may not have jobs that are skilled enough to be granted residence in the normal way

It's basically everybody employed on 29 September. Those that might not qualify will likely have been the in the country for less than three years and earning less than $27 per hour. It is curious that criteria has been added. This smacks to me of a last minute addition to keep the ‘anti-immigrant, you’re flooding the country with cheap labour, Kiwis can fill these jobs’ brigade happy. They do exist despite the evidence the are wrong. 

Only one family member needs to hold the Work Visa if there is a partner and children. 

Government intends prioritising, from 1 December, those people who have filed a (new if necessary) residency application and who have "adult" but dependent children aged under 25 included in their application. This covers those who have children age 17 or older.

Everyone else waits it seems till March 2022.

Disappointingly but perhaps predictably the government has not at this point signaled any priority for the "split families" where the primary applicant is in New Zealand but their partner and children remain offshore. Given the demand for managed isolation and quarantine (MIQ) hotel rooms it was always likely the government was going to only be able to offer ‘certainty’ of residence to that family on the one hand but tell them they going to be separated for a long time yet on the other. I am hopeful MIQ won’t be necessary for many people by early 2022.

I think it's also clear that this signals government is expecting to open the border early in 2022. They need to clear the decks now so that Immigration New Zealand is positioned, certainly by the middle of 2022, to roll out whatever the new skilled immigration policy is going to look like. I also wrote a piece on that a few weeks ago on what the new policy might look like and you can read that here. I predict a higher pass mark of perhaps 180 (up from 160) and a change to the points system rewarding those people in New Zealand with more points if they work in occupations requiring statutory registration, work in an occupation on the long-term skills shortage list and, possibly, those earning one and a half times the median income around $84,000.

While this week’s announcement is great news for everybody seeking certainty I think this should be recognised for what it truly is – not a government being kind to migrants – but a government realising the immigration system is so utterly broken the only way forward is to basically burn it to the ground and start again.  The good news is they didn't leave the migrants in the house after they lit the match and I will give them credit for that because they've gone further than I expected they would.

In doing so they've been able to take the great ideas of the National Party spokeswoman who has been ratcheting up the pressure on a fairly useless Minister and disinterested administration for over 12 months. A lot of the credit for the government’s announcement should ironically go to Erica Stanford, not the Prime Minister and not the Minister himself.

The government has confirmed that they will not be selecting any EOIs from the skilled migrant pool until July 2022. What is not yet clear is whether people can still file them in the meantime but hopefully will get more detail on that shortly.

By July 2022 I expect that the government should have been able to significantly eat into the current backlog.

Government has been quick to reassure the world that New Zealand is not closing its doors but the opposite. It will, for reasons of political expediency, burble on about ‘up skilling and training New Zealanders as a priority’ for the local political audience. The reality in the labour market is this decision does not in any way diminish the acute and worsening skill shortages in an economy that continues to perform strongly. All the people that are now going to be given a pathway to residency are already in New Zealand and filling jobs we cannot. We need people to fill the jobs being created today, tomorrow and next week - or which have been unfilled since we closed the border in March 2020.

All this action does is allow those people who have been in New Zealand and contributing to remain and to offer them certainty they not going to be thrown out of the country. With every month at the border remains closed the skill shortages get worse. That tells me the future for skilled migration to New Zealand remains positive and if you are wanting to join us, viable. Unless and until we produce the skills locally that we need to fill the tens of thousands of jobs we create every year, we simply must have a skilled migrant policy. We cannot magic up several thousand IT workers a year, nor engineers, architects, draftsmen, tradesmen, auditors, teachers, nurses, radiographers – the list is endless. 

No one then who was planning on moving to New Zealand in 2022 who has consulted with us should in my opinion have anything to fear. If anything this week’s announcement clears your pathway and while change will come in 2022 I am confident in that general advice. My ear is close enough to the ground that I'll put my reputation on the line and say anyone that IMMagine currently represents or chooses to represent over the next few months is still going to have a viable pathway to residency even if they are currently overseas.

It has been wonderful to be able to tell several hundred families over the past few hours that they now have the certainty they have been missing since March 2020. Immigration Department managers are heaving a sigh of relief. For the politicians, they've managed now to lance a big nasty boil and relieve some of the pressure they were rightly feeling to fix the mess that they created. I fervently hope they better appreciate now that migrants are human beings and not simply reference numbers on a piece of departmental letterhead or political pawns. What we and our clients have experienced in recent years is shameful and I hope never allowed to repeat. 

Now, I have to find a way to get me and my family home! 

Until next week 

Iain MacLeod

Southern Man


Second Time Round

Posted by Myer on May 7, 2021, 10:20 a.m. in Immigration

It’s always easier the second time round.

It was words to that effect made casually over a barbecue (that’s braaivleis to our South African readers) by a good friend of mine that was the catalyst for today’s blog. He said to me that he found migrating to Australia a “breeze” compared to his previous experience regarding migration to the United States and, whilst I do think that Australia is an easier cultural fit for many of our clients than the United States, he said that a lot had to do with the fact that he had a much better mindset and attitude for his second migration.

I think that many of our clients who have immigrated previously to Singapore, Hong Kong or the Middle East will confirm that it is often easier the second time round.

Barbecuing duties and the distraction of too much good Aussie red wine prevented me from questioning him further over this casual comment but he elaborated subsequently.

When I look back on my migration to New Zealand as a twentysomething year old South African lawyer I recognise that I too made similar mistakes and found my migration to Australia (20 years later) substantially easier.

So what are the lessons learnt of prior migrations that can be passed on to new migrants?

1.      Your new country, whether it be New Zealand or Australia is not perfect so don’t migrate expecting paradise. My partner Iain and I often tell migrants that we don’t live in paradise, we live in Melbourne and Auckland respectively. We have our problems as well but when you consider the lifestyle that we enjoy in both Australia and New Zealand and the type of issues that our clients have to deal with whether it be crime and violence in South Africa, lack of work life balance in Singapore or political instability in Hong Kong, we thank God for our lives in New Zealand and Australia. The point is however it’s not all good and it’s not all bad.

2.       You need to create a life for yourself whichever country you immigrate to before you can make comparisons with the life that you have left. It’s unfair to make judgements about your new life until such time as you have lived in your new country for at least a year and can make a fair comparison between the sacrifices you have made to the gains you have achieved. I don’t suggest that anyone travels back home until such time as you have been living in the new country for at least a year.

3.       My more motivated clients often tell me that they are prepared to “start at the bottom” if needs be but in actual fact one never starts at the bottom. Unless you are the managing director of Woolworths or some other “big wig” you will invariably start in the middle but be prepared to take up a position of employment that isn’t necessarily a step up the corporate ladder but might be commensurate with the type of position you occupied prior to migration.

4.       Do as much research as you can prior to migration. Having family and friends can often be invaluable and listen to the settlement advice they give as they have often gained this advice from making mistakes themselves. Just don’t take visa advice from them. It’s far better to learn from the errors of others if possible.

5.       Choose a good migration agent that can help you not only with the visa application process but also provide input into post visa grant issues.

6.       It’s a team approach and if you have a spouse or partner they have to be completely on board with the decision to migrate. We find migration tends to make relationships stronger or breaks already weakened ones.

7.       Children are more resilient than parents. So often parents tell me that they would like to immigrate within a particular timeframe to coincide with the commencement of the school year in order to reduce trauma for children. Young children are far more adaptable than we give them credit for. They will make new friends and adapt to a new environment far more easily than you, their parents will.

8.       Be flexible about your destination. Whilst you might have a preference in terms of migrating to areas where you have friends or family often the visa process will select the migrant. For example it might be easier to obtain permanent residence in either Australia or New Zealand, not necessarily both and you may have to make compromises as to which state in Australia or city in New Zealand you migrate to because of issues relating to state sponsorship in Australia or perhaps points for migration out of Auckland in New Zealand.

9.      When you first migrate realise that you are on a honeymoon. The honeymoon period tends to last three months, thereafter it’s almost as if the in-laws have moved in when reality sets in.

10.   Remember the reasons why you migrated and have a big picture attitude to coping with minor irritations after the honeymoon period passes. I had a South African client of mine tell me that he wrote the reasons why he migrated on the back of a matchbox (in the days when smoking was far more popular and people used pens ) to help him stay motivated on the days that he felt despondent.

11.   You cannot expect the same recognition that you enjoyed in your home country when you first immigrate. The fact that you may have owned a company that employs 30 people or your former station in life will have little bearing on the amount of recognition that you receive when emigrating. My friend told me that it was difficult to obtain his first credit card because of lack of credit history but as soon as he had one credit card he had 100.

12.   I don’t think that the expression “blood is thicker than water” necessarily is true to migrants. Often the friends that you make whether they be fellow migrants or New Zealanders or Australians are far stronger than friendships that you had in your home country because they are forged in a cauldron of stress and upheaval. The fact that you might be going through similar difficult conditions and able to draw upon each other’s strengths tends to forge friendships that are as deep if not deeper than family ties. Some of my most enduring relationships were formed in the early days of my migration.

13.   Be kind to yourself. I know that this sounds like an Ellen DeGeneres line but don’t have unrealistic expectations as to what can be achieved within a short period of time. I remember expressing admiration to a client of mine who managed to buy a house within his first year of migration only to have to listen to how much he had sacrificed in South Africa. It’s difficult to be happy when you are beating yourself on your back as opposed to patting yourself on the back for a milestone that should be a joyous occasion.

14.   It’s not all about the job. We do understand that jobs are important but many have the misguided impression that if one secures employment one qualifies for residence. I recently consulted with someone who said that she was scared “shitless” about the prospect of immigrating without finding employment and that’s usually the aspect that concerns me least. Australia and New Zealand have very low rates of unemployment and nearly all of our clients find employment within three months. It’s far more important however to be concentrating on what are the steps to qualify for appropriate visas than focus on employment.

We have been working in the migration industry for more than 30 years and assisted thousands of migrants from all sorts of countries and backgrounds and can identify those that have the “right stuff” from those with what would be described as having a “sucky attitude” in Australia and New Zealand who may have to make some attitude adjustments in order to make a successful migration and are happy to share our wealth of knowledge with those thinking of making the move.

Skilled Migrant Review Announced

Posted by Iain on Feb. 25, 2021, 11:22 a.m. in Skilled Migrant Category

Last week I wrote a piece speculating on what the outcome of next month's review into resuming the expressions of interest selection process, might be.

The upshot of that analysis was that if the government does not start selecting expressions of interest next month, they have enough work on hand to see them through the rest of the year but by early 2022 they will be getting very low on skilled migrant applications.

I did apply some logic to that analysis – by making the assumption that all those who could file an EOI since the selections stopped in March 2020, would have. People acting logically is a big leap of faith I know but I can't see why people would not have filed an expression of interest if they could but I accept there may be some who didn’t.

Irrespective, and let's assume there's another 2000 families floating around New Zealand who have not filed expressions of interest but who might if they thought selections would resume at the end of March or early April, it still means the government will in 2022 to struggle to reach its own target/quota of 25,000 skilled migrant resident visas.

Speculation went through the roof about what the government is going to announce at the end of March in respect of resuming selections given that at 2 pm on Wednesday the Minister of Immigration announced that a review of the skilled migrant (points) system is a “priority”. No doubt out there in the ‘chatterverse’, the Facebook chat groups will be going into overdrive trying to determine if this review is linked to the review that is to be made at the end of next month.

I think that indirectly they probably are linked. The reason is that every three years a first principles review of the skilled migrant category takes place as the government of the day does with all major immigration categories on a three yearly cycle. The last SMC review was in 2017 and I was involved in that (and would love to be involved in the 2021 review). The government then is 12 months late in carrying out a fairly standard review.

I have a feeling that the government may well be talked by the immigration department into not resuming pool draws next month and this ‘review’ could be used as a smokescreen (given you can only blame Covid so long for so much). As I pointed out last week if this is a purely mathematical decision there is no reason for selections not to resume but this is not a purely mathematical decision - it is political.

INZ continues to experience unacceptable processing delays on skilled migrant cases. No one who filed a non-priority application after 25 July 2019 has at the time of writing been allocated for processing. "Priority" cases which are a minority are being allocated as soon as they are receipted. There’s about 180 a week of the former and 50 of the latter.

Although I am clearly no fan of the circus that is the immigration department and its management, when the previous government cut the number of skilled migrant resident visas available, the pass mark to be selected from the pool should have gone up (to reduce the numbers selected to better align with the visas available to be granted) but it did not. Immigration New Zealand doesn't have an option if it is told by Government to select someone from the pool based on their having enough ‘points' and it also doesn't have an option not to invite those people to apply for residence if the points claim looks ‘credible’. Because the government did not provide a formal target for INZ to work to when the current residency program expired at the end of 2019, the department was effectively flying blind on numbers - the. As a result they went on something of a "goes slow" and it took the current government around one year before they said to them to work as if there was a target of 25,000 visas in place. Hence the current backlog.

As a consequence of all of that we now have the 20 month delay in allocating the majority of cases to an officer for processing.

The delay in allocating residence cases has caused all sorts of unintended consequences including complications for those on temporary visas that could have been avoided if there was no backlog. A lot of hurt and misery for families split by the border restrictions to name but one.

There’s been a lot of navel gazing in social and main stream media over whether the Government might put up the pass mark at the end of March in order to ‘clean out the pool’ and start afresh. Yes, they could do that but I don’t think they would do so. They are more likely to simply not resume pool draws for a few months.

If they did push pass marks up what happens to the young teacher, software developer, electrician or engineer who even with a job outside of Auckland cannot get more than 160 points? If the pass mark goes up at all we will lose a whole lot of them. The babies will literally be thrown out with the bathwater.

What I didn’t mention last week was that EOIs are only valid or ‘live’ for six months. Therefore, in theory, if the Government did resume pool selections in early April this year and set the pass mark at say 180 or 200, anyone in that pool not selected is out. (They can file another EOI if they are happy to pay). Any EOI that has been in the pool for less than six months when the first pool draw takes place who is not selected in that first pool draw all remain ‘live’ for the balance of six months. So if they filed 4 months ago, weren’t selected in the first pool draw would stay ‘alive’ for another 2 months of pool draws.

So Government could flush the pool but I cannot imagine them being so cruel. Or borderline fraudulent having taken $530 off every EOI aspirant. If they were to be that cynical and cruel I am sure they’d also refund the money to assuage their consciences. At the same time reminding those that filed that all they did was to ‘express an interest in residence an dit was never any guarantee of selection or residence itself’. Technically rue but not what they spend millions of dollars every year marketing to the world.

My best guess today in light of this announced review is EOIs won’t resume in early April and Government will announce that decision will be reviewed in an additional three months. And three months after that. All because it gives time for INZ to get its embarrassing backlog sorted. Hold a gun to my head and I’d say they’ll resume September by which time the SMC review will be complete and they can ‘reset’ or ‘re-calibrate’ or however they might spin it.

Bottom line is NZ has an economy pretty much the same size as it was before covid landed. Unemployment is 4.9% and falling. Skills shortages are getting worse and now 45% of businesses are saying they cannot fill vacancies, particularly skilled ones. Until we produce all the skills we need locally we are going to need a skilled migration programme. And unless we force young people to stop studying things we have no demand for we are going to have an overs supply of lawyers and under supply of nurses and teachers. They have to come from somewhere.

I am not going to speculate on what the review of the skilled migrant programme might reveal but while the system is hard on migrants (get a job to get the work visa/residence when employers demand the work visa first most of the time) it does work. The most employable (linguistically and culturally), the most resilient and those able to afford to be unemployed for 2-4 months in New Zealand are the winners in the programme. That is why the three yearly review normally results in tweaking, not wholesale change.

If I could make one recommendation it is that we follow Australia and award points based on the result of the English language exam. I did advocate for this when I was involved in the review back in 2017 but the idea wasn’t taken up. If we are looking to tweak I'd also recommend looking to drop the maximum age for a skilled migration to 50 or even perhaps 45 (with certain exceptions like Australia does for those occupations where you are far likely to be older to be able to have the skills, knowledge and dare I add, wisdom, to do the job - thinking of Professors at university as one example).

As we wait for the government to make the call on pool draws resuming I think the smart money is on them kicking for touch for a few months. Not welcome news for anyone sitting in the pool but it sure as heck beats them increasing the pass mark because they want it flushed clean.

Until next week

Iain MacLeod

Southern Man

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Transitioning to Primary School - Survey Says We're Doing Well

Posted by Iain on June 15, 2018, 1:55 p.m. in Education

Given most of you migrate to New Zealand for a bit of freedom, lifestyle and education opportunities for your children, a really uplifting and positive report has just been released that shows we are doing an awful lot right when it comes to our children’s early years in school.

Bearing in mind that in New Zealand all children must by law be in school by their sixth birthday, but most start on their fifth, this longitudinal study looked at how the mothers of some 7000 six year olds perceived their child adjusted and coped with the transition from pre-school to primary school.

The study was overwhelmingly positive and here are some highlights:

  • Over 90% of mothers reported being satisfied or very satisfied with the effect their child’s current school was having on their educational, social, emotional and physical needs
  • Over 90% had adjusted and settled into their new school within one month and 72% reported no difficulties or issues in the transition to primary school
  • Around 85% attended their local state (public) Primary School
  • The most common class size was between 20 and 25 children (10% were in classes of fewer than 15 children and 6% were in classes of more than 30).
  • Some 26% had been exposed to what is called a Modern Learning Environment within the school which sees them having access to open and flexible learning spaces and advanced technology
  • Around three quarters live within 5km of their local school yet some 68% are delivered to school by private car, 3% rode a bike to school and 15% walked (pathetic!)
  • Some 88% of mothers were actively involved in some way with their children’s school
  • Around 51% of children get free milk at school and 10% are supplied with breakfast
  • Close to 25% attended after school care (at the school) till their parents could pick them up and 8% were in care before school begins of a morning

The single most important factor in the transition was the teacher. Around 12% of children had at least two teachers in their first year and the report suggests that this needs to be looked at given the relative importance of the teacher in the process of transitioning from a pre-school environment to a primary school and how the children adapt.

Class sizes are growing as more school adopt the Modern Learning Environment. I read an interesting paper on what these are, as they are not viewed as necessarily universally beneficial and as with all things education in this country, everyone has an opinion.

An increasingly mobile workforce saw a surprising 12% of children experiencing a change of school in their first year and close to two-thirds had moved house at least once by the time they were five.

Apparently, the children are going to be surveyed to see if their reality mirrors their mother’s perceptions.

If you are a bit of a nerd (or a teacher) you can read the whole report here. If you’d prefer the highlights you can read them here.

Until next week...

Iain MacLeod, Southern Man

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