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Posted by Myer on March 25, 2022, 9:43 a.m. in Skilled Migration
These words are frequently muttered by my wife as she leaves the house on her way to the shops after my entreaty to buy me snacks. They could just as easily be uttered by the Department of Home Affairs with regard to a skilled visa application.
My wife loves order and rules the household by way of lists. I suspect that she was previously employed as an immigration officer before she met me but failed to make this disclosure to me because she knew that my ardour would have cooled.
We have lists for everything in our household and because there is an app for everything a lot of the lists are electronic. At a very early age one of my three sons observed “dad’s the boss at work but mom is the boss at home”. I’m not sure what form of government we have at home, whether it’s a dictatorship, meritocracy or autocracy but I do know that my home life largely revolves around lists.
When I come to work my life also revolves around lists but these lists are created by the Department of Home Affairs relating to occupations that appear on lists that are suitable for different visa types for skilled migrants.
There are more lists created by state governments of occupations that are in demand in their particular state and this is pertinent if you are seeking to be nominated by a state government for one of the state nominated general skilled migration visas (which is almost all skilled migrants these days) and they are relevant to many of our clients based overseas.
Where do all of these lists come from?
In Australia (and New Zealand) we have a very large online directory called ANZSCO (the Australian and New Zealand Standard Classification of Occupations) which is compiled by the Department of Statistics in both countries and seeks to provide position descriptions, skill levels and criteria for being regarded as suitably qualified for a particular occupation. It was, many years ago co-opted by the two immigration departments in part to reduce the need for immigration officers to have to apply their minds in assessing whether someone really was an Electrician or primary School Teacher or Dog Groomer or something else entirely.
It’s available online and you can use the search function to find different occupations.
The immigration department and state governments use ANZSCO to compile their lists.
The philosophy behind the lists is that Australia (both federal and state governments) is looking for particular skill sets. You are often required to make sure that you are deemed suitably qualified in an occupation by obtaining a skills assessment conducted by a relevant authority. For example a professional engineer would require a skills assessment by Engineers Australia for a general skilled migration visa application.
Australia is suffering severe skill shortages in a wide range of occupations however we have a general federal election in May of this year and the government has said that they are not going to be increasing the annual migration quota of 160,000 permanent resident places notwithstanding the severe skill shortages. No government ever wins votes through an expanded immigration program notwithstanding the needs of an economy so this is not particularly surprising, however we are speculating that more occupations will be added to the list of occupations suitable for skilled migration and also the proportion of skilled migration to other forms of permanent resident visas will revert to pre-pandemic ratios of two thirds of the migration program allocated to skilled migrants and one third to the rest.
That’s good news if you are a skilled migrant overseas because there will be a larger annual quota of general skilled visas.
The pass mark for independent Sub Class 189 visas has been incredibly high over the last few years because the quota of available visas has shrunk from a high level of 33,500 places to the current measly quota of 6,500 places thereby pushing up the pass mark beyond what 99% of people can achieve.
As far as state nominated visas are concerned, however, whilst their pass mark is fixed, a larger annual quota will result in more expansive lists of occupations on the part of state governments which is a good thing if you need to apply for a state nominated visa.
The annual budget is expected on Tuesday evening next week which is when the annual migration quota is announced and with a sleight of hand the government could be increasing the proportion of skilled migration to Australia without increasing the annual quota.
Again, good news if you are intending to migrate under one of Australia’s skilled programs, not such good news if you are in a relationship with an Australian citizen or permanent resident planning on a spouse or partner visa as processing times of these visas will get longer if what we speculate comes to pass.
So how do you know if your occupation is going to appear on a list?
The short answer is you don’t and you might be excused for thinking that you don’t want to incur the costs associated with English-language test and skills assessments (being pre-requisites to secure state sponsorship) if your occupation is not going to be on the list but we tend to find that history repeats itself as far as state nomination lists are concerned. In other words if your occupation has appeared on a state nomination list previously it is a good indication that it’s likely to appear again as skills shortages have increased, not abated.
Just like my home life getting into Australia is all about lists. Not being expert in interpreting them may mean you don’t end up with the outcome you wanted. Just like me and chocolate.
Posted by Iain on Dec. 3, 2021, 8:53 a.m. in Immigration New Zealand
If any further evidence was needed that the Immigration Department (INZ) of New Zealand is out of control and bordering on dangerous we got it this week when for the second time in 12 months the High Court ruled that officers and the Department were acting unlawfully in implementing policies.
It is not so much what they were doing to be slapped down in the Courts but how it is they think they are free to operate in this way.
One ruling confirmed that the ‘priority processing’ criteria INZ adopted in respect of its skilled resident visa backlog was unlawful because it was not an instruction (a rule or policy if you will). This week’s ruling related to an interpretation denying the families of Afghan nationals who had worked with the NZ Government (for goodness sake!) denied visas to enter New Zealand despite what appeared to be an act of ‘kindness’ (and some loud political trumpeting) in offering them the protection of New Zealand. These were people who worked, at great risk to themselves, for the New Zealand Government. INZ had other ideas.
What is going on?
None of this is any surprise to us. Not a day goes by when we are not confronted with incomprehensible or cruel interpretations of pretty simple rules.
That lawyers, advisers and those that require visas need to consider the Courts to get these bureaucrats to do their jobs properly is nothing short of scandalous. It demonstrates clearly political disinterest in the portfolio and handing over to an unelected civil service the power to control who crosses the border, irrespective of the elected Government’s intentions.
In terms of the why the bureaucrats behave like this I have been observing INZ for three decades. The culture is paranoid and poisonous - all migrants and local employers are thieves, cheats and liars until they demonstrate otherwise. Everyone is treated with different levels of distrust but distrust is the core of all decisions made by officers.
In recent years they have talked themselves into believing they are a business with ‘product suites’, stakeholders and all the other BS terms of the corporate world. They fail to understand what they really are. They are a monopolistic government department that does not have customers, but prisoners. Migrants cannot go down the road for better service, they and their legal representatives are forced to deal with bureaucrats who seem to feel it is acceptable to make up rules as they go along or ignore them when it suits them.
In recent years, middle and senior management, mostly drawn from the ranks of officers themselves (and who therefore have a knowledge of visa policies and processes) have for some reason been told to stay out of the decision making process. They always defer to those on the ‘counter’ and their supervisors (many of whom have been around a very short time). There was a time when we could escalate to more experienced and senior officials. Those days are over. They don’t want to know.
At the same time INZ staff churn approaches one third of their workforce each and every year. In my experience it takes at least two years for anyone new to the visa world to develop the depth of understanding required to be effective (and not pose a danger to their customers). INZ officers get around one week of intensive training and then are let loose on the world. In my business it is at least 12 months but even then only under strict supervision.
We were advised this week that the Business Migration Branch which handles the most complex business visa related applications has lost nine of its nineteen ‘specialist’ processing staff. Two retired and five resigned, leaving two. The applications for people INZ spends millions of dollars a year marketing NZ to are now being delayed. I presume the Government says ‘Who cares’? Australia and Canada care and those countries will be the winners.
If you lost half of your staff left your business in short order for something better wouldn’t you be deeply concerned with what that was telling you about the culture and the working environment? I’d be horrified if my best staff kept walking. But this sort of thing is not new inside INZ. And the Business Migration Branch is referred to as the ‘jewel in the crown’ of INZ. Tin hat more like.
If it were possible, it gets worse.
On 1 December the Government launched their ‘fast track’ ‘one off’ Resident Visa 2021 which would see up to 165,000 people who met some very generous criteria granted residence of New Zealand. The Minister said they were expecting ‘high demand’ when online applications opened this week. He wasn’t wrong.
The entire INZ website crashed the minute it opened up meaning not only could the resident visas not be filed no one could file any other sort of online visas under any category at all.
We had warned our clients it would probably happen. As usual INZ didn’t disappoint. They have been scrambling the past few days to find a solution.
Further, the online form demanded that an applicant have a passport that was valid for at least the next three months or they could not file an application. That requirement was built into the form despite it not being lawful. It has never been a legal requirement to hold a passport for more than three months to file a resident visa.
When my colleagues tackled INZ on this and suggested a workaround given INZ’s clear breach of the law we were told INZ was aware of the issue but if we applied a sensible solution it would be a case presenting ‘of false and misleading information’. Something that could cause us to lose our licenses and the client be denied a visa.
When we reminded this officer that INZ was acting unlawfully and it was not our clients’ problem INZ stuck to its guns. In fact I understand that a senior Manager threatened a well respected industry colleague by telling her that if anyone in our industry tried that (sensible) workaround INZ would ‘show no mercy’.
All of which illustrates:
I have called on numerous occasions for the Auditor General to review INZ management and performance. The last time that was done was 12 years ago and the findings damning. In the 12 years since I suspect little has changed. If anything, it has got worse.
It is time for an independent review of the circus that INZ has become and for politicians to take seriously the damage it is doing to our international reputation and as a migrant destination.
Until next week
Posted by Iain on Oct. 1, 2021, 10:29 a.m. in New Zealand Politics
In a blog a few weeks ago () 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 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
Posted by Iain on Aug. 6, 2021, 3:34 p.m. in Immigration
If you see someone drowning do you offer them hearty cheer and words of encouragement to keep swimming or do you throw them a large floaty thing with a rope and pull them to safety?
This week the opposition National Party decided to throw a safety line to the immigration department which is rapidly going under.
I’m fully supportive of the policy released by the opposition which is a not so subtle throwing down of the ‘kindness gauntlet’ to our ‘kind’ government to finally do the right thing, clear the immigration decks, reward all those migrants in NZ who have stuck with us since the pandemic began and provide certainty to their employers.
I was asked by Erica Stanford, the party’s spokesperson for my input and naturally I wasn’t short of advice.
I confess I was very pleasantly surprised in the lead up to their announcement that they wanted to extend sorting out the mess to everyone in the country when the border closed and who hold Essential Skill Work Visas, irrespective of skill level.
I made two suggestions on the proposal to pull into the plan those that don’t currently have any long term residence pathway:
1. Provide a three year extension to their work visa and a guarantee they will be granted residence if they remain out of trouble and work for at least an aggregate two of the three years (bearing in mind there’s many reasons - child birth for example - that might cause someone to briefly stop paid work).
2. Uncouple essential skills work visas from specific employers. One of the clear risks these processing backlogs has created is tying work visas to specific employers. It is heightened especially for those at the lower end of the (allowed) income spectrum increasing the chances migrants will be exploited by a small number of bad faith employers because the employer knows the work visa holder is often effectively beholden to them.
I’m pleased to see the Nats have run with these two recommendations.
I was also asked how INZ might expedite those highly skilled applicants who have been invited to apply for residence and/or have filed applications and eliminate the backlog within a few months.
My recommendations were:
1. All those sitting in the so called ‘managed queue’ have their current employment against relevant rules verified. That would mean IRD summary of earnings for the past three months, checking of applicant bank statements and a phone call to the employer confirming the applicant is still working. Would take all of thirty minutes per application.
2. A local police check to ensure the applicant has not committed any serious crimes since arriving in the country. Bearing in mind to hold a 24 plus month work visa the government must have been satisfied the applicant was already of good character. This would take a few months given the Police would be required to do a lot more in less time than usual.
I was heartened to see those two key recommendations made it into the proposed policy.
What of the 4,000 to 5,000 Talent and Long Term Skills Shortage (LTSSL) visa holders (representing perhaps 10,000 peole once partners and children are included) who are queuing up to file their resident visa applications toward the end of this year and early next or who have already filed their residence applications and are waiting (for the majority) over two years to be processed?
For those who have already filed their residence application and are sitting the processing backlog the same as above - proof of work and local police check. To secure the Talent or LTSSL work visas the health standard they get for their temporary visa was the residence visa standard.
For those who will file after October when there’s several thousand eligible to file:
1. Application form, fee, passport
2. Local police check for the same reason as above
3. Verification they’ve worked the required 24 months so that would include checking employment against relevant/current rules. IRD summary of earnings for the past two years, checking of applicant bank statements and a phone call to the employer confirming the applicant is still working.
And finally, what of the 10,000 Expressions of Interest languishing in the ‘pool’ since selections were suspended in March 2020? These are the people I worry about most. These people rightly fear the current government could simply cut them all loose.
I recommended immediately selecting all those who claimed 160 points and if that claim upon examination looks credible they be invited to apply for residence. Normal, as in current, rules would apply. We know from history roughly 90% of EOI claimants are found to have a credible claim following selection which means roughly 9,000 applications would hit the processing stage within a few months. Not all will be approved because ultimately their points claim, while genuine, is not supported by the evidence they can produce.
By the time this group entered the processing system INZ should have cleared the backlog of 10,000 or so applications covered by the first group and be well advanced expediting the second.
Priority through the end of 2021 and early part of 2022 would go to the second group, those applying for residence from work. The rest of 2022 would be focused on those currently sitting in the pool.
I would close the category to any new applications for 6 months, It would be temporary (really temporary not ‘I am waiting on advice from officials before restarting selections’ temporary) and a cast iron commitment to not prolonging it.
This would truly be an immigration reset.
It would buy any government precious time to develop new policies for our new Covid based, border restricted world (and here at IMMagine we’ve got some really good ideas how that might look).
It allows the bureaucrats to clear their decks over the next 18 months so that when we see greater international travel through 2022 and beyond they are ready.
The one fly in the ointment, apart from the fact the National Party is not the government(!) is the intellectual capability of INZ to deliver this. At the end of June, the latest period we have been given staff numbers for, there were 83 officers employed to work on the residence backlog. In the past two weeks only 191 residence applications were allocated for processing. INZ management simply can’t give them more cases, not because they have high caseloads (the average as best I can tell is between 25 and 30 which is a third of what my crew have) but because there’s not enough experience or institutional knowledge to deal with more. And staff continue to leave in worrying numbers.
My plan if adopted would allow these officers to cut through the work, not endlessly repeat checks (like health and work history) that is a box ticked at previous work visa stage for example and get on and clear the residence backlog.
What Erica Stanford has come up with is big, bold, pragmatic and above all, kind. It represents no threat to the integrity of the immigration system, the security or health of New Zealanders.
There’s no risk to New Zealand, there’s no greater pressure on housing or infrastructure that doesn’t exist today because those who would be approved are already here. We take on no more cost or risk than exists presently.
It is going to be interesting to see how the real Government responds to National’s politically brave proposal. To date they’ve simply announced a reset (by a stand in Minister) devoid of any actual policy or delivery timeline.
I am confident my plan works and benefits everyone - the processing headache goes away for the bureaucrats, we reward all those migrants in the country filling jobs we could not and who did not abandon us when the borders closed and arguably most importantly thousands of local employers have the certainty they need to get through this Covid crisis and can focus on creating even more jobs and wealth for the country.
Posted by Iain on Oct. 16, 2020, 2:51 p.m. in COVID-19
I am not sure if this is the good news or bad news story.
It looks like the government is finally starting to open up the border, inconsistently and somewhat illogically, step by step. Over the last two weeks they have announced that:
1. International students - 250 PhD students who were expected to study in New Zealand this year will now all be granted border exemptions to come and complete/start their study, depending on the courses they undertake and if they have support from their education institution in NZ
2. Those who are offshore holding a work visa will, if they were previously in NZ before the lockdowns took effect, be able to apply to enter NZ with their family. No exemption to crossing the border required.
While that is good news, especially the second point, I am left scratching my head over why those people who hold jobs whilst currently overseas see their family getting priority over reuniting the hundreds of families stuck overseas when one partner is already in New Zealand working. Every week hundreds of border exemption applications, some filed by us, are being declined, for such split families.
While some of IMMagine’s applications are being approved for these exemptions, others have been declined and there is simply no consistency nor rhyme nor reason as to who gets the approval and who gets the decline. It appears to be a complete lottery.
Our team is spending inordinate amounts of time and energy trying to get straight answers out of INZ about those that have and those that haven’t been granted border exemptions to reunify these split families.
What is so frustrating is INZ has always tried to explain away their historically inconsistent decision making by hiding behind the ‘each case on its merits’ line. It’s garbage of course. That is nothing more than a cop out as two cases which are by and large the same should expect the same outcome. But so often that is anything but the case.
Never has this inconsistency been more apparent since we were told by a senior Manager a couple of weeks ago that where one partner was in NZ on a temporary visa and a partner and/or children were stuck on the other side of the border, they intended taking a more humanitarian approach, were dong a ‘wider piece of work’ (if I hear that phrase one more time I’ll scream) and were going to have a team meeting to ‘calibrate’ (seriously that’s this week’s INZ’s favourite and utterly meaningless term). They were probably going to talk ‘around’ the issues' in the exemption ‘space’.
It transpires that meeting never took place.
Given concerns INZ managers have about the (intellectual) capacity of their own ‘counter level’ staff tasked with making these important decisions a directive was however given to them to escalate requests meeting the bullet point criteria below to a ‘senior experienced immigration officer’ (suggesting there are senior inexperienced officers? God help us) so someone who has been around a bit longer can cast their more ‘experienced’ eye over the 3000 characters which is all you get to state your case.
Six applications later which are all by and large the same, including:
• One partner in NZ on a work Visa
• Other Partner stuck in the ‘home’ country
• One or more young children stuck in the home country with partner
• Child(ren) not seeing the NZ based parent for at least six months….
…two were approved, four were declined.
If two were approved isn’t that the benchmark for the others to meet and if they do surely they too must be approved?
These aren’t complex cases like residence visas. These are on the face of it simple cases with four criteria common to all applications and no differences beyond the names and dates of birth of the applicants. Hardly rocket science. Complex assessments do not need to be made. The only thing that differed in those six cases was the officer making the decision.
When we got copies of the files under the Official Information Act, bearing in mind it is a legal requirement for these decisions and the rationale that goes into them to be recorded, we learned….nothing. None the wiser why some were approved and some were declined.
Who assessed it determined what the outcome was. Pure and simple.
INZ cannot reasonably argue ‘each case on its merits’ was the reason for some being approved and some being declined when in substance they were all virtually identical.
The conclusion is these applications are nothing but a lottery.
This is the best example of the perils of dealing with INZ. They have for years hidden behind the ‘each case on its merits’ mantra rather than face the truth and do something about it. It’s nothing but a smokescreen for their inability to make consistent decisions.
What kind of system is it when who processes your visa is likely the strongest determining factor as to its outcome?
As we have pointed out before INZ has admitted its biggest ‘challenge’ (I’d say handicap) right now, more than ever, is they have so many officers that are still wet behind the ears and have no idea what they are doing.
This is simply not good enough. These decisions impact people lives. The emotional trauma being wrought upon families is, for those of us not trapped in this visa ‘no mans land’, difficult to comprehend. It seems some INZ Managers ‘get it’ but they are powerless it seems to get it through the skulls of the decision makers on the ‘counter’. The only alternative is they don’t care and I cannot believe that.
At some point someone is going to do something desperate born of the despair, frustration and hopelessness they are feeling given their family has been split for months with seemingly no end in sight - not for a few days, not even a few weeks, but for many it has now been over 8 months. Covid is often spoken of as a physical health emergency but to me it is increasingly becoming a mental health emergency and for no one more so than those migrants that the Government has encouraged to come here to be part of its residence programme, people who have brought us their skills, their energy and their commitment to building new lives in New Zealand, for whom ‘going home’ is not an option and who, to a child deserves so much more than this lottery.
We have two clients right now in New Zealand on work visas both of whom are thinking of throwing in the towel because they haven't seen partners and children now since Christmas. How do you make them understand that when another complete family is sitting overseas with one partner who gets a job in New Zealand now going to leapfrog them in the visa process? Are their needs subservient to the family that has never set foot in NZ?
If their employer gave them leave and they flew back to South Africa, we filed new work visas because they no longer need border exemptions, we must assume that they are going to be granted. It’s insane.
On the one hand it's great news that the border restrictions are starting to ease but it's so depressing that the Department seems incapable of prioritising those that can enter in a sensible and consistent way.
Until next week
Posted by Iain on Aug. 7, 2020, 1:21 p.m. in New Zealand Economy
New Zealand awoke to the most bizarre news this week - in the June quarter the unemployment rate fell. That’s right, it went down from 4.2% to 4%. Economists had been predicting it would increase to 8.3%.
It was I suspect a classic case of lies, damned lies and statistics.
Upon closer examination the picture, whilst still a heck of a lot better than the Economists were picking (why do we ever actually listen to those people?), was a little different to the headline number.
The number of people in the labour market fell from around 70% of those of working age (15 to 65) which was pre-Covid, at a record high, to around 69% suggesting several thousand people had fallen out of the labour market over the three months being measured. They were not looking for jobs. Anecdotally, a lot of older people who had been working have been selling up and heading out of Auckland. They are no longer counted among the ‘unemployed’.
That makes the ‘real’ unemployment number around 5%. Still, not too shabby.
The next quarter and beyond will be the more telling. With the Government wage subsidy still supporting 460,000 jobs, some of those will surely be gone when the subsidy goes.
I can only offer anecdotal observations of our clientele who do seem to be more educated and skilled than the average migrant or the average New Zealander and how they are fairing in the early days of this recession.
I can literally count on one hand the number who have lost their jobs through this recession. While many had hours cut when the country returned to work after lockdown or had salary cuts, more and more are having their hours and original salaries returned to pre-Covid levels.
In the wider economy we are told however many are not, so while many people still have jobs, and far more than the readers of the economic tea leaves were predicting, it is true I think that many people are earning less now than they were at the start of the pandemic.
I note, with a degree of unabashed satisfaction, the articles in the Australian Financial Review, a national business paper to which I subscribe which had been for the past three months patting themselves on their national backs over their’ better handling’ of the economic response to the pandemic than New Zealand and having claimed NZ went too hard for too long on our lockdown our economy would be the worse for it. With the virus seemingly out of control in Victoria and in danger of getting more than a foothold in other states the Aussies have shut down Victoria, my colleagues are now in a NZ style lockdown for six weeks and the Victorian economy will be in tatters. Given Victoria represents around a quarter of the nation’s GDP; I’ve noticed a distinct lack of comparing themselves to NZ in recent weeks.
It isn’t all beer and skittles here. The mood among my contemporaries is of caution and a deep concern about the next year or two in business. While New Zealand continues to keep the virus at the border, most are starting to question just what our Government intends doing when or if there is no vaccine any time soon (as there almost certainly will not be).
The calls are increasing from high profile politicians and business people for the government to start opening up the border but in a managed and sensible way with the requisite 14 days of isolation and or quarantine for those returning. This week the former Prime Minister (and chief mentor to the current PM) joined the chorus. Helen Clark has called for public/private partnerships to massively expand and manage these facilities and free up inward travel in a carefully controlled way. If we do it right, and at the risk of sounding like a smug Aussie, we have done a lot right, we will be able to capitalise on all the opportunities both social and economic that being covid free offers New Zealand.
Six weeks out from the election the Government has seemingly closed its ears to these calls. Under the smokescreen of keeping New Zealanders ‘safe’, they are clearly scared witless of the political damage community transmission would do here to their electoral chances. It could cost them the election if this virus escapes the isolation centres so rather than move quickly to establish a secure border, with a greater number of isolation rooms available in what would be the single most important process that will minimise the economic damage to the country, they will wait.
While they have over the past four months scaled up isolation facilities to 32 hotels, it is a half or a quarter of what is required to deal with the numbers of New Zealanders returning (they must now join a queue to return), highly skilled migrants being stuck offshore when they have critical roles to fill, partners and children of New Zealanders or migrants being forced apart for months and months and we are losing all those potential business opportunities that a Covid free country presents (think film crews apparently screaming to get in here to make movies and TV shows because we don’t need to socially distance).
On the skilled migrant visa processing front as the Government shuts down all offshore visa processing for three months, there’s possible light at the end of that long dark tunnel for those sitting in the (mis)managed queue who do not meet the very limited criteria to get priority processing.
We learned this week following an Official Information Act request that there is around 499 ‘priority’ resident visas awaiting processing. There is around 70 officers to process them. That would suggest that queue will be largely dealt with by the end of this month. In the non-priority queue, the oldest case (meaning none receipted since then has been allocated to an officer) was receipted by INZ in December 2018 (not 2019).
Despite the Minister saying both priority and non-priority queues were moving, that is a lie at worst, a gross distortion at best. The only non-priority cases that have been allocated for processing are those that have been able to be ‘escalated’ through an opaque and anything but transparent system. I am advised there has been approximately 325 of those and I presume it is them the Government was referring to when they lied about both queues moving.
The excuses trotted out by INZ and the Government for those of you that don’t warrant ‘escalation’ or are not ‘priority’ is about to end. I was told by a senior manager (who should know) last week that they ‘hope’ to start hitting that non-priority queue by ‘the end of September’. I can’t believe they say they ‘hope’ - they don’t know? How can they not know? They have 70 officers to process 499 priority cases. If it takes one working day to do one case (they should be able to do double that in 8 hours) and there are a handful of cases being ‘escalated’ a week, that priority queue should be gone within a week.
But they’ve given themselves two months in yet another example of backside covering.
Still no word on when selections from the skilled migrant pool will resume but my pick is nothing is going to happen this side of September’s election. If they do, the backlog will start to grow again. What I cannot understand is why Government is still allowing people to part with $530 to file an Expression of Interest when it has given no indication of when they will resume pool draws. Isn’t that fraud?
Another interesting week then here in New Zealand. Evidence the recession may well not be as bad as many had thought (but being Mr Glass Half Empty I’d caution it is very early days), the government is coming under increasing pressure from its own political elders to get the border opened to more people more quickly than it has been and INZ is about to run out of excuses on not processing non-priority skilled migrant visa cases.
Until next week
Posted by Iain on July 24, 2020, 1:27 p.m. in Immigration New Zealand
The plot thickens.
Just what is going on with the processing of skilled migrant cases?
I received pushback this week from a senior Immigration Manager demonstrating one thing these people clearly do not appreciate is being questioned or held to account.
A problem I suggested in return might be easily solved if they publicised accurate and timely information on their website. They do not. Why?
We have learned under various applications made under the Official Information Act that:
1. On July 2 INZ actually only had 427 skilled migrant resident (SMC) visa cases that met their priority processing criteria (high salary or occupational registration). I had been told there was 900 at the same time by a senior manager who should have known the number.
2. INZ appears to have around 70 case officers assigned to process skilled migrant (points) cases and residence from work/talent visas.
3. There is a priority queue within the priority queue (used for training up inexperienced officers and ‘efficiency improvements’ - translation - meeting kpis and not looking completely useless)
4. There is 14,000 SMC applications (covering around 28,000-30,000 people) sitting in the queue to be processed at the time of writing
5. No Expressions of Interest are being selected - we were told during lockdown ‘no boots on the ground’ was the reason. The boots have been back on the ground now for around six weeks but still no pool draws. I am advised there’s around 3000 EOIs sitting in the pool currently. No invitations to apply for residence have been made for three months - so there’s little no new work adding to the queue.
6. The Government has a target of around 25,000 resident visa approvals between Jan 2020 and June 2021.
7. At IMMagine we have had four residence cases over the past week or so where we have been advised the case officer is happy with the evidence and arguments and moved to an internal INZ second person (quality and accuracy) check for sign off and the application has been sent back to the case officer because the more experienced officer has found fault with the first officer’s assessment. This is unprecedented in our experience. The officer training doesn’t seem to be going that well.
8. The (now former) Minister of Immigration has as recently as ten days ago advised publicly that both priority and non priority queues are moving. The last non-priority case allocated for processing was receipted on 20 December 2018 (not 2019). Snails also technically move - doesn’t mean they will get anywhere any time soon…
What does all this mean to those waiting and wondering what is happening with their applications?
There is more people in the system than places available under the programme but only by the 10% variance allowed for. That hardly supports the notion that ‘demand’ for places is outstripping the ‘supply’ as the Minister and senior bureaucrats keep telling the world is the reason for the queue not getting shorter.
INZ Managers either do not know what is happening on their watch, how many cases representing priority and non-priroty are sitting in their queue or they are not telling the truth about it. I don’t think they are lying.
On the face of it when senior managers tasked with overseeing the ‘queue’ cannot advise us how many cases meet priority criteria and their Head Office Managers confirm that teachers and health care workers are being prioritised for training purposes, you know you’ve got a problem.
I don’t know how the number of officers is split between SMC processing and Residence from Work (I couldn’t get a straight answer) but given there’s probably 10 SMC cases for every one of the latter, that suggests there should be roughly 60 immigration officers processing the priority cases.
If there really was only 427 SMC priority cases sitting in the queue on 2 July as the Government advised under an OIA request, that means each officer would get roughly 7 cases. Seven! I also don’t know how long it would take an officer to process a case but let’s be generous and say, eight hours. That suggests the queue should be pretty much gone within a week.
So why, contrary to the Government’s statements that both queues are moving is there no evidence of it among the advising community which handle something like 40% - 50% of all cases in the system? The reports I am receiving are consistent - none of the corporate advising community is seeing any non priority cases being allocated for processing beyond a small number that have been ‘escalated’ through a strange process called EVE. I was told by a Visa Operations Manager these numbers are ‘very small’ and ‘rare’.
So what exactly are the case officers doing all day?
They can’t all be cutting their teeth on teacher applications.
Why can’t INZ (and the Government) just be honest with us all?
Are they hiding something because this maths and the experience of our industry just does not add up?
I am not suggesting there’s wholesale lying going on but the only other explanation is the government and the senior management of INZ do not know what is really happening in the branches and on the ground. I am not sure which is worse.
Senior managers can whine at those of us pushing for answers about what the numbers really are or they could get their act together and publish the real numbers. Don’t they want to know how they are performing?
I am calling on INZ to publish (accurately and I’d suggest weekly) in one place on their website:
1. The number of SMC cases sitting in their yet to be allocated queue
2. The number of residence from work cases sitting in the queue
3. The number of priority cases within that number (1) above
4. The number of priority SMC cases approved and declined weekly
5. The number of non-priority SMC cases approved and declined weekly
How hard could that be? If we had those five simple metrics we could all stop firing off OIA requests tying up time of low level functionaries in Wellington who I know are often being asked the same question multiple times.
Wouldn’t it be in everyone’s interest, not least the Government's, to provide this snapshot each week when it is the government and INZ trying to convince the world, against all the evidence that the problem is demand for visas exceeding the supply of them?
What are they all so afraid of?
Until next week
Posted by Iain on July 3, 2020, 12:29 p.m. in Immigration New Zealand
What is really going on with the skilled migrant category and the ever growing backlog of cases?
Never has a queue been the subject of so much speculation and intrigue. Calls are growing louder for the government to front. To tell the truth. Hardly a day goes by without one media (mainstream or social) or another speculating on the cause of the skilled/business stream processing delays and backlogs.
I place little stock in the opinions of those on Facebook, migrant chat groups, online forums, ‘ethnic’ radio stations and even less so the MSM to actually get the answers people are looking for.
I’ve been trying for weeks to try and get a straight answer on what is really happening. I think I’ve worked it out and it is, for the most part nothing to do with ‘rising demand’.
On the one hand we have the ‘Ghost’ Minister of Immigration, using the coronavirus and the lockdown as the reason for processing delays despite the backlog and processing times being the same for the 12 months pre - lockdown as we are being told they will be post. He is either lying or just doesn’t know what is going on.
I have been engaging with a senior official on this question, who I am not going to name, nor reveal the designation of, but this person should know exactly what is going on on the ground and more importantly, is what in the media world would be called a highly reliable source.
This week I was advised that there are 14,000 skilled and business stream applications sitting in the unallocated queue, awaiting subsequent processing. This includes skilled migrant category applications (points) and those applying under the Residence from work (talent) sub streams. It covers a handful (low hundreds) of business and entrepreneur resident visa cases.
Each resident visa application historically represented 2.1 people so it means, in rough figures, there’s about 30,000 people sitting in the queue waiting for their residence to be allocated and processed, that this Government invited and encouraged to file their application.
I was advised, that when the previous residence programme ended in December 2019, INZ put it to the Minister of Immigration that unless they were advised otherwise, they’d assume the targets/quotas would be rolled over for the next 18 months. The Minister apparently responded with ‘Noted’.
That means INZ has given itself a target of 30,000 skilled and business resident visas for the period January 2020 to June 2021 to approve and issue. That’s roughly 14,000 applications over the period - the same number as the people currently sitting in the queue.
The current two year backlog only started to grow when INZ stopped allocating cases in December 2018. Prior to that it sat around 6-8 months.
Of the 14,000 cases on hand this month, only 600 are currently identified as ‘priority’, defined as those that have the principle applicant earning $51 per hour or who work in an occupation in NZ requiring statutory registration. Even these are now taking months to be allocated.
Virtually no ‘non-priority’ cases have been allocated for processing since December 2018 despite MSM reports. Occasionally some are but we have been advised by the Residence Visa Operations Manager that such exceptions are ‘rare’ and the numbers ‘small’. One assumes statistically insignificant in the scheme of things.
As recently as this week the Minister of Immigration publicly stated that the ‘non-priority’ queue is also moving. He is, once again, either uninformed or embellishing the facts.
The bit I cannot work out and even my source cannot (or will not) clearly explain is why, when the numbers of priority applications sitting in the queue is only 600 (representing around 1,400 people) we are constantly told (officially and very publicly) that no ‘non-priority’ cases are being allocated, processed or approved by INZ.
At the same time my source tells me they are ‘on track’ to issue and approve ‘up to 30,000 resident visas’ by June 2021, but the truth is that they have only been processing the priority cases since December 2018.
The math doesn’t add up.
That’s only 40 odd cases a month being allocated. If that’s all they allocate and they approved every single one they won’t hit 30,000 resident visa approvals, they’ll hit 1400 over 18 months. That’s hardly being ‘on target’.
Even more curiously, these priority cases are spread across something like 50 case officers. They should be able to get through 600 cases in a month! And will have to to get anywhere near the target they claim to be on target to deliver.
I suspect a significant part of the answer is it is not that demand is exceeding the supply of places, as the Government and INZ has been telling us for the thick end of two years, it is, incredibly, that the department lacks the intellectual capability to process most of the cases on hand. They don’t have the knowledge and experience.
I believe that is the real reason for the increasing backlogs. A significant percentage of the case officers are not ‘fit for purpose’. I have all but been told that by my source.
We were intrigued and alarmed to learn a few months ago that within the so-called priority queue there was also an unofficial sub-priority queue covering teachers and ‘health workers’. We couldn’t understand why there needed to be a priority queue within a priority queue. After all, all those people were on long term work visas and were not in any meaningful way in need of urgent processing. Certainly no more urgent, than say, applicants sitting on fixed term 12 month contracts (fine for a resident visa and points) and whose resident visas are not going to be allocated, processed and approved before they lose their jobs and with it, residence.
When pressed on what the justification was for a queue within a queue, my source has suggested these are, in large part, being used for training purposes because, I imagine on any visa scale of complexity a Teacher, working in NZ, is a less complex type of application for someone fresh faced, inexperienced or out of their intellectual depth to process. That's an incredible suggestion.
I think, although the source will not absolutely confirm (because this reflects pretty poorly on management as well), the real reason this backlog is growing is primarily because the managers do not believe the skills exist across the processing teams to accurately and efficiently process the cases. So the ‘easier’ ones are taking precedence. Not because they are more ‘valuable to NZ’ as INZ has told us more than once, but because they are usually less complex.
It seems then your chances of residence is now based primarily how complicated your case might look to INZ.
Adding to all of this is the fact that the previous Government cut the numbers of visas they were prepared to issue (paradoxically as the economy boomed and skills shortages worsened) and the current Government cut them even further for political reasons (to the current unofficial 30,000 people every 18 months).
The pass mark to be selected from the skilled migrant pool did not increase when both governments cut numbers as it needed to in order to not invite more people to apply for residence than there were places available. That of course, in a booming economy would have created a whole different set of issues but that is for another day (and Government policy review on the folly of a points based system in a labour market driven policy). The point is, two years ago the pass mark should have increased, or the processing backlog would inevitably grow as there is a maximum number of resident visas that can be approved.
‘Demand’ is being used now as an excuse by officials and Ministers but it is a red herring. It’s a smokescreen that no one has been able to see through. Until now.
Even with the lower target put in place by the current government the ‘backlog’ was only 6-8 months to allocate cases, so the numbers flowing into the system has not increased to the point where cases should be taking four times longer even to be allocated.
The department’s own numbers prove that is a lie.
There is now 3000 EOIs sitting in the pool. My source has confirmed that number and acknowledged that the processing ‘can’ is simply being kicked down the road. INZ doesn’t want these EOIs selected because they don’t want more cases flowing into the system because with every one that is, it makes INZ look even more hapless. And exposes the Minister and Government to more accusations they are missing in action. They aren’t chasing (another) crisis.
With INZ back at work after having to sit at home twiddling their thumbs while the rest of us were left working during lockdown, pool draws have not resumed. We were told they were stopped during lockdown because INZ wasn’t able to work.
Why hasn’t the selection resumed given INZ has been back at work for a month?
My guess is, with the shine coming off this government over border and quarantine botch ups and 8 weeks out from the election, when their (commanding) lead in the polls is falling, they will not authorise the resumption of pool draws till the election is out of the way. They are desperate to make immigration a non-issue during the election. And INZ management is not about to make themselves look any more useless than they look now by backlogs getting even worse.
INZ is never going to admit that the truth behind the backlog is a failure to have enough immigration officers with the experience, knowledge and intellectual capability to do their job. Managers clearly lack the confidence to give more than a case or two a week to these officers because they apparently believe they will make poor decisions and need a whole lot of babysitting and training.
The tens of thousands of migrants (being real people, not economic ‘widgets’) sitting in that queue, living day to day, hoping they won’t lose their job, who gave up everything to be part of this Government’s (unofficially official) programme, who were selected and invited to apply for residence by demonstrating a prima facie claim they met the criteria for approval, who have been charged $3000 plus per family by Government for the chance, are being treated with contempt.
Victims of gross political and bureaucratic mismanagement.
This is a growing scandal that the government hopes desperately to keep the lid on till after the election.
They will if we all let it.
Until next week.
Posted by Iain on Feb. 28, 2020, 10:42 a.m. in Immigration New Zealand
A competitor (a former employee and friend) emailed me a few days ago and said ‘Please stop scaring my clients!’
I asked him how I was doing that. Apparently at least one of his clients reads my blogs and the client was concerned at what he was reading about increasingly delayed visa allocation times and significant processing delays.
My reply (book ended with a smiley face) was, ‘Then tell him the truth….’
As I wrote last week there is a fine line between telling it how it is and scaring and upsetting people. I don’t want to frighten anyone but if their Adviser is not going to tell them what is going on, then how do they make plans?
As Advisers, If we know in advance that residence visa processing will take 18 months to finalisation, we can manage the client’s expectations and the clients can make plans accordingly. If we know work visas will take 8-10 weeks to issue, we can manage both the employer and the migrant expectations. If we know visitor visas will take six weeks we can manage that as well. These constant shocks where no one can predict any sort of allocation and processing times right now makes it really hard to help clients plan anything and likewise their NZ employers, who have only offered the migrant the job because they cannot fill the vacancy locally.
I make no apology for informing the market (including other consultancies clients although I am sure my mate had told his client) on what is actually happening rather than how they or their legal representative would like things to be.
And this week, just when I thought the ineptness that is INZ couldn’t get any worse, it has.
This week we were advised that:
1. The INZ office in Beijing remains closed owing to the Covid-19 virus and I suspect will not reopen for some time. Over one hundred thirty immigration officials are presumably sitting at home doing nothing. Eight to ten thousand visitor visas continue to be filed each week - with Chinese nationals not being able to travel hopefully the numbers should be falling fairly rapidly.
2. As a consequence, INZ has now announced they are reassigning officials that process Essential Skill Work Visas to process Visitor Visas, and we should now expect ‘delays’ (nothing new in that, what bothers me is the length of those delays).
3. We are still without a residence programme in which targets and quotas of resident visas are set. We have in effect, no residence programme.
In what is a failure of leadership and planning inside the Department, the impact of the Coronavirus is now spiraling, and I would suggest, almost out of control.
All of this is an abject failure on the part of government as well to lead and the Immigration Department, to manage.
A few years ago some bright spark decided that it would be a good idea to have one office of the department (Beijing) process all visitor visas. Clearly there was never any contingency planning for an event such as the coronavirus outbreak, or war, or hostile cyber-attack - no Plan B. Whether such an event was likely or not, wouldn’t you think that the Management of INZ might have had some Plan B ready, in the event that something like this, however unlikely, might happen?
It is obvious now they didn’t.
And why, when the Department is not allocating and processing anything but a small number of skilled migrant resident (SMC) visa applications, did they not reassign a whole bunch of those officers instead of those processing work visas? There cannot be too many applications left in the SMC processing unit to be processed as they have not allocated any (other than the small number they deem ‘priority) since December 2018.
That rather suggests there are scores of officers sitting increasingly idle in the residence visa processing team. (Hopefully spending their days learning their own residence policy and rules).
I set up my business to allow my staff to work remotely and from anywhere with wifi. I wonder why the NZ Government never thought to do the same…
I guess that’s the difference between the public and private sectors. The public sector shrugs its shoulders and says it is what it is, just suck it up because it isn’t our fault.
Well actually, it is your fault, INZ. I would love to know what contingency planning was made for an event like this. I am pretty sure I know that the answer was none.
So how long are the work visa delays going to be? I wrote last week that in a bit of rare good news we were getting most through in around three to four weeks again. Well, that lasted about a two months. We are now being told to expect allocation times of around 6 weeks - then there is the processing time on top - likely another 2-3 weeks.
So, now we are back where we were a year ago - telling employers and clients that it might now take 2-3 months to get a work visa.
Why, oh why, would they now delay processing work visas for skilled migrants, many of whom plan on going ahead with residence? If they processed the work visas quickly that at least buys everyone, NZ employers desperate for the skills, migrants needing to start work and INZ alike, time. Now it seems we have no residence programme, work visas are going to be delayed and we have a backlog of SMC cases, sitting unallocated, numbering around 40,000 people and growing by about 1000 a week.
Nobody, perhaps, could have expected the coronavirus but what it has done is to expose the failure of leadership and planning inside the Department and Ministers who trumpet ‘Don’t look at me, I don’t get involved in operational matters’. The Minister of Immigration controls the residence programme and the Minister sets the numbers. He is missing in action and the folly of spending his first 18 months as Minister fretting over the (relatively minor) matter of dealing with ‘migrant exploitation’ is being exposed for the sideshow it was.
Serious questions need to be asked and at the risk of frightening my own and competitor’s clients, I only promise to tell my clients what they need to know and not what they want to hear so they can make a plan. We will continue to do that and for our clients, jobs will be secured, work visas will be granted and over time resident visas will be granted to our clients.
If other consultants and lawyers don’t also share these constantly shifting processing realities, that then just makes the situation worse - Facebook and online chat groups and forums get all panicky and frenzied and the truth risks getting lost in the noise.
It is time heads rolled inside INZ for the deepening crisis that is enveloping the department. I have no doubt however that none will because if there is one thing I learned about Government monopolies that can dish up whatever garbage service they wish - applicants have nowhere else to go. I have said it before - the Immigration Department likes to refer to migrants as ‘customers’. I prefer ‘prisoners’. What real business where customers have the choice of going down the road to get a better service, would put up with this?
Questions need to be asked and the politicians and bureaucrats running this circus must be held to account.
I am going to continue doing all I can to see that happens. If it frightens applicants I don’t mean to, but truth matters and the truth allows clients (and us) at least to plan.
Until next week
Posted by Iain on Jan. 17, 2020, 6:50 p.m. in Skilled Migrant Category
What does 2020 bring for skilled migrants?
The short answer is delays and frustrations.
INZ continues to advise that they are placing skilled migrant (points) resident visa applications into two queues — those that warrant prioritisation based on two limited criteria and those that do not.
Priority to INZ today means you earn a "high salary" of $104,000 or higher. Alternatively your New Zealand job is in an occupation that requires statutory registration.
The priority cases are being allocated within a few months of receipt and everything else I am continuously told by the senior management will be allocated “strictly in chronological order of receipt of the application”. As recently as yesterday.
INZ has essentially stopped allocating for substantive processing, non-priority resident visa applications received after December 2018 (not 2019).
It is extremely difficult to explain to a Software Engineer earning $103,000 that his case will now take 2 years to be allocated and processed when his colleague sitting at the next work station on the same work visa is getting priority because he earns $104,000. Or tell the Auditor they don’t warrant priority but the Electrician does.
What makes the (registered) Electrician more valuable to the country than the Auditor?
And where did these prioritisation criteria come from anyway? Who dreamed them up?
It is arbitrary and a mess. And it is getting messier. The Minister of immigration, Iain Lees-Galloway was warned and acknowledged this problem in April last year. He has done nothing about it.
The reasons we got here are clear and were predictable. The consequences of a wrong move now by Government is frightening. All the solutions are unpalatable.
INZ is contractually obligated and resourced by their political masters to only process and approve the number of skilled migrant resident visas that the government has set out in the publicly listed residence program (which lasts 18 months before being revisited). Although for years, and when convenient because they issued fewer resident visas than their annual ‘target”, the politicians constantly told us that they operate targets and not quotas (‘the numbers aren’t important, it is about quality”), yet all of a sudden, when the economy is on fire and lots of migrants have skilled jobs these ‘targets’ cannot be exceeded. Which rather makes them sound more like quotas to me. Targets when it suits. Quotas when it suits.
As of yesterday I am informed that there are 10,000 priority and non-priority applications covering approximately 37,000 people sitting in the queue waiting to be allocated. What took six months last year will take 18 months now.
So how did we get here?
It is the government that sets the annual targets/quotas and it is the government that sets the pass mark to be selected from the skilled migrant pool. I have written previously that the pass mark is clearly too low and the number of migrants getting skilled jobs in the economy is too high.
In many ways the immigration department's hands are tied. They cannot increase the target/quota which means they say they must delay allocating cases for processing system (or at least that is their story and they are sticking to it). They cannot put the pass mark up (that is true), the Government does that. At 160 points to be selected, the numbers building up in the system awaiting allocation is increasing with every subsequent pool draw.
So what are the solutions?
1. Significantly increase the pass mark to perhaps 190 or 200 which will certainly lead to significantly fewer applicants being invited to apply for residence. That is what the pass mark is for — it acts as a valve system to control the flow of applicants into the system. So why doesn't the government put up the pass mark?
I can think of a few reasons — the most important is it will screw the Auckland labour market and the Government needs Auckland votes. Auckland continues to be a ‘jobs factory’ and we have a critical shortage of workers across most sectors and industries. Already around 70% of skilled migrants are being forced out of Auckland in order to secure enough points even to reach the 160 threshold.
In construction, hospitality, tourism and child care, the impacts are already being felt with the current pass mark exacerbating existing skills shortages. If they put the pass mark up the government is going to have Auckland employers screaming even louder. Given the importance of Auckland to the national economy, if the Government restricts the labour market there too much, you're going to see a significant decrease in economic activity. That is not politically very palatable for the government.
Another reason is that many of the skills we need desperately (and tradesmen spring immediately to mind) already struggle to secure 160 points, even outside of Auckland. Put the pass mark up higher and you'll be excluding some of the most critical skills we lack.
2. Let the allocation of processing times continue to get longer and longer.
That also creates a political headache for the government which is already getting it in the neck because we have some 150,000 odd people in New Zealand on work visas. The reality is many migrants are only here on work visas because there is a potential pathway to residence. If they think they can secure that future more quickly in Australia, Canada, the UK or the US then that is where they will go. Migrants will put up with a certain amount of crap to get where they want to go but they do have limits and many of them have choices.
3. The nuclear option — shut the program down and don't accept any more applications into the skilled migrant pool until the current backlog is cleared. Based on current estimates that would take two years.
It would be simple, it is clean and it turns off the tap. Experience demonstrates however that when you want to turn the tap back on you've lost the trust of the market and the skilled migrants the economy demands will go and settle in countries with a more forgiving and certain process. That is if we had any economy left to worry about.
I'm sure there are many policy makers in Wellington who would argue that it takes two years to get residence of Australia for example. That is true but the significant majority of our clients secure that residency while they are sitting in their home country. They are not uprooting, they're not selling houses before their future is secured and they are not taking the risk that skilled migrants coming to New Zealand are.
The bizarre thing is all this interest in New Zealand is actually a good economic news story (it’s just a bad political one for the parties in Government because of the things they said to get into power back in 2017). To get into this country you must be able to get skilled employment and given the very real barriers to getting work for migrants without work visas, (our old friend the ‘chicken and the egg’), the fact that so many employers are still willing to play the visa game is testament to what full employment in the local labour market looks like when your business is expanding or you need to replace someone who is moving on. These migrants are getting jobs because we have more jobs than we have people to fill them and it is as simple as that.
Simply put, employers have no choice but to employ immigrants. They aren’t doing it because they want to. A fact usually lost on the anti-immigration politicians and voters.
Now, put yourself in the shoes of the current government. This is an election year and all three parties making up the current government campaigned in 2017 on cutting immigration and they did cut skilled migration targets by around 20% when they gained the treasury benches. Oh for that breathing room now!
The current government also promised to build 100,000 houses over 10 years, a policy since abandoned as unachievable (surprise, surprise, we don’t have the skills to build them!) and house prices have continued to climb, pushing many people out of the permanent home ownership market. While many migrants have been pushed out of Auckland in order to score the 160 points, that is now putting infrastructure pressure on other centres. It is interesting to note for example that in recent months property prices in Wellington have almost caught up to Auckland.
Obviously more migrants means more infrastructure is needed and the lack of a comprehensive population policy and planning for the numbers is the root cause of the problems today.
If we don’t want migrants, fine.
The only alternative to that however is to ensure we are producing the right sets of skills we need locally. We are not, and have never done so. How do you force a kid to become an Electrician or a Teacher or a Brain Surgeon if they want to be a Lawyer or Tattoo Artist or Software Developer?
Migrants only get residence because we are creating jobs we simply cannot fill ourselves. Deny them the possibility of residence and a long term future, and for the majority, they will go elsewhere. For those who might be inclined to let out a rip roaring ‘hurrah’, consider how you might feel when you have no one to teach your kids at their school or a plumber to fix your burst water pipe, or Brain Surgeon to remove your tumour...remember you wanted fewer migrants so please don’t whine about it.
There is a big problem to fix with the Skilled Migrant Category and right now all we are seeing is the can being kicked down the road through longer allocation and processing times — no doubt in my mind to keep immigration as far away from the election campaign as possible. It won’t work.
Whatever they do or don’t do, the pressure is building on Government with every passing week. The lack of policy or even foresight on this issue by this Government is incredibly disappointing — they had nine years in opposition to come up with some (costed) plans. They spend a whole lot of time talking and ‘virtue signaling’ but very little time actually doing anything, because I strongly suspect they are clueless when it comes to solutions.
And given how hard they campaigned that we had too many migrants, they are now lying on a bed of nails that they hammered into place.
Going to be an interesting year.
Until next week
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