It's just a thought...
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Posted by Iain on April 1, 2022, 11:34 a.m. in New Zealand Politics
It’s easy to turn the migrant tap off.
However, when you want/need/are begging for the skilled migrants to return when you want them, you may well find it takes longer than you’d wish for the ‘flow’ to resume to the levels that existed when you turned the tap off.
After four years of the markets NZ is keen on drawing from, seeing and hearing a lot of what can only be described as anti-immigrant rhetoric out of the past two Labour (led) governments, it is naive, when coupled with the border restrictions, to expect migrants to suddenly pack up sticks and come across to New Zealand.
Trust in New Zealand as an immigration destination is wanting.
The reputational damage done by this Government and its Immigration Department, not just through the time of the (understandable) border closures but the two years before that sending unwelcome signals such as the ban on foreigners buying residential property is very real. You cannot ‘blame’ migrants for housing unaffordability, significantly cut numbers of residence visas, keep migrant families split for years and have a bureaucracy that is poorly managed resulting in blowouts in processing residence visas to between two and three years and remain an attractive destination.
Immigrants were easy targets when it came to politicizing sky rocketing house prices. Who will ever forget Shadow Housing Spokesman Phil Twyford (Labour) suggesting a lot of house sales in Auckland were to people with ‘Chinese looking names’? Hardly laying out the welcome mat is it? Which was strange given the Labour Party has historically been very ‘pro’ migration.
Unemployment in the December 2021 quarter was at 3.2%. Today it is expected to be even lower. That means every person capable of, or interested in, working in NZ is doing so.
Perhaps our greatest economic challenge as we come out of the pandemic is too many jobs and not enough people. Over 70% of employers now quote attracting skills as difficult. Around one in three say it is their biggest headache when running their business. That’s a record high.
Yet last year the Government announced an immigration ‘reset’, signaling big change and making it clear numbers were going to be cut. This language was softened recently and reset became ‘re-balance’ (suggesting tweaks around the margins).
The ‘reset’, it seemed to me at the time, was little more than a time buying exercise as pressure was building from industry, media and migrant groups to give a timeline for rejoining the world or at least easing border restrictions.
Economic reality has now hit the Government in the face like a brick. An economy that the IMF has described as doing very well through the pandemic now needs immigrants, and lots of them. The Government knows we need to quickly ramp up skilled migration but now they have a reputation and messaging issue.
If you can’t believe much they say you can read a lot into their quiet actions.
Last week, having had INZ advertise on their website for months that work visas to cross the border right now (pending the release of their new work visa policy in July) would be required to come with a salary of 1.5 times the median salary (around $84,500), that was quietly changed to be “above the median salary”. Further advice from INZ suggested that it would be at the median salary. That’s around $56,000. This was missed by many in industry and the media.
The signal last year that they are going to only let in the highly skilled and highly paid seems to have been ditched.
There will be changes to skilled migrant residence policy announced soon but I suspect that it will be around the margins.
I have written before about leaks, cabinet papers and intel coming to me from generally reliable sources which may well see changes to how points are awarded to skilled migrants, with additional ‘bonus’ points going to those in occupations in acute demand, registrable occupations (for some strange reason) and possibly those on higher salaries.
I can see the ‘points’ required to receive an invitation to apply or residence increase to perhaps 180 points. That would be less necessary if we returned to a multi-layered points based selection of 1991 to 2016 but over the past ten years immigration policy has been dumbed down to the level of those who need to implement it. The capacity of INZ to comprehend its own policy is a seriously limiting factor these days.
As the Government ponders the number of residence visas it is going to want to give out most politicians and commentaries continue to miss the point that it matters little how many people we want, the real issue now is how many people will actually want to come here.
We delude ourselves that pretty landscapes and some mythical lifestyle unobtainable elsewhere will sell this place all thanks to our Covid response. People are not rushing to come and join us no matter how much we want to believe it.
Pretty landscapes only get us so far. For the past six months or more our Covid response has been the laughing stock of many people overseas who have a very different opinion of NZ today than they had a year or two ago. They’d have joined us a year ago, now we just look like a risk averse nation full of terrified people too scared to go shopping.
Highly skilled migrants are globally mobile and have many countries to choose from. We are but one. A little one. A long way away. Only a little further to the west is a country that is also beautiful, with lots of pretty landscapes which did not shut its doors to migrants like we did for the past two years, which pays well, which arguably has economies of scale we can only dream about, which in every other respect is very similar culturally and in terms of lifestyle, at least comparable to what we have here. And they are not talking about cutting numbers of migrants. They have not blamed migrants for their ills and they are sending very clear signals the welcome mat is not only out, it was never withdrawn.
It’s called Australia.
It’s a shame because very shortly we will be fully open for business. Visa free travel starts for a small number of countries from May. A significant proportion of our skilled migrants have in recent times come from three countries - China, India and South Africa. They are not able to come here till October.
While we smugly pat ourselves on the back and congratulate ourselves for our great Covid response, migrants, who were told they weren’t welcome, are looking elsewhere. Some 55,000 skilled and investor category migrants moved permanently to Canada last year from Hong Kong while we cowered behind the raised drawbridge, processing no offshore residence visas.
It’s a shame because we are potentially going to miss out on thousands of highly skilled, positive and energy filled migrants who are highly employable, desperately needed and who would be welcomed by communities, their friends and families all because we turned the tap off back in March 2020 and now, when it suits us, we want to turn it on again.
Posted by Iain on Feb. 18, 2022, 9:04 a.m. in Work Visa
It is really interesting that my predictions of New Zealand moving to a more micromanaged numbers game appears to be at the core of the proposed changes to work visa policy and process. This does not represent a closing of the doors. In fact it may mean that it will become easier for a few, the same for many and impossible for some.
Government proposes one catch all ‘job specific’ work visa and three sub categories within that, each with their own criteria. Work Visas will fall into a category depending on whether that occupation appears on a ‘green,' ‘red’ or ‘restricted’ list of occupations.
Green list — this list would be relatively short but will see uncapped visa numbers, remains job and employer specific, has no minimum salary (but one presumes will still need to meet ‘market’ rates and be qualified as per ANZSCO). The occupations likely to appear on this list are Doctors, Teachers, Nurses, Engineers, ’some’ IT workers, heavy Diesel Mechanics, Vets and ‘some construction trades’.
Red List would be everything else except the ‘restricted’ occupations and to secure a work visa an applicant will need to meet one of the following criteria:
1. Be offered at least the median salary* (around $27 per hour) or higher; OR
2. Provide evidence that the employer should not be able to fill the vacancy locally i.e. a labour market test; OR
3. Be part of a Sector agreement**
*The median salary requirement will really shut out only those at the lower end of the skills spectrum.
There are also changes coming for partners of work visa holders - the ‘open’ work visas for partners would go under this set of proposals, meaning partners will have to find their own job and meet the same criteria listed here.
**It isn’t clear how these Sector agreements will work but it has been suggested that this will apply to a ‘limited’ number of industry sectors including but not limited to Dairy/Farming, Construction (‘key trades’), Aged Care, Deep Sea Fishing Crew, meat processing (halal slaughtermen I imagine). This will take account of ‘work force planning’. I read this to mean that the Government has agreed with the loudest sector groups to cap numbers of specific occupations each year within their sectors in exchange for a more streamlined visa process.
I presume the numbers will be agreed in advance each year with each sector group. How many ‘key trades’ for example for construction will be allowed in I cannot say but the ‘direction of travel’ with the government investing big in trade training for example may well be a sinking lid. Presumably… until they realise that it doesn’t work. I note Australia is considering moving away from annual occupational quotas.
Restricted List - this is where it gets interesting. Government intends to ‘restrict’ access to work visas for a number of troublesome occupations that are borderline skilled and which probably occupy more INZ time than many other occupations. My information suggests this will include, but not be limited to, Retail Supervisors and (potentially) Managers, Chefs, Cooks, Cafe (and fast food)? Managers and many ‘hospitality’ workers.
What is not clear is if these occupations are ‘out’ and it will not be possible to get a work visa OR if to get one an applicant will be required to earn the median wage of $27 per hour. It is reasonable to assume anyone earning at or over the minimum, whatever it is, will still be eligible for work visas in the ‘restricted’ occupations.
Historically many applicants from India and China, enticed by the Immigration Department, education providers, education agents and some immigration advisers filled these ‘restricted’ roles having completed university degrees through holding post study work visas (sold by the unscrupulous as a pathway to residence which for many was a blatant lie given entry level jobs post their study would never be skilled enough to secure residence). This change signals to me that ‘export education’ is not going to be the same. It isn’t going to be the big export earner it was and the Government wants to make clear that if you are going to come and study, come and study something we need if you want to stay long term — teaching, nursing, engineering and IT - advice we at IMMagine have been giving for years.
On the one hand this is not good for the 35,000 New Zealanders who worked in the sector prior to the borders closing and the universities and private education providers who rely on the income from international students. Equally, I have been a vocal critic of the lies and misleading marketing of the sector and the Government (including INZ) on promising a pathway to residence that was an illusion for many. If we have fewer lives ruined and a better match of in demand jobs to subjects studied, that in my view is a positive outcome for all concerned.
From the perspective of our clients at IMMagine, who tend to be more educated and skilled and therefore higher earning than most skilled migrants, I don’t think there is too much to fear.
I remain concerned that the Productivity Commission (tasked last year with coming up with some immigration policy for the government) has recommended that job specific work visa numbers match the number of places available under the skilled migrant residence programme. Government has not rejected this advice. If they adopt it, it would be a mistake in my view as it assumes all those who wish to work in NZ, are transferred/seconded, will want to apply for residence. Many will not.
I have a feeling that the quiet hope is Holiday Working Visas (generally the under 31 year olds but currently for some up to 35 years of age) holders will fill many of the ‘restricted’ occupations and to ‘empty bed pans, plough the fields, pick the fruit, wait tables and cook food’ because they do not get job or sector specific visas. It wouldn’t be great for employers because they will have a constant churn of staff given holiday work visa holders time in roles by law are limited, often to three months, before they are expected to move on.
Not de-coupling work visas from specific employers, especially if they are going to restrict numbers as it seems, is a huge mistake. It invites exploitation and mistreatment as visa holders will be even less mobile than they are today and forced to remain with unscrupulous employers.
Given record low unemployment, employers screaming for staff and for the borders to reopen (we now have a timeline as I wrote last week), the overarching message here by Government to those employers is ‘try harder' at training and up skilling New Zealanders.
A laudable goal that few New Zealanders could possibly disagree with. Until you are an employer and you advertise and advertise and advertise and you find you have no one applying who has the attitude or even the rudimentary skills to invest in. I wonder what incentives government might put in place for the nation’s young people or those in industries that are going to shrink to (re)train? My bet is nothing.
I said to the Opposition Spokeswoman for Immigration a few days ago Government assumes that migrants, temporary or permanent, have few options. We think our pretty landscapes and laid back lifestyle can’t be found elsewhere. Wrong. When there is global demand for the higher skilled and many now have multiple countries to choose from (with borders that have been open and not shut for the thick end of another year as in NZ), why, if we are going to make it harder to come and settle in New Zealand through job specific visa pathways would anyone but the very desperate waste their time on New Zealand?
I am not about open borders and it is clear we should only be letting in the numbers we can absorb. That requires planning - dare I say it a population and corresponding bi-partisan plan that NZ has never had and seems never wants to contemplate.
New Zealand does not have an immigration ‘problem’, it has an infrastructure problem. We simply don’t build enough houses, roads are increasingly clogged in Auckland because we don’t invest enough in public and private transport, we don’t build enough hospitals to cope with a rising or ageing population and it’s the same with schools. Infrastructure is always in catch up mode.
Our government (and past governments) do not plan. Easier to blame migrants for everything.
This proposed policy is further proof that migrants are seen as economic units and what is best for us as a country and a failure to appreciate it is a two way street - we need skills and many migrants have choices about where they take them. The harder we make it, the fewer will come.
Until next week
Posted by Iain on April 16, 2021, 10:32 a.m. in Immigration New Zealand
Trust us, we’re from the Government.
This has been ringing in my ears more times than I can count lately as I try to understand how it is that Devon Conway, a cricketer of prodigious talent with a bright future representing New Zealand in all forms of cricket, was the recipient of an INZ decision to ‘escalate” his partner’s non-priority residence application into the priority processing queue...all so he could travel with the national cricket team to the UK in a couple months without needing a border exemption to return.
For the record I love cricket, especially test cricket, I will be watching NZ play in the world test championship final, I hope they win and my calling this out is not aimed at Devon Conway. He played no part as best I can tell in this outrage. This is about the arbitrary, capricious and cruel nature of immigration management decision making and little to no oversight by a seemingly disinterested Minister. A Government department where there appears to be zero accountability.
What we know from public statements is that Conway, who is from South Africa, has been living in New Zealand for a number of years with his partner, Kim, also a South African who works in a marketing role in Wellington. Conway was quoted recently confirming his partner, the primary applicant for residence, filed her application for residence under the skilled migrant category roughly 12 months ago (now). He was in possession of a partnership based work visa. He said he’d been told by INZ processing of their residence case was delayed owing to Covid.
If they did tell him that INZ was at best confused, at worst lying. It actually had nothing to do with Covid.
It had everything to do with the fact it did not meet the priority processing criteria. INZ management decided among themselves around 18 months ago to only prioritise the processing of those skilled migrant cases where the primary applicant earned $106,080 per annum or worked in an occupation requiring NZ registration. Clearly Kim ticked neither of these boxes or her residence would have been allocated and processed within two to three months of filing along with every other ‘priority’ application.
Media reported if Conway didn’t have residence and he was selected to travel to the UK (he since has been), he risked not being able to return to NZ because as a non-resident he’d require a border exemption and that couldn’t be guaranteed.
That is not true.
INZ could so very easily have said to Conway’s employer, ‘Chill boys, it wouldn’t be fair to the other non-priority cases to allow Kim to queue jump but we can confirm today, that if he files a border exemption online when he lands in the UK, these things take a couple of minutes to decide and it will be approved. He already holds a multiple entry work visa or at worst we can give him a Critical Purpose Visitor Visa with work rights, so he can easily re-enter the country following the tour and keep working. Given the tour is several weeks long he has nothing to worry about, he can focus on his cricket. We will see him right. That’s the best we can do out of fairness to all those waiting longer than he has in the non-priority residence queue’.
But no, INZ pushed this residence application ahead of several hundred other ‘non- priority’ applicants like our clients Odette and Mike Dintchev and their daughter Isabelle. Also from South Africa. The Dintchevs are among the ‘split families’ group the Minister promised six weeks ago he’d look at doing something for, but has so far done nothing. These families, owing to the border restrictions, numbers perhaps several hundred who will be granted residence visas in time are not allowed to have their partners and children join them while they wait. You might have read about Odette and Mike in an article in last week. Odette did everything Devon’s Kim from marketing did. Came to NZ, found a skilled job, we secured a work visa for her and filed the family’s residence under the points system. The border shut before Mike and Isabelle could get here. Like Kim from marketing, they don’t meet the priority processing criteria. Mike and daughter Isabelle have been denied 26 border exemption applications including on humanitarian grounds, to join Odette. Isabelle has not been hugged by her mother for 15 months.
Because Odette, a mid level manager working for a major national retailer, earns less than the minimum salary to be prioritised, INZ has refused our requests to escalate her residence and process it as priority so the family can be reunited. If residence was approved today (it has been decision ready for a year and could be approved in 15 minutes) then Mike and Isabelle don’t require a border exemption and could immediately fly to New Zealand. The family sold their home in order to fund their migration. When I first consulted with Mike, I advised him INZ may well take issue with his weight. So he lost 56kg over the past year. You want commitment to your new country? He lost 56kgs on my advice so the one reason INZ might decline him was not going to be a problem! Legend.
Why did INZ not agree to prioritise the Dintchev’s residence application?
They told us it wouldn’t be ‘fair’ on the others waiting their turn in the queue. They are after all, all about ‘fairness’ or so they keep saying.
And the reason given for bumping Kim from marketing’s application into the priority queue where it was swiftly approved? ‘National interest’ according to INZ.
What precisely was the ‘national interest’ in granting Kim residence, given she, not her partner, was the primary applicant? That she was in a relationship with a very talented sportsman should have had nothing to do with anything. Devon was not invited to apply for residence because of his skill set, Kim was. Devon did not meet the criteria for residency, Kim did. It was her attributes that NZ wanted and which on the face of it met the aim and objective of the skilled migrant category, not his.
So too Odette Dintchev. She won’t get residence because of her husband Mike, even though in his own right he has much to offer New Zealand with his skills.
I was and remain incensed over this. I asked a very senior manager to define this so called ‘national interest’ test and what the criteria were to meet it. His written answer was brief. There isn’t any criteria, published or unpublished. He did offer that it was designed like this and kept ‘deliberately broad’ which is not very subtly telling me INZ can do anything it wants for any reason it wants. And it did. There must be some cricket fans among the INZ Managers that decide which non-priority cases get to queue jump.
So Devon Conway now has the chance to help NZ win a game of cricket (and I sincerely wish him well) and Odette sits in her rental accomodation on the North Shore, realising she’s probably another 8-12 months away from hugging her daughter and seeing her husband again, all the while watching their savings evaporate and placing God only knows how much mental strain on this couple and their much loved only child.
The Dintchev’s case could have been escalated and approved in place of Kim from marketing. Devon could have been told he would be granted a border exemption because it wouldn’t be ‘fair’ to put his partner’s residence application ahead of Odette and Mike but INZ will facilitate his return. Easy. Fair. Sensible.
Interesting priorities INZ Managers have if you ask me.
If Devon had realised all this being the humble guy he appears to be I suspect he’d have said fine, no worries, all I want is certainty I will be able to return to NZ after the tour. Our residence can wait. As a fellow South African I wouldn’t want Odette to be denied reunification with her husband and daughter because of me.
But that didn’t happen. Some Manager at INZ applied some undefined and unpublished national interest ‘test’ to his partner and rushed through her residence. No explanation of why Kim deserved that priority has been offered by INZ when the media has pressed because, most likely, there is nothing about her as primary applicant that warranted this special treatment.
Hardly fair. Certainly not transparent.
Just because INZ can do something does not mean they should. I get that.
When we are talking about not reuniting families torn apart by the border restrictions, people the Minister invited to apply for residence, who will in time be approved residence because my team and I filed a decision ready application and INZ encourages and supports queue jumping by those like Kim and Devon, there’s something badly wrong with INZ and their priorities.
No pressure Devon. I hope you score big at Lords. I don’t blame you for this.
Enjoy the cricket Odette. Watching that will presumably give you something to do while you wait for Mike and Isabelle to get here next year.
Posted by Iain on Nov. 13, 2020, 11:46 a.m. in Immigration New Zealand
The craziness of the ‘critical worker’ border exemption lottery continues.
To get one the primary criteria is to have a job offer in New Zealand and skills that require:
‘…unique (experience) and technical or specialist skills that are not readily obtainable in New Zealand’
Here is the guidance given to immigration officers of what ‘unique’ and ‘not readily obtainable’ might mean:
’The factors that an immigration officer may take into consideration when assessing:
1. "unique experience and technical or specialist skills" include, but are not limited to, whether these skills or experience:
• have been gained in a specialist training institution or by working in a highly-specialist firm
• can be demonstrated through global experience
• are inherent to a person
2. "not readily obtainable" include, but are not limited to, whether:
• there are no workers in the country who could perform the role, or
• there is a very limited pool of available workers who could perform the role and they are not available to the employer (emphasis all mine!)
Not readily available to me means, we have the skills in NZ but not enough personnel with those skills.
INZ has granted permission to 250 foreign fishermen to work on deep sea trawlers. The first group arrived complete with Covid-19 among them which has resulted in community transmission (but that’s another story).
INZ has approved 1000 places for farm workers and in particular operators of heavy machinery like combine harvesters and other equipment.
We and a fellow industry player have had two requests for Veterinary Surgeons declined in the past two weeks.
1. INZ recently approving 20 Vets under the same exemption policy; and
2. The Veterinary Board itself confirming we are still 220 Vets short in the country - there is literally no Vets to fill these vacancies in New Zealand
3. This occupation appearing on the Government’s Long Term Skills Shortage List which is by definition those occupations for which skills shortages are both ‘acute’ and ‘ongoing’ and for which local demand is always high.
The applications were declined because we are told that the skills did not meet the threshold of ‘not readily available’.
A Vet meets the criteria outlined above. While the bar is clearly quite high it isn’t as high as department officials are applying it. Officers can take into account any cogent and credible argument into account as the ‘definitions’ are not exhaustive and are guidance - basically they have to apply their minds, something most of them struggle with, and ask themselves if we have a critical shortage of that particular skills set and if it is our interests to let that person in.
Given anyone allowed in has to spend two weeks in managed isolation the health risk is fundamentally as close to zero as it is possible to be.
Fishermen met the threshold. Combine harvester operators met it.
It is totally bizarre logic to suggest that Vets do not meet this threshold then - yes we have Vets in New Zealand but ‘unique’ as defined in the rulebook does not mean we have to have no Vets here; it means that the skills the applicant has must have been gained in a ‘specialist training institution’. Sounds like the Veterinary faculty of a University to me.
Clearly the skills of a foreign trained Vet will not be ‘unique’ when applied in the literal sense but the rules do not require them to be.
If unique means one foreigner granted permission to work here and the one foreigner alone has those skills once they step across our border, how did the government let in the 249 other fishermen after they approved the first one? Once he was here, the rest cannot be said to be ‘unique’.
Add to that the English women’s netball team, the West Indian men’s cricket team who are here and about to play a series against our boys, the Pakistan men’s Cricket team, the Australian rugby side that has been and gone along with the America’s Cup sailors and shore based crews, film makers and actors (galore!) or that Polish orchestra conductor who was granted permission (but never fronted a gig because of lockdown)? What was so ‘unique’ about them?
If the Government wishes to shut down the ability of employers to recruit for something as critical as Vets, how do the fishermen and farm workers qualify? I accept that the companies needing the fishermen cannot find enough local workers and that suggests ‘not readily available’. Ditto the heavy farm machinery operators. And watching the NZ men’s cricket team play the men’s second XI is less exciting than an International test match. But no one can argue that the West Indians are unique. We have plenty of professional cricket players here. And sailors. And yacht designers. And fishermen.
If the rules are to be taken seriously shouldn’t the same criteria apply to everyone?
Is it simply that the lobby groups behind these non-fishing and farm occupational groups aren’t as strong as the those in the fishing, farming, entertainment and sporting industries?
Our skills shortages, as I have recently written about, are not being alleviated by the small rise in local unemployment. Almost 20% of employers are finding it hard to fill vacancies today. With the unemployment rate now at 5.3% but 16% of employers confirming their intention to employ more workers and some 3000 or so unemployed getting jobs in the past two weeks alone, what is the Government’s/INZ’s problem?
There is certainly now a shortage of managed isolation rooms in the 4 and 5 star hotels arrivals must spend for 14 days. News reports out this week suggest the ‘inn is full’, literally, till February 2021. Largely taken up by returning New Zealanders and permanent residents, especially in the run up to Christmas. Capacity is not the reason we are being given for these declines – the availability of local labour/skills is the reason.
What to make then of the Government’s commitment during the election to ring fence 10% of the 5000 or so rooms for critical workers?
It appears to be a promise broken or a promise made with pinkies crossed behind the Prime Minister’s back.
Someone needs to sit these INZ Managers down and force them to confront the inconsistent decisions and the fact that they appear to be applying a set of criteria none of us know about. And causing untold misery to New Zealand employers.
There is no other explanation for the hundreds of exemptions for critical workers that are being knocked back each and every week.
It would be nice if someone in a position of power (somewhere between the PM and the senior managers overseeing the process inside the department) might explain the disconnect between the written rules and the decisions we all see being made on a daily basis. We have demanded this under the Official Information Act but INZ managers are masters of obfuscation so I am not holding my breath.
Until next week
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 Sept. 25, 2020, 10:01 a.m. in COVID-19
It’s our bottom line advice to those looking to move to New Zealand or Australia and who believe they have the skills or capital that the Australian and New Zealand Government’s traditionally have sought out. If you leave it too long till borders are fully reopen not only might you be waiting a long time but you might also be caught up with hundreds of thousands of people looking for the ‘arrivals’ door at airports across New Zealand and Australia.
I cannot believe over the past six months how many people are contacting us, now desperate to leave wherever they are and join us on one of our islands. For islands, even big ones like Australia, are currently viewed as the safest places to be during a global pandemic and beyond. Not hard to control the border when you can simply shut down flying. If Trump is re-elected in the US, Boris continues to stuff up Brexit, Europe continues to groan under the weight of illegal migrants and legal refugees, South Africa continues its inexorable economic decline, Hong Kongers realise the BNO passport might not be the answer to their China fears and Singapore battles with its economic recovery, we will continue to be busy as people’s priorities continue to shift. Countries like New Zealand and Australia with lower population densities, solid health systems and sensible Governments are simply going to become more and more popular.
The fact that the Australian Government has already signalled that it is not cutting permanent residence quotas this year and next is telling. Over the past quarter century a significant percentage of Australia’s GDP growth has come from the two ‘M’s - ‘mining’ and ‘migration’. The PM has already signalled it is his (wise) intention to let business, rather than Government, dig, literally it seems, Australia out of its recession. China is back buying up lots of ore. Migrants consume - all need houses, cars, flat screen TVs and lounge suites - and therefore spend money when they get off the plane which explains why Australia doesn’t want to cut and continues to process residence cases.
I am pleasantly surprised by this given Australian unions have enormous and disproportionate political power and in times of rising unemployment in Australia you’d think they’d be arguing for the labour market drawbridge to be pulled up. The unions might well be but the wind is blowing nicely at the back of the pro-business federal Government that has increased in popularity given its handling of the virus. Any calls for restricting migration are for the most part being drowned out.
In New Zealand and as I wrote last week, no political party has signalled what it is going to do with immigration policy settings or quotas if it makes it to the treasury benches next month. My guess is the Labour Party will be governing with the Green Party. If that happens you can expect no real change to immigration policy settings - strangely immigration simply doesn’t seem to be part of either parties social or economic policy mix despite the current economic downturn. The National Party seems to have no ideas on immigration and the changing needs of our labour market which signals status quo if by some miracle they form the next Government.
If and when international travel starts again the smart migrant will be prepared. They will have their papers in order and their bags packed. The competition for available and limited places is only going to heat up when (if) there is a vaccine even if that prospect is still 12-24 months away.
We are working hard with over 600 families many now who have heeded that advice, see the logic and are getting prepared.
Those that have options in Australia can still file their permanent or provisional residence visas and we are filing many. Preparation, lodging and processing times for Australia is still running around 15-18 months to approval with the thick end of a further year on top to get to Australia to activate the residence so those getting things underway now will be well placed when the Aussies allow those with PRVs to enter Australia (right now they are extending deadlines for those with them to travel, as is NZ).
The current NZ Government recently said that skills shortages would ‘primarily’ need to be addressed from within New Zealand. I thought it took four years to train an apprentice, to complete a Bachelor of Education degree, five years to complete an Engineering degree (if there is an intermediate year), ditto Veterinarians and at least six years to complete a medical or dental degree. What do they propose we do in the meantime if we need to see a Doctor or Dentist or we actually decide to start building some of the billions of dollars worth of infrastructure projects this lot keep harping on about? We don’t have the skills in the quantity we require.
The immediate challenge for the next Government in New Zealand is whether they are going to adapt to the new needs of the labour market - both skilled and less skilled - or they are going to stick with the current ‘get a skilled job and have enough ‘points’ and you are in’ strategy. In many respects the NZ system makes more sense in a non Covid world than the Australian one as ours is labour market driven. In NZ the system is self correcting - if there aren’t enough people to fill annual quotas because they cannot get jobs, the pass mark can fall. If however demand increases, as I can see happening when the border fully reopens, the opposite should happen and the pass mark should go up.
The big problem with this Covid world however is it is virtually impossible to manage that demand. This time last year the problem was too many jobs being created in NZ and not enough locals to fill them and therefore huge demand for migrants. Now, although unemployment is only 4% and that demand will have fallen as employers nervously try to map their future employment needs, skills shortages are not going away any time soon and to suggest, even in the heat of an election campaign that employers should fill jobs locally is wilfully ignorant of where the skills pressure points are in the labour market. If the Government is re-elected and continue that line, businesses will not expand - they won’t be able to. We rely too heavily on importing the skills we don’t produce enough of.
The reality is rising unemployment is not going to solve the bulk of our skills shortages. At IMMagine we are constantly being approached by recruiters asking if we can get border exemptions if a foreign candidate gets a job - particularly in the trades, Engineering, teaching and IT.
What our next government must look at in the short term is granting border exemptions to a far greater number of occupations than they do now. People are still being offered jobs here but for the most part rely on some low level state functionary to grant a border exemption to travel here to take up the job. And that process is dogged by inconsistent decision making.
As businesses in New Zealand learn to live with the virus (as clearly there is no alternative, eradicating is a pipe dream) employers are going to have to be able to bring in those skills we still don’t have, rising unemployment or not.
The smart migrant then will be ready and waiting. Prepared. Avoiding the ever growing pack queuing up behind them.
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 10, 2020, 1:08 p.m. in Immigration New Zealand
Last week I wrote that INZ had all but admitted that in addition to their published criteria where some skilled migrants were being given priority over others while the significant majority were being ignored and continue to gather dust, it turned out that there is within that priority queue, a separate unpublished second priority queue. Criteria apply which are not publicly disclosed to that second group who get the on the faster, fast track. It turns out that Teachers and "Health workers" are being given priority priority. Very few applications that don't meet priority criteria (whether published or not) have been allocated for processing since 19 December 2018.
This week under an official information request, the General Manager of Visa Operations has confirmed that is the case. The General Manager has confirmed:
‘Immigration New Zealand may allocate these applications as a group to improve efficiency or for training purposes’
That is outrageous. INZ’s most senior Manager of visa processing has just admitted that the chances of your resident visa being allocated and processed then is directly proportional to the intellectual capabilities of the INZ workforce to understand what they are dealing with.
Teachers, as I said last week, are on the face of it, less intellectually challenging than many other types of skilled migrant cases. As a consequence, they are being used to train up new and inexperienced staff and to keep the approval numbers where INZ wants them. That is what they mean by ‘efficiency’. They have 'kpis' to meet and they are admitting they couldn’t meet them without picking the less complex cases out of the pile.
My blood boils that no one in Government or even the Parliament seems to care. There is a fundamental unfairness to this. All applicants are charged the same fee. Everyone in that queue has, presumably, a prima facie claim to residence or they would not have been invited to file that resident visa in the first place. Cases sitting unallocated for almost two years gather dust while INZ uses the less complex cases to train their staff?
That is an outrage.
Applicants who have for example fixed term 12 month contracts who would be granted residence if INZ processed cases in chronological order, are now certainly going to be declined their residence. Quite simply because INZ does not have the depth of knowledge it requires to process such cases (which aren’t actually any more complex than a Teacher’s case for the most part).
And as one wit in my office has pointed out, even the less complex cases are proving challenging for the inexperienced officers. She said:
‘It’s clear the officers processing Teacher applications for training purposes need a heck of a lot of training – I had one ask me for the divorce document between a client and her children’s father to prove custody despite the fact the biological father died years ago and we presented his Death Certificate. It’s more like we’re the ones training them…’
Truth is nobody seems to care in Government and getting any traction on this with even opposition politicians is impossible.
In other developments this week, a couple of interesting statements from the Minister of Immigration warrants some scrutiny.
Using the wide range in powers recently granted to itself under the Immigration Act, the government has announced that anybody who holds a Work Visa (of any type presumably) that expires before "the end of the year" (presumably 31 December) will automatically have that extended for six months. No application form nor fee is required.
The mainstream media focused on the Minister’s statement that this would provide "certainty to employers and migrants”. That is to say, aren't we kind?
What has been less widely reported is the Minister also clarified why the grant was for only six months. He made it clear that the six months was designed in effect for employers to start seriously looking for New Zealanders to replace those migrant workers.
Of course, he really needs to say that because unemployment here is rising, although not as quickly nor as precipitously as had been projected as recently as three months ago when the country went into lockdown.
The government has saved itself a whole heap of processing trouble by avoiding processing over 16,000 individual work visas that were due to expire between now and the end of the year. It should be cold comfort however to those holding the work visas many of whom will likely be denied any extensions beyond that.
Bizarrely however, this blanket extension does not apply to partners or dependent children of those Work Visa holders. INZ has confirmed that they must still apply for their own “extensions”, pay the fee, fill out the forms and provide all the updated evidence normally required.
So much for improved efficiency.
The government is making it clear that the bar to get a labour market tested Work Visa is getting higher. I’m not suggesting forcing partners and children to apply for visas as part of a strategy to make New Zealand less attractive, I’m pretty sure it’s just something else no one in the halls of power bothered to think very hard about.
Also this week while watching a current affairs piece on why the government is showing such seeming disregard for families who normally live in New Zealand on temporary work and other similar visas, but who are stuck overseas by the border closure with jobs to come back to, and who for the most part are not being allowed in, he said the government was "working on" a solution. This sharper than most journalist kept pressing him for when this "piece of work" might be completed. Ever evasive, he said "Soon". To which the journalist responded along the lines of ‘I keep being told that things are being worked on and announcements will be made soon, but tens of thousands of people are sitting in limbo trying to make plans. So when is soon?’
To which he finally conceded there are no plans to allow most people stuck overseas or split by the border closure to re-enter, or enter New Zealand for the first time, "for months”. Months does not mean weeks. It certainly means after the election in September which is obviously the first goal of the current Government.
I suspect six months or more because the government simply doesn't have the isolation/quarantine capacity to scale up the number of facilities quickly enough.
Supporting that viewpoint is the incredible announcement this week that as majority owner of Air New Zealand, the government has now effectively ordered the airline to limit the number of New Zealanders travelling back to the country over the next three weeks. Singapore Airlines and Emirates quickly fell into line. Between those three airlines something like 95% of available capacity is held.
In fairness, it does seem that there are significant numbers of New Zealand citizens or permanent residents who are heading home. As the world continues to implode and job losses mount around the world it makes sense that they may as well come home to their family and social support networks (and an unemployment benefit not available to many of them if they stay overseas) and possibly jobs given our economy is recovering reasonably well from the initial lockdown.
The government has now requisitioned 26 hotels (there were four shortly after we went into lockdown) and they are looking to expand. Politically, and legally, they cannot prevent New Zealanders coming home. As the Prime Minister was very quick to say this week, she isn’t saying they can't come home at all, they are just staggering their arrival. (I think that is called dancing on the head of a pin). Apparently, they are "working on” a framework whereby if a New Zealander might need to come back for some urgent reason they might be allowed to do so.
There are already howls of protest. Australia announced today they are also doing something similar for the same reasons - insufficient facilities to isloate and quarantine.
There are lots of things about this pandemic that the government cannot control and no one can blame them for. With a Kiwi diaspora in the hundreds of thousands spread to all corners of the globe, I am sure many are going to come home. They must come first because they have the right to be here and unfortunately, at least in the short term, it does mean that many migrants are going to end up in a very long queue by the looks of things.
At the same time however IMMagine has had our first ‘humanitarian’ border exemption granted. We’ve already had one ‘critical worker’ approved. While we are very pleased for the client, we are left scratching our heads what made their circumstance any different from many others that we have with families that have been split by the border closure. In this case we have a mother and two children in New Zealand on work and student visas respectively. The partner is in South Africa holding an open work visa. The first time we applied for him to get an exemption to fly to New Zealand and join the family, the application was declined without explanation. When pressed, INZ agreed to re-examine the decision and then out of the blue earlier this week they approved it.
Despite our head scratching about what made this situation meet the high bar for ‘compelling humanitarian circumstances’ when it describes the same situation that so many people are in, we are very pleased to have got this result for the client.
It seems that part of the thinking might be to try and reunite split families before they try and let whole families caught offshore when the border closed re-enter. But who knows?
I just wish those that are here, in that (mis)managed skilled migrant resident visa queue, begging for some certainty were treated with the fairness and respect they deserve.
To admit many are going to miss out on residence simply because INZ lacks the intellectual capability to process anything other than the simplest of cases is a scandal of the highest order. It proves everything I have ever believed about this out of control Government department.
They need a serious audit by the Auditor General.
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 Paul on June 19, 2020, 10:48 a.m. in Refugees
Migrating is tough and anyone brave enough to do it will need to be prepared to face a myriad of obstacles; from leaving behind the familiar, hunting down a new job in a new environment, negotiating the legal complexities and then of course settling in to a new country. Add to all of this INZ’s fragmented and confusing visa processes, the very lengthy current Residence processing queues, and what was, as recently as 18 months ago, challenging, has now become something akin to Dante’s Inferno.
While, as advisers battling the system, we understand the pressures (mental and financial) of what it takes to get through this successfully as we live it alongside our clients on a daily basis, attempting to bring some sanity and balance; that doesn’t stop people from losing their nerve and on occasion their cool. Never more so than now with two years being quoted to allocate a resident visa application and the coronavirus turning everything on its head.
Every Residence Visa approval is therefore as much a cause for celebration for us as it is for our clients, even after the thousands we have achieved. Every now and then however, we get an application and a family through the process where the win is just that little bit more special and this week we had one such success.
It is a story worth reading (especially if you are feeling frustrated at sitting in INZ’s so called ‘managed queue’ right now).
Imagine trying to deal with all of the potential challenges, whilst also being handicapped from the start because of where you come from and the fact that once, more than a decade ago, you were brave enough to escape one country as a refugee, try and build a life in a hostile second country and then try and move to a third. You apply for the same Visas in New Zealand and pay the same fees as everyone else but you are singled out and treated differently – only because of your country of origin.
This week’s approval was for a client who found himself in that situation, besieged on all sides by a process that is hard for most but was uniquely challenging for him. Challenging for reasons that should have never been important if the immigration system is as ‘colour blind’ as it claims to be. Then try and imagine yourself overcoming all of those odds with a smile on your face.
We met Nico (full name withheld) over five years ago and it has taken blood (literally), sweat and a few tears over that time, for us to guide him to the summit of this visa ‘Everest’. His story would fill more than a couple of pages, but even the abbreviated version is worth telling.
Nico was born in the Congo and fled with his family to the relative ‘safety’ of South Africa in the late 90’s. Degree qualified in math and statistics he quickly found and took up a position teaching secondary school students his own joy of numbers. He and his family held temporary Visas for several years whilst awaiting the outcome of a refugee claim through the Department of Home Affairs. His claim left him and his family living in legal limbo for the eight years to process, living daily with the uncertainty all refugees feel. His claim was finally accepted and approved in 2008. Along with his wife and children Permanent Residence was granted. He later graduated in South Africa with a formal teaching qualification and built up a very respectable 20 year career in education.
Realising, as many have, that South Africa was slowly falling off a cliff, coupled with being the victim of a bungled (thankfully) aggravated robbery, he decided to once again take his family elsewhere. He secured registration in New Zealand as a Teacher and thought, as many do, that he would do well here, given the demand for his skills and New Zealand’s welcoming approach to migrants from all walks of life and backgrounds.
What he couldn’t have anticipated is the system isn’t quite as colour blind and without prejudice as it claims to be.
What he couldn’t have known was he fell on the wrong side of a very definitive, if unofficial, line with INZ. They would suggest that it’s always a matter of “each case on its merits” and a process of “complex individual assessments”, when the truth is somewhat darker. We call it profiling (you can decide which sort). From 2015 onwards, Nico would be questioned, tested, pushed, pulled and prodded through the system to extremes we seldom see, in most part because he is Congolese and being deemed to be a higher risk (of what you might ask?) but primarily because he was once (now no longer) a refugee. Nico was immediately tarred with an invisible brush.
His ordeal began when he made the decision to visit New Zealand to explore the country and establish whether or not it was the right move. Like many others before, he applied, on his own for a Visitor Visa to do just that. Thousands are issued every day for this purpose. INZ declined that Visa (promptly) because they doubted he would leave at the end of his stay; never mind the fact he was a permanent resident of South Africa, had a wife and four children to return to, along with a permanent and secure job and a solid history of complying with any Visa he had previously held. Not a great start but not an uncommon problem with this sort of Visa for this ‘sort’ of applicant.
Undeterred, he then secured an offer of employment in New Zealand and again applied on his own for a Work Visa. Should have been straight forward. Once more he was declined (again promptly) and this time INZ tried to use a character concern, based on the fact he never told INZ he was registered as a Teacher in NZ when he applied for his earlier Visitor Visa (the one that INZ declined anyway). INZ also suggested he appeared not to be a bona-fide applicant (always their last line of defence) because he might want to stay longer which, had he secured a further job and Visa, would have seen him eligible to do and how New Zealand has ultimately been topped up with skilled people we cannot produce enough of locally. By INZ’s definition, being skilled, having a job and filling a shortage in NZ was a reason not to give someone a Visa. Bizarre logic for anyone, even those not familiar with how inconsistent this process can be.
Trying to unravel why Nico was declined a Visitor Visa and then a Work Visa, despite being a genuine, skilled and very experienced potential migrant, there were a number of robust exchanges between ourselves and senior managers within INZ. We were in little doubt why the roadblocks were going up and whilst INZ argued as they always do that the process involves each case being assessed on its own merits, one response from one manager very much gave the game away….
“This applicant, from Congo, applied for an Essential Skills Work Visa on the basis of an offer of employment at XX College (name removed), to work as an assistant teacher…
…and he had attempted to remain long term in South Africa, the concern being that he may not depart New Zealand upon the expiry of his employment in New Zealand”
Why the reference to his being from the Congo when he had been living as a permanent resident in south Africa since 2008? If, as INZ says, cases are decided on their merits, why did this senior officer decide it was important or even relevant to mention that this applicant was from the Congo in the very first line? As a permanent resident of South Africa, of course he had “attempted to remain long term” there – that is the point of holding that status in South Africa just as it is in New Zealand. Would it have made a difference if he was born in South Africa, or perhaps came from the UK or Canada…of course it would and it is why his nationality and his history as a refugee was the first thought on INZ’s mind, they reached a conclusion and then worked backwards to find reasons to justify their pre-ordained conclusions. Hardly, ‘each case on its merits’ let alone following their own colour blind rules.
Several months after his own attempts to wrestle with INZ having has the first work visa declined, he secured another teaching position. At that point he called in the artillery (IMMagine) and we were formally retained to help him secure the Work Visa and it was approved. However, INZ were not going to make it any easier for his family to join him and set out to do all they could to prevent it.
This time INZ argued that his three daughters, all of whom secured Permanent Residence in South Africa through him and had an abundance of documentation to prove they were in fact his offspring, may not be his. You might want to read that again – they suggested his children, complete with birth certificates with their parent’s names on them and an abundance of other evidence, might not be his children.
We suggested to INZ if a DNA test might satisfy them. That’s right, a DNA test. Nico and his family literally had to give INZ DNA proof that they were all of the same lineage. Asking for a DNA test is incredibly rare and in my 16 years, I have seen it only on one other occasion and for very different reasons to this. Nico didn’t flinch and simply did what he had to do to prove what we all knew to be true. That took three month to deliver and satisfy the bureaucrats of.
After almost two years of back and forth, separated from his family for that whole time, Nico and his family were finally able to be in New Zealand together.
There was still the residence hurdle to overcome. Nico unfortunately struggled to secure just half a point needed to pass his English test (he obtained his teacher registration because his South African Bachelor of Education was taught in English but this doesn’t work for the visa).
We went to the Minister to try and get some common sense. After all, Nico was here, teaching, excelling, by all accounts a wonderful teacher and community man, had been granted Teacher registration which has a significantly higher standard of English than applies to a resident visas, so surely now was the time to cut the guy a bit of slack.
With all that INZ had thrown him, we thought the Minister might let that pass, considering Nico had over 12 months of experience in New Zealand already. Far lesser requests have been made and approved. Nico’s request was however passed back down the line from the Minister to the same people who had called him a liar, declined him twice and then asked him to draw blood more than once. Request denied.
While lesser, or perhaps less desperate men might have walked away, with that dogged determination still very much in place and after having attempted the English test more times that anyone would have the stomach for, Nico secured that elusive half a point and the Residence Visa was able to be filed.
Five years after commencing the process and over 18 months after arriving in New Zealand and despite the system throwing everything they could at him, Nico along with his wife and four children were this week, granted the Residence Visas they so very much deserve.
Despite INZ declining Nico and his family twice based on absurd reasoning and even if we ignore the fact they accused him of being a liar who might be smuggling in children to NZ that don’t belong to him, Nico managed to survive through all of it with a sense of poise and dignity that very few could muster.
When I called Nico this week, to deliver the good news, he thanked me, he thanked IMMagine, he thanked New Zealand and he surprisingly thanked the system. For the latter, he had every right not to and to be angry and bitter at their naked racism and stupidity. He had every right throughout his five year journey to do what many would and throw every toy out of his cot – likely in our direction – he didn’t and for that, this outcome is also special.
To anyone who says we let people walk into this country, to people who think we shouldn’t allow in more ‘refugees’ and to anyone who wants to believe that migrants ‘choose not to ‘assimilate’, this story is for you. It is also in a way for those clients and others, stuck in INZ’s queue, waiting for a decision on their outcome who don’t have the ‘handicap’ of Nico’s background and skin colour.
I believe New Zealand should say thank you to Nico and his family, because it is New Zealand that is benefiting from his energy, attitude, skills and experience as a Teacher (we are still thousands short believe it or not). We will benefit from his daughters, all currently studying towards degrees, thankful for this opportunity and who will go on to become highly skilled New Zealanders. And thank you to Nico’s youngest son who no doubt will do the same. A big thanks also needs to go to his wife, for standing by her man, her family and who was put through so much to bring us her skills – she is also a qualified Teacher.
INZ should, but won’t, take a long hard look in the mirror at how it treats those skilled migrants the Government still spends millions of dollars marketing this country to, because last time we looked it didn’t say it in the encouragement and words of ‘welcoming skilled migrants’ that black Africans need not apply. Shame on every single one of them from the Minister down.
Thank you Nico for sticking it out, not only in the face of the ordinary challenges like queues and delays that migrants must endure but for also dealing with those unadvertised and unsignalled obstacles that INZ decided applied only to you. To do so without so much as a single word of complaint and an enduring smile on your face is a testament to how lucky we are that you chose to make New Zealand home.
IMMagine salutes you.
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