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Letters from the Southern Man

Migrating is more than just filling in forms and submitting paperwork, its a complex process that will test even the most resilient of people. 

Understanding New Zealand is paramount to your immigration survival and to give you a realistic view of the country, its people and how we see the world, read our weekly Southern Man blogs. Often humorous, sometimes challenging, but always food for thought.

How Licensing Fails Migrants...

Posted by Iain on March 28, 2014, 2:14 p.m. in Government

Did Confucius or some other sage (at Saatchi and Saatchi?) once say that self-flattery is the lowest form of compliment?

I am not sure.

I learned this week just how good the team at Immagine really is when compared to the rest of the immigration advice industry. This week’s blog is not so much about my team as it is the abject failure of the New Zealand Government’s licensing scheme in protecting migrants from shoddy Advisers but it demonstrates I hope just how good we really are at what we do.

I long rallied against regulating this industry but have concluded that sensible regulation that is enforced can be beneficial. I didn’t need a license to build a name and a company off the back of delivering what migrants struggled to achieve without professional advice but I concede now having a license can reinforce that ‘brand’. 

This business has been built on three key principles:

1. Treating clients as we would have them treat us if the roles were reversed

2. Don’t’ make promises you cannot keep

3. Offer value for money

We have now helped by our estimation over 21,000 people negotiate the residence process. Our success rate on visas filed is over 99.8% and possibly higher (but my math isn’t quite that good). Suffice it to say that if we file a Visa for someone there is very little chance it will not be granted.

I always assumed that while we are very good at what we do we were one of many. I learned this week that is not the case and we are among a tiny minority of Advisers with success rates this high.

Globally there are around 600 individually licensed immigration advisers.

I am not about to break confidences or name my source (the source is impeccable) but I have learned that if your immigration advisers/lawyer has been practicing for 5 years there is only 20 (something) on this planet who have better than a 90% visa approval rate.

To say I was shocked at this is an understatement. If among the best two dozen advisers there are any that have decline rates even approaching 10% on visa applications then it has to be concluded that the Government has allowed too many people to obtain licenses too easily and not enough is being done to lift the standard of entry into the industry or ensuring the standards of those with licenses remains high.

As a result of intense industry pressure late last year the Government announced a review of the Immigration Advisers Licensing Authority at which a number of us had levelled serious criticisms about their failure to offer much in the way of protection to so called ‘vulnerable migrants’, in large part because they were dishing out licenses to people simply unqualified and who lacked the experience to be given the responsibility. A few weeks ago the Registrar fell on his sword and resigned. I could be generous and say he will be missed but that would be untrue given migrants are, in my view, still not getting the protection the Authority was legislated to provide.

The Authority’s programme of creating a (pathetic) Immigration Advice Diploma course at the end of which ‘graduates’ are given a full licence to practice was always foolhardy and they were warned of it. Setting loose on the markets people who have no practical experience with the real world of migration laws and processes, migrants and the Immigration Department was a recipe for disaster.

And so it has now proved.

The first mistake of the Authority was having no real understanding of what good, competent and ethical Advisers like us do all day. Their focus was on making us comply with odd business practices rather than the quality of the work we do. It surely was simple enough to monitor approval rates on visa applications which in my view is the measure of the value and competence of an Adviser.

The second was to believe that graduates of their course were somehow entitled to employment and are being given licenses to practice. Who believes that graduates of any course are entitled to anything? Auckland University School of Law doesn’t promise law graduates jobs. No one promised me a job when I left Auckland University.

For some reason the Authority believed they needed to create an industry – when one already had been in existence for a quarter century and generally working well (certainly no worse) than when it was created six years ago.

As a consequence the market has been flooded by about 70 Advisers a year most of whom have no practical or real world experience. People who are sanctioned by the State to wave a license around and offer advice to those thinking of making the biggest decision they will likely ever make in their lives.

We have strongly advocated (and will continue to do so through the formal review of the Authority) that given the serious damage (financial and emotional) of getting eligibility advice wrong no one should be given a full license to practice without either working under the supervision of an fully licensed, experienced, competent and ethical Adviser for 2-3 years (law graduates in New Zealand for example cannot work on their own account for I believe three years after qualifying) or if they wish to be self-employed until they have filed a certain minimum number of visa applications across all categories, whose applications and outcomes have been closely monitored by the Immigration Department and/or the Authority and who cannot demonstrate an approval rate of at least 97% (I’d exclude refugee claims from that given they are a whole different kettle of legal fish).

There is also the issue of beefing up complaints and compliance.

In every market we work in overseas we are constantly meeting migrants who have been ripped off or poorly advised on their options by people with full licenses but who should quite simply not hold them. Particularly in South Africa and Malaysia.

The Authority clearly has real problems trying to enforce NZ law on overseas based Advisers but it is hoped once they get their house in order under new leadership they will focus every more rigorously on cleaning out those with licenses in South Africa, Malaysia, India, Philippines, China and beyond who are giving inaccurate, misleading and often woeful advice to would be New Zealanders whose visa applications are failing to be approved.

While I hesitate to compare helping people relocate and settle with selling milk powder, New Zealand enjoys a reputation globally for openness, transparency and above all quality of product and service. The national Farmer Co-op, Fonterra, got into big trouble last year in its biggest market, China, through a botulism scare in some of its infant formula product. While it turned out to be a false alarm it did serious harm to one of New Zealand’s key industries, cost the country several hundred million dollars in lost income and more than that brought into question New Zealand’s reputation for only dealing in quality and reliable products and services. While the milk powder and infant formula markets have bounced back and continue to lead the economic expansion of the economy it was a good lesson for not settling for less than 100%.

My industry is no different to all those New Zealand exporters competing around the world. As Licensed Advisers we have the power to shape futures positively or negatively. The Immigration Advisers Licensing Authority was set up not just to protect migrants from dodgy or incompetent Advisers but to help protect the reputation of New Zealand as a migrant destination and every Adviser that lets the side down by filing inadequate or incorrect visa applications lets ‘team New Zealand ‘down. 

To learn this week that Immagine New Zealand probably employs 4 of perhaps two dozen people on this planet with a success rate with visa applications higher than 90% was truly a shock to me. 

Our aim is 100% and probably would be if all clients were honest about everything from the get go. I can probably only expect 99.8%. 

It isn’t bad even if it isn’t perfect. And it does put our team in a minority of perhaps 3% of all those with licenses. 

Things have got to change and I intend continuing to be part of the charge.

Off to South Africa Monday for three seminars across the Republic For further details. Click here for details.

Until next week

Iain MacLeod - Southern Man

What does 2014 hold for NZ?

Posted by Iain on Jan. 17, 2014, 11:43 a.m. in New Zealand Economy

Happy New Year to all our regular Southern Man Letters from New Zealand readers.

The team is back in the office, tanned and relaxed (that lasted about two days!) and looking forward to an extra busy year. For us it is going to be a year of firsts – we are now dipping our toes in the Hong Kong and Indonesian markets. Across the Tasman Sea our Australian colleagues are heading to Botswana, Greece and Turkey to test the migrant waters there.

And what of New Zealand in 2014? How are the tea leaves looking?

If you can believe the various surveyors and economic forecasters we are in for a very good year and several beyond this. A few key points in recently released surveys show:

  • Business confidence is at a 20 year high
  • All sectors of the economy are growing – manufacturing, agriculture, services and tourism are all showing strong growth
  • All regions of New Zealand are in positive growth and confidence territory (spreading out from Auckland and Christchurch which dominated 2013)
  • ‘Own business’ confidence is running at multi year highs and this suggests GDP growth of at least 3.5% this year
  • Retail sales through Christmas were up 7% on the year before and have continued through the early part of January
  • Skills shortages are starting to bite (told you!!!!) - especially in the construction and IT sectors – everyone from Architects, Civil Engineers, Quantity Surveyors and Planners through to related trades workers. In ICT some are now calling the shortages ‘dire’ which might be a slight exaggeration but these shortages are going to be biting across most sectors within the next six months in my view .
  • Unemployment which currently stands at 6.2% is predicted to fall to 5.5% by years end and 4.5% by the end of 2015. It is worth noting that once unemployment gets down to 5% in New Zealand you’ll not be able to find a Secretary to do your word processing……or find someone to make you a cup of coffee. It is also worth reminding readers that skilled migrants seldom compete with the unemployed 6.2% - they tend to be un-skilled or semi-skilled.
  • Inflation is expected to remain subdued overall at around 1% but dog with rabies crazy in housing. There continues to be a chronic shortage of new housing supply meaning house values  are expected to continue their seemingly relentless increase by around 10% this year (higher in Auckland and Christchurch). This is feeding through into higher rental prices also.
  • Interest rates are predicted to increase by 25 base points each quarter for the next 5 quarters (starting March). The word is the economy is robust enough with exports booming even with a high exchange rate to offset any inflationary build up. I’d be expecting floating mortgage rates to be around 6.5% - 7% by years end.

Short of any major external shocks things are looking overwhelmingly positive. No one is talking about an overheating economy or boom times but there is a real and broad based momentum that has been building across all sectors and all regions.

This, I suspect, will embolden the New Zealand Government to continue with high skilled migrant pass marks and forcing a majority (note, not all….) of would be migrants to come and find jobs in order to have certainty of residency approval.

Those employers unwilling to recruit form the ranks of those offshore or who refuse to travel overseas to interview and recruit are within the next few months going to be staring into a very shallow pool of local talent. This will have an upward movement on incomes (we are already seeing it in construction and IT in particular).

While no one who reads this who thinks they may make a move this year should take getting work for granted, there is no doubt that 2014 for the vast majority of you will be a year of greater employment opportunities. Through 2013 we saw average times for most clients to find jobs here get down to a few weeks rather than a few months as it was through 2011-2012. If you are fluent in English, skilled, do your research on demand in the labour market for your skills set and are willing to get on a plane and get here, chances are you’ll find work within 4-6 weeks.

As we reported in December the Government has closed the Long Term Business Visa or self-employed pathway to residence while they think about a new ‘improved’ visa class for Entrepreneurs which they hope to launch in April. We have been offered an outline of the new criteria which we have agreed will remain confidential but what we can say without breaking those confidences is that the new criteria is less a pathway for the self-employed to demonstrate financial self-sufficiency to a move to focus on greater job creation and export related businesses as priority for approval. For the first time the amount of funds invested comes with a minimum and the more invested the higher the chances of success. In essence what we will gain is effectively a new sub-class of Investor – lower investment thresholds than those who apply to many looking to secure residence under the Investor Categories but a much higher threshold than historically in place for the self-employed. As always there will be winners and there will be losers.

Skilled Migrant Category also underwent its standard three year review during 2013 and I expect we may see changes this year. My own view is the changes will be minor (why change a formula that appears to be working?). My only two suggestions to Government were that we should be more prescriptive in regard to English language as the Australians are (better your English the higher your points) and I would also be re-instating points for those with capital they can transfer to New Zealand. Although it is proven that those with more money find it easier to settle I cannot see the Government taking me up on this suggestion; they might on the English language however. We shall see.

I head overseas today for the first round of seminars for 2014 and will be in Singapore this weekend, Jakarta next weekend and Kuala Lumpur the following. The seminar in Jakarta is now fully booked.

My colleague Paul will also be in South Africa in early February kicking for our first round of seminars there.

It is going to be a big, exciting and nerve wracking year for some of you as you pack up and join us here in New Zealand. For some 2013 was the moving year and 2014 will become the year of return to some sort of normality. For others 2014 will be the year of the ‘big decision’ to migrate or not. Wherever you are on that spectrum the Immagine team and I wish you every happiness and success for the year.

Until next week

Iain MacLeod

Southern Man – Letter from New Zealand

T'was the night before Christmas...

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Let me give you a few examples. 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

A place to call home...

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Until next week - Paul Janssen

Skilled Migrants Needed Now!

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

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

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

In the past three weeks media headlines have screamed:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Oh that they were so brave.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Until next week

Iain MacLeod - Southern Man

Look, See, Decide

Posted by Iain on Oct. 24, 2013, 4:56 p.m. in Immigration

We are constantly bombarded with questions from clients who need skilled and relevant job offers to secure their Resident Visas who are entering  New Zealand to find employment  ’What do we say at the airport, if asked the purpose of our visit?’

Clients are understandably nervous and tell us they have variously been told:

  • You cannot look for work on a visitor visa;
  • You should not travel with any documents like CVs, qualifications and work references on your person or in your baggage
  • You should not bring your notebook computer or tablet with you
  • You should not pack a suit (who takes a suit on holiday?); etc

Because you are after all on ‘holiday’ right?

I have been made aware of an internal memo dated April 2011 sent to all Immigration New Zealand Branch Managers (and which most offshore branches and officials at Auckland Airport have either forgotten about or never read) which confirms quite unequivocally that visitors entering New Zealand to ‘holiday’ (as the main purpose of entry) but who are also intending to scope NZ as a place to live which includes job hunting are quite entitled to do so and should be granted entry. Unless of course there is any obvious risk to the integrity of the immigration system such as previous stays beyond their temporary visas and insufficient funds to support themselves being the main two.

In the past year we have had a South African client detained at Auckland Airport for 5 hours. A Diesel Mechanic who was coming here to look for work and was totally upfront and honest about it when questioned. With a job offer he had come to find he would have his points for residence.  He never lied about the purpose of his visit. He got his entry visa in the end (and went on to secure the job and he is about to secure his Resident Visa). It should never have happened however.

A Filipino client was granted a Visitor Visa through the NZ High Commission in Singapore before he travelled here with our assistance. When we applied we were totally honest that he was coming to look for skilled employment and he passed the ‘risk assessment test’ and the visa was granted to travel. He was detained for two hours at Auckland Airport.  Told he couldn’t look for work. But was in the end granted entry. He now has a job and a work visa.

I recently helped extricate another South African who made it past the airport guards (just, having been detained and questioned), who went on to find employment, filed his own work visa application and was about to be declined on the grounds of ‘poor character’ when he came to me for help.  His crime?  He told the officers at the airport he was coming to visit family (he was), brought his scuba gear with him as he was on holiday (all true), had no job (he didn’t) but nonetheless INZ sent him a letter following receipt of the work visa accusing him of lying at the border. Why? He produced documents in support of the work visa that pre-dated his entry to NZ – ergo, he must be a liar and therefore was of poor character. I got him his visa but he never should have been challenged the way he was either at the airport or by the work visa processing officer.

So what do you tell the officers at the airport if you are challenged?

The truth. The whole truth and nothing but the truth.

There is no need to panic. There is no need to lie. There is no need not to emphasise an important part of your holiday is to look for work.

And here is what their memo says:

“There is some confusion as to the correct declaration on an arrival card and its consequences when people enter New Zealand for the following reasons:

·         When the main purpose of the visit is holiday but they are also considering living and working in NZ in future; or

·         For the purpose of a job interview”

Offshore Branches (for people applying for a visa to enter NZ for one of the purposes above to “look, see and decide”) are advised in the memo:

“If an applicant declares on the application form the purpose of their visit is to holiday but also to assess whether they want to live and work in NZ, then these should be considered on a case by case basis (as usual) with particular care to assess the likelihood of obtaining lawful work in NZ and the risk of non-compliance”.

For those arriving at the border (who came of a visitor visa issued by an offshore Branch or who are from a visa free country e.g. South Africa, Malaysia, Singapore) the memo says:

·         Passengers must make a full and honest declaration of their intent if questioned

·         Meet the minimum finds requirement

·         Met the outward ticket back to home country requirement

·         Meet the valid(ity) passport requirement.

Border staff will assess:

·         The likelihood of them breaching the conditions of their visa

·         The likelihood of them overstaying

Interestingly the memo goes on to say:

“If there are concerns about either of these then officers at the border may consider the demand for their skills in NZ and the likelihood of them obtaining work, based on their skills and qualification, to assist in their assessment”.

There is enough in there to still give fairly wide and a concerning degree of subjective discretion to an officer that seeks to be over zealous or just plain nasty. How are immigration officers experts on someone’s employability? How are they experts in the local labour market conditions?

For those coming with a pre-arranged job interview they must select on their arrival card the purpose of their visit as ‘business’ not ‘holiday’.

In regard to those here for a pre-arranged and confirmed interview the memo states:

“Visitor Visa holders who apply for a work visa onshore (in NZ) and have previously declared on the arrival card that the MAIN reason for coming to NZ is for ‘Holiday/Vacation’ should not be sent a Potentially Prejudicial Information letter raising character issues based on providing false and misleading information provided that they were honest about their intentions at the border. The fact that they have obtained a job offer does not necessarily mean that their stated MAIN reason for coming to NZ was falsely declared”.

So my scuba diving friend should never have been questioned by the local INZ branch and accused of being of poor character for having documents that pre-dated his arrival in the country filed with his work visa. As I argued with the officer at the time – you’d penalise a guy who told no lies at the airport and works in an area of absolute skills shortage who was organised based on a whole lot of ‘what ifs’? As in, what if he got here and liked it? What if he changed his mind about staying? What if he decided to stay? What if he found a job offer he liked? What if he decided to apply for residence?

Of course that officer maintained my client was a liar. My view is the officer should be looking for a more rewarding career (but didn’t share that advice).

Ultimately no one is guaranteed a visa at Auckland Airport but if you travel with sufficient money, have a clear idea of how employable you might be (pull out your research), explain the purpose of your visit (holiday being the main purpose but you are also keen on exploring opportunities including employment) you should be given a visa and wished well in your stay. You should not be detained for hours and treated with suspicion.

If you are led off to a side room and treated like a criminal – tell the truth, stick to your story and be honest at every turn. If you are still being hassled for coming here to ‘look, see and decide’  suggest the officer re-read his Departmental memo of April 2011. I suspect the message contained therein might shortly be updated (I understand a bit of a refresher is about to take place with immigration officers locally, overseas and at the airport) and don’t take ‘no’ for an answer – you are doing nothing wrong.

Fly with a copy of this blog if you wish!

I am heading back to SE Asia this Friday to present seminars this Saturday (26 October) in Kuala Lumpur and next weekend (Saturday 2 November) in Singapore.

My colleague Paul will also be in South Africa in November (Johannesburg, Durban and Cape Town).

Until next week

Southern Man - Iain MacLeod

Pot, Kettle, Black

Posted by Iain on Sept. 20, 2013, 10:31 a.m. in Immigration

When I was a slip of a lad I remember watching a movie about a group of British prisoners of war in WWII.  Toward the end of the film the men, having clawed their way through sweltering jungles and hotly pursued by Japanese soldiers came to a clearing. They knew that if they made it across they were back to their own lines. However they saw on either side of where they were crouched two machine gun nests. They had nowhere to hide. To go back meant certain capture and death. To run, meant a chance, albeit small, that they would make it to the other side. After a brief discussion and in terribly British fashion they shook hands, wished one another well and said, all stiff upper lip ‘see you on the other side’.

And off they ran. The zigged and they zagged.  The machine gunners opened up on them and hot lead whistled around them. A few fell. A few more.

I remember sitting there hoping the hero would make it to the other side. 

Uniforms receding into the distance. Men falling.

Naturally the hero didn’t make it. He had copped a bullet and gone down, never to rise.

I may even have cried when I realised.

New Zealand’s Prime Minister John Key is in Britain right now catching up with David Cameron and spending a weekend with Queen Elizabeth, as you do.

He has, among other things, been trying to get the Brits to continue to recognise the longstanding relationship between the two countries especially in respect of immigration.  And fight hard he has had to do to preserve the two year working holiday visa (which we reciprocate) and the four year pathway to British residence through ancestry (which we don’t do because our ancestors all tended to come on one way tickets from the UK).

I nearly fell off my bar stool this week reading that our Prime Minister pointed out that the British Government was continuing to chip away at New Zealanders’ access to the UK.

He is reported as saying that forcing Kiwis to get jobs before they enter the UK and then subjecting that job to a labour market test (to check to see if there are locals who could do the job) made it ‘almost impossible’.

I can but assume our Prime Minister hasn’t read his own Government’s immigration policies any time recently – that is exactly what an increasing majority of skilled migrants to New Zealand have to do – find a job first, run the gauntlet of a ‘local labour market check’ and a hostile local immigration bureaucracy which seems to always believe a New Zealander should be able to do the job. If that is the conclusion, the migrant generally loses the chance to settle here. Having risked much to be in that position.

I am sometimes surprised New Zealand gets any skilled migrants at all when you consider what they have to go through to get these jobs. The Prime Minister has clearly not had anyone explain the realities of it to him.

  1. If they cannot enter visa free they will need to apply for a Visitor Visa to enter New Zealand so they can apply for positions – recruiters and employers seldom take seriously the emailed job application arriving from offshore. If in a visa application the applicant says they want to come here to find work so they can apply for residence (as the job gives them the points to be recognised as a ‘high quality skilled migrant’ to quote the government blurb) their Visitor Visa will almost certainly be declined – not a genuine tourist. If they say they are coming on ‘holiday’ then country risk profiles kick in and the younger, poorer and more single one is the less likely an applicant who will get the visa – so many applicants are damned if they tell the truth and damned if they lie and fall at the first hurdle. We do encourage applicants to tell the truth and often file a Visitor Visa for the express and perfectly legal purpose of entering to look at the place and employability as part of a decision to immigrate (but it is usually a hell of a battle);
  2. Whether they got the Visitor Visa before flying to New Zealand or enter visa free (Brits, South Africans, Singaporeans, Malaysians, and a whole lot of others) aren’t home free. Once they arrive at the airport here they have to run the gauntlet of another set of over zealous officials (these ones like getting themselves on TV setting up and denying entry to would be job seekers). If the migrant tells them they are coming to explore the country because they think they may wish to settle they can be (and sometimes are) refused entry – even if a Visitor Visa was issued for them to come here to explore their employability and the country as a place to settle! 
  3. If they get past the border guards at the airport they then run the gauntlet of disinterested, commission driven recruiters and employers who’d prefer to employ locally if they can.  Who would go through the hassle of dealing with the Immigration Department if you didn’t have to?
  4. If the migrant gets a job the Immigration Department is then usually required to be satisfied the employer has made a genuine effort to recruit locally, should not be able to train a local and no New Zealander should be able to do the job. Well I haven’t met a migrant yet who was offered a job no New Zealander should not be able to do…
  5. Then, if they haven’t jumped off a bridge into a fast running river, the migrant must then file their residence papers and deal with yet another set of officials (this will be the fourth set) with a whole new set of rules that bear little to no relation to the work visa rules above and try and negotiate their way through the Resident visa minefield.

I should add at this point our clients are overwhelmingly successful in negotiating the New Zealand immigration ‘Wheel of Fortune’ but it is no thanks to John Key, his Government or the officials who have steadfastly refused to listen to our concerns for longer than I can remember about the inherent conflicts in design and approach to Visitor Visas, entering at the airport, getting Work Visas and if you have survived your zigging and zagging amid a hail of Immigration Department bullets, a Resident Visa.

At this point I unashamedly give my whole team credit for ‘coaching’ and guiding our clients through the no mans land of visa applications when there is bureaucratic hot lead flying about their ears. And to remind readers that our success rate is still around 99%.  But God help those trying it themselves or with some shonky offshore immigration agent – a majority never get past the Visitor Visa stage.

I am at last being flown to Wellington early next month having been invited to meet with Senior officials to talk through the very issue that is the dysfunction between Visitor, Work and Resident Visas for skilled migrants.

Perhaps this time they will listen and perhaps this time they will do something about a more ‘linear’ path to residence for those highly skilled and talented migrants looking to join us and fill skills shortages.

I wrote last week that New Zealand employers have missed out on 18,000 skilled migrants these past two years because we have demanded most get jobs first and then apply for residence and this puts many off who would otherwise join us and make a sterling contribution.

My final wish is that the Prime Minister might turn up to my meeting so I can tell him that his moaning to David Cameron is a bit rich and very much the pot calling the kettle black.

Until next week


Iain MacLeod - Southern Man

Men, Mars, Women & Venus - Part 2

Posted by Iain on Sept. 6, 2013, 3:30 p.m. in Immigration

Last week we brought you Melanie's story and I promised you, if we could drag it out of him, her husband’s Dewald’s story on their move and how he felt about it.

I thought, after Mel shared with us her reasons for wanting to come here, her fears, motivations and experiences it would be good to hear from Dewald.

I confess I could have a field day analysing the two descriptions of this couple’s experience of the move. 

If I have learned anything in a quarter century of helping migrants it is:

  1. Men and women are different (surprise!!). Women are more complicated (that’s a compliment …) and men more simple (that is not a compliment).
  2. Women often drive the migration process – it seems the maternal instinct is stronger to get their babies (be they human or dogs) somewhere ‘safe’ or where they believe their future will be better.
  3. Men are often reluctant participants in the process
  4. Men get to NZ and love it. Never want to leave….
  5. Women get to NZ and miss their social networks, friends, family, etc and talk about going home because they get homesick
  6. Men go nuts.

Tongue out of cheek, I accept the Visser family is a little different in that Mel has been happy since day 1. But in that respect I have to say she is a bit of a rarity. Women generally get ‘homesick’ to a greater extent. Give men pay TV Sport channels, a good job, three square meals a day and a bit of ‘how’s your father?’ and they could happily live on an  iceberg in an igloo floating around the frozen wastes of the Arctic. Women need a bit more…..

While there is no one size fits all I can say that there are real and identifiable patterns that cross cultural, ethnic and religious boundaries – common to all migrants from one place to another and how they receive and experience the move. It all comes down to XX chromosomes that drive one and the X and Y that drive the other.

So on the Women are from Venus and Men are from Mars theme, let’s get Dewald’s side of the story.

“I think my wife Melanie was fairly accurate in describing how I felt about immigration initially. 

Since I can remember meeting Mel, she always spoke about NZ being her dream destination. Not long after we got married (and just after her best friend applied for residency in Australia), Mel started to harp on about moving to NZ ourselves. I was not at all interested. I was a typical patriotic South African male believing in my home country and vowing to remain there no matter what ever happened.

It is true that after our family, and co-incidentally a good mate of mine at work was affected by horrifically violent crime, my mind set started to change. I remember asking myself all the time ‘what if that was my wife?’.

After meeting with Paul Janssen from Immagine and finding out that our chances of getting into NZ were good based on our experience, we decided to visit NZ to check the country out and see if we could fit in. There was a real part of me hoping we would have a terrible time so that I could get the idea out of both of our heads, but that did not happen.

We were blown away by what we saw. I caught up with many of my mates and after hearing about the life they were living, I knew we could easily fit into this life style. 

Once we got back to South Africa, we shifted all our thinking and energy into relocating.

This entire process is a mind game. Not only are you fighting the opinions of people around, but you are also fighting your own mind all the time. I kept on asking myself ‘are we doing the right thing?’ but I just needed to work through that and focus on the end result.

There was a brief period where we decided that my wife would come over first as she was in IT and the IT market is very active here, but I was not comfortable in sending my wife over to a new country all on her own. It just did not feel right.

In January 2013 I notified my employer that I was going to be resigning and coming to NZ to look for work. They were very kind in offering me a 3-month sabbatical period where I could come back if things did not work out, but I turned that kind offer down. I knew if I had a back door open, I would not be 100% committed to finding work in NZ.

I applied for several positions via the internet before leaving South Africa, but had no luck there. One of my mates sent me the contact details of a recruitment agent whom I called and he actually arranged a Skype interview with a company before I left. The interview went very well and to be honest with you, I thought I was going to land in Auckland and sign my offer of employment. Unfortunately, this was not the case.  I met with the company 3 times before they told me the position has not been approved as yet. 

This was a HUGE shock. I felt that I had wasted a whole week on something that did not materialise. I immediately started applying for every job I could find and managed to meet another agent who was extremely co-operative and actively started looking for opportunities for me.

I cannot tell you how humbling this experience is. At my previous employer in South Africa I was widely regarded for standard of work and I had built up a very good relationship with very senior executives. Now suddenly from being this hot-shot project manager to being nothing in a foreign country - I felt like a really small fish in a really big ocean.

For the first three weeks I almost dreaded speaking to my wife because I did not have any good news to tell her. I knew she put everything into this move, and I could not bear disappointing her. 

The hardest thing like I mentioned before is fighting the demons in your own head. After receiving a few responses from job applications stating that I do not qualify, broke my confidence quite badly. Fortunately I did have my wife picking me up (even though it was from thousands of miles away) and good mates to give me a kick up my ass when I needed it.

I relentlessly applied for every job I thought I could do, and then one day got a call from a company asking me to meet with them. 

The interview went remarkably well and when leaving their offices I went straight to a car dealership to look for a car cause I knew the job was mine.

I got my offer of employment and took it straight to Paul. Between him and my wife, they had sorted all the necessary paper work out and I got my visa within 2 weeks.

There are so many things I want to say but don’t quite know how to. This process is the hardest thing I, as well as my wife and I have ever embarked on.

The first three weeks were hell. Being told that I did not meet the requirements of a few positions, having to rely on public transport to get around, walking around with a GPS and map book to find my way  – all of it was so humbling. 

However, when I got my job offer – I felt I could concur the world. 

The advice I want to share with anyone considering this process is:

1. Once you decide to immigrate, don’t let anyone talk you out of it. Cut all negative forces out. There are many people who don’t want to see you move on. 

2. Believe in yourself. No matter how many no’s you get, just keep pushing on.

3. Use Immagine to assist you in this process. (Ed note: No money changed hands in the prompting of that piece of advice – Iain)

The process of immigrating is stressful enough. You don’t need the additional stress and hassle of applying for visas and talking to immigration services yourself. 

It is such a surreal feeling knowing we have our residency and have achieved our goal. 

NZ is a magnificent place. Not once have I been treated as an outsider or felt like I did not belong here. NZ has embraced us and given us the opportunity to live here”.


Don’t forget I am back in KL next weekend giving a seminar and the following Saturday in Singapore. Check out the details on our website.

Until next week


Iain MacLeod – Southern Man

Tags: skills | migrants | lifestyle | life | auckland

Men, Mars, Women & Venus...

Posted by Iain on Aug. 29, 2013, 3:02 p.m. in Immigration

The decision to migrate is, for many people, an extremely difficult one. There are, for people in countries like South Africa always good reasons to leave and equally there are reasons to stay. This week, an illustration of what most clients go through, the difficulties of reaching a joint decision with a spouse or partner and executing the strategy we have laid out for them, is best told by one of our recent clients from South Africa. 

Next week we are hoping to hear from the author’s husband and get his side of the story. It is important in my view that we try and offer you both perspectives because, well, let’s face it, I sometimes wonder if male and female humans belong to the same species. I always find that one of the partners is driving the decision more than the other and men and women have very different needs, wants and ambitions. In a nutshell, men are less complex (and that is a compliment to women). Women on the other hand tend to value their social relationships more than the blokes who are happy with life on the couch, the golf course, their job, their routine, their food and their pay TV. 

In my 25 years of experience the story you are about to read is entirely typical of what couples go through in what is emotionally a very tough call. So read on for ‘her’ perspective (and thanks Mel for letting us use this). I have edited it but just to turn it into a shorter story…


‘For as long as I can remember, I have always been curious and interested in New Zealand. I can’t pinpoint the exact reasons why, but I always knew I wanted to come to New Zealand. 

New Zealand is also regarded as one of the least corrupt governments in the world and widely known for its superb life style. Something I have personally wanted very badly for a long, long time. 

When I first started to think about emigrating, New Zealand was my only choice really. I have travelled to many countries and simply would not consider living in any one of them. 

When I first mentioned the idea of emigrating to my husband about four years ago, he was not interested at all. At the time his belief was that we were born in RSA and we were going to stay in RSA. 

I then found out about an immigration seminar that was being held by Immagine New Zealand and literally dragged my husband along to hear what they had to say. I remember very clearly leaving the seminar with an outright ‘NO’ ringing in my ears from my husband.

About two years later however, I noticed a change in my husband’s attitude and I realised that he might be open to the idea of relocating. Our family had been affected by violent crime and when something like that happens, it makes you look at the world very differently. We attended another free seminar hosted by Immagine and this time booked an appointment with Paul Janssen to see what our chances were with regard to being accepted by NZ and getting into the country.

When we met with Paul we were absolutely devastated to find out that none of our qualifications were automatically recognised and therefore we scored no points for them. Paul did however assure us that due to our age and work experience, we would qualify under the skilled migrant category and could still get into the New Zealand provided one of us secured a skilled position. 

I remember sending Paul in the days and weeks that followed email after email asking for advice and assistance, and within hours, getting detailed replies telling me everything I needed to know. 

Just when I thought we were about to embark on the immigration process, my husband was assigned to a very big project at work that he could not turn down. Once again my hopes of emigrating were put on hold. Whilst my husband worked on the project, I put all my energy into planning a holiday to New Zealand so I could convince him that it is where we belonged.

We visited New Zealand in February 2011 and spent three glorious weeks visiting Auckland, Queenstown and Christchurch. Whilst visiting the country, we were blown away by the friendliness of the people, the immaculate state of the cities and the most magnificent landscapes we had ever seen. 

I remember very clearly sitting at Christchurch airport the day we were booked to return to South Africa sobbing my eyes out begging my husband to leave me behind so I could find work while he went back to close off our affairs and send my pets over. I knew at that point that I belonged in New Zealand and that it was just a matter of time before we moved over. 

I was very grateful that my husband’s attitude had changed and he pretty much felt the same after seeing New Zealand for himself.

As soon as we signed the contract with Immagine, we received clear, detailed steps on what we needed to do. Every single time I asked a question, I got an immediate response and often got mails from Paul asking how we were progressing.

Throughout the entire process, Paul guided us, gave us advice and gave us that much needed moral support at the times we needed it most. 

In order to eliminate as much risk as possible, we decided that my husband would come over first to find/secure work (either of us with skilled employment could have been the Principal Applicant), whilst I remained employed in South Africa. We did not both want to come over and burn all our bridges. Besides, in order to send our pets and furniture over, we needed a work visa and one of us had to stay behind to manage things from the South African side. 

Prior to coming to NZ, my husband applied for several positions on the internet but was turned down each time. 

Paul warned us from the start that it would be very difficult securing work from South Africa. He told us that recruiters are very hesitant to enter into discussions with a person who is not in NZ, but that they would consider talking to us once we arrived.

This definitely proved to be the case. As soon as my husband arrived, he met with two recruiters who agreed to work with him setting up interviews. 

He saw a position advertised on Seek and applied for it. He was contacted by the company within a few days and met with them for an interview. He was very fortunate to secure the job and receive a permanent offer of employment. I can’t remember the exact period, but it took approximately four weeks for him to secure work after he landed in New Zealand.

As soon as my husband received his offer of employment, he took it to Paul who already had all the paperwork sorted from us to apply for the work visa and Immagine worked with the employer and after a few days the work visa application was filed. My husband had his working visa issued in about two weeks. Once his visa was issued, he started work and with Immagine’s guidance I was issued my open visa which was issued within three days through the NZ High Commission in Pretoria. 

I then wrapped up our affairs in South Africa and flew to Auckland.

Paul contacted us just a few days ago to give us the wonderful news that our residency application has been approved. I cannot not believe at how fast it was processed and approved. It only took four months. 

Nobody can prepare you on how difficult the immigration process is. This process has pushed us in every single aspect: It pushed our marriage to the very limit, it pushed us spiritually, emotionally, physically and financially. However, I don’t have a doubt in my mind that we have done the right thing. Every single day when I drive into our neighbourhood and look at the magnificent view, I get a lump in my throat because I know this entire ordeal has been worth all the effort and heart ache.

On Saturday night we went with friends into Auckland city to watch a game of rugby and after the game, we walked around the city and went for an ice-cream. You cannot put a financial value on the freedom you feel walking around a city and feeling safe. It is priceless.

One of the hardest things about this process was being separated from each other for five months, but in our case, it was necessary. The other really hard thing is saying good bye to loved ones and friends. We just keep telling ourselves that the time we do see them will be for holidays and although we will not see each other as regularly, we will spend longer visits and spend quality time together.

We were fortunate enough to have a few friends already settled in Auckland, so having a support structure when we arrived certainly helped. Now our lives are a little more settled, we would like to start mingling with local people and building up a friendship circle once again.  

No one can tell you whether emigrating is the right thing to do or not. Each person/family must make that decision for themselves. Each person/family is driven by different factors. However, when you do decide to emigrate, you need to cut out all the negative forces and focus on the end result. 

It was very difficult for my husband to walk out of a secure job of 14 years into the unknown, and just as hard for me to watch him leave, but we took the advice given to us by Immagine and everything has worked out perfectly for us thus far. 

Now that our container has arrived and our home is established, I am ready to start looking for work myself. As the IT market is very buoyant in New Zealand, I am hoping to secure a position pretty soon. 

I cannot express my gratitude enough to Paul and the folks from Immagine New Zealand. They have delivered every side of their deal. I have heard so many stories where agents take people’s money and then disappear. This is definitely not the case with Immagine. Immagine walked this path with us and assisted us in materialising our dream. They have assisted most of our friends living in Auckland too. 

I honestly think the stress, effort, frustration and money is all worth it at the end. As I have already mentioned, you cannot put a price tag living in such a beautiful city and experiencing this life style.

All I can say is thank you to Paul and Immagine on assisting us in making our dream come true”. 


Until next week

Iain MacLeod

Southern Man – Letter from New Zealand

Can you be too fat to get residence of New Zealand?

Posted by Iain on Aug. 16, 2013, 3:31 p.m. in Immigration

You bet.

I often quip that to get across the border here you must enjoy the health of an Olympic athlete – and I am only half joking.

There has been a swirl of uninformed media opinion (print, TV and social) recently over a South African chef who has purportedly been in New Zealand for a number of years on a number of ‘renewed’ work visas all of which involved a number of medical examinations.  A few months ago he filed a residence visa application under the Skilled Migrant Category and he has been told he is too fat, presents a potential future threat to the public health system through possible future costs and his residence may not be approved.

He is struggling to understand it and as many do when their backs are against the immigration wall (and they choose not to pay for good private sector advice), the media were either contacted or contacted him when they sniffed a bit of drama. He of course was seeking a sympathetic hearing. Something along the lines of “I am healthy, I pay my taxes, my family is settled, I am contributing to New Zealand, I am skilled, those skills are in demand, I have lost a ton of weight and I am still alive...what’s the problem?”

Naturally the media lap this up. It makes for good copy – it is like a school yard scrap reported as ‘Bullying public servants gang up on fat boy – it’s nasty, cruel and it’s discrimination!’

Sorry media and Facebook worlds – it’s Government residence visa policy designed to protect the hard working tax payer of New Zealand from potentially very expensive and avoidable costs to the health system caused by unhealthy migrants.

All immigration policy is by its very design discriminatory – just ask anyone who has had to jump through the hoops of getting in here. You are screened, filtered, tested, priority is usually given to those with jobs over those without, you must speak English (most of the time), be prodded and poked by Doctors, pee in bottles, prove you are not a crook and if you tick all the boxes, you get your visa. Nothing could be more discriminatory. Arguably for good reason – anything else is called a lottery.

An applicant for residence with a Body Mass Index of 35 is deemed by the system to be morbidly obese and someone who, without evidence to the contrary, is likely to impose significant potential future demands on the public purse. There is little doubt that this individual has a BMI much higher than 35. 

Not wanting a few facts to get in the way of a good story let me apply some immigration policy to the issue…

1. Health standards for entry into New Zealand are strict at all levels but they are particularly strict when it comes to dishing out residence visas. Less so for temporary visas such as visitor, work and student. So two standards apply to people of excessive weight (and any health condition for that matter, not just the morbidly obese).

2. The health of a person who has applied for a work visa is really only of interest to the Government for the duration of that proposed finite period of the work visa i.e. the following one to two years. It’s a short term concern (but applicants can still be declined even short term temporary visas based on health).

3. A person being considered for a residence visa heightens the interest in that person’s long term potential future health – so the bar is higher.

4. Immigration Officers have discretion when it comes to assessing temporary visas. They do not when it comes to residence visas.

5. An applicant can seek a medical waiver at residence visa stage if they are deemed to be unhealthy, but can convince the Department that the benefits to New Zealand exceed the costs. This is how a number of years ago we got a residence visa for a client who was HIV positive. Everyone in my industry told that client is was impossible. IMMagine New Zealand thought otherwise. By proving NZ benefitted more financially than it cost in terms of the anti-retroviral medication, we won. It took us three and a half years but we did it. 

This is of course a trap for the unwary. When issuing temporary visas and there is a potential health issue, the Immigration Department do not, unfortunately, add to their approval letters: “By the way, if at some point you might decide to stay permanently you will have to do a(nother) medical and the standard of permanent entry is significantly higher than that of the temporary visa we have just given you… so be warned.” One might argue that they should. There is a counter argument that if every time they approved a temporary visa they were obliged to provide a list of ‘what if you decide to stay beyond the current visa length you should be aware of the following…’ the letter would run into pages – the word infinity springs to mind.

Do I have sympathy for this guy? Of course I do. This individual has taken the risk of moving to New Zealand, he has done well in an occupation that is in constant demand here, he and his family are clearly well settled, they are contributing their energy and they are paying their taxes. One might even venture to suggest that he is still alive after six years here which rather suggests his weight hasn’t yet killed him. He also seems to have lost a significant amount of weight so one could say the ‘indicators’ are likely moving in the right direction.

A few years ago we represented a client who had a Body Mass Index of 47. To suggest this client was big is an understatement. This client was huge. I do not recall her exact weight but it had to have been around 150+ kgs – so you get the picture.

Knowing that she was going to run into potential future health issues when we filed her residence visa we were very careful to present evidence showing she was certainly large but she was otherwise healthy. The Immigration Department’s Doctors fought back – hard. For months.  Letter after letter.  Objection after objection. They kept on insisting she was a walking time bomb and at any time she would drop dead owing to possible, potential, weight related complications.

We kept fighting back.

By the end we had presented a Cardiologist’s Report which showed her heart was fine, she suffered no hypertension, her cholesterol was in the normal range, resting and elevated heart beat within normal ranges.  We presented a Pulmonologist’s Report to prove her lungs were in good working order. We got a Nephrologist involved to demonstrate her kidneys were fine and functioning normally and she was not (even) pre-diabetic. We had her liver scanned. All was well. 

In a word she was as healthy as a migrant who weighed 70 kgs less than her.

Immigration’s Doctors Panel insisted she wasn’t. They were not happy. They kept quoting her BMI back at me and all the dangers of allowing fat people to stay in New Zealand. 

I cannot know but the final line of my final letter of argument was that at the time every current All Black – every single one of them – had a BMI of greater than 35 (publicly available information!). What could they say at that point? The reality is BMI is not necessarily an accurate indicator of future health and being ‘fat’ does not mean your organs are not healthy and you are going to be a cost on the health system. They knew they were losing. Those All Blacks have to be among the fittest humans in this country of ours if not in the entire human race. 

Eventually the Immigration Department lost and the client was granted her residence visa.

As far as I know several years later she is alive and well and living in the ‘burbs...

So a message to everyone who thinks being fat is a deal breaker – it can be, but it need not be.

Until next week


Iain MacLeod

Southern Man – Letter from New Zealand