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It's time for the Auditor General

Posted by Iain on Dec. 3, 2021, 8:53 a.m. in Immigration New Zealand

If any further evidence was needed that the Immigration Department (INZ) of New Zealand is out of control and bordering on dangerous we got it this week when for the second time in 12 months the High Court ruled that officers and the Department were acting unlawfully in implementing policies.

It is not so much what they were doing to be slapped down in the Courts but how it is they think they are free to operate in this way.

One ruling confirmed that the ‘priority processing’ criteria INZ adopted in respect of its skilled resident visa backlog was unlawful because it was not an instruction (a rule or policy if you will). This week’s ruling related to an interpretation denying the families of Afghan nationals who had worked with the NZ Government (for goodness sake!) denied visas to enter New Zealand despite what appeared to be an act of ‘kindness’ (and some loud political trumpeting) in offering them the protection of New Zealand. These were people who worked, at great risk to themselves, for the New Zealand Government. INZ had other ideas.

What is going on?

None of this is any surprise to us. Not a day goes by when we are not confronted with incomprehensible or cruel interpretations of pretty simple rules.

That lawyers, advisers and those that require visas need to consider the Courts to get these bureaucrats to do their jobs properly is nothing short of scandalous. It demonstrates clearly political disinterest in the portfolio and handing over to an unelected civil service the power to control who crosses the border, irrespective of the elected Government’s intentions.

In terms of the why the bureaucrats behave like this I have been observing INZ for three decades. The culture is paranoid and poisonous - all migrants and local employers are thieves, cheats and liars until they demonstrate otherwise. Everyone is treated with different levels of distrust but distrust is the core of all decisions made by officers.

In recent years they have talked themselves into believing they are a business with ‘product suites’, stakeholders and all the other BS terms of the corporate world. They fail to understand what they really are. They are a monopolistic government department that does not have customers, but prisoners.  Migrants cannot go down the road for better service, they and their legal representatives are forced to deal with bureaucrats who seem to feel it is acceptable to make up rules as they go along or ignore them when it suits them.

In recent years, middle and senior management, mostly drawn from the ranks of officers themselves (and who therefore have a knowledge of visa policies and processes) have for some reason been told to stay out of the decision making process. They always defer to those on the ‘counter’ and their supervisors (many of whom have been around a very short time). There was a time when we could escalate to more experienced and senior officials. Those days are over. They don’t want to know.

At the same time INZ staff churn approaches one third of their workforce each and every year.  In my experience it takes at least two years for anyone new to the visa world to develop the depth of understanding required to be effective (and not pose a danger to their customers). INZ officers get around one week of intensive training and then are let loose on the world. In my business it is at least 12 months but even then only under strict supervision.

We were advised this week that the Business Migration Branch which handles the most complex business visa related applications has lost nine of its nineteen ‘specialist’ processing staff. Two retired and five resigned, leaving two. The applications for people INZ spends millions of dollars a year marketing NZ to are now being delayed. I presume the Government says ‘Who cares’? Australia and Canada care and those countries will be the winners.

If you lost half of your staff left your business in short order for something better wouldn’t you be deeply concerned with what that was telling you about the culture and the working environment? I’d be horrified if my best staff kept walking. But this sort of thing is not new inside INZ. And the Business Migration Branch is referred to as the ‘jewel in the crown’ of INZ. Tin hat more like.

If it were possible, it gets worse.

On 1 December the Government launched their ‘fast track’ ‘one off’ Resident Visa 2021 which would see up to 165,000 people who met some very generous criteria granted residence of New Zealand. The Minister said they were expecting ‘high demand’ when online applications opened this week. He wasn’t wrong.

The entire INZ website crashed the minute it opened up meaning not only could the resident visas not be filed no one could file any other sort of online visas under any category at all.

We had warned our clients it would probably happen. As usual INZ didn’t disappoint. They have been scrambling the past few days to find a solution.

Further, the online form demanded that an applicant have a passport that was valid for at least the next three months or they could not file an application. That requirement was built into the form despite it not being lawful. It has never been a legal requirement to hold a passport for more than three months to file a resident visa.

When my colleagues tackled INZ on this and suggested a workaround given INZ’s clear breach of the law we were told INZ was aware of the issue but if we applied a sensible solution it would be a case presenting ‘of false and misleading information’. Something that could cause us to lose our licenses and the client be denied a visa.

When we reminded this officer that INZ was acting unlawfully and it was not our clients’ problem INZ stuck to its guns. In fact I understand that a senior Manager threatened a well respected industry colleague by telling her that if anyone in our industry tried that (sensible) workaround INZ would ‘show no mercy’.

All of which illustrates:

  • INZ as a monopoly lacks the discipline of the private sector because they have no competition. They cannot ever go out of business and they know it.
  • INZ behaves inconsistently and often cruelly, wielding their power in the belief (knowledge) their managers and political masters will not hold them to account. Customers should not be afraid of any service provider and never the government but they are.
  • INZ managers are often aware their staff are acting outside of the law yet they don’t seem to care. This says a lot about its institutional arrogance and the abrogation of leadership. Power corrupts and absolute power corrupts absolutely, and all that.
  • INZ has devolved enormous power to the most inexperienced of front line officers and has a management structure that rewards their non management. This has led directly in my opinion to the high rate of staff leaving.

I have called on numerous occasions for the Auditor General to review INZ management and performance. The last time that was done was 12 years ago and the findings damning. In the 12 years since I suspect little has changed. If anything, it has got worse.

It is time for an independent review of the circus that INZ has become and for politicians to take seriously the damage it is doing to our international reputation and as a migrant destination. 

Until next week

Iain MacLeod

Southern Man


The value of a good adviser

Posted by Iain on June 4, 2021, 12:52 p.m. in Immigration New Zealand

 

In these trying times of economic uncertainty deciding whether or not to use a competent immigration consultancy can be a difficult choice. Given there’s so much information available online on government websites and on social media the question is constantly asked ‘Are agents worth it?’

To which I would reply that given the majority of those that file Expressions of Interest in Residence of NZ or Australia themselves are declined, the answer is pretty obvious.

You might think of course he’d say that.

Let me give you an example of ‘value add’ and how having strong advocacy often makes a tremendous difference.

An Indian national came to NZ as an international student to do a Master’s programme with her partner. This was done knowing the Government encouraged international study as a pathway to residence by offering a two (now three) year open work visa once study was complete and a residence if they scored enough points. An added bonus was international students doing Master degrees have full-time work rights. The family was not our clients at that stage but did that all themselves.

When we met the client she had her NZ Masters degree, an ongoing and full-time job and had worked her way from managing one Auckland Subway store to managing two. This was at the time the government of the day was trying to purge the immigration system of tens of thousands of International students looking for residence. My advice to the client when she and her husband sought our advice was she ticked all the wrong boxes - on paper she looked to be a very good candidate for residence but she had a number of the ‘unspoken’ traits INZ would undoubtedly try and use against her - a former international student, a graduate job search visa, in a retail management role and working for a ‘fast food’ operation. It couldn’t be worse.

INZ likes to tell the world that the system is objective and every case is assessed on its merits. We have long known this to be untrue and there are plenty of unwritten rules. This was going to be a classic and I saw it coming so had the arguments ready.

Having carefully read her job description (for which INZ had granted a labour market tested work visa for ‘skilled employment’), grilling her on her tasks and daily responsibilities and then discussing all of this with her employer, we were satisfied the job she had was genuine (she’d been working there for around 18 months), was sustainable (the employer paid her salary on time and as per her employment contract) and the role was skilled (managerial expertise is the requirement).

In time INZ did exactly as I expected they would. They tried to argue the role was not skilled and was a ‘supervisor’ role. They were dead wrong.  Endless arguments based on the reality of the role fell on deaf ears and was all the proof I ever needed that their mantra of ‘each case on its merits’ is to put it bluntly, a lie. They pre-determined the outcome and tried to make the facts fit that conclusion.

Ultimately, the client was declined.

However, around that time the Government changed the definition of what constituted ‘skilled employment in NZ’ from one based on an assessment of tasks to one based on the ‘effective hourly rate’ the applicant was paid. I saw an opening. This client was earning less than that effective hourly rate when we filed the resident visa. I explained to her boss that if he gave her a pay rise to the minimum effective hourly rate this satisfied a clearly ‘black and white’ criteria and INZ would have to deem it skilled. The employer agreed and we presented a new application with this new salary meeting INZ’s new definition of skilled.

To my surprise INZ accused the applicant of being a ‘risk to the integrity of the immigration system’. Once I picked myself up off the floor, I asked them to explain the logic. They said the client was only given the new salary to meet the criteria of skilled employment.  That is correct I advised INZ, the employer does not want to lose her but this is your rule INZ and the employer is simply structuring his employment relationship so his employee met that rule. Simple, moral, logical and above all, legal.

INZ continued to argue, disingenuously, that the job offer could not have been ‘genuine’ because of the ‘sudden’ pay rise (is there any other sort of pay rise?). I rebutted that the client had by then been working for the employer for two years so how could the job not be genuine? And yes, the ‘sudden’ pay rise was designed so this employer could keep this highly skilled and educated migrant. The employer was simply playing by INZ’s rules.

I argued with INZ that when the pass mark was raised to 160 points in October 2016 I told any number of clients working in Auckland they needed to change jobs and move outside of Auckland to get the additional 30 points available; others that their partner needed to get a job to add 20 points to their overall claim, others to up-skill and get higher qualifications while in NZ to ensure they had a higher points score. I advised clients to reduce their hours to increase their effective hourly rate. I have told plenty more to give back the company car and get paid a higher salary in lieu and to provide their own vehicle and to forgo commissions and get salary instead. To do so is not dodgy and is certainly perfectly legal representing very good immigration advice. We don’t make the rules I tell everyone but we will tell people how to structure their lives and their visa applications to make sure they meet them.

I had never had INZ argue that any of those clients who had structured their lives to benefit from immigration criteria were a ‘risk to the integrity of the immigration system’. I pointed out to those higher up the food chain inside INZ that it is a bit like tax law - tax evasion is illegal; tax avoidance is not.

Surely an immigrant is entitled to structure their lives so as to maximise the points they can claim to ensure they secure residence? And if they can’t, against which criteria can’t they?

Eventually INZ backed off and approved the client’s residence but what a battle.

A rational person might think INZ would learn from this sort of thing but they don’t. You can imagine our surprise when a few weeks ago another client was also accused of being a threat to the integrity of the immigration system for precisely the same reason - a ‘sudden’ pay rise which made his job skilled by definition. This client had also been working for the company for a long time. As we had done previously we advised INZ that any employer can pay anything they like so long as it is over a statutory minimum and represents ‘market rates’. All designed to protect migrants from exploitation and being paid too little - we weren’t aware the government was concerned about migrants being paid too much.

They fought and fought. They called the client. They called the employer, clearly hoping one or the other would say something which confirmed in their stilted, poisoned world view that there was something dodgy with what had been done. The employer simply pointed out the obvious.

We won that case as well.

Two years after I thought we had helped INZ management understand that if you define skilled employment by what people are paid there will be many who will get pay rises to ensure they stay in the country, that migrants will change jobs or their circumstances to improve their chances of staying and in doing so they do not commit a federal crime. To try and frame this as some sort of ‘risk to the integrity of the system’ is aberrant nonsense and shows the system up for what it really is.

With the right Adviser controlling the flow of information to the bureaucracy and keeping these officers applying the rules as they should be applied, is the essence of how we add so much value, every day.

In a wonderful ending to this story I am over the moon to advise that our ‘pin up family’ for families split by the border and an uncaring Government, who I wrote an article for stuff.co.nz recently, was last night approved residence. The client’s husband and ten-year-old daughter (not hugged for over 420 days by her mum) will be flying to NZ Sunday to start their two weeks of managed isolation and their new lives. At last for them the nightmare ends, not because of INZ or the Government or iNZ but in spite of them. The client had some very nice words for the team at IMMagine.

Until next week

Iain MacLeod

Southern Man 

 


Winds of Change

Posted by Paul on May 14, 2021, 2:22 p.m. in Immigration New Zealand

INZ recently released more detail in regard to the upcoming Work Visa changes (which we posted a newsflash about late last week) and like clockwork, social media was set ablaze with rumour, conjecture and panic.

To help demystify some of the online fog and settle a few nerves we have added some detail to that explanation and a few things for applicants and employers to consider as these winds of Visa change blow across the land.

First of all, and to give a few of you out there fewer sleepless nights – anyone who is on a Work to Residence (Accredited Employer) Visa now and has either lodged their Residence application or has yet to do so, will still be able to secure Residence. Although INZ were a little lost on this point during their recent webinar, the Minister has subsequently confirmed that the pathway for these folks remains in place.

This ties in with the fact that the current rules allow for anyone on a Work to Residence Visa to still apply for Residence even if their employer has not renewed or even lost their Accreditation status. This seems to be a point of significant debate out there in the online migrant world, but the simple and confirmed (by INZ) fact is that if you hold this Visa and during the two years you need to work in NZ, your employer doesn’t renew their Accreditation or it is rescinded, then your ability to apply for Residence remains intact. As long as your job continues to meet the same conditions that applied when your Work to Residence Visa was initially issued.

That rule then would apply when the current Accredited employer scheme ends in June and the existing Work to Residence policies are wound up in November.

In addition, there has been discussion on many a social media thread that refers to having to secure a Variation of Conditions to your Visa if your employer’s Accreditation ends mid-Visa – again also a bit of a myth, perpetuated by some poor template letter writing on the part of INZ.

Lastly, anyone who holds one of the six Visas that are being mothballed in November, which includes two of the Work to Residence streams (Accredited Employer and LTSSL), two Silver Fern streams and two Essential Skills streams – your Visas remain valid and don’t suddenly expire. Also anyone that holds a Visa that doesn’t fall within the six earmarked for extermination, nothing changes (these are predominantly Visas that don’t require a form of employer support).

Panic over (for some of you at least).

However, if we step back a little and look at what INZ is undertaking and the timelines being proposed for it to be rolled out, it is either very ambitious or somewhat unrealistic. I suspect the latter.

In summary, the changes will be phased in over three separate timelines:

·         June 2021 – Employer based schemes for Accreditation, Labour Hire and Approval in Principles will end. These are the employer based applications, not the Visa applications.

·         Late September 2021 – Employers will be able to start applying under the new Accredited Employer Work Visa scheme.

·         November 2021 – From the beginning of the month, six Work Visa categories will be retired and be replaced with the one Accredited Employer Work Visa policy.

In a perfect world, INZ’s plan might make a lot of sense. The world however is far from perfect. What I suspect the good folks within INZ policy have dreamed up is a picture where all employers who have ever or might ever hire a migrant worker, line up in September and apply for the new Accreditation scheme, having studied the literature and with the correct documents in hand.

Unlikely.

There will be plenty of larger employers with HR teams, pouncing all over this and who will be ready to go when the gates are lifted, however for many employers this will be something they will get to later. Often employers don’t realise they need to hire a migrant until they need to hire a migrant (realising that the labour market isn’t going to deliver a local). For them, the process to secure that migrant is now going to appear (not necessarily be) more logistically complicated.

Add to this the fact that INZ are about to roll out an entirely new set of rules, where officers will be grappling with commercial concepts in assessing businesses, not just the usual paperwork associated with a Visa applicant – expect delays.

It also creates an unusual situation for the last-minute Visa crowd – those who tend to leave their Visa applications until just before their current Visas expire. If you suddenly discover you have two weeks left on your Work Visa and need to reapply but your employer isn’t Accredited, that process has just become a lot more challenging.

As sure as the temperature has dropped a few degrees of late, you can be certain that this period of change will bring some complications.

So naturally we have some advice to offer and we would encourage anyone reading this to share it with their migrant colleagues, friends and their own managers.

Firstly, for any employer who currently has migrant staff on board, or expects to be making some migrant focussed recruitment decisions in the next 12 months (and with low unemployment that is likely), we would suggest you line up in September and apply. Whilst there will be a cost (yet to be confirmed by INZ) and some admin involved, the downstream savings in time, money and stress will be substantial. Once you are Accredited, this will initially last for 12 months and then on renewal becomes valid for two years. The renewal process is likely to be a lot simpler than the upfront Accreditation and even that doesn’t look onerous.

This means that rather than scrambling to complete the Accreditation step first, when you find that ideal applicant, you will be sorted and ready to go.

For any migrants out there on temporary Visas that may be expiring within the next 12 months, speak to your manager or HR, ask them if they are aware of these changes and if they aren’t, recommend they find out. Forewarned is forearmed and no employer wants to be saddled with this process at the eleventh hour before a Visa is due to expire.

Overall we see these changes as positive because anything that removes one step in the already convoluted assessment process for a Work Visa should be welcomed by the industry, employers and applicants alike.

However, if history is anything to go by, change is not something that Governments do well, despite their extraordinary ability to talk a lot about it. These changes were initially tabled in 2019 and whilst we have had Covid in the mix, the fact that the actual rules haven’t yet been finalised or released speaks volumes as to how well this transition is likely to be managed.

So getting in front of this process as quickly as you can will remove a significant amount of stress and provide a measure of that all important factor for all migrants and employers – certainty.

We are certainly going to be raising this with the employer we have engaged with and also with our clients and of course navigating this process for employers is going to be a somewhat foreign concept because up until now, supporting a migrant has been a pretty simple process (in terms of paperwork).

If you want to know more about how this might all work, be informed as to what the rules will look like in detail (when INZ have finalised them) then get in touch and we can make sure that the winds of change are little more than a breeze, rather than a raging cyclone.


INZ hypocrisy exposed again

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 stuff.co.nz 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.

Tags: INZ

The Cruelty Shown to Split Families

Posted by Iain on April 1, 2021, 4:50 p.m. in Immigration New Zealand

 

A little over a month ago, the Prime Minister of New Zealand admitted when questioned by a journalist, that she was unaware that there was a significant number of migrant families split by the effective closing of our border, one year and seven days ago.

Numbers obtained under the Official Information Act indicates there is approximately 1092 people stuck on the other side of the border where at least one family member is in New Zealand.

The PM said she was unaware that if, say, a Nurse, had entered New Zealand the day before the border closed on 28 March 2020 without her partner and children, the partner and children could not join the primary applicant.

She said she was unaware that if that same nurse had applied for permission to enter New Zealand the day after the border closed, her partner and children would have been eligible for their own visas and they could all have travelled to New Zealand together.

If that nurse who had arrived before the border closed, left the country today, re-applied for a work visa to take up the same job, that visa would be granted. And her partner and children could come with her.

Sounds like something out of a Lewis Carroll story doesn’t it?

If that isn’t bad enough we have also learned that trainee nurses seeking registration here with the Nursing Council who have to do a Competency Assessment Programme (CAP) are still allowed to come into the country as critical health workers and they too can bring their families.

So….the Government is saying to a NZ registered nurse, working in a NZ hospital, if you don’t like it, go home. Or go home, re-apply for a work visa to do the same job, we will approve it given we are around 1000 nurses short in New Zealand. And you can bring your partner and children.

But you have to go home first.

If you’ve never been here you can come and bring your family.

So we let nurses who have yet to prove they are competent come over to do a course, with their family and tell those already here with registration if they don’t like being separated from their family they can leave.

At the same time 120 odd workers and crew of the stage show Lion King have just been granted ‘critical worker’ visas to come to NZ. With Tutors, make up artists and a whole host of occupations it beggars belief we do not have the skills for here.

Is it just me or is this all a bit Alice in Wonderland?

A month on and still we have nothing but silence from the Minister and the Prime Minister although last week the Government announced it would look at doing something.

The only thing the Minister of Immigration is ever heard to mutter is about capacity in the managed isolation hotels if we allow partners and children of split families into the country.

But we found room for 126 actors and crew for the Lion King, Bill Bailey and his crew, The Wiggles (Google them or ask your kids if you don’t know who they are) along with any number of international sports teams (the Bangladesh mens cricketers are here right now).

All of which suggests soothing the masses with sport and entertainment is more important than reuniting desperate families who are all led by a family member deemed a critical health worker.

Is that really where our priorities should lie?

No legislation is required to solve this humanitarian disaster. The Minister simply has to pick up his pen and tell INZ to grant these partners and children visas. Easy. A two minute job.

I do not expect the Prime Minister to be all knowing and all seeing (although it seems I am a minority) and to be aware of every issue across every portfolio but what this reflects is a Minister of Immigration who is pretty much missing in action and a Government that simply does not care. We know from official records that the Minister was told about this issue in June last year and in several official briefings since. He has done exactly nothing about it. He has embarrassed our ‘kind’ PM who increasingly looks, quite simply, cruel.

Given the current Minister replaced one that I referred to as the ghost Minister because you could feel a kind of presence but you could never actually see him or hear him, this Minister seems to be disappearing equally as fast.

Just when I had real hope this guy might be different, we seem to have a Minister who increasingly seems to be ineffective, captured by his officials and a Department with no real leadership at the top (the top guy just resigned after only three years).

Meanwhile the misery and heart break continues for all those people invited here by the Government to contribute their scarce skills to our health and other sectors. Skills the same Government acknowledges though its various skill shortage lists are in acute demand.

It makes no sense. The PM needs to corner her Minister and do what any good leader would do and demand some action. Force a change. If not for the vulnerable migrants involved, if not for their employers who are at risk of more and more nurses and others throwing in the towel and going home, then for her own political good.

Until next week 

Iain MacLeod

Southern Man

 

 

 


NZ Visas - The Next 12 (or 24) Months

Posted by Iain on March 26, 2021, 2:38 p.m. in Immigration New Zealand

Senior INZ officials held a zoom meeting earlier today with interested immigration advisors. They seem to have caught the current government bug of making announcements about making announcements but there was some useful insight into what is, and isn't, happening over the next few months. As usual the "why" is largely missing.

Here are the key takeaways:

Resumption of selections of skilled migrant Expressions of Interest.

Don't hold your breath basically. Government previously announced that resumption of selections would be "reviewed" at the end of this month. Of course a ‘review’ does not mean anything in terms of when they might actually resume selections and so it has turned out to be. The advice from inside the department is they have no idea when the government will hit the ‘go’ button. This aligns with our own analysis here at IMMagine that I have written about previously. Given the number of resident visa applications still sitting awaiting allocation in the department’s backlog at best we might see a resumption of EOI selections in July but it's probably more likely to be September. I have no doubt the bureaucrats are pleading with the Minister for more time to clean up the resident visa backlog mess before adding more applications to the system. The danger of that of course is that the number of expressions of interest in that skilled migrant pool has increased steadily from roughly 5000 when they ceased selecting last year to around 7000 today. The closer we get to a possible resumption the more likely people are to start filing expressions of interest (although as I have said previously if you are able to file an expression of interest on 160 points you would be crazy not to have done so already).

Re-uniting split families

The pressure on the government has risen to unprecedented levels in recent weeks over this thanks to a few of us in the private sector beating the 'fairness' drum and acknowledgement should also go to the opposition spokeswoman on Immigration, Erica Stanford who has done an outstanding job holding the Government to account over its cruelty in Parliament. We are now told to expect 'announcement' by the end of April. Work has recently begun on solving a problem the Government has known about since June last year.

My pick is Government will confirm a two way, MIQ free travel bubble with Australia to start on 1 May or thereabouts. This will immediately free up around 2000 MIQ rooms each week. That allows them to ease up on those trapped on the wrong side of the border. However, and not unreasonably, they don’t want to fill all of those  MIQ rooms up with people travelling from Covid hotspots like India. Expect then some form of ‘triaging’ whereby priority will be given to certain groups over others.

We are thinking it could be along the lines of:

   Those who had visas when the border shut where a partner/parent is in NZ

   Those who didn’t have visas when the border closed but who have a partner/parent in NZ

   Skill level of the partner who is in NZ

   The salary of the partner who is in NZ

We believe the talk of potential prioritisation based on salary or occupation could be a ’nice’ way of ensuring that the Government doesn’t have to say if you are coming from India or any other hotspot places will be strictly limited’. I should make clear no announcements have been made on the order profile but you can bet your bottom dollar they will so we don’t get the health risk of filling up MIQ rooms with more and more people travelling here with Covid.

New work visa policy

We are told that ‘announcements’ are going to be rolled out over the next 2 to 3 months on when the various changes are going to be put in place. To those of you not familiar with the proposed changes (again we have written about them before) we are heading to a more ‘Australian style’ model which places more emphasis on the employer proving they are ‘worthy’ of employing foreigners along with the current labour market testing and applicants proving they are qualified and experienced to take up the job. It's going to see an extra layer added to the onion but not one that will change the likelihood of work visas over those that get them today. One suspects these changes are designed to focus on the ‘lower’ end of the skill spectrum. I would imagine that we are going to see hospitality and retail specifically targeted. Expect to see the changes rolled out over the remainder of this year and early next.

All employers must become ‘accredited’. A question was asked if those businesses that have the current iteration of this special status will have it rolled over. Officials had no answer to that. It makes administrative sense they should (which probably means they won’t).

New IT system

Nearly a decade after announcing that within two years you’d be able to file any sort of visa online from anywhere in the world, INZ has confirmed they abandoned the idea of tacking on a new software platform on their old one and have come up with a whole new system (they kept that very quiet). This will see all visas being able to be filed online within ’12-18 months’ (so we are thinking probably by 2025…)

The timeline INZ has provided is as follows:

   Visitor Visas from July 2021

   Student and partnership temporary visas from October 2021

   All Resident class visas within ’12-18 months’ (so late 2022 - I’ll believe it when I see it)

No word on when Work Visas will be able to be filed online but we expect by year’s end. Presumably to coincide with the roll out of the ‘new’ work visa policies.

As always in these briefings there was a lot of talk of what might happen, when it might happen and how it might happen. Nothing concrete on anything which is par for the course. But at least we can take comfort, particularly for those whose families have been ripped apart by the border closures, that the end is in sight.

Credit to Immigration New Zealand for holding this presentation this morning given social media, chat groups in migrant forums along with industry crystal ball gazers have in recent months been working overtime trying to second-guess what will happen. Speculation fueled by a government that is perceived to be anti-migrant and which insists on making statements along the lines of ‘New Zealand employers will need to get used to employing New Zealanders’.

I’ll say it one more time – this is nothing more than politicking. New Zealand is going to need a lot of skilled migrants for a long time to come to fill temporary and long-term shortages in the labour market so no one should be too concerned about what is going to be rolled out over the next 12 to 18 months.

Until next week

Iain MacLeod

Southern Man

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A Roll Of The Dice

Posted by Paul on Dec. 17, 2020, 11:05 a.m. in Immigration New Zealand

Avid readers of our blog will be familiar with some of our recent posts, comparing the inner functions (or dysfunctions) of INZ with a mystical land where you spend most of your time chasing a white rabbit with a pocket watch down a deep dark hole.

While those posts of the two Veterinarians applying to enter the country resulting in one being approved and the other declined whilst INZ split the finest of hairs over the differences between them, lurking in the background was another border lottery with potentially even greater consequences.

When New Zealand closed its borders as part of the ‘go hard and go early’ approach, it threw many migrants’ plans into disarray. People who had been working here but had left the country briefly found themselves stuck offshore. People with Work Visas who had not yet arrived were also stranded, unable to take up their new lives and new jobs. Then there were those who had made it here before the gates were closed but whose partners and dependent children were expecting to follow later, caught out and unable to travel.

For many of those families, split apart, the future looked increasingly uncertain.  They had to deal not only with the impacts of the pandemic that were widespread (job security, public health risks and learning to live at arm’s length from one another) but they had to do so in two different time-zones.

Shortly after we shut up shop in New Zealand, the Government acknowledged that certain people had to be allowed to enter. New Zealanders coming home were given permission and certain critical workers were allowed to apply. Over time that has extend to cricketers, Netflix film crews and even badminton players, all of which we have been told are vital to the recovery of our economy.

As New Zealand managed to contain and control the virus, further gaps in the border were opened up and some of those people who had valid Work Visas and had been in NZ prior to the lockdowns were able to enter, provided their jobs still existed.

During all of this, the split families remained in limbo. With no signals from the Government there was only really one last bastion of hope and that was to apply under the “humanitarian” border exemption process. A last resort of sorts, if you didn’t fit in anywhere else but you believed your situation was worthy of being allowed to cross the border.

Just like the Visa Neverland we described in our previous posts, the process to secure one of these exemptions under the humanitarian category was an absolute lottery. We filed many of these and for most clients, there was more than one (in fact many more).  Most were declined but occasionally one got through. Despite nothing really changing that much, those occasional approvals, whether through us, other advisers or those attempting it on their own, created hope. It might be the number of times you apply, the specific words you used or which officer looks at the request, all factors which might give you the winning ticket. Every time the one out of ten (which is the approximate success rate of these requests) was approved, it sparked that hope for everyone else.

Surely however if people are all in the same situation, then they should all receive the same outcome and it shouldn’t be a lottery?

That was the question we asked and asked multiple times of INZ and its senior management. Why do we have similar cases with such varying outcomes? Surely if one family, split across countries with young children, meets the humanitarian threshold, then everyone else should.

INZ replied with a myriad of processes and procedures that were being developed to achieve some degree of consistency. Officers were being calibrated, quality circles were being formed, entire teams of quality assurance bodies were analysing outcomes and pieces of work were flying all about the halls of INZ.

When all of this “busy work” had supposedly been completed, we asked what the outcome was. The answer, not surprisingly, was that each case is assessed on its merits. That’s code for we don’t really have an answer. In fact, one of the very senior people involved in this lengthy and often heated email exchange, was waiting for her quality assurance team to tell her whether the quality could be assured. Surely as the manager of this very delicate and often complex process you would have that information in front of you at all times?

So when the Government is still selling lottery tickets you would of course be mad not to buy them. There is still hope and for a family split apart for the better part of a year (in some cases longer than a year), you take any chance you can get. People carried on filing requests, spending the $45.00 in the hope that they might be as lucky as those folks on Facebook last week or the family that just arrived down the road the week before. You take your chances, you roll the dice and you hold out for any hope on offer.

Yesterday, we received a final response to a formal complaint we submitted to INZ concerning this process. That response contains what I believe is an admission that should have been provided months ago.

...there has been some inconsistency in decision-making, I believe there may have been some offshore family cases approved under the humanitarian criteria which perhaps did not meet the bar for a humanitarian exception (which is detailed above). I can advise that this feedback has been acknowledged and acted on...

What does that mean? Well INZ will suggest it means they are improving process, calibrating officers, transferring knowledge and moving forward. My reading of that is they got it wrong, realised their mistake and won’t do it again.

For many people out there this will be a sobering thought because it potentially means that the lottery has ended, although I will add to this that there is nothing stopping anyone, caught in this situation from buying another ticket. What it signals to us as people working within the inner mechanics of this process however, is that INZ having got it wrong have decided to correct that mistake. I would suggest the chances of an approval are slim unless your situation really is exceptional (and that bar is now potentially very high). Those who secured these exemptions are incredibly lucky to have them and should in fact be buying a ticket for the actual lottery.

For those still waiting to bring family across, whilst it might be a bitter pill to swallow, at least you know where you stand and ultimately that has to be better than the potential false hope that was being dished out previously.

Frustratingly the Government has failed to signal this to those affected in any meaningful way. In fact, very recently, having unsuccessfully challenged one such situation with the Associate Minister, the response was that this was all about the “absolutely critical” nature of protecting the health of New Zealanders – yet everyone allowed in to NZ, be it family members or Netflix crew are forced in to quarantine for 14 days, there is no health risk. Perhaps the Minister needs a little more calibrating.

Sometimes to be kind, you need to be cruel and for anyone stuck in this limbo situation, to be fair to them and to allow them to make informed decisions, the tough answer, as difficult as it might be is always the best one. Why the Government has failed to offer that and instead would rather string out the hope (hardly being kind) remains a source of ongoing frustration for myself and my colleagues but more importantly for the families this impacts on.

However, if there is some light at the end of the tunnel and whilst it is still speculation, the potential move to a travel bubble with Australia next year will mean more managed isolation spaces become available. That capacity could (and in my view should) lead to consideration being given to families split apart for what will then be well over 12 months. Pressure is mounting not only from the families themselves but from employers (scared of losing good skilled staff who may decide to leave) our industry and many others. All of which we hope will catch the attention of the Minister in early 2021.

To those families caught up in all of this, don’t lose hope. It may not be best placed in INZ’s lottery border exemption process but rather in the fact that all of this has to change at some point and to have held out this long under these circumstances is nothing short of miraculous. It is the bravest of things you do and we are approaching the toughest of times to be doing it in but there are plenty of us out there fighting your corner.

Till next week…


A (kind of) fairytale - Part II

Posted by Iain on Dec. 11, 2020, 11:06 a.m. in Immigration New Zealand

(Dear Reader, if you haven’t read Part I of ‘A (kind of) fairytale’ please do. It was posted two weeks ago.

Part II

Time passed.

Down at Immigration headquarters in Neverland, the senior ranking visa fairy pressed his eyes to his microscope and, steadying the hand that held his nano-slicer with a light but firm grasp, he got ready to split some more hairs.

A short while later he received a message from the wise immigration advisor asking him to explain clearly why one animal doctor was granted a border exemption to enter Neverland, but the second was not, especially given the acute shortage of all animal doctors across Neverland.

The senior ranking visa fairy sighed with frustration. “What is wrong with this adviser? Doesn't he know I'm here to keep him and his fellow countrymen and women safe from the nasty virus that is ravaging the world, but not Neverland? I don't have time for this.’

The senior ranking visa fairy took out his quill and dipped it in his bottle of ink.

He wrote to the wise immigration advisor that the first priority of the government of Neverland is keeping its citizens "safe" from the nasty virus.

He went on to say that there was a material difference between the two animal doctors who had applied for border entry exemptions. One had a Master Degree and one a Bachelor Degree. One was being paid more than the other. Although both were going to be operating on small animals one was going to be doing more operations than the other. For these three reasons one was approved and one was denied the border exemption. This he scratched across the parchment, rolled into a tube, tied to a pigeon and sent it flying in the general direction of Auckland.

Upon reading this justification two things occurred to the wise immigration adviser.

Neverland has two weeks of managed isolation in order to keep the good folk of Neverland safe from the nasty virus. Many short-term and temporary workers including sheep shearers, fruit pickers, fishermen, netball teams, rugby teams and two cricket teams had all been deemed "critical workers’ and granted border exemptions. The fact that many of them, in particular fishermen from Russia and cricketers from Pakistan were found to be riddled with the nasty virus when they entered their 14 days of managed isolation appeared to have been lost on the senior ranking visa fairy. The 14 days of managed isolation was the very mechanism to keep the good people of Neverland safe from the nasty virus. It follows therefore that if the animal doctor was allowed in he too would go into 14 days of managed isolation and keep the inhabitants of Neverland safe.

It also occurred to the wise immigration adviser that contrary to what the senior fairy had scratched on his parchment, that all the senior ranking visa fairy had actually done was to explain the difference between the two Vets - something already obvious and known to the wise immigration adviser. The ranking fairy had failed to explain in any meaningful way why one was deemed to meet the definition of ‘unique specialist or technical skills not readily available in Neverland’ and one did not. All he said is that one didn't meet the requirements and one did.

The reader of this (kind of) fairytale should understand that there is a fairly simple definition of who should and who should not be allowed into Neverland and that is it. Specialist skills not readily available locally. Meaning you are highly skilled and there will likely be a lot of employers in Neverland looking to fill vacancies. Like animal doctors?

Nothing in there about minimum level of qualifications, minimum salaries or that two workers in the same discipline must be doing identical jobs when they get to Neverland…

So the wise immigration officer prepared another email in response. He asked three questions:

1.       To get a border exemption must an animal doctor hold a master degree?

2.       To get a border exemption is there a minimum salary requirement?

3.       To get a border exemption must an animal doctor be doing a certain type of animal health work?

The wise immigration adviser also asked the senior ranking visa fairy how many of those fishermen, fruit pickers, sheep shearers, heavy farm machinery drivers and others would be earning at least the salary of the second animal doctor who was denied entry given that he is going to be paid a six-figure salary? Furthermore he pondered how many fruit pickers would hold Master degrees in…fruit picking and sheep shearing?

Tearing himself away from the hairsplitting exercise going on under his microscope the senior ranking visa fairy once again reached for his quill and penned a short blunt message in reply.

‘Hi Wise Immigration Adviser

I explained why one exemption can be justified and one not in my last message to you. Good day to you sir.’

Or words to that effect

This of course was blatantly untrue and the wise immigration adviser fumed even though he understood this is how things work in Neverland’s visa operation. He thought there is clearly a bar over which all applicants must leap in order to get a border exemption but at what height exactly is that bar set? It was low enough for one animal doctor to clear with ease but too high for another. Why? He was none the wiser after the senior ranking visa fairy had effectively told him to sod off.

The wise immigration adviser is not one to just walk away when these visa fairies try to deflect. He sent another message to the senior ranking visa fairy telling him that he was not going to let this go. He expected a reply explaining exactly how high that bar is. If a wise immigration adviser does not know how high that bar is, or the visa fairies themselves do not know, as clearly they don’t given the process appears to be more like a lottery than a considered process, how can anyone, in government or the private sector, advise someone to apply for a border exemption or not?

The sun went down and the moon came up. The stars twinkled overhead.

The moon went down and the sun came up.

The wise immigration adviser saw no message from the senior ranking visa fairy in his inbox and no pigeon sitting on his widowsill.

The sun tracked across the sky on the second day and disappeared over the horizon and the wise immigration adviser decided to send another message to the senior ranking visa fairy and said I am not going to go away, I expect an answer that I can explain to the client who was denied the exemption.

To which he received an out of office auto reply. A common occurrence mid week in Neverland when trying to reach state functionary fairies. Probably in a "calibration" session, or a ‘knowledge transfer circle’, discussing ‘product suites’ and ‘cohorts’ or even doing a ‘piece of work’ on something like border exemptions the wise immigration adviser concluded.

The following morning the wise immigration adviser awoke. As he sipped his first hot beverage on that humid and sultry morning, he reached for his iPad and started reading the news from Neverland and around the world. The first article that caught his eye from Neverland was confirmation that the immigration department had since July 2020 granted 71 border exemptions to thespians and assorted movie makers along with their partners and children.

It cannot be he sputtered into his coffee!

The wise immigration adviser grew angry and sad in equal measure.

Despite the animal doctor that was denied entry having teenage children permanently living in Neverland and whose mother (the animal doctor’s former wife) was being treated for a life threatening illness, he was still denied entry to join them. Yet the children of thespians who have not been invited to apply for residency in Neverland as the animal doctor has, who have not filed Residency applications as the animal doctor has, who do not work in occupations deemed to be in acute demand in Neverland as animal doctors are, who are in Neverland for a short time and not bringing the skills for the longest time as the animal doctor will be, were allowed to enter Neverland.

The wise immigration adviser’s blood started to boil. It was obvious that the senior ranking visa fairy must have known about those 71 thespians and their entourages that had been allowed into Neverland when he justified denying the second animal doctor entry. He knew that not only was the animal doctor coming to live permanently in Neverland but his children needed him more than ever given the illness of their mother.

He reminded himself this is how the immigration authorities in Neverland work. Not just inconsistent but also cruel.

And dear reader you may have read that Neverland is ruled by a kindly soul, with a heart full of love and caring and who is much loved by her people. She sprinkles fairy dust wherever she goes.

The wise immigration adviser could only ponder at what all those gullible people of Neverland might think if they realised what really goes on under the command of the Loving Fairy.

How the Loving Fairy employs an army of hair-splitting functionaries blind to their own inconsistencies and cruelty.

And how they might feel if they realised that what they have just read here is not in fact a fairytale, but a true story.

Until next week 

 

Iain MacLeod

Southern Man

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A kind (of) fairytale

Posted by Iain on Nov. 27, 2020, 10:10 a.m. in Immigration New Zealand

Once upon a time in a land far far away, two young men who loved animals decided they wanted to train to be Veterinarians. They both studied at the same University, received the same training and were conferred the same degree. Both began long careers as small animal Vets. As time passed they watched with great sadness their beloved country crumble as it was being run by corrupt and useless politicians. Both had families and children to consider and so looked overseas for a safe and friendly country to move to. 

They heard of a mythical country, Neverland, a country full of animals, big and small, which had a terrible shortage of Animal Doctors but it was far away from everything they knew, loved and understood. The thought of moving there greatly troubled them. The Government of Neverland however spends vast sums of its people’s money advertising its permanent residence programme that said it welcomed people with skills like theirs and that attracted the attention of these two Animal Doctors.

Both sought the advice of wise immigration advisers on how a move across one very great ocean and a large pesky sandpit known as Australia, which also wanted their skills, might be made to happen. The wise immigration advisers reassured them both that if they found jobs in Neverland there was such a shortage of their wizardry they and their families would be welcomed to this wonderful land to build safe and prosperous lives.

After much deliberation both families decided to join the great trek to Neverland.

Both applied for jobs without leaving their country and such was the demand for their medical skills both were quickly offered positions. The money was good and they believed so much that they had heard about Neverland as a peaceful country with wonderful kind people, that they both slept well.

However, over the next few months they experienced trepidation and great excitement  in equal measure as the enormity of migrating sunk in.  Much work needed to be done and the wise immigration advisers helped them to prepare.  Practices needed to be sold, houses needed to go on the market at a time few people were buying, they both wished their child(ren) to finish their school year if it were possible to minimise the disruption, they needed to try and time the shipping of their personal effects to coincide with their arrival and of course visas had to be arranged for Neverland which jealously guarded the right of people to enter its main castle. It was complicated and tiring.

All was going well under the care of the immigration advisers when suddenly disaster struck.

A nasty virus descended upon both countries leading the Government of Neverland to pull up the drawbridge to its castle and slam its border shut. The virus affected normal people much like the flu but it affected politicians quite differently. It looked to many like they panicked for they didn’t really have any plan for what should happen when a global plague of virus or locust might descend upon their fair land. Alas, the virus affected Government immigration workers even worse than the politicians. It seems the threat of the virus caused at least half of their brain to melt.

The Government of Neverland promised its people that foreigners like Animal Doctors who possessed great and magical talents that were not readily available in their paradise would still be given visas if they promised to be good, paid for 14 days in isolation in a four or five star hotel and they agreed to be tested against the nasty virus.

The two Animal Doctors agreed.

Time passed and in Neverland the two employers who needed these animal wizards grew more desperate for them to get their visas. Their animals were suffering. Future planning was impossible. Across the land there was 220 Vet practices in the same position. Alarm spread. The kind leader of Neverland kept promising her people that her first and greatest priority was keeping her people safe from the nasty virus. She didn’t tell her people that for many months there was several thousand managed isolation four star hotel rooms free to keep the foreigners happy and locked up in while they showed they weren’t infected by the nasty virus.

All the kind leader had to do was smile, tilt her head and occasionally frown and the people cheered her. She continued to sprinkle fairy dust and they loved her for it.

The wise immigration advisers filed applications for border exemptions for both Animal Doctors because their skills were so rare it seemed to them impossible their kind leader would reject the applications. Neverland had never trained up enough Animal Doctors of its own and therefore there had always been a terrible shortage. 

The Animal Doctors themselves were hopeful after many nerve wracking months, they could fly to Neverland to join their patient but increasingly desperate new employers, one of whom was retiring from his practice shortly after Santa visited with bags of doggy biscuits and cat litter. Being himself very organized, this business owner had started planning for his retirement 18 months before he knew he would treat his last cat. Plenty of time he thought. What could go wrong?

Alas, a few days later the application for a border exemption for this first Vet was declined. A state functionary whose brain had clearly felt the impact of the virus explained that despite the national shortage and this occupation being on the Governments own long term skills shortage list, a list of occupations in ongoing and acute demand for many years, there was apparently Vets ‘readily available’ in Neverland to do this work.

‘We must keep the people safe’ they wrote.

This struck the wise immigration advisers as strange as the Veterinary Council of Neverland provided evidence it was in fact 220 Animal Doctors short across this fair land. The Advisers thought that the Animal Doctor would be in managed isolation for two weeks, just like the recently arrived Pakistan Men’s cricket team and the Animal Doctor wouldn’t have the nasty virus like some of the cricketers carried with them (or 200 Russian fishermen before them) and the Animal Doctor wouldn’t break the isolation rules as the naughty cricketers had been doing. Watching cricket for the people of Neverland, the kind leader decided, was seemingly of greater importance than treating her peoples’ pets. Still the people cheered even as their own pet dogs started to die. (‘Quickly, more fairy dust’ she whispered to her chief fairy helper.)

The employer was confused and distraught in equal measure. Everyone knew the kind leader of Neverland had around the same time granted her royal permission for 20 other Animal Doctors to cross the lowered drawbridge and enter Neverland. So why not his Vet?

The wise immigration advisers too were confused and angry and one of them, tasked with helping this family to join them in Neverland, with a big sigh explained to the Animal Doctor this is just the way Neverland is. A land of visa contradictions and inconsistencies where the kind leader employed state functionary fairies that operated with impunity and a great deal of inconsistency.

A land where what they said the rules were, wasn’t necessarily what, well, the rules seemed to be. 

The wise immigration adviser sadly explained to the second Vet they’d likely face the same strange outcome but it was worthwhile trying for a border exemption anyway. After all, the Advisers counselled the Vet, how can you win the lottery if you don’t buy a ticket?

‘It’s a lottery?’ the second Vet asked.

‘Oh yes, seemingly so’ replied the wise immigration adviser. ‘There are rules and there are criteria which on the face of it are quite easy to understand but in Neverland the border exemption decisions bear little to no relation to those rules. The conclusion, disappointingly, is that it is in fact little more than a lottery. Which functionary fairy gets your application determines the outcome.’

Sad and dejected that this country full of such kind people who had invited him and his family to come and settle in it, might now turn them away after investing so much of their time and energy, not to mention his hard earned cockle shells, for cockle shells was what they used for currency in this far away land, the second Vet said ‘Well let’s give it a go. I can’t stay in this land far far away much longer for I have no electricity and our leader, who smiles but is not kind, is stealing all our cockle shells!’

‘You also have a leader who smiles?’ asked the wise immigration adviser.

‘Yes we do, but crocodiles smile as well, don’t they?’ the Animal Doctor replied.

‘Oh’ the wise immigration adviser said, ‘we don’t have nasty creatures in Neverland so I wouldn’t know’.

The wise immigration adviser filed the border exemption application even though her spirits were by now also quite low.

Day turned into night. A full moon came and went.

A few days later the wise immigration adviser saw the kind leader’s fairy functionaries had sent her a message. She nervously opened it.

The wise immigration adviser’s jaw dropped.

‘It cannot be!’ she exclaimed to her equally wise colleagues. ‘My Animal Doctor...has been approved! Praise be, the Gods have been kind this fine summery day, let us rejoice!’ 

‘Our kind leader has lowered the drawbridge and let him and his family enter our castle in Neverland.’ she shared with her dumbstruck colleagues who had gathered to see what all the fuss was about.

The wise immigration adviser jumped up and did a small jig. 

The IMMagine team clapped and cheered. They joined in with the wise immigration adviser and they all danced and sang with gusto. A great merriment descended upon the assembled IMMagine team who read and re-read the message from Government, hardly believing their eyes and the client's good fortune. They read it many times. They knew they had to check to see if they were reading it correctly for it was well known that many of the immigration functionary fairies did not have a great command of the English language.

Yet it was true - the border exemption had been granted.

One by one they slipped out to buy a Lotto ticket as they realised luck and good fortune had been delivered that day.

Naturally the Animal Doctor, although surprised, was also filled with great joy and he danced around his Braai hugging his wife and children. ‘Quickly children, pack your suitcases before they change their minds’ he giggled. ‘We are off to Neverland!’.

The children scattered, running this way and that. They grabbed teddy bears and all their other favourite possessions and quickly stuffed them into their suitcases. 

Down the road the second Animal Doctor sat quietly with a pensive look on his face sharing a meal of maize gruel with his wife and children at their dinner table. The children were quiet. The mood was low as they had just been told by the very same wise immigration advisers of the good news for the other animal doctor.

‘What did we do wrong?’ he asked his wife, ‘I also have a job to go to in Neverland, we have also been invited to apply to live permanently in paradise by their kind leader, I have the same qualification from the same University and I do the same job as the other Vet’.

‘Ask the wise immigration adviser’ his dejected wife suggested.

And so he did.

The wise immigration adviser said in reply ‘Do you remember when we first met I explained that in the 14 centuries I have been looking after migrants and their Neverland employers, that the same visa evidence given to two different Neverland functionaries can result in two different outcomes despite there only being one rule book? Well, sadly this is the 3,768,963rd example of that’.

‘Can’t you speak to a Manager?’ the Animal Doctor asked.

‘Oh we do and we will’ the wise immigration adviser responded, 'but they don’t seem to care that their staff do pretty much whatever they want with little to no accountability. Although the fairies are meant to attend 'knowledge transfer circles' and 'calibration sessions' in Neverland an immigration manager is not allowed to instruct a subordinate fairy functionary on what decision to make on an application’.

‘How strange’ thought the Vet. ‘But you will fight this for us won’t you?’

‘Till my last breath, you bet I will’ replied the wise but tired immigration adviser.

And as the sun went down in Neverland the wise immigration adviser crawled into bed, having been tired out by all the dancing and jigging, determined that with the next sunrise she would take up the fight once again. Chasing shadows and fairies in her head she fell into an uneasy sleep.

To be continued….


Border Exemption Lottery

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.

This despite:

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 

Iain MacLeod

Southern Man

 

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Tags: INZ | government

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