It's just a thought...
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Posted by Iain on Sept. 14, 2021, 4:32 p.m. in Work Visa
I've been asking myself over the past few days what might happen to the visa landscape if the following five things were to happen as part of the government's proposed immigration ‘reset’ to focus on more "highly skilled" migrants.
1. Expedited processing of all Skilled Migrant resident visa applications sitting in the processing queue i.e. migrants who have been invited to apply and filed have their residence processed now without delay subject to local police clearance and evidence they are still working in skilled employment; and
2. The government increased the points required to be selected from the skilled migrant pool to 180 (at least for a while); and
3. The government increases ‘points’ for those people with jobs in New Zealand who have statutory registration (bonus 20 points), work in an occupation on the long-term skill shortage list (bonus 30 points instead of the current 10) or perhaps earn twice the national median salary (20 or 30 points?); and
4. Require all skilled migrants to earn 1.5 times the national median income to be eligible under the category. That would mean around $84,000 pre-tax per annum.
5. Provide a three year pathway to residence for everybody who was in New Zealand holding an Essential Skills Work Visa or Talent Visa when the border closed in March 2020. Make them provide evidence they have been employed for say two of the last three years.
On the first two points I have previously written that it makes sense for the government to simply fast track all applications sitting waiting to be processed and get rid of the processing backlog. Given most of these people will be on work visas this would demand little verification to quickly approve them as that verification should have been carried out at work visa stage.
Increase the points for those seeking selection in the pool to 180. There’s no doubt that will knock a lot of people out given most people believe(d) the pass mark would probably stay at 160 when selections resumed, as it was when when they filed their EOI. To assume the pass mark would always remain static is to make a false assumption – it is a “floating” pass mark and always has been. It can go up – or down.
When INZ accidently posted a new page recently on their ‘points calculator’ of an increase in points for those the government has been treating lately as being more “valuable” in terms of priority processing (those registered in New Zealand, those earning twice the median national income and adding occupations on the long-term skills shortage list) it wouldn’t be a big step. By increasing the points any of these people sitting on 160 might get should increase them to 180 or 190 meaning they will be selected. I don’t know how many of the 11,500 EOIs (covering around 23,000 people) would meet the criteria but it would be safe to assume perhaps 40-50% or so. The question would be how many applicants could rearrange their lives to get more points e.g. moving out of Auckland to secure 30 more points for a job.
So what of the others left in the EOI pool? This is where the fourth thought comes in. Given that New Zealand is experiencing acute skill and labour shortages (and they are different in terms of how visas are issued) the government could preserve its aura of “kindness” (better late than never if you are an immigrant), and reward all those people sitting on Essential Skills Work Visas or similar and who have stuck by (or been stuck in) New Zealand through the pandemic.
That might be viewed as controversial but I would support it. After all, these people are in New Zealand, they have labour market tested work visas meaning the government was satisfied they did not take a job from a local, they have been paying their taxes, putting down roots and assimilating into local communities. Their neighbours are people like you and me. Even if that wasn’t good enough reason to let them stay, with the borders still largely closed until early 2022, it would be an act of national self interest. We have fruit rotting on trees because we don’t have people to pick it and at the other end of the scale we have engineering companies producing world-class products unable to expand their operations because they can’t bring staff across the border. We have, like it not, both a labour shortage and skill shortage and we cannot conjure up locals to fill these jobs out of thin air.
Furthermore I would argue that whatever infrastructure pressure NZ and particularly Auckland has been created by those who have stuck by New Zealand over the past 18 months, the pressure is in the past tense. Yes, making 100,000 people leave the country would certainly impact on house price affordability for those who stay and take a few cars off the road. I believe most strongly those people should not be a scapegoat for New Zealand’s lack of planning when it comes to infrastructure needs, population growth and immigration policy (mis)settings.
If the government wants to do this, then I expect most of those sitting in the skilled migrant pool but don’t have 180 points should be granted a pathway to residency because almost all of them are going to be on an Essential Skills Work visa or something similar. If the government said they were going to work their way through these people over, say, the next three years and they are given some degree of certainty that residency might not come quickly but it will come, I’d take that if I were among them.
The government could over the next couple of years clear the decks for the new immigration policy whatever that may look like. Some versions of the above – higher salaries required and higher points to be part of the programme might be just around the corner?
This could include an increase in the median salary required to be part of the skilled migrant program to, say, 1.5 times the national median. This will have no impact on people who are in New Zealand at the current time and sitting waiting to be processed if the other points above are rolled out but would have an impact on who may be able to be part of the residence program in future – but they can make their decision based on what they are likely to earn (among the other variables migrants must take into account).
Salary is a very blunt tool for assessing skill level but in the recent “dumbing down” of policy to the level some Immigration officers can handle I don’t think it’s going to go away as a tool any time soon. Many nurses and most teachers would never earn 1.5 times teh median salary so might we now exclude them from the chance of residence because most could not reach the minimum salary threshold? Do I believe they would come to New Zealand for a short time on a Work Visa and then leave after 2-3 years? No. The truth is they woud pick other countries and wouldn’t come to New Zealand in the first place. Perhaps the government would consider an exemption on the salary criteria for those highly skilled but lower paid occupations that are in ongoing and acute demand?
Finally there is the ability of the department to process tens of thousands of cases over the next two or three years to consider. INZ simply cannot cope with large numbers of cases no matter what policies are in place. A very disturbing set of statistics released to us this week under the Official Information Act shows at the moment there is only 73 immigration officers who are processing skilled migrant Resident Visa applications. This is down from 83 in June. Although we don’t know their individual caseloads, what we do know is:
- 4 case officers have more than 30 files;
- 23 case officers had between 20-29 files
- 49 case officers had between 10 and 19 files
- 7 case officers had between 1 and 9 files
Those are incredibly low case per officer numbers – and it has been this way for months.
Any solution Government might decide to put in place to reduce backlogs, clear the decks and get INZ ready for whatever follows needs to ensure the bureaucracy has the numbers and the 'nous' to process whatever is coming their way. Right now they don’t.
I understand the Minister might be making some announcements soon on all this. I have no inside information from INZ on what might happen over the next few weeks or months but it is an attempt to pull together the various rumours and accidental releases from within the department itself to try and imagine what the immediate future holds for tens of thousands of people trying to work out if New Zealand (still) wants them.
Until next week
Posted by Iain on May 7, 2021, 9:44 a.m. in Work Visa
INZ is starting to drip feed the details of the new work visa processes upon which work began back in late 2019. I say drip feed because in the recent announcements and webinars they have held they said ‘We are still doing work on that’ or ‘We are waiting on the Minister to tell us what he thinks’ (good luck with that then).
I really don’t understand why they go public with half the detail.
What we do know is there will be more bureaucracy involved but to those that have ever filed a work visa, there is nothing here that seeks to deliberately cut down the number of work visas at least for those earning higher amounts than the median national income. So that is reassuring.
All employers seeking to employ migrants will have to become ‘accredited’ before they can support work visa applications. Initial accreditation will be valid for 12 months and it can be renewed for periods of 24 months (with what INZ described as a ‘light touch’ which in English means if you’ve got accreditation it won’t be too hard to keep it).
The process will comprise three steps.
1. Employer check - employers can start apply for this for ‘late September’. By 1 November any employer that needs to employ non-residents must have that accreditation. Employers will be required to demonstrate inter alia they are registered as a genuine business with Inland Revenue (the tax department), have a registered Business Number, have a track record of complying with immigration and employment law and the employer must complete some government run, online, ‘employment modules’ providing any new staff with information on their employment rights etc.
2. Job check - depending on where the job is located (Auckland, Hamilton, Wellington, Christchurch, Dunedin being defined as 'cities' means the process may be a little dfferent to those applying for jobs everywhere else) and what the salary is will determine what sort of local labour market test, if any, is required. Advertising evidence may or may not be required again depending on location and salary.
3. Migrant check - essentially proving the migrant is ‘suitably qualified’ to take up the role (we are assuming the same test applies to that which applies today), that there is no ‘suitable New Zealanders available for the role or who could be trained’ (again, status quo) and of course health and character checks will be carried out. So no real change coming there.
Franchises and what INZ refers to as ‘triangle’ employers e.g. those that employ and then sub contract out such as labour hire companies, will have shorter periods of accreditation and more onerous conditions placed on them.
Those on existing work visas do not have to apply for new visas nor does their employer need to become accredited before 1 November.
Those earning twice the median salary will still have available to them a work to residence pathway i.e. work for an accredited employer for two years and you can qualify for residence in that way. A new higher salary threshold will apply - twice the median salary which today is a total salary of $106,080. Today to achieve the same 'residence from work outcome' applicants must be earning $79,560. My thoughts on that is most people earning $106,080 will qualify under the ‘points’ system anyway so nothing much to worry about for those people.
The one big question mark for us was what about those on existing work to residence (WTR) visas if no residence visa has been filed before midnight on 31 October? INZ said they are waiting Ministerial direction on how they should be treating those people. That is of real concern to us. Is the Government going to pull the rug out from under the feet of the thousands of people in the country now on an existing work to residence pathway? In theory they could by simply reminding those holding WTR that what they hold is a temporary visa. Of course it is more than that to those that hold them - it is the only pathway many of them had to a resident visa so while technically it is a temporary visa, in effect it is so much more than that. I’d like to think the Government will confirm that the pathway to those people will be preserved.
All in all there is little to be too concerned about with this greater focus going onto employers but as always the devil is going to be in the detail.
Posted by Iain on Dec. 13, 2019, 3:35 p.m. in Work Visa
As has been widely signaled, new work visa rules are being rolled out over the next 18 months or so. Government continues to drip feed details. No rules have been published.
The new process adopts three stages (only one of which is new) including:
1. Vetting the employer and ensuring they are not likely to be in the minority that exploit or rip off their workers; and
2. Some roles will require labour market testing and some will not be depending on location or effective hourly rate. The pressure to prove labour market shortages rises in the big cities OR at the lower end of the pay scale
3. Applicants demonstrating that they are qualified by training and experience to do the job offered - by replacing the current ‘substantial match’ to a particular occupation to one based on salary or wages (‘effective hourly rate”)
What we know is the aim of accrediting all employers and making things ‘simpler’ has as always run into the small detail of reality. It isn’t simple and it does add layers of complexity although it seems Government has listened to Advisers like us and employer groups who made one very strong point - the focus going more on the employer I not a bad move but if the total time it takes to secure a work visa is longer than it is today (can be months if you don’t know what you are doing) then it is economic suicide.
With over 150,000 work visa holders in the country at any given time, this economy depends on migrant workers to fill those skill gaps - or in the case of the current tight labour market - yawning chasms. This was no time to cut back on temporary workers and I believe the politicians have worked that out. Thousands of jobs continue to be created - they are literally raining down on the overwhelming majority of our clients - December has yet again defied history as clients continue to secure skilled employment two weeks out from Christmas. It has been like this the past three ‘slowdown’ periods.
So, what details do we have?
1. The process will depend on whether you employ (might want/need to, it is not yet clear…) five migrants. For these employers there is one set of rules. The reality is most employers will fall into this bracket. They will need to demonstrate an historical legal compliance with employment and immigration law along with compliance with any industry registration requirements and we imagine it won’t be much more involved than the current process in terms of the information they need to provide INZ. Certainly far less onerous than government outlined in the discussion paper released earlier this year or as part of their election hot air two years ago. Accreditation is basically permission to offer migrants jobs - for these employers the status will last for 12 months. It can then be renewed in chunks of two years.
2. Higher (visa) volume employers will get 24 months’ accreditation off the bat but they must demonstrate an as yet undefined commitment to training - shades of the Australian visa system perhaps where invoice/receipts have to be shown to demonstrate they aren’t just committed to training action but they are carrying out their training/up-skilling strategy.
3. Employers offering jobs paying 200% the national median salary (around $104,000) will not have to demonstrate they cannot find a local to fill the vacancy
4. Employers offering jobs paying $25 per hour (for a 40-hour week) being the national ‘median’ outside of Auckland, Hamilton. Wellington, Christchurch and Dunedin will also have the requirement to prove a labour shortage removed. In the five biggest cities however, stupidly, this requirement to test the local labour market will continue.
5. Applicants offered a job paying less than $25 an hour will not only be required to demonstrate an effort to fill the vacancy locally but will also require an employer to deal with the state functionaries (more useless than most) at the Ministry of Social Development and essentially get their support for the ‘hire’.
6. The duration of the visa will continue to be tied to the income level - the more you earn the longer you can stay. Maximum will be 3 years - down from 5 years.
7. No more use of the Australia New Zealand Standard Classification of Occupations (ANZSCO) to determine if applicants are qualified by training and/or experience to do the job - that decision will now be made based on the ‘effective hourly rate’ of the job offered (thus removing the need for the bureaucrat to have to apply their mind to whether a job is skill level 1,2, 3, 4 or 5 (nowhere near as hard as they have always made it out to be).
The upshot is for our clients here at IMMagine there isn’t a lot of downside because few if any of our clients earn below $25 an hour and most earn considerably more. Government watering down the accreditation process for employers is major policy U-turn but one that should make things no more onerous to employ migrants than it is today.
Of course the proof will be in the pudding. Thirty years in this game tells me that what politicians want, and what the migrant and their employer get, is usually poles apart.
If the new process can speed things up all the better. I’ll believe that however when I see it. INZ’s backlogs have in recent months have got worse and worse. Processes that used to take a few short weeks are now taking months, residence, that used to be 4-6 month process for our clients is turning into an 18 month nightmare. The department is not just in chaos but crisis.
The key point though is for most of our clients, or would be clients, no need to panic. Work visas are not about to be harder to come by.
Until next week
Posted by Iain on Nov. 1, 2019, 2:56 p.m. in Work Visa
The government has sprung something of a surprise this week and added 44 jobs to those deemed to be ‘skilled’ for the purposes of a skilled migrant category resident visa application.
(Before I go any further, an occupation being ‘skilled’ is not the same as an occupation that appears on a 'regional skill shortage’ list. Skilled jobs and skills shortages refer to two quite different things in the visa world.)
There is in fact no list that INZ works off to determine which jobs are skilled and which are not for the purposes of residency visas. A job offer is skilled if the tasks closely align with an occupation that is assigned to Skill level 1, 2 or 3 in the Australia and New Zealand Standard Classification of Occupations (ANZSCO).
People always get confused by regional skills shortage lists (you should think, work visas) and what occupations are deemed to be skilled for residence (you should think, ANZSCO).
Some of the more interesting additions to what is considered ‘skilled’ for residence are:
Care workers (elder, geriatric, hospital, and similar)
Child care workers
Out of School Hours Care Workers (aka Nanny)
Child Care Worker
Day Care Worker
Various ‘Operator’ jobs in saw mills, milk factories, textiles and yarn (of which NZ has little left of these industries these days) and manufacturing
Lower level insurance type workers and some more clerical roles
Bungy Jump Master (olé!!)
White Water Rafting Guide
Beauty Therapist (until recently only massage/sports therapist was skilled)
On the face of it great news if you work in one of these occupations. As always however you need to look beyond headlines.
Skilled employment, in addition to everything else, requires an effective $25 per hour.
Many of these occupations do not pay $25 per hour minimum and next year that figure will increase to $25.50 in order for them to be skilled for resident visa purposes. An exception is Care Workers who under a collective contract are earning $25.50 now.
To secure a Work Visa for 12 months doing one of these jobs, an applicant needs to be offered the minimum statutory wage which is $17.70 per hour.
Most will fall somewhere in between those two numbers.
Consequently, there is still not going to be a pathway to residence for a great many people working in these occupations in New Zealand unless employers offering such jobs significantly increase the effective hourly rate by a few dollars per hour.
The obvious question is why has Government added these to the group of occupations deemed to be skilled?
I’d suggest for some of these occupations (all the ‘Operators’ listed for example) this represents nothing more than reset. The Australia New Zealand Standard Classification of Occupations (ANZSCO) has just been ‘upgraded’ and the 44 occupations now recognised as being skilled for residence have been reclassified from Level 4 or 5 (not usually skilled for the purposes of a resident visa unless coming wth $37.50 per hour) to Level 3.
For a job offer to be skilled for residence it must be a Skill Level 1, 2 or 3 occupation.
So it makes sense that these occupations, having been bumped up to Level 3, now become skilled for residence purposes.
ANZSCO is also used to determine how long a work visa should be valid for - the higher the skill level the longer the duration. Skill Level 4 or 5 occupations only get a maximum of 12 months (but can be renewed, all other things being equal, for two more ‘chunks’ of 12 months each). Skill level 1 roles get up to 5 years.
From mid-2020 ANZSCO will no longer be used for work visa length determination and the effective hourly rate will determine how long someone’s work visa will be granted for.
Before those of you that might work in one of these 44 occupations, remember for residence purposes you are going to need to earn around $52,000 a year (for a 40 our week). Some of these occupations will earn that but a great number will not, especially outside of Auckland.
There may be some recognition here (and a reaction to industry lobbying) that NZ will by 2021 be some 50,000 hospitality and tourism related workers short. Adding Tour and Adventure Guides and the like might be recognition that the Government needs to attract overseas talent longer term and offering them a pathway to residence might be one way of filling roles New Zealanders don’t much seem to fancy.
By requiring ‘foreigners’ to earn $52,000 (next year $53,040), I am wondering if this isn’t an attempt to raise incomes in what is traditionally a low paying sector. If you pay the foreigners more to get them into work, surely you’ll be forced to pay the locals the same as well - and that is no bad thing (but your next bungy jump might have just got even more ludicrously expensive).
On the ‘care worker’ front, I wonder if this too is not a sensible reaction to years of industry lobbying, and an attempt by Government to push up local wages in the sector. Our hospitals and rest homes are full of care workers who are on short-term work visas and that creates an enormous churn in staff and difficulty attracting workers to roles New Zealanders definitely don’t seem to want. By offering these people a potential pathway to residency, if they earn enough, we might be able to attract more such workers to deal with a rapidly ageing population.
Like tourism and hospitality, care workers are normally at the lower end of the income spectrum so again I speculate this might be a lever being pulled by government to increase salaries and wages in that sector – because if you have to pay a migrant that much more to do the job to keep them on longer term, you will certainly pay a local the same and if that means pay rises for the locals, more of them might be interested in doing the work. This has interesting implications for our national, tax payer funded health system and District Health Boards (Government owned) which are currently $1 billion in debt. With healthy surpluses I expect the Government will be willing to keep raising salaries to this underpaid sector.
This could actually be a very interesting experiment on how Government can leverage migrants to push up local wages.
I repeat however that the significant majority of the occupations that have been re-classified as Skilled Level 3 will likely not pay the money right now that is required to secure residence, but will be enough for short-term work visas.
So, if you attach eyelashes or paint toenails for a living, or fancy working as a nanny in New Zealand, it's unlikely you will earn enough to meet the current income threshold for a long term stay and permanent residence. Work Visa? probably. Given every year that income threshold is only going to increase, it is reasonable to assume it will become ever harder in future unless as a country are willing to start paying a lot more for currently relatively low paying jobs.
Until next week
Posted by Iain on Sept. 20, 2019, 3:19 p.m. in Work Visa
The new, so called ‘Employer led work visa’, set to replace 6 different types of work visa by 2021, was announced this week and has different interest groups either applauding or frothing at the mouth.
As usual much has been written about the changes and as usual most of it is garbage expressed by those who don’t know terribly much about that upon which they pontificate. Migrant groups, unions, Government - everyone has commented as far as I can tell except employers themselves who have the most to gain or lose when we are talking about filling vacancies in the labour market.
My analysis suggests little is actually changing - as usual - a lot of smoke and mirrors and political posturing. The Government is spinning this as making it easier for '30,000 businesses to recruit migrants'. I doubt that for 80% of work visa applicants anything is about to get easier - quite the opposite. Ditto the overwhelming majority of NZ employers. As always what isn’t being said is as interesting as what is.
To be clear there has been two work visa change announcements this week which has added to the confusion - both are unrelated to one another.
1. Talent Visa for an accredited employer — This only sees an increase in the salary required to obtain a Talent Visa for an ‘accredited’ employer, from $55,000 per annum currently to $79,560 per annum. This change takes effect on or about 7 October. Employer accreditation will be limited to two year periods (renewals of late have been up to 5 years). That’s as far as those changes go. There is still a Residence from Work pathway for those on Talent Visas and this is not being absorbed into the new ‘employer led’ work visa.
2. Employer led/focussed work visa - announced but still under ‘design’ - Government speak for we have an idea but still trying to work out how to roll it out. I wrote about this back in April as I assisted an industry group to make submissions on the proposed changes to this more employer focussed approach to work visas which adds another layer of complexity to what we already have for I’d suggest 80% of work visa aspirants.
All employers will be required to become ‘accredited’ - whether it takes that name remains to be seen given it will no doubt cause confusion with the current accredited visa [see above] following an application whereby they are vetted and deemed responsible and trustworthy enough to employ migrants. This is new and another level of complexity.
Once and only once (so how quickly INZ can process these applications will be critical) they have this special status can they then offer positions to migrants. If they are in regional New Zealand (currently defined as everywhere but Auckland) and the migrant is going to be paid an effective hourly rate of at least $25 per hour (a pandora’s box if ever there was one) then the requirement for a ‘labour market test’ by which the employer must prove they have tried and failed to recruit locally, will be dropped.
The labour market check will remain however for jobs not on skill shortage lists in Auckland, Hamilton, Wellington, Christchurch and Dunedin (the logic of which totally escapes me given I imagine 80% of NZ job vacancies are in one of those five major cities). Why Tauranga is not on that list is as surprising to me as why Dunedin is…..
By and large then, for the significant majority of skilled migrants seeking residence with a job offer, the status quo applies on proving you are not denying a New Zealander a job opportunity before you will get your work visa. Resident Visas already demand a salary minimum of $25 per hour.
For those under that $25 per hour threshold in the ‘regions’ (to whom residence is not a possibility so we are only talking short term workers staying for a finite period of time before heading home), the labour market test will remain. This appears to provide greater focus on the lower end of the labour market on farms and orchards where migrant ‘exploitation’ (a topic this Government is obsessed about despite publishing little evidence it is a problem) is more likely to occur.
The strange thing is if, as I suspect, much of the motivation for these changes is being driven by the Government’s obsession with ‘migrant exploitation’, when it happens, however much it happens, it seems an awful lot takes places in ethnic restaurants, liquor and convenience stores across the major cities and Auckland in particular….not small town or rural New Zealand.
What this will of course do is to prompt employers around the margins of the $25 per hour threshold to offer migrant workers pay rises (no bad thing if you are a migrant). If they have to pay ‘lower end’ migrants more to get work visas without a labour market test I imagine part of the Government’s thinking is that maybe that will encourage more employers to try harder to find that young Kiwi and employ them instead (no bad thing if you are a young enthusiastic New Zealander looking for a start in life picking strawberries).
I would say beware all those with job offers under that $25 per hour of income though, where I imagine employers will be forced to better demonstrate an inability to train up locals for the position being offered to the migrant. It is policy today that all employers, apart from those offering jobs to those on a regional or long term skill shortage list, to demonstrate they cannot train a local for the role. I wouldn’t say this criteria has been ignored but it certainly appears to have been glossed over in most assessments we see done by the Department in recent years.
I can imagine for those earning less than $25 per hour and even possibly for those earning over that, the Department will start issuing ‘letters of concern’ that locals should be able to be trained and that employers aren’t trying hard enough to up skill and train locals.
All of which presumes there are locals who are available to be trained.
Ask any business that offers work requiring hard yakka under a burning summer sun and/or accumulating grime under fingernails like horticulture or agriculture, how easy it is to attract young Kiwis to take up these sorts of roles. Or the small town workshop that offers apprenticeships. They will tell you that for the most part it is impossible - many youngsters are simply not interested or if they start training they so often don’t see it though. Something like 74% of all Government subsidised apprenticeships in this country are never completed. In the horticulture sector, already growers are petrified that this year, like last, their crops will rot in the ground because there is no one to pick the fruit.
The truth is NZ does not have an unemployment problem - those that are unemployed today are by and large unemployable for a variety of reasons. It is hard to understnd then why even more layers of red tape are being added to the process to fill vacancies with migrants.
There will no doubt be other unintended consequences that such changes always unleash and which will become apparent over the next 18 months or so as the new policy is rolled out.
Until next week
Posted by Iain on Sept. 13, 2019, 11:36 a.m. in Work Visa
I’d be lying if I said this job doesn’t sometimes feel like I am living a modern version of the biblical David and Goliath story. Every day, my team and I take on the might of the state. We deal with an Immigration Department culture that is often disinterested, dismissive, inexperienced, largely leaderless (they call it empowerment, probably) and a bunch of bureaucrats that display a level of arrogance that is at times shocking.
If we weren’t in the ‘people’s futures’ games it might almost be comical. But every decision made by INZ affects real people.
If we didn’t have an excellent relationship with a number of very senior Managers (of branches and in the national office) I confess I’d probably have given up years ago. I do not know how consultancies and law firms without these higher level relationships stay sane (or in business).
There’s something in me and my team that feels compelled to fight for the powerless little (foreign) guy and I suspect that is why, over 30 years, I’ve led a team with a visa success rate of over 99%.
This past week has been one for the ages in that story.
It all started with a client’s work visa. Twenty years a policeman in South Africa secured skilled employment in New Zealand as a security company Operations Manager. Immigration rules require an applicant’s work history to be ‘relevant’ to their NZ job. We thought the connection was pretty obvious but as we do with every visa application we provided a very helpful, carefully crafted legal argument explaining the connection, so whatever desk it landed on, we had in effect, done the Immigration Officer’s thinking for them. We explained why the application and evidence met the rules.
None of us could have predicted what happened.
Until Christmas 2018, 95% of our work visa applications were receipted, processed and approved within 4-5 weeks, many in half that time. As I have written about previously the Department has descended into processing chaos this year and for many work visa applicants, processing times have blown out to four months or more (thankfully, not many of our cases).
One of the legion of new and inexperienced officers upon whose desk this application landed could not see, and could not be persuaded to see, the connection between policing (protecting the public and property) and security work (protecting property) and declined the application after four months… with gentle prodding from us during that time.
We remained patient, nudging and pushing in an assertive but not aggressive way during that time. The officials kept delaying, trying to ignore us and in the end, incorrectly declined the application.
Things got really interesting last week when we sought a reconsideration given the decision was patently wrong. We received what can best be described as a ‘f*** you’ response - by far the most aggressive and inappropriate email from an Immigration Manager I had seen in 30 years. To my staffer, in charge of the case who is by any definition a mild mannered and very polite Solicitor/Adviser, it was a frightening piece of correspondence. When my senior colleague, Paul, challenged the author, he received a reply that threatened him (and the consultant leading the application) with a complaint to our industry regulator, the Immigration Advisers Authority, if in effect, we didn’t back off and take the garbage ‘service’ INZ was dishing up.
Red rag to this bull I can tell you! I can deal with Government incompetence (it keeps me in business) but I am damned if I am going to have my staff threatened for doing their job.
Most immigration advisers would have backed off and backed down in the face of such aggression. I cannot overstate the inappropriate tone and content of the correspondence by the Manager who was, it seemed to us, defending the indefensible processing delays and the error INZ made in this case.
His mistake was not knowing us. IMMagine is no ordinary immigration consultancy.
My colleague Paul took on the Manager in a polite, professional but forceful way. For us to be told when INZ had got this wrong that the client could get in the queue with all the other reconsiderations (I suspect they are piling up because there are so many incorrect decisions) for another 4-5 weeks till INZ got round to making a decision, was unacceptable to us. We had not got this application wrong, it was the Department that got it wrong. We just needed an officer who understands the rules to look at it. This manager didn’t give a damn about getting it right - I suspect because he too doesn’t know visa criteria - so decided to threaten us instead.
I got involved and went even higher than Paul had - in fact, all the way to the very top of the Department and to the Deputy Secretary himself.
Within 24 hours the work visa was approved and issued, no questions asked.
There has been a (very open, frank, professional and polite) discussion with this particular Manager’s line boss who has unreservedly apologised.
We have also received a written apology from the top of the immigration tree in Wellington. Senior managers have confirmed the attack levelled at my company and my colleagues by their Manager was, to put it mildly, inappropriate.
In sharing this I am not gloating. I cannot tell you how emotionally draining and time consuming this sort of thing is. We expect disagreements with immigration staff, it’s the nature of poorly drafted and vague rules.
None of us want conflict with these officials however. We defend (and advocate for) the little foreign guys - the little guys that New Zealand employers need to help fill jobs that we cannot fill locally. The little foreign guys that help our economic wheels keep turning in the face of ever stronger global economic headwinds. The little foreign guys that are treated like some sort of enemy by a paranoid, dysfunctional and at times a dismissive bureaucracy.
As I have been writing about for months INZ has descended into a state of utter processing chaos and has continued to blame applicants, employers, Advisers and lawyers, the labour market, increasing visa application numbers (because there are so many jobs we cannot fill locally) and they have done everything but look in the mirror for solutions. The deeply concerning thing for me is that some have now started to crack under that pressure and have started lashing out as the professional Consultants like us who call them to account.
The Manager learned we will not be cowed by threats. His bosses already knew that.
Our client got their work visa. No matter how long it takes, they always do.
What was different this time was the naked aggression and threats levelled at a customer (us) which reflects I believe a Department coming apart at the seams.
I even discussed the situation with the IAA Registrar himself who at my request reviewed our correspondence with the Department over the past week and confirmed in his view we had acted professionally and appropriately.
I suspect it might be something of a watershed moment.
It sounds immodest, and I do not wish it to be because my team is a bunch of highly professional and knowledgeable, but quiet achievers, but when an application is filed accompanied by a legal argument from IMMagine Australia and New Zealand, I demand the respect our reputation and history deserves. Those immigration officers and their managers that have been around our work for a long time, know it is high quality, the people we represent are top quality and honest, we do not file frivolous applications and in the end the visas are always granted because we know our stuff. Pure and simple.
Our weapons are not slingshots but expert knowledge and while Goliath was felled this week, it saddens (and tires) me that a work visa application took four months, an incorrect decline decision, a threatening series of emails from an inexperienced and arrogant Manager and the intervention of the Deputy Secretary of the Department to secure it. Something that could have taken 30 minutes descended into threat and farce.
Our clients seldom appreciate what goes on behind the scenes to secure what look like ‘straight forward’ work and other visas. And we don’t scream these stories from the rooftops because this is our job and we are well rewarded (financially and emotionally) but this one needs the light of publicity shone upon it as a warning to applicants and immigration officials alike - INZ doesn’t limit this sort of behaviour to us and someone has to make them accountable - migrants and we are ‘customers’, after all. Threatening and bullying your customers isn’t the best way of doing business.
Thank goodness it’s Friday!
Until next week
Posted by Iain on Jan. 25, 2019, 3:04 p.m. in Work Visa
This week I’ve been part of a group of Advisers pulling together a submission to take to government on the proposed changes to work visa policy.
I am never quite sure whether it is worthwhile making submissions to an ideologically driven government that has certain ideas in its political head not supported by any real evidence but I've decided to chip in anyway given the importance of this issue.
What is really disturbing about the proposals is they seem to be predicated on the misguided belief that there is rampant exploitation of migrants in the labour market and therefore employers look likely to be forced to apply for accreditation with the government before any work visas can be filed. In essence, prove you are a good employer. Accreditation effectively means the government trusts that employer to do what is right by New Zealand, New Zealanders and any migrants they might be allowed to employ. On paper it's not a bad idea but in 30 years of dealing with immigration matters a good idea given to a bunch of bureaucrats to operationalise normally ends in tears.
I would make two very strong points to government.
Show us the evidence that migrant exploitation in the local labour market is so rampant it requires an overhaul of rules that seem to have served New Zealand's interests without leading to exploitation of migrants pretty well for 30 years. Show us the evidence!
I am not suggesting there aren't isolated issues but my advice to the government would be to focus on those industries including hospitality, farming, tourism and aged care. Do not make it harder for the vast majority of employers to fill vacancies in a labour market where we are creating thousands of jobs a month more than we can fill locally.
One of my suggestions as part of the submission process is that the government knows full well which industries and what sorts of businesses see isolated issues with ripping off of migrants. Surely, rather than taking the sledgehammer to the walnut and imposing an onerous process on the 95% of employers who act with honour and integrity, government should come down hard on, or perhaps create a separate work visa process for those industries where some credible independent evidence of exploitation might be proven.
The reality is any employer looking to support a work visa application today is required to present a lot of information about their workplace practices, employment history, financial viability and sustainability. Compliance checks I would argue are already rigorous enough to act as a disincentive to those employers who might be inclined to either rip off the system or a migrant.
Although it is lost on governments of our current persuasion, adding a disincentive to the significant majority of good employers who appreciate that the only real asset any of them have is their staff, is insane and an absolute overreaction.
The second point is that the immigration department is great on overpromising and under delivering. No doubt they will sweet talk the government on their ability to process all of this in a timely manner which will keep employers happy, protect vulnerable migrants and deliver on the government’s misplaced obsession about protecting migrants from exploitation. B-S they will.
Most branches of Immigration New Zealand today are quoting eight weeks before a work visa is even allocated for processing and another 6 to 8 weeks to process the actual visa. Before any of IMMagine's clients freak out the overwhelming majority are processed far more quickly than that because we know which phone numbers to call.
There is no way if these processing times become entrenched, or added to, because employers will have to file separate accreditation applications before a work Visa can be filed, that employers are going to employ migrants in the numbers they are today.
New Zealand's unemployment rate today is 3.8%. One of the discussion points that came out of this week’s meeting of Advisers, is that of the 110,000 odd people who are seeking work (apparently) the majority are basically unemployable. Interestingly this is not just because they lack the skills to fill the jobs being created but primarily because of mental health or substance abuse issues.
What is clear is that skilled unemployment in New Zealand is effectively zero if not negative. We are still 40,000 construction industry workers short if you can believe the government. We are still several thousand Teachers short.
Why does the government want to make it harder for Schools to employ teachers or small construction companies to employ carpenters, plumbers and electricians?
The proposals start to look a lot like what Australia does which has led to a very rapid decrease in the number of employers being willing to play the work visa game and which impacts directly on the economic growth and future prosperity of Australia. Like New Zealand, Australia has a low unemployment rate and this was trending down even when work visas were trending up. There is almost no link between the two. We should not make the same mistake.
In the discussion paper the Minister, without quoting or providing any evidence to back it up is of the belief that there is "some evidence" that migrants displace local workers. It is worth noting the same discussion paper also quoted international studies which state the exact opposite but why let a few facts get in the way of ideology?
Again, to the Minister if he might be reading this, show us the evidence. I have never in 30 years of practicing as an immigration adviser come across a single employer who does not want to employ a New Zealander first. There is also no evidence I am aware of, given our rigorous and wide ranging legal and other protections, that migrants are pushing down local salaries or incomes.
The current Government cabinet is full of Ministers who are either ex union officials or people who have never run their own business. They are well-intentioned people who do not understand the realities of making sure that there is one dollar more in the bank account at the end of the week than there was the beginning. They seem to be people who believe that all employers see their staff as chattels to be used and abused without understanding that without those workers the boss doesn't have a business.
I know I am going to receive a flood of emails now from current and potential clients asking me if New Zealand is closing the door to skilled workers. To them I would like to say no, that is not the intention, however as they say the road to hell is paved with good intentions.
The immigration system is full of moving parts. Every time you tinker with or change wholesale one part of immigration policy it affects some other part of the system in a way most of the bureaucrats and politicians simply don't understand or cannot predict. Typically, in this discussion paper, there is no acknowledgement of that. Further illustration to me, if any was required of an obvious lack of understanding, on the predictable impacts these proposals will almost certainly have on the skilled migrant category if they go through. If we now create further disincentives for employers to employ migrant workers then the government will continue to undershoot its skilled migrant residency targets which are already 30% below what the government claims they want.
The government is already, rightly, coming under severe political and polling pressure for promising to build 100,000 "affordable" houses in its first 10 years in office. Anyone with three brain cells knew it was either a lie or they were on drugs when they came up with the policy. They said they would build 1000 in the first year. So far they haven't delivered a third of that. Although there are a number of reasons why it's not possible, one of the most significant is that employers simply cannot find enough skilled workers locally to fill these roles. They rely on migrants. If the government is going to make it harder by creating disincentives to those employers to recruit and employ migrants there'll be even less houses built than the government promised. And they might just end up with one term and power.
The fact that we need skilled migrants and we let employers effectively determine who gets in by making the migrant find skilled work, making the process more complex, onerous and time-consuming for the employer when the overwhelming majority of them demonstrably value all their staff equally, whether migrant or local, seems to be lost on these politicians and shows how out of touch they really are.
Until Next Week
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