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Actions speak louder than words

Posted by Iain on July 23, 2021, 2:01 p.m. in New Zealand Politics

There’s an old saying that actions speak louder than words.

A few weeks ago the New Zealand Government announced with it must be said, muted fanfare, that the days of high levels of inward migration were over. Employers needed to get used to less access to global labour and start finding New Zealanders to fill the thousands of vacancies being advertised every week. That is, whether or not those New Zealanders wish to be found. Or work. Employers would need to train and up skill those that are here and not rely on foreigners. 

Migrant groups, those already in New Zealand and people looking to move here felt marginalised and picked on. New Zealand is increasingly being viewed as less welcoming to migrants in the markets we at IMMagine work in. While we reassure the world that much of this is simply political posturing that comes with the risk we are seen to be telling people what they want to hear and not what they need to know - something we have built our reputation on over thirty years. 

So what actions has the government taken since it announced this so called immigration 'reset'? 

A closer examination reveals something quite different to the rhetoric.

Vague in detail at the time beyond suggesting a new ‘direction of travel’ which would see fewer work visas being made available to those at the lower skills end of the spectrum the Government has taken two concrete steps since then which completely contradicts what was announced in that speech. 

Within two weeks the Government announced a blanket extension to all those in the country who hold Holiday Working Visas and Seasonal Work Visas (filling temporary and casual horticulture and agricultural roles for the most part). The sort of occupations where workers are often lower skilled and are paid at the lower end of the spectrum. Strike one. 

Last week the Government announced that essential skill work visas for those earning under the median wage will be allowed to remain in the country for two years from the current one. A doubling in the amount of time the very people the ‘reset’ speech announced we do not want any longer can remain in the country. Strike two.

Reinforcing the ‘don’t mistake politicking for reality’ message last week the Deputy Prime Minister said that the government was not talking about ‘turning immigration on its head’. Strike three.

In a classic judge-me-on-what-I-do-and-not-what-I-say these three announcements reflect a very different economic reality to the trending political narrative and migrant markets should sit up and take note. The reality is our politicians are, when it comes to immigration at least, full of hot air. 

It is a case of labour market reality smacking them in the vote chasing face. The reality is our economy is strong and expected to grow by 5.5% this year and 3.8% next, our GDP is higher than it was before we had heard of Covid, unemployment is 4.6% (and expected to continue falling) effectively meaning we cannot go much lower (given there’s a percentage of the population incapable or unwilling of working). Inflation over the past year has increased to 3.3%, the Reserve Bank has stopped its bond buying programme and has signalled interest rates will shortly have to start rising. Already some of the high street banks are moving to increase their deposit and lending rates. 

As the border restrictions continue to starve the local economy of valuable skills and labour that we simply do not have locally the Government has no choice but to encourage those it said a few weeks ago it didn’t want to stay here, to please please please stay longer! 

The reality is simple. The political hot air is not anti-migrant per se, it is about infrastructure pressure and house prices, but the government has painted itself into something of a corner. Nothing more and nothing less. We have never as a country produced all the skills we need and that in part is because who can ever know for sure what an economy will need in five, ten or twenty years time? In the meantime we equally subsidise those wishing to study sports science, marketing and law as much as we subsidise IT and Engineering despite not being short of the first group but being desperate for the second. Perhaps as a sign of the real future the Government has chucked $340 million at ‘free’ apprenticeship training but therein lies the rub. 

It takes four years to train a welder, a carpenter, an electrician. It takes 4-5 years to train an engineer, nurse or teacher. Six years a Dentist or Doctor so even if the Government was serious about some vague new ‘direction of travel’ and even if we see some sort of ‘reset’ with some actual detail (don’t hold your breath), it will take years before we can rejig our education system to encourage young people to make different career choices. There seems little appetite for increasing incentives on the young and unemployed to up skill and train (if they are capable of it). 

And can we force someone who wants to study sports science or marketing to become a Civil Engineer, Teacher or Software Developer anyway? 

At the same time with their international border largely closed in Australia to all but a relatively small number of permanent residence holding migrants, many recruiters there are now in New Zealand actively poaching staff (and vice versa) . I heard of a story a couple of weeks ago where a young software developer in New Zealand earning $85,000 had apparently been offered $200,000 to move to Australia. The New Zealand employer matched it. Good for the developer, not so good for the consumer of whatever it is that company produces. 

This week one of my own clients who had accepted (against my advice) a job two years ago paying $60,000 has just been offered $107,000 and is being interviewed for another role which will pay even more. He cannot believe how many companies want to interview him and what they are willing to pay.

So, our Government can starve employers of the low, medium and highly skilled as it is doing now through not processing offshore based visa applicants but that doesn’t help employers fill vacancies as the more highly skilled locals play musical chairs for more money. 

Once international travel resumes and our population is largely vaccinated (by the end of the year apparently) we are going to be vulnerable to our own skilled workforce heading overseas again for adventure, global experience, opportunity or more money. We simply have to replace them and that is where our Government’s words will not be matched with its action - because it cannot afford to. 

That inflation is now the highest it has been since the GFC bounce back is in part being fuelled by salaries increasing. Australia represents a clear and present danger in terms of attracting people to move over there for more money. They too are desperate with a strong economy and low unemployment. 

We are in a global competition for skills and pay packets must reflect that as part of the solution to attracting and retaining talent. 

So next time you hear any Minister of Immigration or Economic Development or even the Prime Minister herself making noises about restricting immigration, cutting numbers and making life more difficult for migrants to get into or remain in New Zealand, judge them on what they do, not what they say.

Believe me it will be a different story.

Until next week


Crystal Ball Border Gazing

Posted by Iain on Jan. 15, 2021, 9:58 a.m. in Immigration

Happy new Year everyone.

Naturally our inboxes at IMMagine are full of the same question from clients as the new year starts - when do we think the Australian and New Zealand borders will re-open?

The short answer is your guess is as good as ours as the NZ Government in particular has been all but silent on any plan. Australia only slightly less so. But here is what might be termed a very good educated guess based on public statements by the political leadership.

The New Zealand Government has made clear that it only plans to begin vaccinating border facing and front line health workers in March. The rest of us will have to wait till they start to roll out a national vaccination programme in July. The Australian administration has set the same timeline, I imagine for precisely the same reasons, but has recently advised they are pushing ahead with vaccinating front line health and border workers starting in February.

Why the delay when other countries are rushing to vaccinate?

The short answer is the Governments in our corner of the world have basically kept the virus at the border. Good management and a deal of good luck along being surrounded by a lot of water helps both countries in that regard. Australia has seen recent outbreaks but they seem to be doing a great job keeping them contained without risking lengthy national, state or city wide lockdowns (Brisbane for three days last week the exception but it seems to have worked).

Prime Ministers in both countries have said they want to watch and see what happens in the rest of the world for a while. Sit back and watch. Are the vaccines safe? Are they effective? Let’s not rush to inoculate our people until we know - that seems to be the plan.

Both Australia and NZ have more than enough doses on order (not sure if they are all in the countries yet) to roll out national vaccination programmes.

If both roll out programmes I imagine it’d take until the end of the year to get to that ‘magical’ 70% mark which we are told is the minimum expected to provide some sort of ‘herd immunity’.

On the other side of the ledger I cannot see either Government opening up their borders to general travel till those wishing to come can prove they are vaccinated and that the vaccination is effective and safe.

The two Governments can obviously control the rollout of their own programmes but they cannot control the roll out that might or might not happen overseas.

So two things need to happen in my view - we need to get a majority of Kiwis and Aussies vaccinated and people overseas need to get vaccinated (certifiably and verifiably which of course is yet another risk).

That suggests to me that the borders will remain closed to general travel for the most part or all of this year. Before you panic… I don’t know this - I am, like most of you, pulling together the public statements and whatever titbits of information I am reading about.

Both countries will continue to allow border exemptions for humanitarian cases and for some critical workers.

In the case of New Zealand we were effectively advised by a national manager in INZ right on Christmas that they had been granting humanitarian exemptions in error for much of 2020. After months of us, and others in the industry, challenging the bureaucracy on why two cases, so similar in circumstance saw one being approved and one being declined, INZ finally put it in writing - they should not have said yes to most of the humanitarian cases that they had. And that includes split families where, say, one partner is in NZ on a work visa but partner and/or children are stuck offshore. One thing is for certain this year - expect far fewer such humanitarian exemptions to be granted. Quite an admission but par for the course.

This will be shocking to many in this position as the NZ Government allows sheep shearers, film makers, fishermen (another bunch just arrived from Russia and at least 14 brought the virus with them), fruit pickers, sports teams and individuals, musicians (NZ had its annual raft of multi day musical festivals across the country full of international acts over the festive season) into the country.

It makes no sense not to reunite what is in effect a small number of families and is especially cruel on those split families with children and even more difficult to understand when INZ has resident visa applications in process for many of them but refuses to prioritise them (which would provide an elegant solution to the clamp down on granting humanitarian exemptions to reunite these families as those with resident visas can come to NZ without an exemption).

I do believe that the number of critical worker visas that will be granted border exemptions will increase in NZ at least. Job adverts on seek.co.nz, NZ’s largest online job site, showed job vacancies surge 19% in December and get this - it means there are more jobs being advertised in NZ today than there was before the pandemic reached these shores! This reinforces another statistic released just before Christmas - in those businesses employing 20 people or less, the number of people employed was actually 1.3% higher than pre-pandemic.

Therein lies the Government’s dilemma. The economy has not just rebounded from the lockdowns of last year, it has grown. Skills shortages for the most part have not gone away. Unemployment at 5.3% has probably peaked (the biggest losers were young and the low skilled, so not those the Government wants to be part of the residence programme).

Pressure will mount for the list of critical workers to grow. After much lobbying and pressure from people like us, Vets were added to the list of critical workers (but what a s*** show getting that across the line) just before Christmas.

In Australia, personal savings rates are up over 11% on this time last year. The printing of billions of dollars and its dispersal has meant that demand there is pent up. I cannot believe how much money the Australian Government is giving away. They continue to send us money as well which we are very grateful for but here in NZ we’ve been standing on our own two feet since September last year. 

The elephant in the room of course is balancing the pressure to increase numbers crossing our respective borders with the increased risk of the new South African and UK variants, both, as you’ll be aware, far more transmissible than the original varieties.

This has led to the Australian Government halving the number of people they are allowing to go to or return to Australia. They announced last week all travellers will have to have a negative test before boarding flights to Australia.

The NZ Government has also announced all travellers will also now need to test negative before boarding flights - including Kiwis.

A number of prominent local epidemiologists have spoken out strongly that the NZ Government is not going far enough. They are encouraging the Government to ban all flights that originate in places where this virus is out of control - UK, US, India, South Africa - to name four. That would be a big step but our border is currently under assault as is Australia’s. I would be surprised if the Australian PM isn’t wrestling with the same question.

Anecdotally, including in my own personal circles, plenty of New Zealanders are now saying that if as a Kiwi you didn’t take the opportunity of getting home last year, don’t whine now that you might not be able to now. That’s a little harsh perhaps as they seem to forget some perhaps couldn’t come home for all sorts of reasons. It would be a big step for the Government to effectively ban thousands of Kiwis that might want to return home but there’s some merit in the argument - many had their chance but chose to stay put - especially in the UK and the US where you’d hardly be able to argue Governments there have covered themselves in pandemic glory.

I wouldn’t bet the farm on flights being banned from certain countries because I am not sure either how effective it would be. You can’t fly direct to NZ from the UK (you can fly London to Perth) and most international travellers coming here have to have at least one stop over. That stop over complicates everything. You might pick the virus up at an airport en route.

I’m also not sure how the Government here could stop someone who lives in the UK, catching the Eurostar to Paris, boarding an Emirates flight to Dubai and then flying non stop to NZ. I am sure this is the reason why banning flights would be a last resort. Any of you sitting in South Africa quietly freaking out at that prospect you too cannot fly here directly and every flight involves at least one stop - so that would be a last gasp effort in my view by Government.

As more and more epidemiologists around the world are lamenting, many Governments particularly in the US and the UK are treating this virus as a short term problem and no one seems to be doing much planning for the next few years. When you add to that countries won’t be able to afford to vaccinate everyone (South Africa is one such country) it begs the question - what does 2021, 2022 and beyond look like? You could add the NZ and Australian Governments to that list - particularly the Aussies where the political leadership is all talk about recovery and good times ahead. It might take longer than they are publicly willing to admit and I’m not sure anyone really has a longer term plan.

My final thought is that all of this is going to increase the pressure on the Government here to throw caution to the wind, if indeed that’s what these vaccines represent, and start the roll out, at the very least to those MIQ, border and front line health workers sooner rather than later. Maybe they are worried some will refuse to take it and they’ll no doubt be having talkfests ‘around’ personal and human rights. Whatever the safety and efficacy risks are, the vaccines perhaps represent the lesser of a number of evils.

Hold onto your hats!

Until next week

 

Iain MacLeod

Southern Man

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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

No SMC pool draw for six months

Posted by Iain on Oct. 19, 2020, 10:35 a.m. in Skilled Migrant Category

 

The NZ government (in waiting) announced this morning that they will not be resuming skilled migrant ‘pool draws’ for another six months. They haven't done any since March this year anyway so this is hardly ‘news’, more a clarification of an existing position.

It has many people aflutter as usual but I don’t feel the fear.

I have written about why they stopped pool selections previously and to me the agenda was always clear – they got themselves into a right processing pickle with many skilled migrant resident visa applications sitting unallocated and unprocessed for up to 24 months because there was no ability of the Government to agree on the numbers in their residence program. In fact there hasn’t been a residence programme since the last one finished in December 2019. The numbers of resident visas available has never been made official so INZ was flying blind for much of 2019 given they had already filled the years ‘quota’. Naturally the immigration department stopped approving visas (or at best were on a go slow in terms of allocation) last year and the backlog grew larger and larger. A number of months ago they clearly got a nod and a wink from the political parties in the government to resume processing and approving residence as if there was a residence program with the same numbers of visa places available as in previous years.

INZ then was presented with a de facto residence programme but by the time they started to gear up on processing, the backlog had grown exponentially.

After Saturday’s landslide win by the Labour Party, the ‘handbrake’ that was the NZ First Party that sat around the cabinet table with the Labour party has been released. If you haven’t heard New Zealand First is gone from the Parliament and the Labour Party is the first political party since 1996 to be able to govern alone without any coalition partners or side agreements with minor parties.

This announcement does not mean they are closing down migration because traditionally the Labour Party has always been very pro-immigration given its traditional voting base. Turkeys don't vote for an early Christmas so I think we will return to the days where we had sensible policy and residence programmes allowing INZ to stay on top of numbers.

Not that INZ is faultless in the debacle that has been the past 18 months. In order to deal with the skilled migrant case backlog and under the smoke screen of Covid back in March INZ stopped doing pool selections. They said at the time it's because they had no ability to work remotely but that was clearly untrue because as soon as they went back to work pool draws did not resume.

We have been waiting for this announcement since March.

I said back in March when pool draws stopped that INZ was buying time to start dealing with that backlog. It was becoming embarrassing on so many levels, with unintended consequences and creating a whole lot of uncertainty for anyone trying to plan their move here. In fact, it was confirmed unofficially to me by a very senior manager a few months ago that the truth was INZ wanted to get rid of the resident visa backlog. They are currently around 18 months from receipt date to allocation of these resident visa applications which means they are starting to get ahead of where they have been over the past 12 months.

So what does the future hold?  When they start resuming the pool draws what will happen to the pass mark?

Government will have a number of options and in some ways we might be about to go back to the future:

1.      Simply increase the pass mark to be selected from the ‘pool’. That will instantly lower the number of applications flowing into the system but the problem with that is the more points people need, the more points they tend to get. When for example the pass mark went up to 160 many clients dealt with the signal by getting a job outside of Auckland (30 additional points) and continued to qualify. And the more points people need the less control Government has over the skills mix – for example a 26-year-old genius software developer with a job offer in New Zealand or the 27 year old teacher we are desperate to find might only ever be able to get 160 points. Putting the pass mark up to 180 and cutting them but allowing entry to a 36 year Master of Arts carrying Marketing Manager might not be the best outcome for NZ. Increasing the pass mark will certainly slow down the flow of applications into the system but will create other serious problems so I don't believe a higher pass mark is the solution. I don't believe it will solve any of the problems.

2.      Return to the days of multiple pass marks and prioritise selection based on whatever has the most positive impact. We could therefore see multiple different pass marks once again. It worked before and was relatively transparent. For example, if you work in an occupation that is on the long-term skills shortage list the pass mark might be 160 points. You might make it 190 points for people who do not work in an occupation on a skills shortage list. If you want people to go outside of Auckland you might make the pass mark 160 but make it 190 for someone with a job in Auckland. If your priority is high income earners give them a lower points threshold or give points based on salary bands.

3.      We could adopt the Australian model whereby you keep the pass mark at, say, 160 points for everybody but it is a first in, first out situation. Given there is a finite number of resident visas that can be approved and issued in any given year, what the Australians do is they say if you are a Civil Engineer and you filed your EOI in July last year and you have the same "points" as a Civil Engineer who filed in January this year, you will be selected first.  I am not suggesting we go to annual quotas by occupation - it could simply be a pass mark of 160 and first in first out. It’s clean but again it means you might miss out on particular skills sets because the applicant has to wait for so long to get that shot at residence and they want certainty so take their skills off to Canada instead. 

There is always positives and negatives in any system.

The market always reads the sort of signal sent this morning as negative. I don't feel that way at all.

Clearly the skilled migrant system needs tweaking (and a points based system is a very blunt tool to begin with but given the intellectual capacity of your average civil servant the system is almost designed for them to not have to think terribly hard) but the backlogs in recent times was largely caused by the New Zealand First political party that wanted, and therefore could cause, significant disruption to the migration program.

Now that they are gone, that handbrake has been released.

The Labour Party has also said in their manifesto that one of their priorities is to review the settings of the Parent Category. This will be welcome news to many when the child(ren) they have living in New Zealand who currently don't earn enough to sponsor their parent(s). The only way the Labour Party could get any parent category policy past the New Zealand First coalition partner in the last Government was to limit the numbers annually to 1000 visas and also to impose household income levels that would put the sponsors in the top 20 to 30% of earners in the country or they couldn’t sponsor their parent(s). That excluded many people that would traditionally vote for the Labour Party and given many who traditionally vote Labour are immigrants themselves, I think you can expect to see some movement over the next few months in terms of parent category settings. An easing, not a tightening.

The next three years are going to be very interesting with the government able to govern without worrying about what any coalition partner might think. Given the Labour Party has moved to the right and are very much a centrist party, conservative with a small ‘c’ (but continuing to tell us they are progressives) these days they will want to keep as many of those who would traditionally be centre-right voters.

My prediction is they will return to their pro-immigration roots.

That doesn't mean an open door but equally nor should the confirmation that the pool draws will not resume for another six months be seen as New Zealand shutting the door. Think of it as a bit of house work.

Until next week

Iain MacLeod

Southern Man

Tags: government | eoi | Eligibility

A Good News Bad News Story

Posted by Iain on Oct. 16, 2020, 2:51 p.m. in COVID-19

 

I am not sure if this is the good news or bad news story.

It looks like the government is finally starting to open up the border, inconsistently and somewhat illogically, step by step. Over the last two weeks they have announced that: 

1.       International students - 250 PhD students who were expected to study in New Zealand this year will now all be granted border exemptions to come and complete/start their study, depending on the courses they undertake and if they have support from their education institution in NZ

2.       Those who are offshore holding a work visa will, if they were previously in NZ before the lockdowns took effect, be able to apply to enter NZ with their family. No exemption to crossing the border required.

While that is good news, especially the second point, I am left scratching my head over why those people who hold jobs whilst currently overseas see their family getting priority over reuniting the hundreds of families stuck overseas when one partner is already in New Zealand working. Every week hundreds of border exemption applications, some filed by us, are being declined, for such split families.

While some of IMMagine’s applications are being approved for these exemptions, others have been declined and there is simply no consistency nor rhyme nor reason as to who gets the approval and who gets the decline. It appears to be a complete lottery.

Our team is spending inordinate amounts of time and energy trying to get straight answers out of INZ about those that have and those that haven’t been granted border exemptions to reunify these split families.

What is so frustrating is INZ has always tried to explain away their historically inconsistent decision making by hiding behind the ‘each case on its merits’ line. It’s garbage of course. That is nothing more than a cop out as two cases which are by and large the same should expect the same outcome. But so often that is anything but the case.

Never has this inconsistency been more apparent since we were told by a senior Manager a couple of weeks ago that where one partner was in NZ on a temporary visa and a partner and/or children were stuck on the other side of the border, they intended taking a more humanitarian approach, were dong a ‘wider piece of work’ (if I hear that phrase one more time I’ll scream) and were going to have a team meeting to ‘calibrate’ (seriously that’s this week’s INZ’s favourite and utterly meaningless term).  They were probably going to talk ‘around’ the issues' in the exemption ‘space’.

It transpires that meeting never took place.

Given concerns INZ managers have about the (intellectual) capacity of their own ‘counter level’ staff tasked with making these important decisions a directive was however given to them to escalate requests meeting the bullet point criteria below to a ‘senior experienced immigration officer’ (suggesting there are senior inexperienced officers? God help us) so someone who has been around a bit longer can cast their more ‘experienced’ eye over the 3000 characters which is all you get to state your case.

Six applications later which are all by and large the same, including: 

    One partner in NZ on a work Visa

    Other Partner stuck in the ‘home’ country

    One or more young children stuck in the home country with partner

    Child(ren) not seeing the NZ based parent for at least six months….

 …two were approved, four were declined.

If two were approved isn’t that the benchmark for the others to meet and if they do surely they too must be approved?

Apparently not.

These aren’t complex cases like residence visas. These are on the face of it simple cases with four criteria common to all applications and no differences beyond the names and dates of birth of the applicants. Hardly rocket science. Complex assessments do not need to be made. The only thing that differed in those six cases was the officer making the decision.

When we got copies of the files under the Official Information Act, bearing in mind it is a legal requirement for these decisions and the rationale that goes into them to be recorded, we learned….nothing. None the wiser why some were approved and some were declined.

Who assessed it determined what the outcome was. Pure and simple.

INZ cannot reasonably argue ‘each case on its merits’ was the reason for some being approved and some being declined when in substance they were all virtually identical.

The conclusion is these applications are nothing but a lottery.

This is the best example of the perils of dealing with INZ. They have for years hidden behind the ‘each case on its merits’ mantra rather than face the truth and do something about it. It’s nothing but a smokescreen for their inability to make consistent decisions.

What kind of system is it when who processes your visa is likely the strongest determining factor as to its outcome?

As we have pointed out before INZ has admitted its biggest ‘challenge’ (I’d say handicap) right now, more than ever, is they have so many officers that are still wet behind the ears and have no idea what they are doing.

This is simply not good enough. These decisions impact people lives. The emotional trauma being wrought upon families is, for those of us not trapped in this visa ‘no mans land’, difficult to comprehend. It seems some INZ Managers ‘get it’ but they are powerless it seems to get it through the skulls of the decision makers on the ‘counter’. The only alternative is they don’t care and I cannot believe that.

At some point someone is going to do something desperate born of the despair, frustration and hopelessness they are feeling given their family has been split for months with seemingly no end in sight - not for a few days, not even a few weeks, but for many it has now been over 8 months. Covid is often spoken of as a physical health emergency but to me it is increasingly becoming a mental health emergency and for no one more so than those migrants that the Government has encouraged to come here to be part of its residence programme, people who have brought us their skills, their energy and their commitment to building new lives in New Zealand, for whom ‘going home’ is not an option and who, to a child deserves so much more than this lottery.

We have two clients right now in New Zealand on work visas both of whom are thinking of throwing in the towel because they haven't seen partners and children now since Christmas. How do you make them understand that when another complete family is sitting overseas with one partner who gets a job in New Zealand now going to leapfrog them in the visa process? Are their needs subservient to the family that has never set foot in NZ?

If their employer gave them leave and they flew back to South Africa, we filed new work visas because they no longer need border exemptions, we must assume that they are going to be granted. It’s insane.

On the one hand it's great news that the border restrictions are starting to ease but it's so depressing that the Department seems incapable of prioritising those that can enter in a sensible and consistent way.

Until next week

 

 

Iain MacLeod

Southern Man

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Reading between the lines

Posted by Iain on Sept. 11, 2020, 11:51 a.m. in Immigration New Zealand

Last Friday something very strange happened. 

At the same time as the Government released a press statement about an immigration matter, two lobby groups, unrelated to one another, released press statements applauding the Government for announcing an expansion of the occupations that would be granted border exemptions.

Except that’s not what the Government announced.

It had announced that those with Visitor Visas expiring shortly would automatically be granted five month extensions without fee or application form. The Government claimed no knowledge of any such plans on easing border restrictions for a wider group of occupations other than those ‘critical for the Covid-19 response’ however.

The press releases from Federated Farmers and a school Principals Association were hastily retracted. Embarrassment all round one expects but I’d have liked to have been a fly on the wall in the offices of those two lobby groups because they were clearly expecting an announcement that aligned with their press statements.

What was insightful was these unrelated entities, both lobbying hard for a more sensible approach to allowing managed entry to those whose skills New Zealand desperately needs, particularly Farm Managers and Teachers, were expecting their lobbying prayers to be answered. I suspect the Government denying knowledge of these groups understanding is simply spin, if not a downright lie, when someone higher up the political food chain put a stop to it.  I have little doubt these groups, which have strong Government connections and access, had been told the Government was going to announce something quite different to what they actually did.

With community transmission in Auckland ongoing but seemingly well under control, any news the Government might be thinking of increasing levels of migration, however minor, a few weeks out from this ‘Covid election’ was possibly considered electorally ‘unhelpful’. So it wasn’t announced. I’d wager at the very last minute.

In the meantime, few border exemptions continue to be approved and despite rising unemployment, skills shortages continue to hamper the economic recovery with many sectors outside of farming and education crying out. Letting in those people with specialist or technical skills must surely be considered important by Government. Economic confidence is fragile across New Zealand as it is across many countries right now. While we haven’t (yet) been hit as hard by the coronavirus as many economies we have been hit hard. Denying scarce skills to employers is simply going to further undermine confidence. The pressure has been growing for weeks for the Government to get its border act and exemption policies sorted - we cannot remain closed to the world forever,

I have never understood why Governments fear putting forward the argument that there’s a distinction between allowing entry to those with specialist or technical skills we don’t have enough of and protecting local jobs. These objectives are not in conflict. Right now we certainly don’t need more retail managers but we do need more school teachers. We don’t need more marketing assistants but we do need Farm Managers. We don’t need more middle level managers but we do need, Plumbers, Veterinarians and Engineers.

And New Zealanders should be able to be reunited with their partners stuck offshore when the border abruptly closed back in March to all but a few.

Immigration and more latterly border policy needs to get smart. It isn’t rocket science to establish what the areas of critical skill shortages are but it has always been done piecemeal. The Long Term Skills Shortage List isn’t fit for purpose and never has been an accurate reflection of the extensive skills shortages that have existed here for decades. The public service seems ill equipped or unable to provide the data on what we really are short of (despite issuing tens of thousands of work visas every year that are labour market tested). Coupled with that I suspect is little interest at a political level. Lord only knows why given we keep hearing about a ‘whole of Government’ approach to the crisis brought about by this virus. Skills and labour shortages should play a greater role in border decision making in my view.

Highly skilled migrants only get work visas once the immigration department is satisfied no local should be able to fill the vacancy or be trained to fill it. If the politicians believe the public servants are good at implementing this policy, what is their electoral fear? Is admitting we can’t always precisely predict what our future skills needs might be and tweaking local education and training to ensure we produce enough of our own an admission of failure? I would hope not. The world changes quickly and so too labour markets and skills needs.

Having been waiting for many weeks for the Government to announce an expanded list of occupations that will be eligible for border exemptions reflecting the reality that we still have shortages - like 1500 teacher and 1000 Farm Manager vacancies - it seems last Fridays mis-step was indeed a portend of things to come. Late this week this week an extremely limited number of exemptions for longer term work visa holders who have filed resident visa applications who are stuck offshore will be allowed entry. The criteria to get one of these is so strict I doubt they’ll approve the 850 people they think might be eligible.

In addition partners and dependent children of New Zealanders stuck on the wrong side of the border along with those people granted resident visas but who haven’t been able to activate them will from early October be able to obtain exemptions to enter the country. Twelve month ‘extensions’ are being granted to those with certain visas stuck offshore owing to the pandemic.

Further easing on what defines ‘other critical workers’ who may be eligible for a border exemption have also been announced today.

Sometimes in this game it is about understanding subtle signalling. Reading between the lines proved accurate and last week’s non announcement suggested some announcement on the larger issues highlighted here was never going to be far away. Now we have had the release it is clearly a case of better let than never and it will be relief in particular to the many Kiwis who have not seen partners or children for many months and for a few exasperated employers increasing access to scarce skills.

Things are definitely starting to move in the right direction after months of uncertainty and chaos.

Until next week

 

Iain MacLeod

Southern Man

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David Versus Goliath

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


Who Controls the Past Controls the Future

Posted by Iain on June 8, 2018, 2:32 p.m. in Immigration

"Who controls the past controls the future. Who controls the present controls the past."

So says the Party in George Orwell’s epic novel, 1984.

I do love my day job, I really do. Not dealing with the Government, but helping clients deal with a Government Department where up is down and down is up and no two officers seem capable of implementing the same definitions consistently. A system where it feels the bureaucrats, at times, have what seems unbridled power, where the checks and balances of a competitive market do not apply, their timid and weak leadership is unwilling or unable to pull their troops into line and they employ some of the best spin to deflect their idiocy, inconsistency and weak management.

They can, and do, run roughshod over applicants (or as they call you all, ‘customers’ or the more sickening, ‘stakeholders’) and their own rulebook. I always wonder how someone can be a customer when you can’t get a visa anywhere else and the government operates a monopoly. I’d call you prisoners because you can’t go down the road to buy the service from someone who offers it better. You are forced into dealing with whatever idiot the government says you must.

We are doing some work for a major telco right now that has been trying, without success, to fill a large number of technical customer support roles. 

Unemployment in New Zealand is officially 4.4%. That effectively means we have no skilled unemployed and even the unskilled are able to find jobs if they look. As an example, the government recently announced that tourists on visitor visas would be given permission to help pick this year’s kiwifruit harvest in the Bay of Plenty because there is no one to pick the fruit and the danger is that it’ll rot before it can be picked. It’s hardly skilled work; it just takes attitude and getting out of bed for six weeks. I suspect then that our real unemployment rate, if that is defined as those wishing to work but cannot find it, is actually almost zero. Those that wish to work, are working.

The real businesses of New Zealand continue to create thousands of jobs every month. The economy is humming. The biggest problems employers have today across the country is a lack of applicants.

Back to the Telco. No company we have tried to help has spent more time, money and energy in recruiting locally, training, upskilling and promoting New Zealanders wherever possible. As they say, why would it be otherwise? They are a Kiwi company with Kiwi customers, and what company in its right mind would ever get involved with work and resident visas if they could find locals to fill vacancies? Who wants to deal with the Immigration Department?

Well, the Immigration Department seems to believe, many.

The positions the company seeks to fill are demonstrably skilled requiring these Customer Support folk to understand and dispense advice on IT products and services to their customers. Although they work in a call centre environment the evidence we presented to the Immigration Department clearly matches the tasks for what INZ call an ICT Customer Support role. Appeals have been won against the Department for incorrectly declining resident visa applications when identical roles as this Telco is needing to fill were labelled as not being skilled. INZ has ignored those appeal decisions.

The department is currently trying their utmost to turn down a request the company has made to be allowed to top up their local work force with non-residents via work visa policy. Notwithstanding the company sat with several INZ officials in a friendly and relaxed meeting in which the company felt they finally got through to INZ why these positions were skilled (beware the smiling fox was my advice at the time), showed them what the staff do, explained the difference between, say, a call centre worker selling cellphone data packages and one that requires detailed knowledge and understanding of the complex IT systems and software that smartphones run, INZ continues to insist that these roles are not skilled for the purpose of work visas. They have put that in writing. This role, duplicated across scores of workers does not meet the definition of skilled employment for work visas, they say.

The funny (peculiar, not 'ha,ha') thing is the residence team of the same Government department continues to approve and issue resident visas to the employees of this same telco already on work visas, because the position is deemed by them to be...skilled!

For the uninitiated, the definition of what is skilled for the purposes of securing a work visa is the same for the purposes of securing a resident visa.

You might want to read those last few paragraphs again. Not skilled for a work visa but skilled for a resident visa – applying the same definition.

Talk about Alice in Wonderland!

So...on the one hand, work visas, and the company’s application to recruit more ICT Customer Support staff is being knocked back because the role is not ‘skilled’, yet where other staff doing an identical job are applying for residence, applying the same test of what is ‘skilled’ they are being granted residence. As recently as a week or so ago.

At the same time and somewhat chillingly, officers of the Department are in effect threatening the HR Department of this company to stop calling the role ‘ICT Customer Support’ when they file work visas. Our advice to the company is because it is required to ‘nominate’ the occupation off INZ’s skilled occupation list and it is unlawful to mislead an officer or the Department (as they love to remind their ‘customers’), the company must select that occupation that most closely matches the tasks these people are to do. The closest match is, without a shadow of a doubt, exactly what the company is calling them.

Without strong representation from the likes of us, willing to stand up against ‘Big Brother’, it would be easy (some might even say sensible) for the company to cave in. The problem with that is if they do what the ‘Party’ tells them to do, the department can then control the past (‘last time you filed this sort of application you said it was a call centre customer role’) and in so doing they can control any future applications by forcing the company to do what the Department wants them to do.

Very Orwellian, and I read the Departmental spokeperson on this particular issue (it has made the mainstream media) advise, one presumes with a striaght face, that 'visas are assessed objectively against a set of measures and criteria'. Yeah, right. Of course they are - so how can the work visas be declined for not being skilled but the resident visas approved? One of those two outcomes simply has to be wrong if the Department is as claimed 'objectively assessing' them.

The Immigration Department is an embarrassment. Worse than that they hinder and obstruct business, they manipulate and frighten applicants, they seek control and one unit of the Department says a job is not skilled so we cannot give you a work visa yet those clients that manage to get past that particular set of functionaries and secure their work visas through another pathway (as many of them are bizarrely) are in time being granted residence by a different unit whose staff say the same job is skilled.

Even though we have pointed out this obvious contradiction INZ management refuse to see it. They refuse to acknowledge it and refuse to do anything about it.

I have often said if the Immigration Department was a business, as they like to call themselves, they’d have been bankrupted a long time ago. 

Just like in that great novel, 1984, however they try and control what everyone is meant to think.

It is dark and it is dangerous and till my team and I breathe our last, we will fight it.

Until next week...

Iain MacLeod, Southern Man


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Skilled Migrant Category Review

Posted by Iain on Oct. 21, 2016, 3:49 p.m. in Immigration

Control.

It’s the thing about Governments everywhere I suppose. They have to give the illusion of being in control even if they are not.

The announcement two weeks ago of the pass mark increasing to 160 from 100 had an instantaneous impact on the numbers of Expressions of Interest being selected from the pool - it cut them by around 50% which was exactly what was intended. No surprises there.

The demonstration of lack of control came from the fact that the numbers of EOIs sitting in the pool that the computer had to select because ever increasing numbers were claiming 100 points or more including an offer of ‘skilled’ employment was allowed to grow and grow and grow. In the end the Government simply had to act - the ‘tsunami’ of EOIs I have so often written about and spoken about at seminars was washing ashore. Big time.

I still get this picture in my mind of Government Ministers standing in a huddled group on a beach with their backs to the sea wondering why everyone was running away for higher ground.  With puzzled looks on their faces they are asking one another ‘What’s the threat? What’s the problem? We can’t see any problem.There’s no problem here’.

Having been told by those that should know less than six months ago the Skilled Migrant Category was not going to be seriously reviewed for some time (policy review priorities lay elsewhere, principally with the Investor and Entrepreneur Categories) all of sudden the Minister announces that it is in fact being reviewed. Nothing to do with the system about to crash under the weight of EOIs, nothing to do with focus groups and polling showing immigration is going to a very hot topic in the run up to next year’s elections, nothing to do with the fact that the ‘quality’ those being selected has been falling for some time, nothing to do with Auckland house prices…..all now seemingly just one of these three yearly reviews ‘we always do’. A ‘tweak here’ and a ‘tweak there’ as you do when you are on top of the situation.

Except this one wasn’t gong to be reviewed for some time yet…and it won’t just be tweaks.

Government released a hastily put together public consultation document this week and has asked for feedback on how the rules might be ‘tweaked’ in order to improve quality. Over about two weeks.

What is clear is that New Zealand is in great demand as a migrant destination and we can choose who we want and likewise who we don’t want when we have so many to choose from.

So who don’t we now want?

The consultation document is interesting in that it essentially confirms everything I predicted it would in last week’s blog.

If the changes which are at this stage (if you can believe it) only talking points you can expect by mid 2017 to see a shift toward:

1. More highly educated applicants i.e. whereas qualifications have not been a pre-requisite for entry for the best part of five years now, they will play an increasingly important role in the future. The days of getting a resident Visa based on your age, work experience and having a skilled job offer are over for the time being.

2. More highly paid applicants - there is clear signal that entry level but skilled job offers are not going to be enough to get younger applicants over the finish line - I predicted last week salaries would come into the mix to both assist with determining skill level of jobs but also to act as a mechanism to prevent younger, less experienced applicants taking places in the programme away from older more experienced applicants.

3. Potentially applying a minimum work experience requirement on all applicants - designed clearly to cut out the young, international student who has studied in New Zealand. This takes  a leaf out of the Australian song book which they also introduced a few years ago to deal with the same issue of over promising international students a pathway to residence in order to develop an export education industry.

4. To focus through points on those aged 30-39 as being the ‘optimum’ aged applicants. This shouldn’t mean that older applicants won’t be able to still qualify and I’d suggest for those with higher education, jobs outside of Auckland and higher than median salaries they’ll still be okay.

I made the suggestion last week these rushed changes now and the more considered ones to follow in 2017 is designed to all intents and purposes to solve one problem - when you have a 23 year old who came to NZ to study (on the promise by the government of a pathway to residence) but that youngster is competing say with the 35 year old software developer for a single place in the SMC programme, the government was  forced  to decide which of the two was of more ‘value’ to the economy.

The answer is obvious to me but it does not bode well for the tens of thousands of international students lured here by Government, less than honest education agents overseas (unlicensed) and a fair number of private and public education providers who saw nothing but fees and commissions at the end of a principally Indian rainbow.

I was invited to a meeting a few nights ago where the Minister of Immigration was speaking to a small group of predominantly white, oldish men in cheap, ill fitting grey suits (bankers and investment types for the most part). Never have I seen a man’s lips move so much without actually saying very much and when he did it was by and large, garbage.

With a completely straight face he laid the ‘blame’ for the unfortunate reality about to confront thousands of international students who will not now get residence firmly at the feet of (unlicensed) education agents. 

For the second time in a week I heard him say ‘We (the Government) never promised anyone residence. Coming to New Zealand should only ever have been about getting a ‘world class’ education.’

That will come as a surprise to more than a few students. If this is the case why did the Government offer them all open work visas when they finished their study if it wasn't designed to provide a pathway into a labour market and from there to a resident visa?

Now that rug has been clumsily pulled from right under their feet, not by agents but by the government, Ministers I guess have to be seen to be controlling the situation as if this was their plan all along.

I’d be interested what a lot of these international students might think about it all given for a great number of them their dreams of settling here have been ripped out from under them and by mid 2017 any chance most have will surely be extinguished for good.

My only surprise about all this is that so far few seem to have cottoned on to what the Government has just done.

What they have done last week is to stick their finger in the dyke to try and hold back this ‘tsunami’ of graduate students looking for residence but the point that appears to have escaped these youngsters is how the government is about to start draining the lake behind the dyke without those frolicking in and on it realising they are the ones about to be drained.

I have to say it is quite a sight to watch the Government try and defend the indefensible and how incredibly well they seem to have done so. Equally how their target appears to have missed it completely (and by and large as has the media).

Whilst they were rapidly losing control of a situation of their own making the Government is doing a jolly good job of making it look they are in control. 

First line of attack - blame someone else.

Until next week

Iain MacLeod - Southern Man


Skilled Migrant Point Changes

Posted by Iain on July 31, 2015, 5:58 p.m. in Jobs in New Zealand

The New Zealand Government announced a few days ago that it was increasing the bonus points that can be claimed for a skilled and relevant job offer outside of Auckland from 10 to 30 points. The internet is abuzz!

Not sure why. I suggest everyone stay calm. Much ado about very little.

Government announced they were doing it in order to encourage more migrants to settle outside of Auckland. This was clearly a response to the overheated Auckland property market and rising disaffection by Aucklanders that migrants are contributing to an overheated property market.

As usual when the press get hold of a very modest tweak in an existing policy they get confused on the consequence, don’t seem to bother asking an expert and the misinformation spreads like wildfire.

My inbox is full of enquiries from people asking me if they ‘must’ now get a job outside of Auckland and if this means it is easier to get into the country? One even telling me he read that if you have a job ‘offer’ outside of Auckland you don’t even have to live there but it is now easier to get in if you say you are ‘planning’ on settling outside of Auckland but you don’t actually have to live there.

Oh a dollar for every false rumour!

Sorry folks but this change is modest and if you get a job outside of Auckland you must take it up.

In fact not only must you take up the job you must work outside of Auckland for 12 months. Those with jobs in Auckland ‘only’ have to stay employed for three months for their resident visa to become unconditional.

So how effective will it be? Does it really change anything?

No is the short answer. This is a case of politics trying to trump labour market reality.

The pass mark for those with a job is 100 and so far I am not seeing anything that suggests that pass mark will increase. This policy will only make any significant difference if it does.

This is because a 30, 37, 41, 45 and 54 year old (and everyone in between) will still qualify for residence with a skilled job in Auckland if they have between 8 and 10 years of relevant and related work experience (all other things being equal). Even a 54 year old will still be able to get a job in Auckland, work for a while and accrue the points necessary to get to 100 point passmark.

The only people we have identified that will benefit from this policy would be a 55 year old with no qualifications and at least ten years of work experience related to the job offer he or she gets outside of Auckland. When you hit 56 you cannot apply no matter how many points you might claim or where your job is.

So the winners here? Unqualified 55 year olds. Absolutely neutral for everyone else.

I am in South Africa and have over the past week consulted with 44 families who are looking to gain entry under the skilled migrant category. Only one would benefit from this policy change. One. That individual will now qualify with a job outside of Auckland because he is 55.

More than that it is all very well rewarding people to head out to the regions to spread the skilled migrant love and their skills sets but the reason about 70% of migrants already get jobs in Auckland is largely because that’s where the jobs are. Not all of course and we have clients spread all around New Zealand but around 70% in Auckland.

So might the Government increase the pass mark for those with jobs to 100 or even 120?

They could and that would force greater numbers to look outside of Auckland. Is this on the table? Not as far as I am aware.

I would hope that behind closed doors Government will have been warned against it.

Given Auckland is the engine room of the economy and has the critical economic and cultural mass for many migrant communities (which feeds through into good settlement outcomes) a higher pass mark would prevent many otherwise excellent skilled migrants from coming. 

So the Government has found a nice way of appearing to be doing something without in reality doing anything at all. They did get the headlines they needed however...

Good politics is all folks. So stay calm. You won’t be moving to the sticks – unless you want to.

Our photo competition is going along great guns and we are getting some fantastic photos coming in. I would like to see a whole lot more from those who live in New Zealand and illustrating what it is about every day life in New Zealand that they love.

I am thinking about photos of your house and street (no burglar bars or security walls you South Africans), your children climbing a tree (you Singaporeans), morning coffee at a sidewalk café (you French), walking along the street with your baby in a stroller without a protector, children riding their bikes, your office colleagues, and so on.

I am loving what we are getting but let’s see some of the real life stuff that you love about this wonderful country of ours. If you have missed the competition we are giving away a weekend in Queenstown at the five star Azur Hotel plus $1500 spending money. For further details if you have missed it click here to submit your photo entry - you can enter as many times as you like for more chances to win.

Until next week

Iain MacLeod

 

 

Southern Man


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