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My plan to solve the residence backlog crisis

Posted by Iain on Aug. 6, 2021, 3:34 p.m. in Immigration

If you see someone drowning do you offer them hearty cheer and words of encouragement to keep swimming or do you throw them a large floaty thing with a rope and pull them to safety?

 This week the opposition National Party decided to throw a safety line to the immigration department which is rapidly going under.

I’m fully supportive of the policy released by the opposition which is a not so subtle throwing down of the ‘kindness gauntlet’ to our ‘kind’ government to finally do the right thing, clear the immigration decks, reward all those migrants in NZ who have stuck with us since the pandemic began and provide certainty to their employers.

I was asked by Erica Stanford, the party’s spokesperson for my input and naturally I wasn’t short of advice.

I confess I was very pleasantly surprised in the lead up to their announcement that they wanted to extend sorting out the mess to everyone in the country when the border closed and who hold Essential Skill Work Visas, irrespective of skill level.

I made two suggestions on the proposal to pull into the plan those that don’t currently have any long term residence pathway: 

1. Provide a three year extension to their work visa and a guarantee they will be granted residence if they remain out of trouble and work for at least an aggregate two of the three years (bearing in mind there’s many reasons - child birth for example - that might cause someone to briefly stop paid work). 

2. Uncouple essential skills work visas from specific employers. One of the clear risks these processing backlogs has created is tying work visas to specific employers. It is heightened especially for those at the lower end of the (allowed) income spectrum increasing the chances migrants will be exploited by a small number of bad faith employers because the employer knows the work visa holder is often effectively beholden to them. 

I’m pleased to see the Nats have run with these two recommendations. 

I was also asked how INZ might expedite those highly skilled applicants who have been invited to apply for residence and/or have filed applications and eliminate the backlog within a few months.

My recommendations were:

1. All those sitting in the so called ‘managed queue’ have their current employment against relevant rules verified. That would mean IRD summary of earnings for the past three months, checking of applicant bank statements and a phone call to the employer confirming the applicant is still working. Would take all of thirty minutes per application. 

2. A local police check to ensure the applicant has not committed any serious crimes since arriving in the country. Bearing in mind to hold a 24 plus month work visa the government must have been satisfied the applicant was already of good character. This would take a few months given the Police would be required to do a lot more in less time than usual. 

I was heartened to see those two key recommendations made it into the proposed policy. 

What of the 4,000 to 5,000 Talent and Long Term Skills Shortage (LTSSL) visa holders (representing perhaps 10,000 peole once partners and children are included) who are queuing up to file their resident visa applications toward the end of this year and early next or who have already filed their residence applications and are waiting (for the majority) over two years to be processed? 

For those who have already filed their residence application and are sitting the processing backlog the same as above - proof of work and local police check. To secure the Talent or LTSSL work visas the health standard they get for their temporary visa was the residence visa standard. 

For those who will file after October when there’s several thousand eligible to file: 

1. Application form, fee, passport 

2. Local police check for the same reason as above

3. Verification they’ve worked the required 24 months so that would include checking employment against relevant/current rules.  IRD summary of earnings for the past two years, checking of applicant bank statements and a phone call to the employer confirming the applicant is still working. 

And finally, what of the 10,000 Expressions of Interest languishing in the ‘pool’ since selections were suspended in March 2020? These are the people I worry about most. These people rightly fear the current government could simply cut them all loose. 

I recommended immediately selecting all those who claimed 160 points and if that claim upon examination looks credible they be invited to apply for residence. Normal, as in current, rules would apply. We know from history roughly 90% of EOI claimants are found to have a credible claim following selection which means roughly 9,000 applications would hit the processing stage within a few months. Not all will be approved because ultimately their points claim, while genuine, is not supported by the evidence they can produce. 

By the time this group entered the processing system INZ should have cleared the backlog of 10,000 or so applications covered by the first group and be well advanced expediting the second.

Priority through the end of 2021 and early part of 2022 would go to the second group, those applying for residence from work. The rest of 2022 would be focused on those currently sitting in the pool.

I would close the category to any new applications for 6 months, It would be temporary (really temporary not  ‘I am waiting on advice from officials before restarting selections’ temporary) and a cast iron commitment  to not prolonging it. 

This would truly be an immigration reset.

It would buy any government precious time to develop new policies for our new Covid based, border restricted world (and here at IMMagine we’ve got some really good ideas how that might look).

It allows the bureaucrats to clear their decks over the next 18 months so that when we see greater international travel through 2022 and beyond they are ready.

The one fly in the ointment, apart from the fact the National Party is not the government(!) is the intellectual capability of INZ to deliver this. At the end of June, the latest period we have been given staff numbers for, there were 83 officers employed to work on the residence backlog. In the past two weeks only 191 residence applications were allocated for processing. INZ management simply can’t give them more cases, not because they have high caseloads (the average as best I can tell is between 25 and 30 which is a third of what my crew have) but because there’s not enough experience or institutional knowledge to deal with more. And staff continue to leave in worrying numbers. 

My plan if adopted would allow these officers to cut through the work, not endlessly repeat checks (like health and work history) that is a box ticked at previous work visa stage for example and get on and clear the residence backlog. 

What Erica Stanford has come up with is big, bold, pragmatic and above all, kind. It represents no threat to the integrity of the immigration system, the security or health of New Zealanders. 

There’s no risk to New Zealand, there’s no greater pressure on housing or infrastructure that doesn’t exist today because those who would be approved are already here. We take on no more cost or risk than exists presently. 

It is going to be interesting to see how the real Government responds to National’s politically brave proposal. To date they’ve simply announced a reset (by a stand in Minister) devoid of any actual policy or delivery timeline. 

 

I am confident my plan works and benefits everyone - the processing headache goes away for the bureaucrats, we reward all those migrants in the country filling jobs we could not and who did not abandon us when the borders closed and arguably most importantly thousands of local employers have the certainty they need to get through this Covid crisis and can focus on creating even more jobs and wealth for the country.


The pool is overflowing

Posted by Iain on June 11, 2021, 12:42 p.m. in Expression of Interest

If you use water to generate electricity you build a dam. You release enough water into the turbines so that you create enough energy to power your economy. Not too much water, not too little. 

The New Zealand skilled migrant programme adopts a similar process - expressions of interest in, residence visas out and labour market shortages filled. Not too many immigrants that might overwhelm the ability of the country to absorb them (think infrastructure overload, not enough houses, classrooms or hospital beds) and not too few (think Engineers to build the infrastructure, teachers to work in those classrooms and nurses to tend those in the beds).

In New Zealand we have created a ‘pool’ of those who wish to be part of our residency program by filing electronic forms called expressions of interest (EOI). Government created criteria and assigns points so that those interested can be ‘ranked’ based on some (economic) value proposition.  The primary weighting goes to three criteria - qualifications, work experience and having a skilled job in New Zealand.

The idea is to ensure that INZ only selects enough EOIs that their downstream processing capacity is not overwhelmed (the turbines don't spin out of control, crack and break) and at the same time ensure that they will not run out of work (don’t run out of electricity).

So what happens when it keeps raining, but you've reduced the water flowing out of the dam into the turbines to a mere trickle and the water piles up behnd the dam?  The risk is it will overflow or, worse, collapse under its own weight.

It is my opinion the skilled migrant 'dam' is close to collapse.

The New Zealand government must surely be wrestling right now with what to do with the ever increasing pessure of numbers in the skilled mirant pool. The number of EOIs in the  pool is now around 10,000 (it was 7,000 in March 2020). That represents somewhere between 21,000 and 23,000 people. 

In November this year another deluge will hit that dam when 3000-4000 resident visa applications begin flowing into the system from those currently on Talent (Work) visas who rushed to beat the minimum salary threshold increase of November 2019 from $55,000 to $79,560. Those 3000-4000 applications represent something like 6,000 - 10,000 people (and will form part of the annual quota/target of skilled migrants of 25,000).

It means by Christmas there will be roughly 25,000 'points' based applicants sitting in the pool or who will file their 'residence from work' applications expecting their residence to be processed.

At the same time those that were seleted and invited to file their resident visa applications before March 2020 wait for 24 months to be allocated and processed.

Government is staring at the prospect then of people they invited to be part of their residence programme waiting three plus years to have their skilled migrant case processed. INZ used to defend slow processing times by pointing out it was 'still faster' than Canada or Australia. Not so much of late.

Clearly the dam is dangerously close to overflowing and there’s a huge rainstorm on the horizon.

What to do?

We are asked on a daily basis when we think the government might resume selecting EOIs. Short answer is they haven’t told me or anyone else and if they have a plan, and I am willing to bet my house they don’t, this government isn’t sharing anything that offers any sort of guidance, let alone certainty, to the market.

I’d have thought given so few people can file resident visas (no invitations have been issued since March 2020) that INZ would have started to run out of ‘points’ based resident visa applications around now. What none of us expected a few months ago was that INZ would start allocating roughly one new case per officer per week. It used to be around five…. Why? Intellectual capacity - I have been told by those who should know it is because that’s all these new officers can cope with such is their inexperience and lack of knowledge. Chilling, but it rings true - the quality of the decision making we see on a daily basis goes from bad to worse. They can’t cope with higher caseloads. The difficulty facing INZ in recruiting suitable case officers mirrors the difficulty facing many employers in New Zealand in finding skilled staff.

I am pretty certain not selecting EOIs now isn’t because the Government has told INZ to ‘go slow’ as some in the marketplace are suggesting. It’s more shocking than that. This is as fast as they are capable of working. That isn’t going to change any time soon.

As I see it the Government has fewer and fewer options.

Government deflects from their own inaction by saying ‘demand is driving up the pool numbers' and they can’t stop it. Actually they can protect the dam from more rain. Demand is not greater today, it has been falling since the miute they closed the border.

They could, at the stoke of a pen, prevent further EOI lodgements and if they do not plan on selecting any for a few more months yet, morally they should. How can they justify since March 2020 encouraging people to file EOIs and taking millions of dollars in the process, if they have no intention of resuming selections any time soon?

If I did that I’d lose my license. For fraud.

To be fair I imagine government expected INZ to have cleared their processing backlog by now but they didn’t factor in the inability of INZ to throw a good party in a brewery.

If Government did move to temporarily stop letting anyone file an EOI the market will interpret that as NZ being closed to migrants. A dangerous game to play in a world competing for the same skills sets.

 At the same time skills shortages continue to worsen. Employers and businesses are screaming for talent. Hospitals need Nurses. Infrastructure projects need Engineers. Schools need teachers. Software companies need programmers. Accounting firms need Auditors.

I think the real proof that the government has no idea of what they are doing with immigration and has no plan is that three weeks after announcing a so called ‘immigration reset’, an announcement widely criticised as providing no detail, beyond making it ‘harder’ for those at the lower skilled end of the spectrum to secure work visas, the government’s first action following that announcement was to offer a six month blanket extension to all those here on holiday working visas and short term seasonal work visas - these are the very waiters, the housekeepers in hotels, the fruit pickers - the so called ’low skilled’ people they said they don’t want any more!

There is no way the Government does not need the skilled migrants sitting in that pool and they know it. With closed borders virtually all of those in that pool are already in New Zealand, working and contributing their skills to the economy.

As I see it the government has few options:

1. Honor the process, select all of those on 160 points and drip feed their invitations to apply for residency across maybe one year. Give them all work visas without application or cost until the government makes a decision on their residence. Consider putting the pass mark up temporarily after all those currently in the pool have been selected to discourage applications for a while and to manage the capacity of this inefficient bureaucracy.  It would be the honourable thing to do. Dare I say the kind thing to do?

2. Push the pass mark up to say 180 and you would probably find 20-30% of those would not be selected. It would send a signal to the market that the standard is higher at least for a while and fewer people would file EOIs and in time that should enable the pass mark to fall back to some sort of equilirium. Push the pass mark up to say 220 and would probably flush out 80%-90% of those in the pool. I think this is less likely - there'd be blood in the streets if they tried and rightly so.

3. Set the pass mark at 250 and drain the pool completely but they'd spark a riot. Technically they could do it because an expression of interest is simply that, it's not a gaurantee of an invitation and those in the pool have no legal nor appeal rights. I do not imagine for milli-second the government would act in such an underhand and dishonorable manner. But there's nothing stopping them legally. Government would have to accept it'd be the end of the line for New Zealand as a migrant destination of the highly skilled. We'd be out of the global market.

What you have read online about migrants feeling unwelcome might be what the Government wants them to think but behind closed doors the politicians recognise we need every single one of those people sitting in the pool and those waiting patiently for two years thereafter for their residence cases to be processed.

Whatever their motivation they have a decision to make on that pool and every week that passes the problem gets worse. 

 The water is now lapping at the top of the dam. The cracks are widening. The pressure on that dam wall is mounting.

Ignoring it will not solve the problem.

 

Until next week

Iain MacLeod


What is INZ afraid of?

Posted by Iain on July 24, 2020, 1:27 p.m. in Immigration New Zealand

The plot thickens.

Just what is going on with the processing of skilled migrant cases?

I received pushback this week from a senior Immigration Manager demonstrating one thing these people clearly do not appreciate is being questioned or held to account.

A problem I suggested in return might be easily solved if they publicised accurate and timely information on their website. They do not. Why?

We have learned under various applications made under the Official Information Act that:

1.      On July 2 INZ actually only had 427 skilled migrant resident (SMC) visa cases that met their priority processing criteria (high salary or occupational registration). I had been told there was 900 at the same time by a senior manager who should have known the number.

2.      INZ appears to have around 70 case officers assigned to process skilled migrant (points) cases and residence from work/talent visas.

3.      There is a priority queue within the priority queue (used for training up inexperienced officers and ‘efficiency improvements’ - translation -  meeting kpis and not looking completely useless)

4.      There is 14,000 SMC applications (covering around 28,000-30,000 people) sitting in the queue to be processed at the time of writing

5.      No Expressions of Interest are being selected - we were told during lockdown ‘no boots on the ground’ was the reason. The boots have been back on the ground now for around six weeks but still no pool draws. I am advised there’s around 3000 EOIs sitting in the pool currently. No invitations to apply for residence have been made for three months - so there’s little no new work adding to the queue.

6.      The Government has a target of around 25,000 resident visa approvals between Jan 2020 and June 2021.

7.      At IMMagine we have had four residence cases over the past week or so where we have been advised the case officer is happy with the evidence and arguments and moved to an internal INZ second person (quality and accuracy) check for sign off and the application has been sent back to the case officer because the more experienced officer has found fault with the first officer’s assessment. This is unprecedented in our experience. The officer training doesn’t seem to be going that well.

8.      The (now former) Minister of Immigration has as recently as ten days ago advised publicly that both priority and non priority queues are moving. The last non-priority case allocated for processing was receipted on 20 December 2018 (not 2019). Snails also technically move - doesn’t mean they will get anywhere any time soon…

What does all this mean to those waiting and wondering what is happening with their applications?

There is more people in the system than places available under the programme but only by the 10% variance allowed for. That hardly supports the notion that ‘demand’ for places is outstripping the ‘supply’ as the Minister and senior bureaucrats keep telling the world is the reason for the queue not getting shorter.

INZ Managers either do not know what is happening on their watch, how many cases representing priority and non-priroty are sitting in their queue or they are not telling the truth about it. I don’t think they are lying.

On the face of it when senior managers tasked with overseeing the ‘queue’ cannot advise us how many cases meet priority criteria and their Head Office Managers confirm that teachers and health care workers are being prioritised for training purposes, you know you’ve got a problem.

I don’t know how the number of officers is split between SMC processing and Residence from Work (I couldn’t get a straight answer) but given there’s probably 10 SMC cases for every one of the latter, that suggests there should be roughly 60 immigration officers processing the priority cases.

If there really was only 427 SMC priority cases sitting in the queue on 2 July as the Government advised under an OIA request, that means each officer would get roughly 7 cases. Seven! I also don’t know how long it would take an officer to process a case but let’s be generous and say, eight hours. That suggests the queue should be pretty much gone within a week.

So why, contrary to the Government’s statements that both queues are moving is there no evidence of it among the advising community which handle something like 40% - 50% of all cases in the system? The reports I am receiving are consistent - none of the corporate advising community is seeing any non priority cases being allocated for processing beyond a small number that have been ‘escalated’ through a strange process called EVE. I was told by a Visa Operations Manager these numbers are ‘very small’ and ‘rare’.

So what exactly are the case officers doing all day?

They can’t all be cutting their teeth on teacher applications.

Why can’t INZ (and the Government) just be honest with us all?

Are they hiding something because this maths and the experience of our industry just does not add up?

I am not suggesting there’s wholesale lying going on but the only other explanation is the government and the senior management of INZ do not know what is really happening in the branches and on the ground. I am not sure which is worse.

Senior managers can whine at those of us pushing for answers about what the numbers really are or they could get their act together and publish the real numbers. Don’t they want to know how they are performing?

I am calling on INZ to publish (accurately and I’d suggest weekly) in one place on their website:

1.       The number of SMC cases sitting in their yet to be allocated queue

2.       The number of residence from work cases sitting in the queue

3.       The number of priority cases within that number (1) above

4.       The number of priority SMC cases approved and declined weekly

5.       The number of non-priority SMC cases approved and declined weekly

How hard could that be? If we had those five simple metrics we could all stop firing off OIA requests tying up time of low level functionaries in Wellington who I know are often being asked the same question multiple times.

Wouldn’t it be in everyone’s interest, not least the Government's, to provide this snapshot each week when it is the government and INZ trying to convince the world, against all the evidence that the problem is demand for visas exceeding the supply of them?

What are they all so afraid of?

Until next week

Iain MacLeod

Southern Man

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Skilled migrant processing times - update

Posted by Iain on Jan. 31, 2020, 5:09 p.m. in Skilled Migrant Category

Two weeks ago I wrote a blog which explained how the immigration department is allocating Skilled Migrant Category (SMC) Resident Visa applications and how they are choosing to prioritise.

I did that in part because we have received a small number of emails from clients in recent months along the lines of "Why is my application going to take one year to be allocated when my friends were allocated more quickly and they lodged their application after we did?”

I contacted the Regional Manager and the Resident Visa Operations Manager for the Manukau branch where all SMC migrant cases are now processed and put this question to them.

They replied, very emphatically, that unless an application meets the criteria for priority processing, which is either the principal applicant has a high salary ($104,000 per annum) or they work in an occupation for which registration in New Zealand is a statutory requirement and they hold that registration, they would not be afforded priority. All those applications are going to be allocated in ‘strict chronological order of receipt’. I have no doubt that once allocated, our cases will be processed very quickly because they are "decision ready" when they are submitted. Those going it alone I imagine will take many months even once allocated so most people are probably looking at 18-24 months more or less from the time the file their application.

These Managers went on to confirm that the only cases being bumped up the queue are those that are already in the priority queue.

That is to say they are now prioritising some of the prioritised cases! One example I was offered was a surgeon living in a regional area i.e. outside of Auckland. I have no idea why that person is more important than the local electrician (registration) or the Accountant earning $104,000 but there you are. A priority system within a priority system - how very INZ.

What we tend to find is when clients give us their “But my friend…” stories and we get more information about those friends, we usually find that the applicant meets one of the criteria for prioritisation.

I don't believe that the senior managers are lying and I do stand by the piece I wrote two weeks ago in which I explained that the backlogs are growing because the government is now holding INZ to what appears to be an annual quota of SMC resident visas they can issue, rather than the "target" they previously described the annual visa numbers as.

There is no doubt in my mind that it’s politics at play and the fact that we have an election coming up in September, the country is groaning under an infrastructure deficit and the last thing the government wants going into a new election is even more population pressure and the house price inflation that has been created in recent years. Especially when all three parties to the current government campaigned in 2017 on cutting immigration numbers and set out to do so.

I am going to be intrigued to see what the biggest party making up government, the Labour Party, announces its immigration policy to be this time round. Given that they rule at the pleasure of the very small New Zealand First party, a small anti-immigration party (at least whilst not in Government), I am not sure they will have the courage of their historical convictions that migration is a positive force not a negative one. Things change when you want to get your hands on the levers of power.

I outlined three possible options two weeks ago that the government might adopt to deal with the backlog that is rapidly growing:

 

1.       Increase the pass mark significantly but that has downside economic risks particularly in Auckland as we need every single skilled migrant that is finding work in New Zealand or live with the economic contraction keeping them out will almost certainly cause; or

2.       Let the visa allocation times get longer and longer and effectively kick the can down the road at least till after the election. I suspect this is what they will do until the election is out of the way. All bets are off once a new government is in place.

3.       Nuclear option - shut down the policy temporarily. They did it with the parent category but I don't believe they would be stupid enough to do it with the skilled migrant category. There is simply too much at stake economically.

The smartest move would be to recognise that every skilled migrant who jumps through the hoops to find a job whilst on a Visitor Visa is obviously in acute demand in New Zealand. No New Zealand employer employs migrants and deals with the Visa process if they can find locals. A simple truth, always ignored by all those who complain about "mass migration" and filling up New Zealand with "cheap foreign labour” (and you would be quite surprised how many people think that!). We have neither mass migration, nor is New Zealand being flooded by cheap foreign labour. Foreigners actually have to earn around 20% more than locals or they don't get work visas.

The government should have the courage of their economic convictions and revert to describing the annual number of resident visas they are prepared to issue as a ‘target’ and not a quota. Funny how when they weren't filling the annual numbers two years ago we were told the ‘magic number’ wasn't a quota but a ‘target’ and it was about ‘quality not quantity’. Now however it seems to be a quota and it is about quantity and not quality.

Back to the ‘My friend’ stories however. If you know of anybody that has filed a resident Visa application under the SMC policy who is not earning $104,000 a year or does not hold registration in New Zealand in their occupation, but has been given priority, I would very much like to hear about it. Email me at iain@justimmagine.com

I do believe the senior departmental managers when they tell me they are not prioritising anybody else and not allowing people to queue jump but at the same time I know the immigration department is consistently inconsistent and its management doesn't always know what is going on at counter level.

I don't rule out INZ management believing people are not jumping the queue, but that doesn’t mean queue jumping is not taking place nonetheless.

I'd like to find out.

Iain MacLeod

 

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Danger in the Pool

Posted by Iain on Nov. 24, 2017, 4:27 p.m. in Skilled Migrant Category

Just when you thought it was safe to get back into the water after the Skilled Migrant changes earlier this year in both New Zealand and Australia, it seems that you might need to think again.

Both countries allow applicants to file Expressions of Interest and enter their skilled migrant pools – in Australia you need a minimum of 60 points and in New Zealand, 160, (we give more points to qualifications and work experience but the type of person with those scores will be very similar). In both countries the immigration year begins on 1 July.

New Zealand targets 27,000 skilled migrants per year with a variance of 10%. Between the start of the immigration year and 3 November, New Zealand approved and issued around 4,100 resident visas. If you annualise that you’ll see that it will barely reach 50% of the stated target. That is not to tell the whole story however. We had clearly signalled that there would be no pool ‘draws’ for six weeks through to late August as the new system was reset. This saw three draws skipped. 

It may be that numbers recover in the months to come but given the difficulties I have written about so often about the disconnect between the visa process and the labour market (employers want work visas but Government won’t give work visas without jobs for the most part), the jury is out on whether New Zealand will reach its self-declared quotas this year.

I see no prospect of pass mark increases.

The question is whether we will see it fall. If so when the politicians will let it as unemployment continues to fall rapidly in NZ. It is now down to 4.6% which effectively means if you want to work there is a job with your name on it.

We are continuing to find that in the significant majority of cases our English speaking and experienced clients are finding jobs in 8-10 weeks. If all migrants are doing the same then I think that there is a chance the pass marks may not need to fall and the next few months will confirm that.

Over in Australia things have taken a bizarre turn in recent times.

The Aussies, never ones for originality, took the NZ skilled migrant system – Expressions of Interest (EOI), a pool, selection and invitation, modified it and I believe are seeing the first signs of it falling apart.

Historically to meet their own skilled migrant quotas (which are not national quotas like NZ where you compete against everyone chasing one of those 27,000 places, but occupation quotas – you compete against those in the same ‘nominated occupation’ as you).

Historically, the Australians needed to select 2000 EOIs each selection period. They have cut that in half since July 1. Inexplicably or with an arrogance that one might suggest is misplaced, they feel no obligation it seems to ever explain what they are doing, nor why. The implications of cuts to the numbers being selected means more people are fighting for fewer places and that pushes up pass marks.

One might speculate they might be doing this to push applicants toward state sponsorship. It would be nice to know.

In Australia, each State or territory has its own ‘in demand’ occupation lists so there is the possibility the Federal Government is in effect abandoning their own national occupation targets and devolving the decision on which skilled migrants get into Australia to the various  States. If they are it makes some sense. I’ve never understood how some bureaucrat in Canberra can possibly know how many Primary School Teachers, Electrical Engineers or Software Developers the economy needs over the next year.

State sponsorship has the advantage of creating greater certainty for our clients as the pass mark for those with state sponsorship is fixed at 60.

Further, the Australian Government recently decided, again without explanation, not to do a pool draw. This has huge implications on many levels. We have at least one client in the pool (after racing the clock to get him to that point following a Herculean effort by our team in Melbourne) who turns 40 any day now. At that point, while he will still secure a Permanent Resident Visa, it won’t be the ‘live wherever you wish’ visa, but a State Sponsorship visa which requires him to have an ‘intention’ to settle, or at least spend two years in that state. He doesn’t have to live there, the law on that is clear, but he is expected to ‘give it a go’ (whatever that means).

If the Australian Government does not offer greater certainty to applicants they’ll lose people they say they need as more and more choose countries where a plan offers greater certainty.

We also suspect that Australia is suffering a flood of fraudulent or at least mischievous EOIs. Whereas in NZ you pay to file an EOI, in Australia you don’t. I have always thought this invited frivolous applications. When there is no skin in the game there is nothing stopping people filling as many EOIs as they like.

If they claim the pass mark they must be selected. Equally stupidly, unlike NZ, being selected from the pool leads to an automatic and guaranteed Invitation to Apply for residence. We believe that this is the reason that the pass mark for Accountants for example shot up to 85 points despite the annual quota of places being doubled this immigration year. The pass mark at the end of the previous immigration year was 70-75. When you double the supply of places unless there is an unprecedented increase in demand (which there has not been) the pass mark should have fallen, not gone up. That strongly suggests people are filing frivolous applications. And why not? It’s free!

I hope the Aussies learn from NZ some of the lessons of running a pool system. Charge to get into it. Don’t automatically invite everyone that you select. Carry out credibility assessments. Invite them when things look credible. They’d cut down on the fraudulent and plain stupid applications if people had to pay the $500 odd that you pay to file an EOI in NZ and while credibility checks in NZ still result in large numbers of applicants being declined, our system isn’t broken.

Australia’s is. While they don’t tend to take advice off Kiwis they might want to do so on this occasion.

If they don’t, skilled migrants will continue to look elsewhere when Australia’s slowly falling unemployment rates and an improving job market for skills suggests they need these skills sets.

But hey, they’re Aussies, and since when have you been able to tell an Aussie they might not be doing something right?

Until next week...


Better to be thought a fool...

Posted by Paul on Oct. 10, 2014, 8:42 p.m. in Immigration

There is no doubt that the internet has changed our lives – forever. Our ability to access information at the click of the button and our ability to connect and share that information with people anywhere in the world is truly awe inspiring. It has given people in the most remote and isolated places the ability to talk to those in the most densely populated parts of the planet.

The world has gotten a lot smaller.

However just as the internet has increased our access to knowledge it has also created plenty of problems, with quite a few of them falling upon the unsuspecting migrant.

I have, over the last few months, become the member of a number of migrant social networks, the kind of websites that offer their users a place to learn more about New Zealand, its people and lifestyle and read others experiences, navigating through the migration process. I have no doubt that the administrators of most of these sites establish them with best of intentions; and in many cases there is some useful information about life in New Zealand and the collective migrant experience to be gathered, however when it comes to the immigration part, what results is far from useful. In fact in most cases these sections of most forum sites end up being quite simply, dangerous.

To anyone I consult with who mentions the comments and threads they have read on these sites, I give one warning ‘tread carefully’ and this is usually followed by words such as ‘avoid like the plague’ (or similar). Fortunately most migrants manage to filter through the rubbish, but a fair few get caught out.

Having trawled through a few of these sites, the first thing I have noticed (and it is common) is the need for those who have gone through this process to become ‘overnight immigration advisers’.  Now without offending anyone, the fact that you may have gone through this process yourself does not, on its own, make you qualified to tell anyone else how to do it, in fact the law says you can't. Whilst most of these people do so in an attempt to be helpful and with altruistic aims, the reality is that they often unintentionally cause more harm than good.

Migrating is a uniquely individual experience and what one person or family will go through will differ to another. I say this to all the people who I consult with or who attend my seminar, because it is true. Every applicant brings a ‘certain something’ to the equation, which inevitably means that their application will go through a different process to others. So what works for some may be result in disaster for another.

Many of the people who offer advice on these forums often don’t understand that migration is not about round pegs in round holes. A few weeks ago, I read a forum thread where one member, who had successfully settled themselves in New Zealand ten years ago, was offering advice to another, who was on their way. The would be migrant had secured a job offer and had asked the question “Should I apply for a Work Visa before I come to New Zealand or do it when I get there?”. The response from the ‘seasoned expert’ was to book the next flight, head on over and if stopped at the airport just tell them there is a job offer on the table …”no worries”.

There are so many things wrong with this advice, it’s hard to know where to begin. Most importantly however, if this person had jumped on that plane and had been asked at the airport what their intentions were, then the answer “I have a job offer!”, most likely offered up with a big smile on their face, could have potentially been met with “Do not pass go, do not collect $200.00 and we have you booked on the next flight back…”. The end result would be a wasted trip, refused entry and a whole lot of time and money down the drain.

Immigration rules change, and what might have been acceptable ten years ago (although this still wouldn’t have been acceptable then), won’t fly now. That is the risk that you run by following the unqualified advice of people, who have ‘been there, bought the t-shirt’.

Another common theme is for people to search through forums and ask the same questions until the find the answer they are looking for. It’s comforting knowing that someone out there agrees with you and offers you a solution that makes it all sound easy. Problem is it is most likely wrong. Good advice may not be the advice you want to hear, it may not be the 'easy fix' but it will be right.

Top all of this off with the fact that providing immigration advice without being licensed (no matter where you are in the world) is a criminal offence and it makes less and less sense to put any faith in these amateur experts.

Forum sites aren’t entirely bad and I would be doing them a disservice by suggesting that there is nothing useful to gain from them; however be selective.  In the same way that you wouldn’t rely on triple heart bypass surgery instructions from an online forum for recovering heart surgery patients, you shouldn’t try and find a road map to the immigration process in the same way. They can be good places to find out people’s experiences about the move, what they found challenging, what they found positive but when it comes to anything technical leave that to the experts. We understand that the process is unique for everyone and so we provide unique advice.

On that front, we have the Southern Man, presenting seminars in Singapore (tomorrow) and Malaysia next weekend, with more seminars later in the year (what is left of it before Christmas is upon us).

If you want to know how the process really works, from people that really know, then why not put the laptop down, turn the internet off and find out what you need to know from a real life person…

Until next week

Paul Janssen, standing in for the Southern Man.


The Importance (?) Of English

Posted by Iain on July 24, 2014, 4:39 p.m. in Immigration

I have just spent four weeks in Paris and Barcelona (relax this isn’t a story about what I did on my summer break…) on a working holiday and am constantly surprised not so much what I learn about other people and places on these trips but what I learn about New Zealand and New Zealanders. And how these experiences shape my view of what would make good immigration policy and an even richer country.

Take the importance of English as a current part of our immigration criteria (for everyone except family category applicants and the uber-rich).

For many people from similarly Anglo-Saxon countries, New Zealand has historically been an easy cultural fit in part because of the commonality of English as the dominant language between migrant and New Zealander. There is little doubt in my mind it has been an important settlement tool. And probably will be for a while yet.

While those with English as a second language face a more challenging settlement process, with increasing numbers of ethnic communities reaching a critical mass it is arguably becoming less important. I recognised a long time ago the key to good settlement outcomes was linguistic compatibility and thereafter cultural compatibility. This has served migrants and New Zealand well as a country but I question in future how important it will need to be when the 'linguistic compatilibility' refers to English and the 'cultural compatibility' predominantly 'South Pacific British'.

Right now we rightly demand migrants speak, read, understand and write English to a reasonably high level – the rule book ‘only’ demands conversational or competent despite in my experience ‘native’ employers demanding a greater level of fluency. As more New Zealand employers are not ‘native’ however is it as important when those employers local and overseas customers don’t speak English as their first language?

Immigration policy is almost always a year or two behind the times. There is a disconnect between immigration policy and an evolving labour market, particularly in Auckland. Outside of Auckland it is fair to say that many (would be) migrants will struggle to secure employment at a similar level to that from which they have come given potential local employers will be largely ‘native’ New Zealanders and a high level of English is a must have.

This is why at Immagine we focus on the English speaking markets of the world and irrespective of how many ‘points’ a potential client might have we only agree to represent those that we believe have English good enough to secure them the job and the future they seek in a short(ish) period of time.

Spending two weeks in Paris with only two years of boyhood French to call on was something that filled me with trepidation before I left New Zealand. Luckily I found, in Paris anyway, the outcomes of a European education and business system that produces a significant bi-lingual population who could speak English. This came as great relief – I didn’t want a diet of steak and chips for two weeks.

It does make me and a great many other New Zealanders feel somewhat inadequate that we come from a country that has historically been, by and large, mono-lingual. This constrains us somewhat when we travel and that of course creates disadvantages in not being able to maximise business (not to mention leisure) opportunities that exist to the multi-lingual.

All of that got me thinking that in New Zealand we have no ‘end game’ in mind with our immigration policy. Skilled migration tends to be based on a relatively short time horizon – New Zealanders emigrate (shock horror) and there are skills we do not produce enough of. The simple solution is to encourage migrants to fill those current vacancies. Traditionally those migrants have needed to speak fluent English because historically most employers only spoke English.

But times they are a changing.

In my own suburb of Mount Eden the population over the past 20 years has moved from being largely Pakeha (New Zealander of European descent) and Polynesian to North Asian – mainly Chinese. I have three local supermarkets – one ‘western’ and two ‘eastern’ within a few minutes’ walk of home. I generally shop at one of the Asian ones. Everything is labelled in Chinese so if I don’t know what I am looking for I am in trouble. When I walk in the door I am often the only Pakeha in sight. Few people are speaking English. I don’t speak Chinese. It still works. I get my bok choy and chicken thighs.

What has happened where I live then is a whole lot of people had to prove they spoke English to the level of a competent user to get their Resident Visa but once in, there is now a sufficiently critical mass of Chinese speakers for them to revert to their home language and apparently thrive.

Although it is a controversial thought, perhaps it is time to have different English language levels for different migrant groups or even different cities if they have jobs inside or outside of Auckland. Given in Auckland we now have 20% of our residents born in North Asia and 15% in India, is it appropriate in 2014 we demand such a high level of English for Chinese and Indians if the job they get is say in an exporting or tourism related business? If as skilled migrants they could get a skilled job offer what do we really care if they score English in the IELTS exam of 6.5 or higher?

I can but wonder if we had 20% of our migrants coming from Italy, France or Spain if we would feel differently. Imagine an Italian quarter, a Spanish quarter, a Brazilian or a French quarter in Auckland where many people speak their home language with a smattering of English. I have seen it in New York and it seems to work okay. I doubt anyone would feel threatened.

I say we have little to fear but much to gain.  Aucklanders, (but perhaps not yet the rest of New Zealand),  have shown that in the space of a generation they have accepted becoming one of the most ethically and linguistically diverse societies on Earth where 42% of the residents were not born in New Zealand. When I was a boy in the 1970s there was only about 10% of us not born locally. The sky has not fallen in as that has changed.

The children of these migrants will all be fluent English speakers thanks to our education system and if mum and dad can survive quite adequately speaking little English does it really matter if they were able to secure the ‘skilled’ job the Government demanded of them to gain entry in the first place?

I can but hope their parents demand these children remain fluent in their second, ‘ancestral’ language. And that these first generation Kiwis appreciate the economic and cultural strengths of maintaining the language of their parents and forebears.

I also wish that a second language was compulsory for all New Zealanders.

We have, thanks to our small domestic population always been a nation of exporters. What better tool could we use to secure our own future economic prosperity in a globalised economy than competency, if not fluency, in a second major language – be it Mandarin, Spanish, Japanese or French? Rather than forcing migrants to speak fluent English in future might we be better served economically if they can speak some English but bring with them fluency in other languages?

In some respects the Europeans are increasingly forced through the political and economic integration of Europe to learn at least one other language (usually English). I was amazed, delighted and relieved how many Spanish could speak excellent English and French.  And how many French could speak excellent English and Spanish.

New Zealand is the poorer for our one language focus both in our education system and with our migrants.

I love the fact when I walk out of my office and along the streets of downtown Auckland I can hear 20 -30 languages in the space of 15 minutes. We are richer for it. It makes me feel part of the global family.

I made a recommendation as part of the Skilled Migrant Category review a year or so ago that those with better English be rewarded for it. I stand by that recommendation but I do wonder if it is appropriate to still be doing so in 5, 10 or 20 years’ time as different linguistic (migrant) communities reach a critical mass whereby they are able to secure or create for themselves meaningful economic opportunity once here. If they cannot speak great (or are not willing to learn) English and they do not become dependent on the state what’s our loss? The risk is theirs.

Australia awards points for English on a sliding scale with a minimum threshold – the higher the score the more points awarded. It is the one part of the Australian skilled policy which seems logical to me at this point in time. I was interested to see that it is one of two recommendations made by the Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD) in a report they issued earlier this week on New Zealand’s immigration policy. They have encouraged this reward for superior English for the same reason.

I am not at all certain any more the future lies with our country’s education remaining mono-lingual and I am increasingly far from convinced that we should expect migrants to speak ‘the Queen’s’ English as well.

For our country to thrive in the 21st century as many people in the population need to be bi-lingual if not multi-lingual as we can create or import. Migrants play a vital role in creating those conditions.  In the meantime that does not eliminate the importance of English for most migrants at least in the short term but we must be smart (or brave) enough to know when it is appropriate to review this position.

I think we are almost at that point.

Until next week

Iain MacLeod

Southern Man- Letter from New Zealand


There and back again...

Posted by Paul on July 11, 2014, 2:09 p.m. in Immigration

New Zealand owes much of its history to migrants; in fact the country was settled, developed and created for the most part by people from foreign shores.

It started with Polynesian settlers sometime in the year 1280 and then later when Captain Cook claimed New Zealand in 1879.  40 years later missionaries and traders seeking out new lands formed the backbone of New Zealand’s migrant population. By 1830 there was a pool of approximately 800 non-Maori people residing in New Zealand of which roughly 25% were runaway convicts who had managed to secure passage from Europe (slightly less than the number of convicts in Australia).

Structured and controlled migration only really began after 1840 following the formalising of sovereignty and for the most part relied on migrants being shipped in from Europe. There were a handful of Asian and Indian migrants that made it over, however, until the 1960’s when New Zealand decided to officially diversify its migrant workforce, the bulk of new settlers to New Zealand were still European. From the 1960’s a large number of migrants were bought in from the Pacific Islands to meet the growing demands of the country’s manufacturing sector.

It wasn’t until 1987 that New Zealand decided to build a points based system that would remove the preference for migrants based on ethnicity to targeting specific skills based on economic demand. The system was loosely based on Canada’s migration scheme and officially came into being in 1991.

That system despite being altered, reinvented and tweaked is still largely the same system we use today. The only difference is that where previously the majority of people qualified sitting in their countries of origin, the focus now has shifted to being in New Zealand and employed. Whilst a number of popular migrant destinations (Australia and Canada to name just two) prefer to rely on qualifications and so on, New Zealand over the last few years has swung quite clearly in the direction of people securing job offers to meet the qualification criteria. 

As bizarre as it sounds, it does make some sense.

Often when I tell people that in order to secure Residence they need to travel here to find an offer of skilled employment first, they look at me as if I have just told them the sky is green and clouds are made of candy floss. The reality is, however, that for the vast majority of applicants under the Skilled Migrant Category (the points system) securing a job offer is the only way to achieve the end goal.

It wasn’t always like this however. In fact, prior to 2010 there were a large number of applicants who secured enough points to qualify without a job offer even if they weren’t able to claim many of the ‘bonus’ points we have now for those in specific occupations.

Let me give you an example.

Up until late 2009 someone who was no older than 40, held a recognised qualification (in anything), with ten years of work experience and either a family member in NZ or a partner with a recognised qualification (in anything) stood a reasonable, but slowly dwindling, chance of securing Residence whilst sitting overseas.

Today that person’s chances would be right next to zero. However, if that person was skilled and willing to travel to New Zealand to secure a job offer then they would definitely qualify. In fact, they wouldn’t need half of the points and could rely purely on their age, work experience and a job offer to get them across the line.

The signal is clear come over, secure a job offer and Residence awaits you. The Government, however, doesn’t make that clear to all those that would like to apply. For the four years that job offers have ruled the roost, the Government has continued to allow people to file EOI’s despite the fact that without a job offer they will almost certainly never be selected. Those whose points scores do not include the required bonus points or are too low to reach the automatic selection pass mark. They will always argue that the pass mark might change and so they allow people to pay the NZD$510.00 anyway, but we know (and they know) that for four years those people have been wasting their money (and hopes) whilst the Government has been collecting the fee. That is, however, another story for another blog.

There is some logic to the current trend to push people towards a job offer and whilst many migrants may find it a bitter pill to swallow it can, with very careful planning and strategy, be a successful pathway to follow.

Think about it. If you were given a Resident Visa right now, stamped into your passport, your ticket to the land of the long white cloud…what would be the next thing to cross your mind? For most it should be “I need to get a job”. Of course there will be a few who can afford to live without one but they would be in the minority.

The system that this Government has ‘slipped under the door’ simply puts the job at the front of the process and the Residence at the back. The bigger issue is that they don’t really make it that easy to navigate the process, which is why having good advice along the way is now far more important than ever before. It is no longer a case of just filling in a form, get your papers and send the courier to INZ. There is a lot more to it.

You need to be prepared for what lies ahead. Careful and strategic planning is required to make sure that when you do get here you a) know how the process works and how to secure that job offer and b) you have everything you need in terms of evidence and proof to make each application efficient and painless. Many a migrant has come unstuck being ill advised or ill prepared for the process that awaits them in New Zealand.

You also need to appreciate the bigger picture. You need to understand the market for your skills and how to tackle the job search process. You can read our other posts on this for more information, however if you have a skill, particularly in engineering, construction and ICT (but not exclusively just those areas) then you stand a very good chance of staking your family flag in our soil.

We have counselled and hand-held thousands of migrants through that very process. Understanding the timing and the logistics involved is something we are very good at and why despite rising pass marks and a recession we have continued to bring in successful, happy and settled families.

And to some degree getting the job offer first and then getting Residence makes for a more settled/successful migrant. Not that those who get Residence first don’t also settle, but having travelled here to secure the job, bringing the family over who can also start working and studying and then becoming accustomed to the routine of life in NZ, almost makes the Residence approval an anti-climax. It’s still a big deal of course but those with job offers first have already crossed the larger barriers in terms of employment and are pretty much established New Zealanders.

We also suspect that the current system of jobs up front is here to stay for a while at least. It allows the labour market to drive the demand and ensures that those people making New Zealand home are employed and contributing.

So if you have ever considered making the move, but have been put off by the prospect of having to secure the job offer first, perhaps you need to take another look. The most important step, however, is to first work out which pathway exists for you and then finding someone that can assist you in walking down that road.

We do it all the time and we do it very successfully.

On a separate but related note, don’t forget our upcoming seminars in South Africa, Singapore, Hong Kong, Malaysia and Indonesia. They might just give you the answers you need to take that first step.

Also congratulations to James Turner, one of the team here who has recently passed his IAA Licensing course, with exemplary marks (some of the highest in the course).

Until next week – Paul Janssen, standing in for the Southern Man.


Spin Doctoring...

Posted by Paul on July 6, 2014, 10:04 a.m. in Immigration

It’s that time of year again when politicians dust off their banners, cajole the media and take to the streets in an effort to secure votes in the upcoming 2014 general election.

One of the topics most widely contested and often used as a ‘political football’ in the run up to the election is immigration. If there is one issue that is normally sure to spur debate and get people moving alliances it’s the flow of people in and out of this country. The two parties particularly strong in this arena are the Labour and New Zealand First camps. Yet whilst the politicians from both of these parties have in recent months been bandying about rumours of cutting numbers, changing policies and ‘reinventing the wheel’ it would seem that the New Zealand public aren’t overly fussed about it.

The Labour party are in desperate need of a campaign rocket and in the past few months have raised the spectre of coming down hard on immigration, cutting overall numbers and imposing potential restrictions on foreigners buying property here. The fingers of New Zealand First have been pointed at migrants for rising house prices, potential increases in inflation and an untenable superannuation scheme, however in most cases these fires have been doused by a relatively cool headed public perception of the overall trends of migration.

Labour has all but back tracked on their promises to cut migrant numbers as recent polls have poured water on what they were hoping would be a raging fire. New Zealand First although still slightly warm on the topic have moved on to other issues with more fervour, leaving the immigration debate on the side-lines.

The New Zealand Herald very recently reported on their own poll which showed only one third of New Zealanders surveyed felt that migration levels were too high, ergo two thirds of people were either relatively comfortable or non-committal with where things were at. In fact the vast majority of people appreciated that migrants were an important part of economic growth, fuelling both productivity and creating further employment opportunities. More surprisingly for the first time in years, there was a much greater public awareness of migration trends, with a large majority of the people being polled, relatively aware of migration patterns over the last few years.

In another similar review on www.stuff.co.nz, it appears that both Labour and NZ First, who have always used immigration as one of their key policy platforms, are wasting their time. Only four percent of respondents cited immigration as the big ticket item on the agenda and almost all were more concerned with day to day issues such as healthcare, education and the overall state of the economy. This is despite the last year seeing a rise in temporary migration numbers (owing mostly to the Christchurch rebuild). 

In previous years the public have been swayed by pre-election stories of ‘soaring’ immigration numbers and this so called ‘foreign invasion’ yet this time it appears as though the majority of New Zealanders see other things as being more important. 

It makes sense.

The country is well into recovery mode and continues to hold the title of the ‘rock star economy’. Growth in most sectors continues, whilst unemployment slowly falls. The recruiting firm Hudson recently confirmed that the number of employers seeking to hire within the next quarter had increased 4.5% to a total of 31.8% nationwide. Whilst there is still an air of caution out there, many employers are feeling confident with recent economic conditions and this then leads to a stronger commitment to grow their workforce. All signs point to this continuing.

Christchurch is one of the major contributors to this and they still need skills down there – a lot of them. Further spending has been earmarked for the rebuild and although hiring intentions slowed very slightly in the last quarter that looks likely to swing back to the previous high demand as the rebuild money continues to flow.

So for the potential migrant, concerned about what politicians are saying in the run up to the election, don’t be. Even the political parties normally keen to throw the immigration football are heading for the benches on this one.

It appears that public opinion on this one has already ruled. We understand that migrants are important; more people now understand that and are happy with the current flow of talent into New Zealand. I suspect that you will see discussions on migration lessen as the election draws nearer, with the parties at the bottom of the polls scrambling to find other fuel to throw on the fire.

So if you have hesitated in making the move because of political uncertainty, I wouldn’t be worried. New Zealand isn’t going to close its doors. Instead the signs of economic growth, increasing business confidence and a relatively buoyant economic outlook are all signs that we will continue to welcome those with skills to add to the mix.

 

Until next week – Paul Janssen (standing in for the Southern Man).


Essential Skills Work Visas Explained

Posted by Paul on June 13, 2014, 4:10 p.m. in Immigration

If you asked most people how many different kind of Work Visas there are for New Zealand, I would bet good money that none of them would guess the real number. 

There are in fact more than a dozen different types of Work Visa, some with their own separate variations and all with their own unique set of rules. Despite this the one Work Visa that is probably misinterpreted the most, but ironically the one that is the most common is the “Essential Skills” Visa or “ES” for short (and so I don’t have to keep typing it).

There is a lengthy description of the ES Visa on the Immigration Department website, which effectively boils down to a category of Visa that is designed to assist employers in filling temporary shortages in the labour market by granting Work Visas to those that have the skills that can be proven to be in short supply.

It is not officially a pathway to Residence but for most people who travel here to secure a job with a view to applying as a Skilled Migrant, the ES Visa is the first step in that process. As a Residence case is likely to take between six to nine months to process then getting the ES Visa first, which allows you to take up the offer before the employer loses interest, is the key.

Because it is so commonly used and frankly in the overall scheme of migrating as a Skilled Migrant a particularly important step in the process, I thought it would be useful to clarify a few basic rules for this Visa type and also dispel a few myths.

ES Visas can only be applied for when someone has an offer of full time employment paid by salary or wages (no commission only roles). If the role is fixed term then the Visa will be issued in line with that period. If the role is permanent then the Visa will be issued for between one and five years depending on the level of skill involved in the role. There are also two key components that have to be satisfied when anyone applies for an ES Visa:

  • That they are suitably qualified by training and/or experience to undertake the job on offer
  • That the employer has made a genuine attempt to recruit for the role within the local labour market and has established that a shortage exists for the position

For the first point, this is relatively easy to explain. Every job you can think of is listed in a publication called the Australia/New Zealand Standard Classification of Occupations or ANZSCO for short. This gives a list of the duties for each role, a skill level and then the required qualifications or experience that an applicant should have. For example an Accountant should have a Degree, whereas a farm labourer need not have any experience at all. The higher the skill level the higher the qualification or work experience requirement. To file an application for an ES Visa you need to demonstrate that you have the qualifications or experience that ANZSCO prescribes. 

The second point gets slightly more complex, although is probably the most vital part of any ES Visa application. As the Visa is designed to fill temporary gaps in the labour market where employers simply cannot find staff locally to fill that role, it is vital that the employer is able to provide solid evidence to support that. In general this means showing that the role was advertised and that a robust recruitment process was followed to determine that there was no one else available with the required skills and/or experience. And you have to prove it. Simply stating that in a letter won’t fly so the proof needs to match the claim.

Although it might not sound like much, never underestimate INZ’s ability to scrutinise these applications to within an inch of their life. Sometimes the ones that look the easiest can often become the biggest battles.

But it doesn’t stop there.

More often than not the mistakes don’t occur during the initial application but rather once the Visa has been issued. There are conditions attached to the ES Visa which are important for both the migrant and the employer to be aware of and unfortunately are often overlooked.

For the migrant the ES Visa is specific down to the occupation, employer and location that was applied for originally and this is stated on the label. So if you have a job working as a Plumber for ‘ABC Pipes’ (I am guessing there is no such company) based in Gore, you cannot go and work as a Taxidermist for ‘Stuffed Animals Are Us’ in Palmerston North (I also hope this company doesn’t exist) using the same Visa. If your employer or location changes and the role is the same you may need to apply for a Variation of Conditions (depending on the details), however, if your occupation changes then it’s a new Work Visa application entirely.

It’s also slightly more intricate than that. Even if you stay in the same company, in the same department but are promoted to the Manager of Taxidermy, then technically this requires a new Visa and remember the same rules in regards to advertising and the required skills apply. Because this isn’t obvious and certainly not made obvious by INZ, many people end up being promoted and then ending up being in breach of their Visa without knowing it.

The golden rule is that if your situation changes, you need to change your (Visa) situation.

If you want to bring your children with you on Student or Visitor Visas, then you also need to be aware that there is a minimum income threshold for parents on an ES Visa. The current minimum income threshold is NZD$35,294.60 per annum and must be met before any Visas will be issued for the kids (not negotiable). If you want to bring your spouse or partner over on an Open Work Visa then there is no minimum income requirement but your ES Visa must be valid for more than six months.

Whilst most of the ES rules are the responsibility of the applicant, it’s important for employers also to be aware of their obligations. If a staff member does change roles, it’s good practice to check their Visa status to make sure that it allows them to be employed in that position or recommend that they get it varied or file a new application. I often suggest that HR managers or business owners keep a register of who has a Visa and what that Visa allows so that if things change, then the right steps can be taken. This saves a lot of time and hassle later particularly if you have to try and apply for a new Visa for a new position that your employee has already started working in.

Overall the key thing is to remember that with any Visa there are usually conditions or obligations attached, so getting it is half the battle, staying within those conditions is the second half. Like most things immigration related the rules can be far more complicated than they first appear and certainly more complicated than INZ might suggest on their website so if you are on an ES Visa and thinking of changing careers, or pushing for that promotion, spare a few moments to consider what steps you might need to take to sort your Visa as well.

Or why not get in touch with us so we can assess your options and point you down the right track.

Until next week when the Southern Man returns...

Paul Janssen


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