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Posted by Paul on Oct. 29, 2021, 11:06 a.m. in Travel bubble
When I was younger (much younger), like most New Zealand children, one of our favourite summer evening games was “go home stay home”… a twist on the traditional “tag”, where you and your neighbourhood comrades had to reach a particular place (we used to refer to it as a base) and yell “go home, stay home” as loudly as possible and much to the chagrin of your neighbours. Whilst all of this was going on, one person was tasked with chasing the players down and ‘tagging’ them, which usually resulted in many a fall and plenty of irreversible grass stains on your new Stubbies (look that up). Fond memories for many of us living in New Zealand.
Fast forward a fair few years (I won’t tell you how many) and nowadays the phrase “go home, stay home” has taken on an entirely new meaning. Globally most of us have experienced the game of lockdown in which we all must go home and stay home, although it is nowhere near as much fun and leaves a very different kind of stain. There are however plenty of New Zealanders stuck offshore, who would love nothing more than to be even able to just get home let alone stay home, forced in to playing the MIQ lottery in order to do so (MIQ is our mandatory isolation process for arrivals in to New Zealand). As far as games go, the MIQ process, where equally worthy contestants virtually line up to be randomly selected in order to secure one of a limited number of places, is pretty Orwellian.
For almost two years, citizens and Resident Visa holders returning to New Zealand or those approved to come here to fulfil critical roles have had to compete with each other for valuable places within the MIQ system and demand has far outweighed supply. Equally some of these MIQ places have been made available to isolate and quarantine local Covid cases as they have appeared, which up until August of this year were relatively small numbers.
With the arrival of Delta to our shores two months ago and despite the country being thrown in to varying levels of lockdown (Auckland bearing the brunt of it for the last two months), community case numbers have continued to increase, leading to further pressure on the local demand for MIQ – all the while those offshore continue to run the lottery with each new set of room releases. The system that was already a mess and straining under the weight of people competing for a spot, is now practically unworkable.
Like many countries, New Zealand has now finally realised and the Government has admitted (perhaps a little too late) that the elimination strategy and making people go home and keeping them there for months on end, isn’t going to win the war – the only real way out is to vaccinate as many people as you can and ensure your health system is ready to cope with the potential overflow. Covid being out and about is inevitable, eliminating it is fanciful, managing it is the best you can hope for. With the push for a 90% vaccination target (which many think is overly ambitious) that will lead to the end of lockdowns and a new traffic light system to manage our freedoms (yes, traffic lights), we will no doubt move to a more workable border management system as well.
There are signs that this is coming and given the inevitable increase in local case numbers, using the already faltering MIQ process to isolate those onshore cases was never going to work. The plan of course is to move to allowing people to self-isolate at home dependent on their vaccination status and introducing that will take the pressure off the MIQ process which simply couldn’t cope with case numbers increasing at the current rate. In fact, as this goes to print, some unlucky Covid recipients in Auckland are already being allowed to quarantine at home as an interim measure – no doubt because the MIQ system is already bulging at the seams.
Logically (for most of us) if you can have someone onshore with Covid, self-isolating as a means to manage the spread of the virus, then it would stand to reason that someone coming in from offshore, fully vaccinated and with a negative test before arriving should be able to do the same. It appears as though the penny has dropped with the powers that be.
As of Thursday this week, our Covid response Minister outlined that the overall risk profile of those coming in via the border versus those already here with Covid has been reviewed and it makes sense. The number of Covid cases arriving at our border is incredibly low, compared to those cases spreading in the community and thus there is a strong argument to rebalance the use of MIQ in both situations.
From 14 November MIQ stays will be reduced to one week, followed by short stays of home isolation, along with testing at regular intervals. This on its own will free up a lot of MIQ rooms which will go back in to the system to allow more people to return.
In addition to this, fully vaccinated travellers from a small number of low risk countries will be able to enter NZ without requiring MIQ and instead being able to self-isolate at home. These countries are however largely our pacific neighbours where Covid is virtually non-existent.
Lastly and in the early part of 2022, a wider range of international arrivals will be able to arrive and self-isolate, rather than having to fight for quarantine accommodation.
While the details are a bit vague at this stage and largely refer to New Zealand citizens and Residents being able to come back first, eventually this approach will extend to those people coming in for many other purposes, including workers, students and visitors.
There is no doubt that all of this will be staggered out over time and different groups will be able to take advantage of the ability to self-isolate (thus avoiding the MIQ headache) at different times, but the message is clear – NZ is aiming to open up. One might find some irony in the fact that it took another outbreak and an increase in Covid cases marching their way up and down the two islands to bring about this realisation – but we shan’t protest (too much).
For New Zealanders and those with Visas already in hand, this is potentially great news and brings a lot of light to the end of what has been in some cases a very dark and long tunnel. Equally for those of you looking to make the move and settle here, it reinforces our previous messages, that New Zealand is not closed for business.
There is also no question that the Government has had the beleaguered MIQ process and rising onshore case numbers at the front of mind when planning the border reopening but equally there is rising economic pressure due to an incredible and ongoing shortage of skills that will be adding to the border management puzzle.
So poorly managed is the existing MIQ process that even though we can secure Visas for those whose skills we critically need, they can’t actually get here to deploy those skills, when the last step is essentially a lottery for hotel rooms. There is no shortage of press coverage over how flawed this approach is and how much it is hurting our economic recovery and growth, particularly when unemployment numbers remain consistently low.
In a recent post, we commented on the current labour market predicament and the scarcity of skills and how that would clearly indicate that New Zealand is by no means ‘closed for business’ as far as migration is concerned. This move to remedy the current MIQ system and free up spaces, along with eventually allowing those who are fully vaccinated to be able to travel in and out more freely, clearly reinforces that.
For those of you considering the move here, it has been an uncertain time and there are still plenty of potential changes to be revealed, but the underlying fact is that New Zealand needs those with the skills we are so desperately lacking and we are working (slowly) towards being able to bring them through.
While some uncertainty remains, what myself and my colleagues are convinced of is the fact that when the borders do open up and potential migrants are able to make their way here, the competition will be fierce. Despite our somewhat fortress like approach to the pandemic, New Zealand remains a very popular destination for the would-be migrant and there will be people lining up to secure those jobs when the opportunity arises. The question now, for those considering the move, is will you be ready to be at the front of that queue or will you be lagging behind. The smart money will be on those who take the time now to prepare themselves as best they can for when the flood gates open.
There is no question that in the race to call New Zealand home, there will be a few grass stains acquired along the way as the Government continues to navigate (some might say fumble) its way through the pandemic, but with the right team mates on board and identifying the right strategy now, there will be plenty of opportunities to yell “go home, stay home” from this side of the world.
Until next week…
Posted by Iain on Sept. 14, 2021, 4:32 p.m. in Work Visa
I've been asking myself over the past few days what might happen to the visa landscape if the following five things were to happen as part of the government's proposed immigration ‘reset’ to focus on more "highly skilled" migrants.
1. Expedited processing of all Skilled Migrant resident visa applications sitting in the processing queue i.e. migrants who have been invited to apply and filed have their residence processed now without delay subject to local police clearance and evidence they are still working in skilled employment; and
2. The government increased the points required to be selected from the skilled migrant pool to 180 (at least for a while); and
3. The government increases ‘points’ for those people with jobs in New Zealand who have statutory registration (bonus 20 points), work in an occupation on the long-term skill shortage list (bonus 30 points instead of the current 10) or perhaps earn twice the national median salary (20 or 30 points?); and
4. Require all skilled migrants to earn 1.5 times the national median income to be eligible under the category. That would mean around $84,000 pre-tax per annum.
5. Provide a three year pathway to residence for everybody who was in New Zealand holding an Essential Skills Work Visa or Talent Visa when the border closed in March 2020. Make them provide evidence they have been employed for say two of the last three years.
On the first two points I have previously written that it makes sense for the government to simply fast track all applications sitting waiting to be processed and get rid of the processing backlog. Given most of these people will be on work visas this would demand little verification to quickly approve them as that verification should have been carried out at work visa stage.
Increase the points for those seeking selection in the pool to 180. There’s no doubt that will knock a lot of people out given most people believe(d) the pass mark would probably stay at 160 when selections resumed, as it was when when they filed their EOI. To assume the pass mark would always remain static is to make a false assumption – it is a “floating” pass mark and always has been. It can go up – or down.
When INZ accidently posted a new page recently on their ‘points calculator’ of an increase in points for those the government has been treating lately as being more “valuable” in terms of priority processing (those registered in New Zealand, those earning twice the median national income and adding occupations on the long-term skills shortage list) it wouldn’t be a big step. By increasing the points any of these people sitting on 160 might get should increase them to 180 or 190 meaning they will be selected. I don’t know how many of the 11,500 EOIs (covering around 23,000 people) would meet the criteria but it would be safe to assume perhaps 40-50% or so. The question would be how many applicants could rearrange their lives to get more points e.g. moving out of Auckland to secure 30 more points for a job.
So what of the others left in the EOI pool? This is where the fourth thought comes in. Given that New Zealand is experiencing acute skill and labour shortages (and they are different in terms of how visas are issued) the government could preserve its aura of “kindness” (better late than never if you are an immigrant), and reward all those people sitting on Essential Skills Work Visas or similar and who have stuck by (or been stuck in) New Zealand through the pandemic.
That might be viewed as controversial but I would support it. After all, these people are in New Zealand, they have labour market tested work visas meaning the government was satisfied they did not take a job from a local, they have been paying their taxes, putting down roots and assimilating into local communities. Their neighbours are people like you and me. Even if that wasn’t good enough reason to let them stay, with the borders still largely closed until early 2022, it would be an act of national self interest. We have fruit rotting on trees because we don’t have people to pick it and at the other end of the scale we have engineering companies producing world-class products unable to expand their operations because they can’t bring staff across the border. We have, like it not, both a labour shortage and skill shortage and we cannot conjure up locals to fill these jobs out of thin air.
Furthermore I would argue that whatever infrastructure pressure NZ and particularly Auckland has been created by those who have stuck by New Zealand over the past 18 months, the pressure is in the past tense. Yes, making 100,000 people leave the country would certainly impact on house price affordability for those who stay and take a few cars off the road. I believe most strongly those people should not be a scapegoat for New Zealand’s lack of planning when it comes to infrastructure needs, population growth and immigration policy (mis)settings.
If the government wants to do this, then I expect most of those sitting in the skilled migrant pool but don’t have 180 points should be granted a pathway to residency because almost all of them are going to be on an Essential Skills Work visa or something similar. If the government said they were going to work their way through these people over, say, the next three years and they are given some degree of certainty that residency might not come quickly but it will come, I’d take that if I were among them.
The government could over the next couple of years clear the decks for the new immigration policy whatever that may look like. Some versions of the above – higher salaries required and higher points to be part of the programme might be just around the corner?
This could include an increase in the median salary required to be part of the skilled migrant program to, say, 1.5 times the national median. This will have no impact on people who are in New Zealand at the current time and sitting waiting to be processed if the other points above are rolled out but would have an impact on who may be able to be part of the residence program in future – but they can make their decision based on what they are likely to earn (among the other variables migrants must take into account).
Salary is a very blunt tool for assessing skill level but in the recent “dumbing down” of policy to the level some Immigration officers can handle I don’t think it’s going to go away as a tool any time soon. Many nurses and most teachers would never earn 1.5 times teh median salary so might we now exclude them from the chance of residence because most could not reach the minimum salary threshold? Do I believe they would come to New Zealand for a short time on a Work Visa and then leave after 2-3 years? No. The truth is they woud pick other countries and wouldn’t come to New Zealand in the first place. Perhaps the government would consider an exemption on the salary criteria for those highly skilled but lower paid occupations that are in ongoing and acute demand?
Finally there is the ability of the department to process tens of thousands of cases over the next two or three years to consider. INZ simply cannot cope with large numbers of cases no matter what policies are in place. A very disturbing set of statistics released to us this week under the Official Information Act shows at the moment there is only 73 immigration officers who are processing skilled migrant Resident Visa applications. This is down from 83 in June. Although we don’t know their individual caseloads, what we do know is:
- 4 case officers have more than 30 files;
- 23 case officers had between 20-29 files
- 49 case officers had between 10 and 19 files
- 7 case officers had between 1 and 9 files
Those are incredibly low case per officer numbers – and it has been this way for months.
Any solution Government might decide to put in place to reduce backlogs, clear the decks and get INZ ready for whatever follows needs to ensure the bureaucracy has the numbers and the 'nous' to process whatever is coming their way. Right now they don’t.
I understand the Minister might be making some announcements soon on all this. I have no inside information from INZ on what might happen over the next few weeks or months but it is an attempt to pull together the various rumours and accidental releases from within the department itself to try and imagine what the immediate future holds for tens of thousands of people trying to work out if New Zealand (still) wants them.
Until next week
Posted by Iain on May 17, 2021, 12:11 p.m. in Immigration
The rumour mill has been working overtime since Friday on what announcements might be made by the Minister of Immigration’s in his 6pm (tonight NZT) ‘invitation only’ speech.
Normally I wouldn’t buy into the social media prattle or press releases by some who should know better than to fuel the speculation by issuing press statements but here is what we know at IMMagine (from reliable sources) and what we think we can reasonably expect tonight:
1. EOI pool is not going to be drained tonight. Those that are in it, will remain in and are not about to be 'lapsed'. Unaswered question at this point is when will they resume the pool draws. I stand by my prediction earlier this year that it won't be until the application backlog (those who have filed resident visas) is under control. September possible, December more likely but I wouldn't bet the beach house on it.
2. The same so called 'managed queue' of skilled resident visa applicants is not going to be touched, torched, applications thrown out, money refunded, no one thrown under a bus.
3. What got everyone atwitter on Friday was the rumour of 30,000 ‘visas’ being cancelled but that seems most likely to be reference to those who have filed temporary visas e.g. visitor and student offshore since the border was largely closed which are just sitting there gathering electronic dust. That seems logical to me – government confirmed a week or two ago there’ll be no offshore visa processing until at least 6 August, so why keep those applications in the system? Refunding those people and cleaning out that part of the system makes sense. Media decided ‘visas’ were being cancelled – ‘temporary visa applications in the system not yet decided’ seems more likely.
4. On the Skilled Migrant Category more than a few industry advisers have speculated if the Minister might announce an increase to the minimum salary for jobs to be skilled to possibly has high as twice the median wage - the magical $106,080. We understand INZ has confirmed today that in the SMC paper that they have ready to go to the Minister that is off the table and not being recommended. It might mean they will stick with their $27 per hour plan which was tabled a long time ago however and meant to be in force in April. Not a train smash for our clients.
My feeling is the Government is attracting so much heat over the immigration mess they seem unwilling or incapable of sorting out that they need to say something, and the days of blaming capacity constraints within MIQ is probably over with the travel bubble with Australia freeing up hundreds of rooms every week, so perhaps expect some talk (maybe even a plan!) about freeing up borders to more 'cohorts' of critical workers over the coming months.
Some time later...630pm - Minister unwell. Stand in Minister announced... nothing. Simply affirmed a 'direction of travel', 'pieces of work are underway' and as usual signals and this appeared to be nothing more than announcement about announcements. No wonder the immigration system is such a mess.
Posted by Iain on May 7, 2021, 9:44 a.m. in Work Visa
INZ is starting to drip feed the details of the new work visa processes upon which work began back in late 2019. I say drip feed because in the recent announcements and webinars they have held they said ‘We are still doing work on that’ or ‘We are waiting on the Minister to tell us what he thinks’ (good luck with that then).
I really don’t understand why they go public with half the detail.
What we do know is there will be more bureaucracy involved but to those that have ever filed a work visa, there is nothing here that seeks to deliberately cut down the number of work visas at least for those earning higher amounts than the median national income. So that is reassuring.
All employers seeking to employ migrants will have to become ‘accredited’ before they can support work visa applications. Initial accreditation will be valid for 12 months and it can be renewed for periods of 24 months (with what INZ described as a ‘light touch’ which in English means if you’ve got accreditation it won’t be too hard to keep it).
The process will comprise three steps.
1. Employer check - employers can start apply for this for ‘late September’. By 1 November any employer that needs to employ non-residents must have that accreditation. Employers will be required to demonstrate inter alia they are registered as a genuine business with Inland Revenue (the tax department), have a registered Business Number, have a track record of complying with immigration and employment law and the employer must complete some government run, online, ‘employment modules’ providing any new staff with information on their employment rights etc.
2. Job check - depending on where the job is located (Auckland, Hamilton, Wellington, Christchurch, Dunedin being defined as 'cities' means the process may be a little dfferent to those applying for jobs everywhere else) and what the salary is will determine what sort of local labour market test, if any, is required. Advertising evidence may or may not be required again depending on location and salary.
3. Migrant check - essentially proving the migrant is ‘suitably qualified’ to take up the role (we are assuming the same test applies to that which applies today), that there is no ‘suitable New Zealanders available for the role or who could be trained’ (again, status quo) and of course health and character checks will be carried out. So no real change coming there.
Franchises and what INZ refers to as ‘triangle’ employers e.g. those that employ and then sub contract out such as labour hire companies, will have shorter periods of accreditation and more onerous conditions placed on them.
Those on existing work visas do not have to apply for new visas nor does their employer need to become accredited before 1 November.
Those earning twice the median salary will still have available to them a work to residence pathway i.e. work for an accredited employer for two years and you can qualify for residence in that way. A new higher salary threshold will apply - twice the median salary which today is a total salary of $106,080. Today to achieve the same 'residence from work outcome' applicants must be earning $79,560. My thoughts on that is most people earning $106,080 will qualify under the ‘points’ system anyway so nothing much to worry about for those people.
The one big question mark for us was what about those on existing work to residence (WTR) visas if no residence visa has been filed before midnight on 31 October? INZ said they are waiting Ministerial direction on how they should be treating those people. That is of real concern to us. Is the Government going to pull the rug out from under the feet of the thousands of people in the country now on an existing work to residence pathway? In theory they could by simply reminding those holding WTR that what they hold is a temporary visa. Of course it is more than that to those that hold them - it is the only pathway many of them had to a resident visa so while technically it is a temporary visa, in effect it is so much more than that. I’d like to think the Government will confirm that the pathway to those people will be preserved.
All in all there is little to be too concerned about with this greater focus going onto employers but as always the devil is going to be in the detail.
Posted by Iain on Sept. 25, 2020, 10:01 a.m. in COVID-19
It’s our bottom line advice to those looking to move to New Zealand or Australia and who believe they have the skills or capital that the Australian and New Zealand Government’s traditionally have sought out. If you leave it too long till borders are fully reopen not only might you be waiting a long time but you might also be caught up with hundreds of thousands of people looking for the ‘arrivals’ door at airports across New Zealand and Australia.
I cannot believe over the past six months how many people are contacting us, now desperate to leave wherever they are and join us on one of our islands. For islands, even big ones like Australia, are currently viewed as the safest places to be during a global pandemic and beyond. Not hard to control the border when you can simply shut down flying. If Trump is re-elected in the US, Boris continues to stuff up Brexit, Europe continues to groan under the weight of illegal migrants and legal refugees, South Africa continues its inexorable economic decline, Hong Kongers realise the BNO passport might not be the answer to their China fears and Singapore battles with its economic recovery, we will continue to be busy as people’s priorities continue to shift. Countries like New Zealand and Australia with lower population densities, solid health systems and sensible Governments are simply going to become more and more popular.
The fact that the Australian Government has already signalled that it is not cutting permanent residence quotas this year and next is telling. Over the past quarter century a significant percentage of Australia’s GDP growth has come from the two ‘M’s - ‘mining’ and ‘migration’. The PM has already signalled it is his (wise) intention to let business, rather than Government, dig, literally it seems, Australia out of its recession. China is back buying up lots of ore. Migrants consume - all need houses, cars, flat screen TVs and lounge suites - and therefore spend money when they get off the plane which explains why Australia doesn’t want to cut and continues to process residence cases.
I am pleasantly surprised by this given Australian unions have enormous and disproportionate political power and in times of rising unemployment in Australia you’d think they’d be arguing for the labour market drawbridge to be pulled up. The unions might well be but the wind is blowing nicely at the back of the pro-business federal Government that has increased in popularity given its handling of the virus. Any calls for restricting migration are for the most part being drowned out.
In New Zealand and as I wrote last week, no political party has signalled what it is going to do with immigration policy settings or quotas if it makes it to the treasury benches next month. My guess is the Labour Party will be governing with the Green Party. If that happens you can expect no real change to immigration policy settings - strangely immigration simply doesn’t seem to be part of either parties social or economic policy mix despite the current economic downturn. The National Party seems to have no ideas on immigration and the changing needs of our labour market which signals status quo if by some miracle they form the next Government.
If and when international travel starts again the smart migrant will be prepared. They will have their papers in order and their bags packed. The competition for available and limited places is only going to heat up when (if) there is a vaccine even if that prospect is still 12-24 months away.
We are working hard with over 600 families many now who have heeded that advice, see the logic and are getting prepared.
Those that have options in Australia can still file their permanent or provisional residence visas and we are filing many. Preparation, lodging and processing times for Australia is still running around 15-18 months to approval with the thick end of a further year on top to get to Australia to activate the residence so those getting things underway now will be well placed when the Aussies allow those with PRVs to enter Australia (right now they are extending deadlines for those with them to travel, as is NZ).
The current NZ Government recently said that skills shortages would ‘primarily’ need to be addressed from within New Zealand. I thought it took four years to train an apprentice, to complete a Bachelor of Education degree, five years to complete an Engineering degree (if there is an intermediate year), ditto Veterinarians and at least six years to complete a medical or dental degree. What do they propose we do in the meantime if we need to see a Doctor or Dentist or we actually decide to start building some of the billions of dollars worth of infrastructure projects this lot keep harping on about? We don’t have the skills in the quantity we require.
The immediate challenge for the next Government in New Zealand is whether they are going to adapt to the new needs of the labour market - both skilled and less skilled - or they are going to stick with the current ‘get a skilled job and have enough ‘points’ and you are in’ strategy. In many respects the NZ system makes more sense in a non Covid world than the Australian one as ours is labour market driven. In NZ the system is self correcting - if there aren’t enough people to fill annual quotas because they cannot get jobs, the pass mark can fall. If however demand increases, as I can see happening when the border fully reopens, the opposite should happen and the pass mark should go up.
The big problem with this Covid world however is it is virtually impossible to manage that demand. This time last year the problem was too many jobs being created in NZ and not enough locals to fill them and therefore huge demand for migrants. Now, although unemployment is only 4% and that demand will have fallen as employers nervously try to map their future employment needs, skills shortages are not going away any time soon and to suggest, even in the heat of an election campaign that employers should fill jobs locally is wilfully ignorant of where the skills pressure points are in the labour market. If the Government is re-elected and continue that line, businesses will not expand - they won’t be able to. We rely too heavily on importing the skills we don’t produce enough of.
The reality is rising unemployment is not going to solve the bulk of our skills shortages. At IMMagine we are constantly being approached by recruiters asking if we can get border exemptions if a foreign candidate gets a job - particularly in the trades, Engineering, teaching and IT.
What our next government must look at in the short term is granting border exemptions to a far greater number of occupations than they do now. People are still being offered jobs here but for the most part rely on some low level state functionary to grant a border exemption to travel here to take up the job. And that process is dogged by inconsistent decision making.
As businesses in New Zealand learn to live with the virus (as clearly there is no alternative, eradicating is a pipe dream) employers are going to have to be able to bring in those skills we still don’t have, rising unemployment or not.
The smart migrant then will be ready and waiting. Prepared. Avoiding the ever growing pack queuing up behind them.
Until next week
Posted by Iain on May 29, 2020, 2:47 p.m. in Immigration New Zealand
This week the Director General of Health, clearly our de facto Health Minister during the Covid-19 crisis given the ongoing absence of the elected one, made an interesting and telling comment - virus testing was moving from the community to the border. The obvious conclusion is that with there being only one person left in the country with the Coronavirus this week and no new cases being reported and community transmission halted, this was the clearest signal yet the government is looking to start to gradually re-open the border.
So who might stand to benefit and who might be allowed in?
Seems to start with being a movie mogul with the Minister responsible for ‘exceptions’ to the border closure announcing this week that the crew required to complete the ongoing filming and production of the Avatar sequel are to be allowed in. Apparently they have special skills we do not have here which is doubtful given the size of the local movie, television and commercial production industry.
What of the thousands of other highly skilled workers we still need on the farms, in IT, education, biotech, trades and Engineering - many of whom still have jobs but are either trapped offshore or are in New Zealand with work visas in process?
I can imagine that the next cabs off the rank will be the hundreds of current work visa holders who still have jobs here, had been working here, but who were overseas when the border shut down. Strangely they are still not allowed to re-enter the country despite many of those quarantine hotel rooms now sitting empty.
At the same time those with valid work visas (but who hadn't taken up the job in NZ when the border was closed) should in my view be allowed to enter along with their families. We represent many - IT Security Specialists and Vets to name two - who work in areas of absolute skills shortage who are marooned offshore, leaving local employers tearing their hair out. All our clients have been invited to apply for residence but are unable to take up their respective jobs. All are resigned to 14 days quarantine if that’s what it takes.
Joining them should be partners and children of international student and work visa holders where the student or work visa holder is already in the country. This group was listed among those who could apply for exceptions to be allowed to enter the country when it went into lockdown in March but who were quietly dropped off that list within a fortnight. This has meant hundreds, if not a few thousand, people have had their families torn apart with no end in sight. If the primary applicant is in New Zealand and is still on a valid work or student visa, and in the case of those on work visas, has a job, it is only right (can I say ‘kind’ one more time?) their family should be able to join them.
Then, everyone else.
Tourists I imagine need not apply till there is a vaccine or they are prepared for two weeks of staring at the four walls of a hotel room in quarantine (potentially at their expense) if they are tested on arrival and found to be positive.
I am not saying this will be the order or when it might happen. I do not know and apart from that one telling statement from the Director General, the government has, typically, been silent. I expect however that they will make some announcements over the next couple of weeks.
In a demonstration of how low on the Government’s priority ‘to do’ list immigration really features, what did send a chill down my spine was when, finally, at a press conference this week the PM was asked how a person who seeks to enter the country while the borders are closed should be expected to demonstrate ‘compelling and exceptional humanitarian circumstances’ to get a precious exemption when the form they have to fill provides them 60 words to do so (that’s less than the length of the sentence you just read), she scrunched up her face in quizzical fashion, as she tends to do, and said she wasn’t aware of that but would ask her (ghost) Minister of Immigration why this is the case. Nice deflection Jacinda, but here we are, several days later, and the form hasn’t changed. Did all those Avatar movie makers have to explain in 60 words or less why they should be allowed in?
On the home front we are starting to see the immigration department get back to work and back to their bizarre assessment ways with some new tricks.
I have written previously, that the department was about to ‘go hard and then go even harder’ on new Essential Skill Work Visa applications. They haven’t let me down and have come up, it seems, with some inventive but typically illogical and stupid methods to ensure as few work visas are issued as possible.
For any typical work visa applicant it has always been a requirement that the employer demonstrate a genuine effort to recruit locals for a position and to prove why they cannot train someone for the role. Fair enough - with local unemployment looking to spike to 8-9% by the end of June before starting to fall depending on whose thumb suck predictions you run with — it should be New Zealanders first. Every Government, everywhere, thinks likes that.
Trouble is when you ask a bureaucrat to start applying an otherwise reasonable thought, requiring some exercise in discretion, they tend to go to extremes while their ‘managers’ sit back and watch them do it (Managers inside this department can’t tell anyone what to do you see. Fact).
Already this week we have seen two clients, both highly skilled and specialised receive ‘letters of concern’ (identical to one another it should be noted confirming already this isn’t an ‘each case on its merits’ process) in which the case officer wants to know what current advertising the employer is doing to fill the role.
What employer follows a recruitment process of advertising, evaluating CVs, creating a short list of potentially suitable candidates, conducts interviews, selects one, formally offers a position and then continues to advertise the role? In which part of the universe does that ever happen?
Unfortunately some well-intentioned fool in Wellington sent out the following message in a recent guidance and as usual this has been taken, twisted, misinterpreted and then, like a virus, infected all case officers:
'Immigration officers should not specifically request that employers re-advertise a role (as this is not a request for information) though employers may choose to do this if an immigration officer is not satisfied that there are no New Zealanders available and that immigration instructions are not met'
Breaking that down it is clear that immigration officers are under no obligation to request, nor even suggest, that employers re-advertise a role... yet that is precisely what, in the only two cases we have received letters from INZ over work visas this week, they demand.
'Please send the following:
Updated advertising information to show there are no New Zealand citizens or residents available to do the work on offer and genuine attempts to attract and recruit suitable New Zealand citizens or residence class visa holders for the role have been made'
Identical letters. Neither officer bothered to explain why they are not satisfied that there are no New Zealanders available, just cut and pasted an identical templated letter that burbled on about the Coronavirus, local labour market softening, times are a changin' and then, as they tend to do, taken a one size fits all approach and demanded evidence of updated advertising.
Which begs any number of questions.
Why were they not satisifed with the genuine efforts made by the employer?
What evidence does the department have of current vacancies in that particular field? Are they up, down, sideways? What is the short, medium and long term labour market outlook for, say Veternarians in NZ or IT Security Specialists?
Given the employer had done all that immigration rules demand, in an often lengthy and comprehensive process leading to their decision to offer a migrant a job, if they do now run another advertisement online for a week or two, start the process over again but reach the same conclusion and (re)offer the job to the same non-resident, is the case officer going to accuse them of not making 'genuine efforts' the second time around and still not being 'satisifed' no New Zealander should be available?
I believe they are stupid enough to do it because they have clearly got it in their heads that they should be demanding new advertising to make sure a Kiwi steps forward. All in an effort to find a way, any way, to decline the work visa.
Honestly, I despair. If the advertising programme run by the employer finished, say, less than two-three weeks before the work visa application was assessed by an officer, why would INZ demand new advertising? Is the labour market going to shift seismically in 14-21 days?
If the advertising was completed before the country went into lockdown and jobs starting being shed locally I can better understand the employer being encouraged to have another crack at advertising OR INZ doing its own labour market research.
And if they are going to demand real time labour market testing, isn't the onus on the immigration department to receipt an application and assess it the day the application was filed? These applications can sit around for weeks in the best of times before case officers bother to look at them. They are seriously expecting employers to wait weeks until it is assessed, before getting this 'please advertise again' letter, then advertise again (which to do properly will take weeks), only to have some immmigration officer tell them that 'at the time of assessment' (not lodgement) 'I am not satisfied there may not be a local available'? Probably... because that's how they think. And it clearly what they have been told to do.
Is this a covert way of shutting down the skilled migrant residence programme without publicly announcing it?
I seriously doubt it - work visa rules exist in isolation from skilled migrant residence rules and I haven't ever come across a senior manager inside INZ who sees any connection (despite both visa outcomes relying on the same job offer, one which is labour market tested and one which is not), it seems to me to simply be another glaring example of a bureaucracy that makes decisions in a reality vacuum with no real understanding of how the real world operates and real businesses operate within that world.
The border might be about to open up a smidge but I fear the visa madness is only just the beginning.
Post script: Last week I wondered if those sitting in the Skilled Migrant Residence Visa processing queue, whose visa INZ hadn't got round to processing or approving when the lockdown started, might be treated with kindness and as part of the 'team of 5 million' if they lost their job, the conditions of that job (such as hours or effective hourly rate) changed such that they are no longer entitled to 50 or 80 points. INZ had this to say today:
'The conditions in a work-to-residence work visa or a job offer associated with a skilled migrant category visa application must be met for the applicant to be eligible for residence.
'Must be met'. Meaning if you have lost your job, do lose your job, have your hours and or have your pay cut then you are screwed.
My question of last week appears to have been answered and so much for all being in this together. Migrants might well be out in the cold and are not considered part of the 'team of 5 million' and are deemed expendable.
Until next week
Posted by Iain on April 24, 2020, 11:46 a.m. in New Zealand
Global media reports this week that Australia and New Zealand have just leapt to the top of the preferred countries to migrate to globally as people contemplate what the future might look like in a world that has not eliminated the coronavirus and for which there may not be a vaccine for quite some time, if ever. We were always popular destinations but very flattering to become number one and number two. But who got the gold medal? On this occasion let me just say it doesn't really matter. First among equals and all that.
This might have something to do with the fact that in New Zealand we are on track to eradicate the virus (virtually insignificant numbers of infections per day) and Australia has done a mighty fine job of containing things there. Internationally New Zealand is getting great praise for the way it is handling the epidemic. On a personal level I think Australia has done a better job as they didn't shut down the economy to the extent that we did and on a per capita basis their infection rate and death rate is broadly similar to our own.
As a business, we’ve already started to get more inquiries from people with lots of money interested in one, or both countries. For some time New Zealand has been viewed as something of a bolthole for wealthy Europeans and Americans, and more than a few Chinese. The fact that New Zealand has borders easy to protect, an abundance of food and sustainable energy makes it a very attractive country to live.
Reports here that shortly before the lockdown Learjets and Gulfstreams were practically falling out of the skies as, in particular, wealthy Americans, headed for their holiday homes, farms and bunkers primarily in Te Wai Pounamu/South Island of New Zealand. Yes, that's right, bunkers. There are apparently scores of these that have been built underground in recent years and some equipped with gyms, home theatres, squash courts and one imagines, several thousand cans of baked beans (or caviar). The cheap ones come in around $1 million and the expensive ones far more. Word was out many years ago in Silicon Valley that if the world looked like it was going to come to an end, New Zealand was a mighty fine place to watch it happen (at least until your caviar ran out).
I do not wish to rain on anyone's parade but I don't have any doubt that there will be zero appetite with this government to give preference to people with lots of money. In fact to be fair on this government, no government of any persuasion in New Zealand has really gone out and chased the super wealthy. It has always been politically a non-starter given New Zealanders egalitarian and socialist beliefs and in my experience the limited value that very rich people bring to the country anyway. I can't speak for Australia but I have little doubt politically it would be a nonstarter there as well. Both countries set aside, relative to their entire residency programs, very small numbers of visas for the wealthy.
With the Immigration Department in NZ announcing yesterday they will not be returning to work when New Zealand moves to Level 3 at midnight on Monday, it is clear that Visa processing is going to continue to be delayed and chaotic for the foreseeable future. Level 3 is expected to last at least two weeks. I can live with this virus but I struggle to live with an immigration department that has been thoroughly exposed during this time for being even more inept and ill prepared than even I thought possible. And that is saying something.
The fact they seem to have had no contingency planning in the event that its staff might need to work from home is as shocking as it is, in hindsight, unsurprising.
It is interesting that when the major earthquake events occurred in Christchurch in 2011 we got a picture of how disruptive it was to the entire global operation of the immigration department when one physical branch, of around fifteen, was knocked out of action. The flow on effect of that was incredibly disruptive for months. Nine years later(!) when the country goes into lockdown it is scarcely believable that since the Christchurch event the department had still not developed its IT systems to the point where staff could effectively work remotely.
In my view the Auditor General should be doing a thorough audit of the department and without doubt heads should be rolling. This did not need to happen.
In Australia, the immigration department was deemed to be an essential service (only those immigration officers at the border were in NZ) and have continued to function from their offices. None have died. Processing of visa has slowed but not stopped.
I fail to understand how it has been possible for the immigration department here to never plan for disruption.
In a further bizarre announcement, late Wednesday this week, we were told that with their "limited capacity" priority is going to be given to Visa applicants seeking protection from "domestic violence" and, more sensibly, partners and children of New Zealand citizens and residents. The fact is domestic violence applications have always been tiny in number and even the police announced yesterday that while levels of domestic violence did increase in the first week or so of lockdown it quickly returned to historic levels. Hard to understand then why those Visa applicants are going to get priority over all those people that need to change jobs, change their hours, are being made redundant, might need Visa extensions because they can't leave the country and so on. It is an interesting set of priorities.
We are warning our clients that processing queues are about to get even longer.
Now, nearly five weeks into the lockdown communications coming out of the department continue to be sporadic, vague and what is posted on their website usually contradicts the actual rulebook that is being amended with each new announcement. Getting straight answers is virtually impossible right now and we are continually told ‘The questions are sitting on the Minister’s desk awaiting his action’. The deafening silence and lack of direction is leading to a lot of very frustrated and angry clients unable to make decisions although thankfully the significant majority appreciate we cannot control what the Minister and what visas the department choses to prioritise.
Although the immigration department in Australia is open for business my colleagues in Melbourne have confirmed that decisions are very few and far between over there as well. At least however they haven’t ground to a complete standstill as their equivalents have in NZ.
On a brighter note, as we all have to contemplate new ways of doing business I delivered my first online seminar on Saturday last week to people in Hong Kong, Singapore and Malaysia. The psychology of looking at a green light on a computer screen rather than a sea of faces in a ball room in a hotel in Singapore or Hong Kong was quite something. It seems to have gone fairly well, following a few early technical glitches and we will be repeating the exercise shortly. If you, friends or family would like to register their interest and they live in one of those three countries, they can do so .
My colleague Paul presented a seminar on Thursday morning to 200 or so people in South Africa. That too seems to have gone very well and we do intend offering another seminar in a fortnight’s time. If you have friends or family that might wish to express their interest, they can
The Immigration Department might not be able to process too many visas right now but for the rest of us, we are still hard at work trying to make it happen.
Until next week
Posted by Myer on Jan. 24, 2020, 9:31 a.m. in Australia
Posted by Iain on Jan. 25, 2019, 3:04 p.m. in Work Visa
This week I’ve been part of a group of Advisers pulling together a submission to take to government on the proposed changes to work visa policy.
I am never quite sure whether it is worthwhile making submissions to an ideologically driven government that has certain ideas in its political head not supported by any real evidence but I've decided to chip in anyway given the importance of this issue.
What is really disturbing about the proposals is they seem to be predicated on the misguided belief that there is rampant exploitation of migrants in the labour market and therefore employers look likely to be forced to apply for accreditation with the government before any work visas can be filed. In essence, prove you are a good employer. Accreditation effectively means the government trusts that employer to do what is right by New Zealand, New Zealanders and any migrants they might be allowed to employ. On paper it's not a bad idea but in 30 years of dealing with immigration matters a good idea given to a bunch of bureaucrats to operationalise normally ends in tears.
I would make two very strong points to government.
Show us the evidence that migrant exploitation in the local labour market is so rampant it requires an overhaul of rules that seem to have served New Zealand's interests without leading to exploitation of migrants pretty well for 30 years. Show us the evidence!
I am not suggesting there aren't isolated issues but my advice to the government would be to focus on those industries including hospitality, farming, tourism and aged care. Do not make it harder for the vast majority of employers to fill vacancies in a labour market where we are creating thousands of jobs a month more than we can fill locally.
One of my suggestions as part of the submission process is that the government knows full well which industries and what sorts of businesses see isolated issues with ripping off of migrants. Surely, rather than taking the sledgehammer to the walnut and imposing an onerous process on the 95% of employers who act with honour and integrity, government should come down hard on, or perhaps create a separate work visa process for those industries where some credible independent evidence of exploitation might be proven.
The reality is any employer looking to support a work visa application today is required to present a lot of information about their workplace practices, employment history, financial viability and sustainability. Compliance checks I would argue are already rigorous enough to act as a disincentive to those employers who might be inclined to either rip off the system or a migrant.
Although it is lost on governments of our current persuasion, adding a disincentive to the significant majority of good employers who appreciate that the only real asset any of them have is their staff, is insane and an absolute overreaction.
The second point is that the immigration department is great on overpromising and under delivering. No doubt they will sweet talk the government on their ability to process all of this in a timely manner which will keep employers happy, protect vulnerable migrants and deliver on the government’s misplaced obsession about protecting migrants from exploitation. B-S they will.
Most branches of Immigration New Zealand today are quoting eight weeks before a work visa is even allocated for processing and another 6 to 8 weeks to process the actual visa. Before any of IMMagine's clients freak out the overwhelming majority are processed far more quickly than that because we know which phone numbers to call.
There is no way if these processing times become entrenched, or added to, because employers will have to file separate accreditation applications before a work Visa can be filed, that employers are going to employ migrants in the numbers they are today.
New Zealand's unemployment rate today is 3.8%. One of the discussion points that came out of this week’s meeting of Advisers, is that of the 110,000 odd people who are seeking work (apparently) the majority are basically unemployable. Interestingly this is not just because they lack the skills to fill the jobs being created but primarily because of mental health or substance abuse issues.
What is clear is that skilled unemployment in New Zealand is effectively zero if not negative. We are still 40,000 construction industry workers short if you can believe the government. We are still several thousand Teachers short.
Why does the government want to make it harder for Schools to employ teachers or small construction companies to employ carpenters, plumbers and electricians?
The proposals start to look a lot like what Australia does which has led to a very rapid decrease in the number of employers being willing to play the work visa game and which impacts directly on the economic growth and future prosperity of Australia. Like New Zealand, Australia has a low unemployment rate and this was trending down even when work visas were trending up. There is almost no link between the two. We should not make the same mistake.
In the discussion paper the Minister, without quoting or providing any evidence to back it up is of the belief that there is "some evidence" that migrants displace local workers. It is worth noting the same discussion paper also quoted international studies which state the exact opposite but why let a few facts get in the way of ideology?
Again, to the Minister if he might be reading this, show us the evidence. I have never in 30 years of practicing as an immigration adviser come across a single employer who does not want to employ a New Zealander first. There is also no evidence I am aware of, given our rigorous and wide ranging legal and other protections, that migrants are pushing down local salaries or incomes.
The current Government cabinet is full of Ministers who are either ex union officials or people who have never run their own business. They are well-intentioned people who do not understand the realities of making sure that there is one dollar more in the bank account at the end of the week than there was the beginning. They seem to be people who believe that all employers see their staff as chattels to be used and abused without understanding that without those workers the boss doesn't have a business.
I know I am going to receive a flood of emails now from current and potential clients asking me if New Zealand is closing the door to skilled workers. To them I would like to say no, that is not the intention, however as they say the road to hell is paved with good intentions.
The immigration system is full of moving parts. Every time you tinker with or change wholesale one part of immigration policy it affects some other part of the system in a way most of the bureaucrats and politicians simply don't understand or cannot predict. Typically, in this discussion paper, there is no acknowledgement of that. Further illustration to me, if any was required of an obvious lack of understanding, on the predictable impacts these proposals will almost certainly have on the skilled migrant category if they go through. If we now create further disincentives for employers to employ migrant workers then the government will continue to undershoot its skilled migrant residency targets which are already 30% below what the government claims they want.
The government is already, rightly, coming under severe political and polling pressure for promising to build 100,000 "affordable" houses in its first 10 years in office. Anyone with three brain cells knew it was either a lie or they were on drugs when they came up with the policy. They said they would build 1000 in the first year. So far they haven't delivered a third of that. Although there are a number of reasons why it's not possible, one of the most significant is that employers simply cannot find enough skilled workers locally to fill these roles. They rely on migrants. If the government is going to make it harder by creating disincentives to those employers to recruit and employ migrants there'll be even less houses built than the government promised. And they might just end up with one term and power.
The fact that we need skilled migrants and we let employers effectively determine who gets in by making the migrant find skilled work, making the process more complex, onerous and time-consuming for the employer when the overwhelming majority of them demonstrably value all their staff equally, whether migrant or local, seems to be lost on these politicians and shows how out of touch they really are.
Until Next Week
Posted by Iain on Oct. 19, 2018, 4:14 p.m. in Immigration
Last week I wrote a piece titled ‘Time is your enemy’ and it was meant to convey the simple but important message that Governments don’t wait for you when it comes to residence and visas.
When you consult with us we give you a snapshot of what your visa points or residence eligibility will be at some future point in time. No one that comes to see us is able to avoid waiting at least a few months from the time they decide to migrate to actually filing their visa applications and locking themselves into a set of known rules on the day the Government receipts their visa application. Given those rules can and often do change, particularly in Australia, the risk all migrants take increases with every day that passes without any visa being filed.
It usually takes months while all the various elements of a family’s migration are pulled together allowing you to file that precious resident visa application.
So much can go wrong if you dally. So much you cannot control.
If, like me, when you read articles or watch the news about people accidentally drowning, being killed in car accidents, getting cancer, being on the plane that crashes, you never imagine it will happen to you right?
So too with visas - I don’t expect if you read last weeks article you’d be thinking that the time it takes you to get into the position to file your visa application, would stop you achieving your goal of settling in New Zealand or Australia.
If you do think that you can take your time before you file a visa, here’s a real life example of ow It can go horribly wrong.
I am currently representing a South African family of four comprising mum, dad and two children. They have been in New Zealand on temporary work and student visas for almost three years. When they came to see us a few months ago they made clear that they always intended filing residence papers, they just hadn’t get round to it for various reasons (affording the Government fees of many thousands of dollars being one of the key factors). They also thought that time was on their side. In their minds there was no going back to South Africa because there was nothing to go back to. They were building new lives in New Zealand and everything was going well. Husband and wife had good jobs and they had work visas granted for a few years. The children were doing well in school.
My assessment indicated that they had had the ‘points’ required for residence since the wife secured skilled employment over two and a half years ago. Nothing was filed. What was the hurry anyway? They believed they qualified for residence. And they could wait.
Then the bombshell.
Around eight months ago the wife was diagnosed with breast cancer. In her early 40s it was the last thing they probably thought would happen to them, despite the medical reality that around one in eight women will develop breast cancer in their lifetime.
Surgery, chemotherapy and radiation treatment followed. Their work and student visas were due to expire around now.
We agreed to represent them to try and get ‘extensions’ as exceptions to the rules.
We advised them that given the cancer diagnosis, the treatment and the medical rules that go with deciding who, with such ‘conditions’ will and will not be granted visas, that they were not on the face of it, eligible for further temporary visas when they expired. And residence would be out as well unless we could argue a medical waiver for her (never easy).
We gathered all the evidence we could that indicated what her survival probabilities are now and her Specialists came up with 82-84%. Not bad you might think. Not high enough for the Immigration Departments own Doctors, however who wanted a 90% certainty.
The Immigration Department declined their applications this week. The client’s visas had already expired by this point.
Not only did they decline the application, INZ only agreed to issue visitor (tourist) visas to all four family members which meant from the minute the ink dried on their rejection letter, INZ, had in effect now barred husband and wife to quit their jobs without giving notice to their employers and their children to stop attending school immediately and they had three months to leave the country. Initially they were going to be given 6 weeks to leave but INZ felt a twinge of compassion and gave them 12 weeks…. I suspect the reason for this was mainly because if they had granted our client another work visa the taxpayer would be continuing to pay for her final round of radiotherapy or any other health costs in their final 12 weeks in the country which she is in the middle of.
One settlement dream shattered.
As I pointed out to a senior manager at INZ, it is one thing to tell these people they had to leave but to rip them out of employment without being able to work out any notice not only cuts off their cashflow but their children, who represented no risk to NZ were also supposed to stop their education? What about the two companies left without two key staff?
How about issuing the husband a work visa as an exception and the children student visas?
No, I was told.
Undeterred I continued to engage with this senior manager who I know reasonably well and I know is not without compassion and I continued to argue at the very least for work and student visas for the husband and children. They have no health issues.
The manager agreed and granted, as an exception, work visas for both the husband and wife and student visas for the children valid until the end of the year. At least the executioner’s axe was now stilled, poised to fall, but not actually striking, if only temporarily.
Crucially the manager also agreed on the back of our representations to re-visit the decision to decline the original visas we had applied for, I think because an 82-84% chance of surviving this cancer, when the family was here, well settled, paying taxes and contributing is all pretty compelling evidence that an exception could be made.
If these visas are granted we have advised the clients to file the residence application and that at least affords us the opportunity to argue that she should be granted residence through a medical waiver (a mechanism by which if INZ can be convinced the country gains more than it gives). There’s never any guarantees with those but they’d have a good shot at it given her cancer is unlikely now to kill her.
When people ask what we do all day, what we charge the ‘big money’ for and think that immigration advisers fill out application forms, I tell them we actually spend our days fighting for every visa we get against a system that is at times stupid, cruel, inhumane and very subjective. It is never easy and it takes its toll, on us as well. This is not about me or my team but it has been a hell of an emotional week for us all as well, given we know these people and don’t think of them as reference numbers on a piece of immigration department paper, or ‘risk probabilities’ or ‘potential costs on the health system’. We very much think of them as people who gave up a lot to realise a dream of settling in New Zealand and they had done everything they needed to, to make it happen and make a contribution to this economy and their community, all of which they are doing.
Their mistake was to leave it too long to file their residence papers. Had they done so when the skilled job offer was landed they’d almost certainly have secured their residence (if we were project managing the process for them,) a long time before the cancer appeared and then they would not be in this situation.
In no way am I having a go at them, they never imagined they’d be in this position and money is tight as it is for so many migrants and none more so than South Africans with their plunging currency.
The message though is clear - if the residence door is open, don’t just peek through it, barge through it with your shoulder - you never know when it is going to be locked and you left stranded on the wrong side with no key to open it.
Until next week
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