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Immigration Blog

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Immigration Blog

Migrating is more than just filling in forms and submitting paperwork; its a complex process that will test even the most resilient of people. Understanding Australia & New Zealand at a grass-roots level is paramount to your immigration survival, and to give you a realistic view of both countries, its people and how we see the world, as well as updates about any current or imminent policy changes, subscribe to our regular blog posts by entering your details below.

A kind (of) fairytale

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The two Animal Doctors agreed.

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

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

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

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

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

‘We must keep the people safe’ they wrote.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The wise immigration adviser’s jaw dropped.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

And so he did.

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

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

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

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

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

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

To be continued….


Border Exemption Lottery

Posted by Iain on Nov. 13, 2020, 11:46 a.m. in Immigration New Zealand

 

The craziness of the ‘critical worker’ border exemption lottery continues. 

To get one the primary criteria is to have a job offer in New Zealand and skills that require:

‘…unique (experience) and technical or specialist skills that are not readily obtainable in New Zealand’

Here is the guidance given to immigration officers of what ‘unique’ and ‘not readily obtainable’  might mean:

’The factors that an immigration officer may take into consideration when assessing:

1.                  "unique experience and technical or specialist skills" include, but are not limited to, whether these skills or experience: 

    have been gained in a specialist training institution or by working in a highly-specialist firm

   can be demonstrated through global experience

   are inherent to a person

2.                  "not readily obtainable" include, but are not limited to, whether:

  there are no workers in the country who could perform the role, or

   there is a very limited pool of available workers who could perform the role and they are not available to the employer (emphasis all mine!)

Not readily available to me means, we have the skills in NZ but not enough personnel with those skills. 

INZ has granted permission to 250 foreign fishermen to work on deep sea trawlers. The first group arrived complete with Covid-19 among them which has resulted in community transmission (but that’s another story).

INZ has approved 1000 places for farm workers and in particular operators of heavy machinery like combine harvesters and other equipment.

We and a fellow industry player have had two requests for Veterinary Surgeons declined in the past two weeks.

This despite:

1.    INZ recently approving 20 Vets under the same exemption policy; and

2.    The Veterinary Board itself confirming we are still 220 Vets short in the country - there is literally no Vets to fill these vacancies in New Zealand

3.    This occupation appearing on the Government’s Long Term Skills Shortage List which is by definition those occupations for which skills shortages are both ‘acute’ and ‘ongoing’ and for which local demand is always high. 

The applications were declined because we are told that the skills did not meet the threshold of ‘not readily available’.

A Vet meets the criteria outlined above. While the bar is clearly quite high it isn’t as high as department officials are applying it.  Officers can take into account any cogent and credible argument into account as the ‘definitions’ are not exhaustive and are guidance - basically they have to apply their minds, something most of them struggle with, and ask themselves if we have a critical shortage of that particular skills set and if it is our interests to let that person in.

Given anyone allowed in has to spend two weeks in managed isolation the health risk is fundamentally as close to zero as it is possible to be.

Fishermen met the threshold. Combine harvester operators met it.

It is totally bizarre logic to suggest that Vets do not meet this threshold then - yes we have Vets in New Zealand but ‘unique’ as defined in the rulebook does not mean we have to have no Vets here; it means that the skills the applicant has must have been gained in a ‘specialist training institution’. Sounds like the Veterinary faculty of a University to me.

Clearly the skills of a foreign trained Vet will not be ‘unique’ when applied in the literal sense but the rules do not require them to be.

If unique means one foreigner granted permission to work here and the one foreigner alone has those skills once they step across our border, how did the government let in the 249 other fishermen after they approved the first one? Once he was here, the rest cannot be said to be ‘unique’. 

Add to that the English women’s netball team, the West Indian men’s cricket team who are here and about to play a series against our boys, the Pakistan men’s Cricket team, the Australian rugby side that has been and gone along with the America’s Cup sailors and shore based crews, film makers and actors (galore!) or that Polish orchestra conductor who was granted permission (but never fronted a gig because of lockdown)? What was so ‘unique’ about them? 

If the Government wishes to shut down the ability of employers to recruit for something as critical as Vets, how do the fishermen and farm workers qualify? I accept that the companies needing the fishermen cannot find enough local workers and that suggests ‘not readily available’.  Ditto the heavy farm machinery operators. And watching the NZ men’s cricket team play the men’s second XI is less exciting than an International test match. But no one can argue that the West Indians are unique. We have plenty of professional cricket players here. And sailors. And yacht designers. And fishermen. 

If the rules are to be taken seriously shouldn’t the same criteria apply to everyone?

Is it simply that the lobby groups behind these non-fishing and farm occupational groups aren’t as strong as the those in the fishing, farming, entertainment and sporting industries?

Our skills shortages, as I have recently written about, are not being alleviated by the small rise in local unemployment. Almost 20% of employers are finding it hard to fill vacancies today. With the unemployment rate now at 5.3% but 16% of employers confirming their intention to employ more workers and some 3000 or so unemployed getting jobs in the past two weeks alone, what is the Government’s/INZ’s problem? 

There is certainly now a shortage of managed isolation rooms in the 4 and 5 star hotels arrivals must spend for 14 days. News reports out this week suggest the ‘inn is full’, literally, till February 2021. Largely taken up by returning New Zealanders and permanent residents, especially in the run up to Christmas. Capacity is not the reason we are being given for these declines – the availability of local labour/skills is the reason. 

What to make then of the Government’s commitment during the election to ring fence 10% of the 5000 or so rooms for critical workers? 

It appears to be a promise broken or a promise made with pinkies crossed behind the Prime Minister’s back. 

Someone needs to sit these INZ Managers down and force them to confront the inconsistent decisions and the fact that they appear to be applying a set of criteria none of us know about. And causing untold misery to New Zealand employers.

There is no other explanation for the hundreds of exemptions for critical workers that are being knocked back each and every week.

It would be nice if someone in a position of power (somewhere between the PM and the senior managers overseeing the process inside the department) might explain the disconnect between the written rules and the decisions we all see being made on a daily basis. We have demanded this under the Official Information Act but INZ managers are masters of obfuscation so I am not holding my breath.

Until next week 

Iain MacLeod

Southern Man

 

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Tags: INZ | government

What is that light I see

Posted by Iain on Oct. 30, 2020, 12:03 p.m. in Immigration New Zealand

Recent surveys show that the New Zealand economy is showing strong signs of a rebound and recovery to levels none of us could have imagined back in late March. No longer does that light at the end of the tunnel look quite so much like a rapidly approaching freight train as it does daylight.

Perhaps the best news of all, even as wage subsidies are lifted (most employers lost these in September) the number of New Zealanders in work today is 34,000 higher than this time last year. The numbers in work in August 2020 was the same as in February 2020 - before Covid lockdowns brought the economy to a grinding halt for almost three months. This demonstrates a strong and sustained rebound in total employment.

A net 16% of firms now intend hiring more people over the next few months. Back in the June quarter some 28% of employers were intending on shedding staff and reducing head count. To put that 16% positive into an historical context over the past ten years the same survey has shown an average of net positive 13% of employers intending on increasing their head count. Incredible really.

As I have written about previously, our skills shortages remain a structural and ongoing issue. In the June quarter a net 19% of employers reported it was ‘easy’ to find staff, now a net 18% are saying it is ‘hard’. Talk about a swing!

With record low interest rates and mortgage rates (around 2.5%) expected to be at an historical low of 1.5% by March 2021 and billions of freshly minted dollars sloshing around the economy, we seem to be in pretty good shape.

Construction is booming - particularly residential and anyone laid off from hospitality or tourism that fancies a career has prospects that stretch years into the future. I hope more than a few take up the offer of free (tax payer funded) apprenticeships and others complete higher study in areas of civil engineering, architecture, Surveying, drafting and the like.

As we hit fruit picking season Orchardists and market gardeners around the nation are incredibly concerned about fruit and vegetables rotting on the trees, vines and in the ground as the usually reliable backpacker and international seasonal work force that they rely on have been sent home by the Government or aren’t being allowed in by the Government. Two weeks ago in Queenstown, a city reliant on international tourism that was hit hard by the closed borders, a jobs ‘expo’ with over 200 vacancies to fill attracted just 20 attendees, most of them youngsters on holiday working visas. The locals it seems aren’t interested in picking fruit under a hot summer sun.

And therein lies the biggest challenge facing the NZ Government.

These structural imbalances in skills and impediments to forcing (young and young at heart) New Zealanders to go where the jobs are need to be bulldozed out of the way. Or the border needs to be open to more internationals with the skills and willingness that are not available locally. We cannot ‘magic up’ a whole lot of highly skilled people and no Government in NZ forces the less motivated to get off the couch and move region to take up jobs.

Part of that reform and recovery will be a repealed and reconstituted Resource Management Act which has been seen as a brake (and therefore cost multiplier) in part contributing to the rapid increase in the cost of building and therefore the cost of residential housing. The Government has said it will repeal that and replace it with something more fit for purpose. Won’t happen for another couple of years but there is cross party support for it.

The Government will I believe in the New Year agree to quarantine free travel between Australia and New Zealand - with almost the whole of Australia having had the virus under control now for months (and even Melbourne joining the rest of Australia at midnight Wednesday) the excuses for not opening up the airways to travel without isolation or quarantine are diminishing by the day. Given 60% of all international tourists here are Australians and many will be itching to take an overseas holiday over the next few months, why our Government isn’t offering them quarantine free travel now is beyond me (the cynic in me thinks the Government still doesn’t completely trust its border facing systems and they want us all to spend our money at home this summer).

I remain certain the border will remain largely closed to most others, except perhaps the Pacific Islands where there is little to no Covid until at least the middle of 2021 which actually isn’t too far off. Unless and until there is a safe and efficacious vaccine, which you have to think will take months to roll out, I predict ongoing caution and timidity from the Government.

As a result our skills and labour shortages are only going to get worse. I cannot help but wonder what the Government (now that the Labour Party has an absolute majority in Parliament) will do to force the young, fit and mobile to travel away from ‘home’ to pitch in and work on those orchards and farms so desperate for workers. My pick is they’ll do nothing. Some of the fruit will be left to rot costing the country billions of dollars in lost exports.

It will also be very interesting to see how private sector NZ employers now respond to these worsening skills shortages. Will they be more willing to use Zoom and Skype to seek the skills they need offshore and fight for border exemptions? Especially given how used to working ‘virtually’ and meeting remotely we have all become. What was once uncommon has become routine. Will that shift include interviewing more overseas based candidates for hard to fill vacancies (it will if they are smart)?

Will the Government step up and prioritise in a consistent and logical way the granting of more border exemptions to let the highly skilled into the country?

My pick on that score is the pressure is already mounting and in the end they will have to. The only question is when - my pick is early in the New Year.

There seems little reason to not start to increase the flow of international students once again - the Government has already started this with approval for up to 250 PhD students to come in and continue their studies/research.

We have seen Government broaden the border exemptions on offer lately. What we are not seeing is visa officers making the decisions with consistency making it all feel a lot like a lottery. That is going to put off a lot of potential employers. The immigration department has had six months (like the rest of us) to adapt to this new world order and get its people fully trained and ready for the next 12-24 months as that border starts to reopen more fully.

And therein lies the problem for the Government. They can now make whatever rules they like but they rely on a legion of state functionaries they back to ensure that the wheels at the border start to spin. Our own experience here at IMMagine over the past six months is not to expect Immigration New Zealand to suddenly get its act together - they have shown during the past six months just how dysfunctional they really are when faced with crisis. To call it a circus is to be kind.

Hope however springs eternal. The pressure continues to mount and the Government will I think actively reopen the borders - because they simply cannot keep them this tightly closed when the economy has rebounded so strongly and shown such resilience.

The external threats remain real - Europe, Central and South America along with the US show no signs of being able to get truly on top of the virus. Luckily our major export markets are Australia and China and the latter in particular has bounced back really strongly owing to their forceful and resolute handling of the virus earlier this year. All Australian states, apart from Victoria have been on top of the virus for months and will reap the economic rewards as well.

As spring turns into summer, the days are longer and the mercury climbs here, life is pretty good and now that sunshine is starting to brighten the tunnel we have been travelling through in recent months. For those lucky enough to be here, or who are planning to get here or Australia, prospects look better and better with every passing day.

Until next week

Iain MacLeod

Southern Man

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Reading between the lines

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

Last Friday something very strange happened. 

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

Except that’s not what the Government announced.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Until next week

 

Iain MacLeod

Southern Man

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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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A Stunning Admission From INZ

Posted by Iain on July 10, 2020, 1:08 p.m. in Immigration New Zealand

Last week I wrote that INZ had all but admitted that in addition to their published criteria where some skilled migrants were being given priority over others while the significant majority were being ignored and continue to gather dust, it turned out that there is within that priority queue, a separate unpublished second priority queue. Criteria apply which are not publicly disclosed to that second group who get the on the faster, fast track. It turns out that Teachers and "Health workers" are being given priority priority. Very few applications that don't meet priority criteria (whether published or not) have been allocated for processing since 19 December 2018.

This week under an official information request, the General Manager of Visa Operations has confirmed that is the case. The General Manager has confirmed:

‘Immigration New Zealand may allocate these applications as a group to improve efficiency or for training purposes’

That is outrageous. INZ’s most senior Manager of visa processing has just admitted that the chances of your resident visa being allocated and processed then is directly proportional to the intellectual capabilities of the INZ workforce to understand what they are dealing with.

Teachers, as I said last week, are on the face of it, less intellectually challenging than many other types of skilled migrant cases. As a consequence, they are being used to train up new and inexperienced staff and to keep the approval numbers where INZ wants them. That is what they mean by ‘efficiency’. They have 'kpis' to meet and they are admitting they couldn’t meet them without picking the less complex cases out of the pile.

My blood boils that no one in Government or even the Parliament seems to care. There is a fundamental unfairness to this. All applicants are charged the same fee. Everyone in that queue has, presumably, a prima facie claim to residence or they would not have been invited to file that resident visa in the first place. Cases sitting unallocated for almost two years gather dust while INZ uses the less complex cases to train their staff?

That is an outrage.

Applicants who have for example fixed term 12 month contracts who would be granted residence if INZ processed cases in chronological order, are now certainly going to be declined their residence. Quite simply because INZ does not have the depth of knowledge it requires to process such cases (which aren’t actually any more complex than a Teacher’s case for the most part).

And as one wit in my office has pointed out, even the less complex cases are proving challenging for the inexperienced officers. She said:

‘It’s clear the officers processing Teacher applications for training purposes need a heck of a lot of training – I had one ask me for the divorce document between a client and her children’s father to prove custody despite the fact the biological father died years ago and we presented his Death Certificate. It’s more like we’re the ones training them…’ 

Truth is nobody seems to care in Government and getting any traction on this with even opposition politicians is impossible.

In other developments this week, a couple of interesting statements from the Minister of Immigration warrants some scrutiny.

Using the wide range in powers recently granted to itself under the Immigration Act, the government has announced that anybody who holds a Work Visa (of any type presumably) that expires before "the end of the year" (presumably 31 December) will automatically have that extended for six months. No application form nor fee is required.

The mainstream media focused on the Minister’s statement that this would provide "certainty to employers and migrants”. That is to say, aren't we kind?

What has been less widely reported is the Minister also clarified why the grant was for only six months. He made it clear that the six months was designed in effect for employers to start seriously looking for New Zealanders to replace those migrant workers. 

Of course, he really needs to say that because unemployment here is rising, although not as quickly nor as precipitously as had been projected as recently as three months ago when the country went into lockdown.

The government has saved itself a whole heap of processing trouble by avoiding processing over 16,000 individual work visas that were due to expire between now and the end of the year. It should be cold comfort however to those holding the work visas many of whom will likely be denied any extensions beyond that.

Bizarrely however, this blanket extension does not apply to partners or dependent children of those Work Visa holders. INZ has confirmed that they must still apply for their own “extensions”, pay the fee, fill out the forms and provide all the updated evidence normally required.

So much for improved efficiency.

The government is making it clear that the bar to get a labour market tested Work Visa is getting higher. I’m not suggesting forcing partners and children to apply for visas as part of a strategy to make New Zealand less attractive, I’m pretty sure it’s just something else no one in the halls of power bothered to think very hard about.

Also this week while watching a current affairs piece on why the government is showing such seeming disregard for families who normally live in New Zealand on temporary work and other similar visas, but who are stuck overseas by the border closure with jobs to come back to, and who for the most part are not being allowed in, he said the government was "working on" a solution. This sharper than most journalist kept pressing him for when this "piece of work" might be completed. Ever evasive, he said "Soon". To which the journalist responded along the lines of ‘I keep being told that things are being worked on and announcements will be made soon, but tens of thousands of people are sitting in limbo trying to make plans. So when is soon?’

To which he finally conceded there are no plans to allow most people stuck overseas or split by the border closure to re-enter, or enter New Zealand for the first time, "for months”. Months does not mean weeks. It certainly means after the election in September which is obviously the first goal of the current Government.

I suspect six months or more because the government simply doesn't have the isolation/quarantine capacity to scale up the number of facilities quickly enough.

Supporting that viewpoint is the incredible announcement this week that as majority owner of Air New Zealand, the government has now effectively ordered the airline to limit the number of New Zealanders travelling back to the country over the next three weeks. Singapore Airlines and Emirates quickly fell into line. Between those three airlines something like 95% of available capacity is held.

In fairness, it does seem that there are significant numbers of New Zealand citizens or permanent residents who are heading home. As the world continues to implode and job losses mount around the world it makes sense that they may as well come home to their family and social support networks (and an unemployment benefit not available to many of them if they stay overseas) and possibly jobs given our economy is recovering reasonably well from the initial lockdown.

The government has now requisitioned 26 hotels (there were four shortly after we went into lockdown) and they are looking to expand. Politically, and legally, they cannot prevent New Zealanders coming home. As the Prime Minister was very quick to say this week, she isn’t saying they can't come home at all, they are just staggering their arrival. (I think that is called dancing on the head of a pin). Apparently, they are "working on” a framework whereby if a New Zealander might need to come back for some urgent reason they might be allowed to do so.

There are already howls of protest. Australia announced today they are also doing something similar for the same reasons - insufficient facilities to isloate and quarantine.

There are lots of things about this pandemic that the government cannot control and no one can blame them for. With a Kiwi diaspora in the hundreds of thousands spread to all corners of the globe, I am sure many are going to come home. They must come first because they have the right to be here and unfortunately, at least in the short term, it does mean that many migrants are going to end up in a very long queue by the looks of things.

At the same time however IMMagine has had our first ‘humanitarian’ border exemption granted. We’ve already had one ‘critical worker’ approved. While we are very pleased for the client, we are left scratching our heads what made their circumstance any different from many others that we have with families that have been split by the border closure.  In this case we have a mother and two children in New Zealand on work and student visas respectively. The partner is in South Africa holding an open work visa. The first time we applied for him to get an exemption to fly to New Zealand and join the family, the application was declined without explanation. When pressed, INZ agreed to re-examine the decision and then out of the blue earlier this week they approved it.

Despite our head scratching about what made this situation meet the high bar for ‘compelling humanitarian circumstances’ when it describes the same situation that so many people are in, we are very pleased to have got this result for the client.

It seems that part of the thinking might be to try and reunite split families before they try and let whole families caught offshore when the border closed re-enter. But who knows?

I just wish those that are here, in that (mis)managed skilled migrant resident visa queue, begging for some certainty were treated with the fairness and respect they deserve. 

To admit many are going to miss out on residence simply because INZ lacks the intellectual capability to process anything other than the simplest of cases is a scandal of the highest order. It proves everything I have ever believed about this out of control Government department.

They need a serious audit by the Auditor General.

Until next week.

 

Iain MacLeod

 

Southern Man

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Tags: migrants | INZ | Immigration

Skilled Migrant Backlog Explained

Posted by Iain on July 3, 2020, 12:29 p.m. in Immigration New Zealand

What is really going on with the skilled migrant category and the ever growing backlog of cases? 

Never has a queue been the subject of so much speculation and intrigue. Calls are growing louder for the government to front. To tell the truth. Hardly a day goes by without one media (mainstream or social) or another speculating on the cause of the skilled/business stream processing delays and backlogs.

I place little stock in the opinions of those on Facebook, migrant chat groups, online forums, ‘ethnic’ radio stations and even less so the MSM to actually get the answers people are looking for.

I’ve been trying for weeks to try and get a straight answer on what is really happening. I think I’ve worked it out and it is, for the most part nothing to do with ‘rising demand’.

On the one hand we have the ‘Ghost’ Minister of Immigration, using the coronavirus and the lockdown as the reason for processing delays despite the backlog and processing times being the same for the 12 months pre - lockdown as we are being told they will be post. He is either lying or just doesn’t know what is going on.

I have been engaging with a senior official on this question, who I am not going to name, nor reveal the designation of, but this person should know exactly what is going on on the ground and more importantly, is what in the media world would be called a highly reliable source.

This week I was advised that there are 14,000 skilled and business stream applications sitting in the unallocated queue, awaiting subsequent processing. This includes skilled migrant category applications (points) and those applying under the Residence from work (talent) sub streams. It covers a handful (low hundreds) of business and entrepreneur resident visa cases.

Each resident visa application historically represented 2.1 people so it means, in rough figures, there’s about 30,000 people sitting in the queue waiting for their residence to be allocated and processed, that this Government invited and encouraged to file their application.

I was advised, that when the previous residence programme ended in December 2019, INZ put it to the Minister of Immigration that unless they were advised otherwise, they’d assume the targets/quotas would be rolled over for the next 18 months. The Minister apparently responded with ‘Noted’.

That means INZ has given itself a target of 30,000 skilled and business resident visas for the period January 2020 to June 2021 to approve and issue. That’s roughly 14,000 applications over the period - the same number as the people currently sitting in the queue.

The current two year backlog only started to grow when INZ stopped allocating cases in December 2018. Prior to that it sat around 6-8 months.

Of the 14,000 cases on hand this month, only 600 are currently identified as ‘priority’, defined as those that have the principle applicant earning $51 per hour or who work in an occupation in NZ requiring statutory registration.  Even these are now taking months to be allocated.

Virtually no ‘non-priority’ cases have been allocated for processing since December 2018 despite MSM reports. Occasionally some are but we have been advised by the Residence Visa Operations Manager that such exceptions are ‘rare’ and the numbers ‘small’. One assumes statistically insignificant in the scheme of things.

As recently as this week the Minister of Immigration publicly stated that the ‘non-priority’ queue is also moving. He is, once again, either uninformed or embellishing the facts.

The bit I cannot work out and even my source cannot (or will not) clearly explain is why, when the numbers of priority applications sitting in the queue is only 600 (representing around 1,400 people) we are constantly told (officially and very publicly) that no ‘non-priority’ cases are being allocated, processed or approved by INZ.

At the same time my source tells me they are ‘on track’ to issue and approve ‘up to 30,000 resident visas’ by June 2021, but the truth is that they have only been processing the priority cases since December 2018.

The math doesn’t add up.

That’s only 40 odd cases a month being allocated. If that’s all they allocate and they approved every single one they won’t hit 30,000 resident visa approvals, they’ll hit 1400 over 18 months. That’s hardly being ‘on target’.

Even more curiously, these priority cases are spread across something like 50 case officers. They should be able to get through 600 cases in a month! And will have to to get anywhere near the target they claim to be on target to deliver.

I suspect a significant part of the answer is it is not that demand is exceeding the supply of places, as the Government and INZ has been telling us for the thick end of two years, it is, incredibly, that the department lacks the intellectual capability to process most of the cases on hand. They don’t have the knowledge and experience.

I believe that is the real reason for the increasing backlogs. A significant percentage of the case officers are not ‘fit for purpose’. I have all but been told that by my source.

We were intrigued and alarmed to learn a few months ago that within the so-called priority queue there was also an unofficial sub-priority queue covering teachers and ‘health workers’.  We couldn’t understand why there needed to be a priority queue within a priority queue. After all, all those people were on long term work visas and were not in any meaningful way in need of urgent processing. Certainly no more urgent, than say, applicants sitting on fixed term 12 month contracts (fine for a resident visa and points) and whose resident visas are not going to be allocated, processed and approved before they lose their jobs and with it, residence.

When pressed on what the justification was for a queue within a queue, my source has suggested these are, in large part, being used for training purposes because, I imagine on any visa scale of complexity a Teacher, working in NZ, is a less complex type of application for someone fresh faced, inexperienced or out of their intellectual depth to process. That's an incredible suggestion.

I think, although the source will not absolutely confirm (because this reflects pretty poorly on management as well), the real reason this backlog is growing is primarily because the managers do not believe the skills exist across the processing teams to accurately and efficiently process the cases. So the ‘easier’ ones are taking precedence. Not because they are more ‘valuable to NZ’ as INZ has told us more than once, but because they are usually less complex.

It seems then your chances of residence is now based primarily how complicated your case might look to INZ.

Adding to all of this is the fact that the previous Government cut the numbers of visas they were prepared to issue (paradoxically as the economy boomed and skills shortages worsened) and the current Government cut them even further for political reasons (to the current unofficial 30,000 people every 18 months).

The pass mark to be selected from the skilled migrant pool did not increase when both governments cut numbers as it needed to in order to not invite more people to apply for residence than there were places available. That of course, in a booming economy would have created a whole different set of issues but that is for another day (and Government policy review on the folly of a points based system in a labour market driven policy). The point is, two years ago the pass mark should have increased, or the processing backlog would inevitably grow as there is a maximum number of resident visas that can be approved.

‘Demand’ is being used now as an excuse by officials and Ministers but it is a red herring. It’s a smokescreen that no one has been able to see through. Until now.

Even with the lower target put in place by the current government the ‘backlog’ was only 6-8 months to allocate cases, so the numbers flowing into the system has not increased to the point where cases should be taking four times longer even to be allocated.

The department’s own numbers prove that is a lie.

There is now 3000 EOIs sitting in the pool. My source has confirmed that number and acknowledged that the processing ‘can’ is simply being kicked down the road. INZ doesn’t want these EOIs selected because they don’t want more cases flowing into the system because with every one that is, it makes INZ look even more hapless. And exposes the Minister and Government to more accusations they are missing in action. They aren’t chasing (another) crisis.

With INZ back at work after having to sit at home twiddling their thumbs while the rest of us were left working during lockdown, pool draws have not resumed. We were told they were stopped during lockdown because INZ wasn’t able to work.

Why hasn’t the selection resumed given INZ has been back at work for a month?

My guess is, with the shine coming off this government over border and quarantine botch ups and 8 weeks out from the election, when their (commanding) lead in the polls is falling, they will not authorise the resumption of pool draws till the election is out of the way. They are desperate to make immigration a non-issue during the election. And INZ management is not about to make themselves look any more useless than they look now by backlogs getting even worse.

INZ is never going to admit that the truth behind the backlog is a failure to have enough immigration officers with the experience, knowledge and intellectual capability to do their job. Managers clearly lack the confidence to give more than a case or two a week to these officers because they apparently believe they will make poor decisions and need a whole lot of babysitting and training.

The tens of thousands of migrants (being real people, not economic ‘widgets’) sitting in that queue, living day to day, hoping they won’t lose their job, who gave up everything to be part of this Government’s (unofficially official) programme, who were selected and invited to apply for residence by demonstrating a prima facie claim they met the criteria for approval, who have been charged $3000 plus per family by Government for the chance, are being treated with contempt.

Victims of gross political and bureaucratic mismanagement.

This is a growing scandal that the government hopes desperately to keep the lid on till after the election.

They will if we all let it.

Until next week.

Iain MacLeod

 

Southern Man

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Is the border about to reopen

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.

Say what?

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

Iain MacLeod

Southern Man

 

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INZ is back at work - sort of

Posted by Iain on May 14, 2020, 4:48 p.m. in Immigration New Zealand

The Immigration Department has confirmed that from Thursday 14 May, in respect of their onshore offices (only) they were back to work with around 70% of the staff in the office. Offshore offices remain closed.

The reason given for 30% of its onshore staff not being present at work in NZ today is because they may have children and or an "underlying health condition”. Give me strength.

Given schools are back on Monday, they will lose the ‘childcare’ excuse. It's funny that my staff that have children have been working right through the lockdown from home, balancing home schooling, relationships with partners, not being able to get out (or away) and dealing with the mental and physical pressures that has come with it. Along with feeding the cat. Interesting isn’t it how differently the private sector with the discipline and constraints of competition acting upon it, reacts in times of crisis, from those whose jobs are guaranteed by Government and funded by my taxes.

I, and a few others, continue to call for an audit of this department or at least a public inquiry. The Department was in chaos before the virus landed on these shores and it has become an unmitigated disaster since.  I am expecting shortly to be told they are suspending all EOI selections under the smokescreen of the virus. The chaos, to be fair, has not been all of their own making. The Minister of Immigration has been missing in action for over two years and there has been no residence program in place since December 2019 when no one had even heard of this virus.

The Department has publicly said that they are back to processing residence applications with the same priorities that existed before the lockdown.

Those of you who have a skilled migrant category application sitting in the queue, priority will continue to be given to those who have claimed points for high salary ($51 plus per hour for the majority) and/or those who have claimed points for a job in New Zealand in an occupation that requires statutory registration.

And in a sign of things to come, the Immigration Department ‘communications’ people, sent out an update Wednesday this week, in effect firing a shot across the bow of the immigration advice industry. They have helpfully, just in case we haven't been reading the news, reminded us that unemployment in New Zealand is increasing by several thousand people a week (and that is with a wage subsidy in place).

That means greater scrutiny is going to be placed on Essential Skills Work Visas in particular. It has always been the case that those applying for an Essential Skills Work Visa, have that job tested against the local labour market. That is to say if the Department believes that a local "should" be available to fill that position the Work Visa should be declined. It doesn't matter if no New Zealander applied, or if those that apply don’t possess the skills/attitude/work history the employer requires, only that the immigration officer might conclude a New Zealander ‘should’ be able to do the job.

No doubt the acid will also go on employers to demonstrate they ‘should’ not be able to train someone to take up the role as well.

These are not new criteria, they have always underpinned and informed decisions on work visas. Since skilled unemployment dropped effectively to zero a few years ago and the country was advertising thousands more jobs than we had bodies to fill them, most immigration officers were not, at least in the case of our clients, routinely questioning whether there were locals available because demonstrably there was not. The labour market was that tight pretty much across the board so the labour market test was often applied ‘lightly’.

With unemployment peaking around 9% by the end of next month, before, Treasury heroically predicts, trending down to 4.2% in 24 months and with an election just around the corner, the scrutiny paid to the employer’s ‘genuine efforts to recruit’ is clearly going to increase.

My fear, and it is shared by those industry colleagues I've been in close contact with during the lockdown, is that in typical fashion we can expect the bureaucrats will take this signalling to the extreme. Many of us believe the default position will be to decline the Work Visa unless there's compelling evidence not to. Let's just say, we understand the culture and we know how they think.

This might even extend to people sitting in that skilled migrant residence queue waiting for Government to tell INZ how many resident visas it can approve this year and whose work visas might expire before a decision can be made. INZ, if they wanted to, could decline applications for ‘extensions’ to work visas on the grounds the incumbent ‘should have trained up a New Zealander’, the skilled migrant would then lose their job and the resident visa application must be declined given without that job they no longer score sufficient points. I should point out that today, the rules allow for a 12 month ‘extension’ to a work visa if someone is sitting in that queue. Whether that proves long enough remains to be seen.

There is no labour market test on a skilled migrant residency application. That is to say the government does not care whether you are "taking a job” from a New Zealander or not.  They will still give you residency.

The problem for skilled migrants now is time. In a perfect world those of you that are organised (like our clients) could secure a job, be selected from the skilled migrant pool within days, invited to apply 24 hours later, file a resident Visa application within 24 to 48 hours of that and if the application is low risk, the Department could (should!) process and approve the residency within a few days. Therefore within maybe three weeks of getting a job offer residency could/should be granted. No work visa would even be required.

Alas owing to the incompetence of the department and ever shifting political priorities (or as we have seen over the past 6 months, political silence), this has never happened. So virtually all SMC resident visa seekers have required work visas which apply different and tougher criteria.

Work Visa policy then has always undermined the government’s own skilled migrant residency objectives. No government has ever addressed that conflict. There are obvious simple solutions but that is for another blog.

What is quite clear is that these work visas are now going to become harder to get until we see unemployment back to the levels of recent years.

New Zealand continues to have critical skill shortages and will do coming out of lockdown and in the months that follow. We can now increase funding for educating our own (as announced this week in the budget) but can’t instantly ‘magic up’ Civil Engineers, Quantity Surveyors, Draughtsmen, technicians, tradesmen/artisans, teachers or IT professionals among others locally, so it is incumbent on the department to exercise the power we've just been reminded they have, carefully, and to take into account the bigger picture. I am not holding my breath on that score.

How they treat Work Visa applications over the next few months given they pretty much do whatever they want anyway, will have a direct impact on how this economy bounces back from the recession it is now in.

If they go too hard on work visas, they will destroy the skilled migrant category. And all New Zealand will suffer and stay in recession longer.

The government loves to remind us that we are "all in this together" and we are a ‘team of five million’. I do hope the government doesn't forget that migrants that we will desperately need in months to come, thousands of who are already here, invested in our joint future, are also part of that team of five million and should not be blocked by a ‘one size fits all’ default decline position in respect of work visas which I have a horrible feeling is exactly what is about to happen.

I hope they prove me wrong.

Until next week

Iain MacLeod

Southern Man

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Tags: INZ

Do you trust Jacinda Ardern?

Posted by Iain on May 6, 2020, 10:31 a.m. in Immigration New Zealand

If you do you won't be disturbed by a Bill amending the Immigration Act tabled in parliament this week allowing the government wide-ranging powers to change the way visas are, or are not, accepted and or processed. If you do trust the government, there is little to worry about.

Essentially, what the government is seeking to do is to be able to make decisions on groups of visa holders or applicants, en masse, rather than forcing people to file and then assess, individual applications. This means, as an example, they could say that everyone currently in New Zealand whose Visa will expire between ‘X’ date and ‘Y’ date, will not have to file an individual application, pay a fee or fill out an online form, they will be deemed to have a Visa until ‘Z’ date.

On the face of it, quite sensible.

However, as long as the Epidemic Pandemic Notice is in place, the existing legislation means that people whose visas expire, cannot become unlawful anyway. 

Perhaps the government is only thinking beyond the EPN and the protection that gives to Visa holders. Perhaps, they are thinking that when the EPN notice is lifted they will need to be able to give people a ‘free pass’ to leave the country without being unlawful when they do.

Perhaps they are only looking at stopping people overseas applying for visas for a while.

Perhaps.

On a more pragmatic and operational level, I suspect at least in part, they are only doing this because they have no plan to get the Department back to work any time soon. Those immigration officers at home who have been given laptop computers, and I understand they are still only being sent out now, almost seven weeks after lockdown started, have almost no capacity to process visas remotely. Over the past decade the Immigration Department has been trying to tack a new online Visa processing system onto an old software platform. I’m advised the cost so far has been $38 million and counting. (One assumes with the borders closed indefinitely they can stop spending $11 million a year ‘marketing’ NZ as a migrant destination and perhaps put that money toward building a proper IT system).

Covid-19 has exposed a dismal failure of planning and management. There has never been a Plan B in the Department, it seems, for anything, least of all a health emergency.

The Prime Minister continues to confirm, as excitement builds here about coming out of lockdown in a few more weeks and as talk of a "trans-Tasman Bubble" allowing quarantine-less travel between Australia and New Zealand grows, that the borders will remain closed for “a long time”. She is reluctant to put a date on it because of the obsession with ‘eliminating’ the virus from New Zealand shores. A ‘long time’ however is clearly not a short time.

Where I thought previously, based on her signaling, she might have been talking a few months, I'm more convinced than ever she is really talking about until a vaccine is created and made available not just to New Zealanders but the entire world. She just won’t come out and say it and our fawning media refuse to press her.

[STOP PRESS: Around the time we posted this, the PM all but confirmed this is her thinking - no vaccine, no open border - she has not ruled out all travel to NZ however so more questions....]

Our Prime Minister is fixated it seems on not budging from her one priority which is to keep New Zealanders “healthy”.

And that apparently means the borders must be closed for a ‘long time’ despite whatever other recession induced health issues that might create.

This Bill, which I understand will be given one select committee hearing before being passed into law and likely coming into effect in the middle of May, also then gives the government the ability to effectively shut down Visa applications from for example, people who are not in New Zealand. Again, that has some logic – if you have an Immigration Department sitting at home doing nothing, an ancient IT system that does not allow them to work remotely, no airlines flying and a closed border, then what is the point in accepting more temporary visa applications into the system?

The fear our clients have of course is that the bill also extends to suspending skilled migrant, parent and Investor pool draws and suspending "invitations to apply for a visa’.

The government has already suspended selecting expressions of interest from the skilled migrant pool. The reason given was they had no one to process applications because they're all sitting at home watching Netflix. I would take that at face value and not read anything more sinister into closing down the pool draws. They simply never had a Plan B that allows them to work remotely.

However I would be lying if I said I don't have some concerns about this. In February this year, before the lockdown and Immigration officials were sent home, there was around 11,000 skilled migrant resident visa applications that had been selected, invited to apply and which had been filed sitting in a queue waiting to be allocated for processing. That ‘waiting’ was two years for the majority back in February. Embarrassing for the Department, shrugged off by the Minister and disruptive for NZ employers and their migrant staff seeking certainty.

Could the government use this legislation to tell all those people that are sitting in that unallocated queue that their applications are going to be returned, along with a refund? Is this legislation a Trojan Horse allowing them to get rid of applications currently in the system?

The bill does not talk of declining or returning applications, including resident visas, that have already been filed. That would suggest there is no plan to deal with the backlog using this amendment. Therefore, those people, including several hundred of our own clients, should be able to rest easy, it appears that they are not about to be shafted by this legislation.

If you are less trusting, this legislation might be that Trojan Horse but if it was, we would strongly argue that it is not necessary.

Logic would suggest that the backlog of Residence cases for skilled migrants should organically fall because there’s going to be a lot of people sitting in that queue right now who had jobs when they filed their applications who now don’t, or soon won’t.  Numbers released by Treasury here suggest the unemployment rate has increased over the past six weeks from around 4% to 6%. And that is while there is still a relatively generous wage subsidy being paid out by the government to employers across the country. When that wage subsidy ends next month it is inconceivable that the numbers of people registering for unemployment will not jump significantly. Most Economists are talking about 9% or 10%. Some, even higher for the next two quarters.

It is interesting that in Australia where their wage subsidy has yet to be paid out, unemployment there is already estimated to be 10% with entire industries decimated. I can see no reason why New Zealand is going to be any different.

While most of our clients in New Zealand who are working have held on to their jobs, I suspect most employers are simply playing a waiting game and seeing what else the government might offer or how this economy is allowed to start coming back as the lockdown eases.

Logic suggests then the skilled migrant backlog will reduce significantly without government need to suspend or shut down the skilled migrant category. So maybe it’s as simple as that. They won’t need to use this amendment to deal with the backlog ‘problem’ they created.

At the back of my mind however is the prospect of the election coming up in September and given the Deputy Prime Minister holds a disproportionate amount of power despite his party only getting around 5-7% of the vote, it is not unreasonable to expect him and his colleagues to climb on their anti-immigration soapbox as they do every three years and demand more cuts. Could that extend to suspensions to programs like the skilled migrant category?

The fact that unemployment here is undoubtedly going to jump significantly does not mean skill shortages will evaporate. We are still 2000 teachers’ short for example. Our Universities still don't produce enough IT skills and engineers. We are still short of trade and technical people.

Might we see a suspension of the skilled migrant category completely? No more filing of EOIs? No more selections? No more invitations? I think that is possible.

The silence from government in regard to their plan for immigration is deafening.

You can thank the upcoming election for that I suspect.

Silent voids are always filled with chatter and speculation. Never more so than now. The Facebook gossip grapevine is working overtime. Online migrant chat groups and forums (the ultimate in the blind leading the blind) are exploding with ‘What are they going to do?’ questions. There are tens of thousands of people in New Zealand holding temporary visas who have filed residency applications desperate for certainty. The government is providing none.

Are they going to throw people out as soon as there are airlines to fly them and borders are open here and overseas?

Whether they would be so heartless is the big question.

If you trust Jacinda Ardern (I would like to count myself among those that do but that does not extend to her NZ First coalition bedfellows), then you have little to worry about.

If you don’t, then given the Prime Minister keeps telling us we are ‘all in this together’ and endlessly ‘to be kind to one another’, I presume that kindness equally extends to those her Government invited to the country and she then invited to file residence applications and they can stay, no matter what the recession has just thrown at them.

And who is to say she will still be the PM after September? - this law change will be lying there waiting for someone less 'kind'.

Until next week

Iain MacLeod

Southern Man

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