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Immigration Blog

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Posts in category: Immigration New Zealand

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.

INZ Building Walls

Posted by Iain on March 6, 2020, 6:28 p.m. in Immigration New Zealand

A couple of weeks ago when a new and inexperienced immigration officer made an inconsistent and incorrect call on a piece of policy implementation that affected one of our clients, a colleague emailed her and politely explained why we believed, as we had argued in our legal arguments accompanying the application, that based on INZ’s past interpretation of the rule she was incorrect.

None of this is new. It’s in some part why we exist. If NZ was consistently good there’d be no reason for our company to help people, prosper and grow to the size it has. What has changed is that I am no longer frightened to write about it. If these blogs turn some people off migrating to New Zealand then that is a price I am willing to pay to try and help those that want to live in NZ. I would add we continue to be busy in Australia as well but as one colleague recently observed now that he has been dealing with the NZ department for 12 months - the Australia immigration officers’ don’t engage but their level of policy knowledge is exponentially better than that of NZ immigration officers. He is right.

As is the case these days with INZ, the email went ignored.

Several polite follow ups later the officer came back and told us she had discussed our concerns with her Supervisor and the Supervisor, also relatively inexperienced, agreed with her. Not unexpected because we know how they roll but we needed to play the hierarchy game anyway, working our way till we found someone that might actually know INZ has a history.

We then went to the Supervisor who confirmed, without any cogent explanation, that (s)he agreed with the interpretation.

We knew eventually we’d have to go to the Manager (there are two - one has some recent visa experience but the other hasn’t processed visas for a few years so we had a 50/50 chance of getting some sensible answer). An email was sent to the Manager of the group, curiously called a ‘Practice Lead’ (like INZ has become a law firm or something - I wish, then they might start understanding and following their own rules). Several days and several reminders later the Practice Lead, confirmed her agreement with the interpretation of the inexperienced juniors.

All three were wrong or every previous identical situation where our interpretation had been agreed to by INZ had been assessed incorrectly and those clients were incorrectly granted their visas. I tend to think when you have 20 identical cases, 19 are assessed interpreting a rule one way leading to a positive outcome and one isn’t, the thinking of INZ about the 20th is probably the problem.

My colleague Paul, having ripped out most of his hair, then decided to approach INZ Head office where the policy and operations people sit, who write the rules and issue the guidelines and updates about policy/rules, and put it to them.

They wouldn’t engage and told us that it isn’t for them to tell immigration officers what the rules they wrote, actually mean in practical terms. We needed to deal with the case officer or the Practice ‘Lead’ (who was doing anything but leading).

When I chimed in and pointed out that there must be some function to the operations people other than passing the buck and all we wanted was a ‘yes we agree with your interpretation and here’s why’ or ‘no we don’t and here’s why’ and copied in all the parties to the conversation, then everyone, including us potentially, could have learned from the exchange.

Why would they not want to use this discussion in a positive way so everyone learned from it?

Strangely, but increasingly commonly they just shut down the conversation.

They are building a wall around themselves - not because they are right, but because they are wrong so often they feel under siege.

And they are.

When I chimed in and asked where then are we to go to to have grown up discussions about policy if not with the authors of the rules themselves, they replied that I should speak to our ‘industry association’.

That there isn’t one that represents companies like ours and the one that does exist has no power to force INZ to answer their questions, seemed to not occur to INZ.

What this case highlights is how far this Government department has fallen (which is saying something) and how defensive they have become. These lower level officers are now being left by their senior managers to do what they like, think what they like and decide what they like. No one intervenes. It seems despite protestations to the contrary, no one actually cares.

I am all for ‘empowerment’ but senior INZ management, confuse empowerment for abrogation of responsibility. We have been doing this work for decades now. We have a visa success rate in excess of 99% over that time across all forms of temporary and resident visas. Surely, that should stand for something?

If we explain politely to a case officer that their understanding of a rule is different to how it has been interpreted and implemented for 30 years by the department, shouldn’t that officer be told by their line superiors to perhaps think carefully before they reject our points, because INZ knows, we know, what we are talking about?

The churn in staff inside the INZ circus however is so high at around 30% a year, we are constantly dealing with officers who are brand new and have enormous power but little practical experience. The good ones always leave relatively quickly.

Those above them, wear, seemingly as a badge of honour, not engaging in visa work and hate intervening (and usually don’t). They have I imagine long ago forgotten the visa rules anyway. If you don’t have your nose in the rule book on a daily basis and are not applying it to real life situations, you can very quickly lose the knowledge to guide your own team.

Where once there was a depth of institutional knowledge where we could engage with senior and experienced managers, themselves willing to intervene, those days seem over. The knowledge that once existed and the attitude to engage with the likes of us who know they rules better than the bureaucrats do, has been quickly eroded in recent times.

What we now find ourselves doing is dealing with case officers with virtually unbridled power and free license to make mistakes, act inconsistently and those above and around them will circle the wagons and defend the decisions, even when they are demonstrably wrong.

When those decisions impact on people’s lives it is important that we, as trusted Advisers, have someone or somewhere to turn. Senior Managers continuously refuse to get their hands dirty (despite one or two telling us they will) and the best they offer these days is to recommend we use the official complaints portal on the department’s website. It is a typical Government complaint lodging process. It was clearly designed to put anyone off filing a complaint and is an absolute and utter waste of time. I’ve seen the stats - INZ get thousands of complaints every year about their service and visa outcomes yet only small numbers of complaints are upheld.

When they are judge and jury, can it be otherwise?

On a side note but related to this ‘Don’t look at me’ attitude of these functionaries, I read this week in information released to an industry colleague though the Official Information Act, how INZ arrived at the two criteria that give some skilled migrants priority over everyone else who paid the same fee for a resident visa.

There was nothing in the information that explained why an Electrician is more worthy than the $100,000 a year Export Marketing Manager responsible for generating export dollars. Or why the Software Developer earning $104,000 is more valuable to the economy than the $103,000 a year Software Developer, yet one will get processed within 4-6 months and the other will take two years.

The thing that leaped out at me was the most concerning issue for these most senior of INZ managers was that there’d be an uptick in complaints. It was in fact the only downside they identified.

Not the damage their decision making is doing to NZ as a migrant destination…

Not the damage these arbitrary criteria might do to employers and the labour market, still desperate for skills we don’t produce in NZ…

Not the damage this disaster does to New Zealand’s international reputation as a place to do business…

They could only imagine they’d get more complaints. Well, I’m sure they won’t be disappointed.

Until next week

Southern Man

 

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Tags: INZ | Immigration

When you though it couldn't get any worse...

Posted by Iain on Feb. 28, 2020, 10:42 a.m. in Immigration New Zealand

A competitor (a former employee and friend) emailed me a few days ago and said ‘Please stop scaring my clients!’

I asked him how I was doing that. Apparently at least one of his clients reads my blogs and the client was concerned at what he was reading about increasingly delayed visa allocation times and significant processing delays.

My reply (book ended with a smiley face) was, ‘Then tell him the truth….’

As I wrote last week there is a fine line between telling it how it is and scaring and upsetting people. I don’t want to frighten anyone but if their Adviser is not going to tell them what is going on, then how do they make plans?

As Advisers, If we know in advance that residence visa processing will take 18 months to finalisation, we can manage the client’s expectations and the clients can make plans accordingly. If we know work visas will take 8-10 weeks to issue, we can manage both the employer and the migrant expectations. If we know visitor visas will take six weeks we can manage that as well. These constant shocks where no one can predict any sort of allocation and processing times right now makes it really hard to help clients plan anything and likewise their NZ employers, who have only offered the migrant the job because they cannot fill the vacancy locally.

I make no apology for informing the market (including other consultancies clients although I am sure my mate had told his client) on what is actually happening rather than how they or their legal representative would like things to be.

And this week, just when I thought the ineptness that is INZ couldn’t get any worse, it has.

This week we were advised that: 

1.       The INZ office in Beijing remains closed owing to the Covid-19 virus and I suspect will not reopen for some time. Over one hundred thirty immigration officials are presumably sitting at home doing nothing. Eight to ten thousand visitor visas continue to be filed each week - with Chinese nationals not being able to travel hopefully the numbers should be falling fairly rapidly.

2.       As a consequence, INZ has now announced they are reassigning officials that process Essential Skill Work Visas to process Visitor Visas, and we should now expect ‘delays’ (nothing new in that, what bothers me is the length of those delays).

3.       We are still without a residence programme in which targets and quotas of resident visas are set. We have in effect, no residence programme.

In what is a failure of leadership and planning inside the Department, the impact of the Coronavirus is now spiraling, and I would suggest, almost out of control.

All of this is an abject failure on the part of government as well to lead and the Immigration Department, to manage.

A few years ago some bright spark decided that it would be a good idea to have one office of the department (Beijing) process all visitor visas. Clearly there was never any contingency planning for an event such as the coronavirus outbreak, or war, or hostile cyber-attack - no Plan B. Whether such an event was likely or not, wouldn’t you think that the Management of INZ might have had some Plan B ready, in the event that something like this, however unlikely, might happen?

It is obvious now they didn’t.

And why, when the Department is not allocating and processing anything but a small number of skilled migrant resident (SMC) visa applications, did they not reassign a whole bunch of those officers instead of those processing work visas? There cannot be too many applications left in the SMC processing unit to be processed as they have not allocated any (other than the small number they deem ‘priority) since December 2018.

That rather suggests there are scores of officers sitting increasingly idle in the residence visa processing team. (Hopefully spending their days learning their own residence policy and rules).

I set up my business to allow my staff to work remotely and from anywhere with wifi. I wonder why the NZ Government never thought to do the same…

I guess that’s the difference between the public and private sectors. The public sector shrugs its shoulders and says it is what it is, just suck it up because it isn’t our fault.

Well actually, it is your fault, INZ. I would love to know what contingency planning was made for an event like this. I am pretty sure I know that the answer was none.

So how long are the work visa delays going to be? I wrote last week that in a bit of rare good news we were getting most through in around three to four weeks again. Well, that lasted about a two months. We are now being told to expect allocation times of around 6 weeks - then there is the processing time on top - likely another 2-3 weeks.

So, now we are back where we were a year ago - telling employers and clients that it might now take 2-3 months to get a work visa.

Why, oh why, would they now delay processing work visas for skilled migrants, many of whom plan on going ahead with residence? If they processed the work visas quickly that at least buys everyone, NZ employers desperate for the skills, migrants needing to start work and INZ alike, time. Now it seems we have no residence programme, work visas are going to be delayed and we have a backlog of SMC cases, sitting unallocated, numbering around 40,000 people and growing by about 1000 a week.

Nobody, perhaps, could have expected the coronavirus but what it has done is to expose the failure of leadership and planning inside the Department and Ministers who trumpet ‘Don’t look at me, I don’t get involved in operational matters’. The Minister of Immigration controls the residence programme and the Minister sets the numbers. He is missing in action and the folly of spending his first 18 months as Minister fretting over the (relatively minor) matter of dealing with ‘migrant exploitation’ is being exposed for the sideshow it was.

Serious questions need to be asked and at the risk of frightening my own and competitor’s clients, I only promise to tell my clients what they need to know and not what they want to hear so they can make a plan. We will continue to do that and for our clients, jobs will be secured, work visas will be granted and over time resident visas will be granted to our clients.

If other consultants and lawyers don’t also share these constantly shifting processing realities, that then just makes the situation worse - Facebook and online chat groups and forums get all panicky and frenzied and the truth risks getting lost in the noise.

It is time heads rolled inside INZ for the deepening crisis that is enveloping the department. I have no doubt however that none will because if there is one thing I learned about Government monopolies that can dish up whatever garbage service they wish - applicants have nowhere else to go. I have said it before - the Immigration Department likes to refer to migrants as ‘customers’. I prefer ‘prisoners’. What real business where customers have the choice of going down the road to get a better service, would put up with this?

Questions need to be asked and the politicians and bureaucrats running this circus must be held to account.

I am going to continue doing all I can to see that happens. If it frightens applicants I don’t mean to, but truth matters and the truth allows clients (and us) at least to plan.

 

Until next week

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Corona and Visitor Visa Processing Delays

Posted by Iain on Feb. 8, 2020, 10:10 a.m. in Immigration New Zealand

Many years ago and before the immigration department started transitioning to online electronic applications the then Deputy Secretary asked me how I would feel if it were possible to file any kind of Visa from anywhere in the world from any device. I said I think it would be fantastic if INZ could make it work and it led to the speedy resolution of visas applications. I had visions of someone sitting on a camel with a laptop computer, powered by a solar panel draped over its hump, filing a Visa for New Zealand for some strange reason. I wasn’t so keen on being told a computer would soon be able to make the decision however.

Fast forward 12 years or so, goodness only knows how many tens of millions of dollars on IT systems and now it is possible to file temporary (visitor, student and work) visas electronically. In many ways it has been a giant leap forward. That giant leap is yet to translate to most Resident Visa applications which we were supposed to be able to file electronically over 12 months ago (two, less common types can currently be filed online). Some IT consultant probably told the government that would cost another $100 million and is still building the platform….

What hasn't been built into the existing system it seems is how to deal with the risk to the entire system by the creation of single processing hubs for specific visa types. INZ chose the Beijing office to process all global visitor visas which was a logical choice given the importance of the Chinese tourist market to New Zealand.

That decision however now doesn't look quite so smart as the office has been forced to suspend operations, effectively until further notice, owing to the outbreak of the coronavirus and attempts in China and by the world to contain it within its borders.

The Immigration department has been scrambling to find an alternative which is exceedingly difficult when you consider that:

1.      Partnership work and dependent children (of work visa holders) processing times are being quoted in months by INZ in Hamilton simply to allocate these Visas for filing and goodness knows how long there after to process – obviously that depends on the quality of the application and the evidence presented. We are advised these delays have been caused by capacity constraints. 

2.      Skilled migrants, unless they are being afforded priority, which is a very small number, are not going to be allocated for 12 plus months for substantive processing to begin. It seems that ‘team’ has its hands full.

The Beijing office processes thousands of visitor visas every week. We know that tens of thousands of Chinese have cancelled their trips to New Zealand because the New Zealand government has now, at least for the time being, shut down entry to New Zealand by anyone from, or transiting, through China.

As the hysteria around the coronavirus continues to grow globally and it dominates the news cycles causing panic I don't think that the shutdown in Beijing is going to be for only a couple of weeks. I'm picking many weeks, if not months to resume processing of visas there, and then potentially playing catch up to try and get processing times back to historical averages.

Unless the department can get another office to take up the job.

We have learned today that the immigration department is probably going to reallocate all existing electronic visitor visa applications to their office in Manila. That sends a chill down my spine because those people were never much good at getting these visa decisions right when they used to process them from their region.

The message from my team to all our customers is clear.

Visitor Visa applications are now going to take longer to process than any of us had expected before the virus outbreak caused the havoc that it has in China. Things will almost certainly be delayed and what was a 2 to 4 week process is now going to take far longer I expect and everyone needs to plan accordingly.

I don't recommend buying airline tickets until visas are approved and nor, at the risk of sounding like the immigration department itself, should you make any concrete plans in terms of travel dates, unless and until that Visa is granted.

Here in Hong Kong after another incredibly busy week dealing with people eager to leave, panic buying has set in as the government has announced yesterday some vague plan to quarantine for 14 days mainland Chinese who come to the territory.  Naturally people are starting to wonder what will happen with the supply of goods if the borders are effectively closed or at least the flow of goods severaly curtailed. Apparently and within only 24 hours of the announcement of tighter border controls you can no longer buy a toilet roll in Hong Kong! As they stampeded for face masks last week, the locals were rampaging though the aisles to get toilet paper this week (a Psychologist would have a field day in this place).

When I was here in November and the protests against the government were at their peak, the streets were eerily quiet after dark. Although it's one of the most densely populated cities in the world, it is almost like a ghost town now when the sun goes down now. Everyone, and I mean everyone, is wearing face masks. I have seen queues of up to 500 people waiting outside pharmacies to buy what is an effect a placebo. The best of these masks can keep out something which is 0.3microns in size. The problem is the virus is 0.1 microns so it will sail right through the fabric. But they still love their face masks!

The government has closed schools until March and government employees are being told to work from home. I've never seen so many people so scared in my life but many people here still have bad memories of the SARS outbreak back in 2003 which hit Hong Kong particularly hard. In no way diminishing the loss of over 300 lives to that viral outbreak, I imagine that ten times that many people die of influenza in Hong Kong every winter.

If the virus breaks out here in Hong Kong  (thankfully so far it hasn’t) and establishes itself in any other country in the region I do think that we are probably looking at it even more travel restrictions.

My message to anyone looking to visit New Zealand is obviously to avoid transiting through China or you won't be allowed in and if we are filing visitor visas for you expect processing times now to significantly increase.

With skilled migrant cases now taking an eternity to process, partnership visas an unacceptably long 4 plus months for most and now coronavirus causing havoc with visitor visa processing this may turn out to be your friendly immigration adviser's ‘annus horribilis’ to quote her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II.

I do not think it is insignificant that the Assistant General Manager of Immigration New Zealand has now been seconded to the office of the Minister of Immigration. That the Minister has now drawn the second most senior Manager in the department into his office suggests the immigration portfolio is now starting to trouble the minister.

All I can say is it took him long enough - he was warned 12 months ago of the processing delays and their reasons and has done nothing. I imagine the senior manager is there working on a plan.

I do not think we have ever seen a more ineffective Minister than this one whose focus has been on the wrong parts of his portfolio. The ship of immigration has been rudderless now for three years, Immigration New Zealand leadership has always been weak and largely ineffectual and we have a government that has dug itself a very deep political and economic hole by promising to cut immigration at the last election (which it did) at a time of economic boom and increasing skill shortages.

I suspect the Minister wants a senior manager holding his hand as his party negotiates the approaching election where it has to reconcile its cuts to desperately needed skilled migrants, new infrastructure spending but not enough workers to build that  infrastructure, facing well founded fury at abandoning its plans to build 100,000 houses when it finally dawned on it that we simply don’t have the skills to get that job done…..and a thousand other unfulfilled promises.

Going to be an interesting year!

Until next week

Iain MacLeod

 

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Changes to Talent Visa Requirements

Posted by Iain on Sept. 17, 2019, 3:11 p.m. in Immigration New Zealand

Right about now keyboard warriors across Facebook, Twitter, migrant chat group and forums will be lighting up with the news that the Government is making a significant change to accredited employer/talent visa policy on or about 7 October. Teeth will be gnashing. Uninformed opinions will be flying. No doubt the ‘media headlines will scream ‘Government making it tougher for migrant workers to secure work visas’ (Government loves those sorts of headlines even when it isn’t true).

Government isn’t doing that. They are simply bringing Talent Visa workers income into better alignment with the changes they made to Essential Skills Work Visas (the bog-standard work visas most people hold on their way to a resident visa). This is long overdue. I suspect there is some truth to this change also pushing most short term skilled workers back into the Essential Skills Work Visa stream.

Note the ‘on or about October 7’. From that date applicants seeking Talent Visas under the Work to Residence pathway with an accredited employer will be required to earn $79,560 (gross). It is currently $55,000.

None of this is news – or shouldn’t be. This has been in the offing for many months. I wrote almost a year ago this increase was coming. It was the quantum that has surprised on the ‘upside’. In the guessing game that can be immigration policy changes my pick was high $60,000s or low $70,000s.

None of this should be confused with the ongoing work (currently under ‘design’) being done whereby all employers to become ‘accredited’ before they can support Essential Skills Work Visa applications.

This new policy was meant to be rolled out around now but I suspect the powers that be have realised a good idea and one that can be operationalized are two different things. Under the proposed new (in 2021) work visa rules there will be three steps for an applicant seeking a temporary work visa in NZ:

1.       Employer becoming accredited (or whatever they choose to call it)

2.       Employer proving a genuine attempt to recruit locally (same as now)

3.       The applicant proving they are qualified by experience and training to do the job (same as now)

The short lead-in time to the new salary threshold for accredited employers will be to stop the predictable rush of applications.

Kind regards

Tags: work visa

When Stupid Becomes Sinister

Posted by Iain on Aug. 16, 2019, 12:54 p.m. in Immigration New Zealand

In this age of mass communication, social media and the manipulation of the masses by the few, it can sometimes be hard to separate the sinister from the stupid. Take Donald Trump for example. 

Closer to home, I’m constantly asking myself whether the New Zealand Immigration department is full of poorly led fools or there is an insidious culture of racism that their 'leadership' will never publicly acknowledge exists. 

Take the relatively simple matter of a visitor visa. Every year hundreds of thousands of people visit New Zealand and many of them need visitor visas to do so. The significant majority are simply coming to New Zealand for a holiday and many are granted visas. Equally, many are not. I am not sure anyone has ever done any real analysis of the nationality or ethnicity of those that are successful and those that are not. 

A smaller number, many of them our clients, are coming to New Zealand to find work because they want to be part of the government's residence program and we have identified that with skilled employment they meet the criteria for residence. As I have written about so many times before, overwhelmingly New Zealand employers demand that potential migrants send very clear signals of their commitment to the process and that means being in New Zealand in order to secure interviews. 

Around 97% of all IMMagine’s clients get jobs when they are in New Zealand and the signifcant majority are issued their work visas while in NZ. 

Immigration New Zealand’s own statistics show that only 6% of skilled Work Visas are granted to people not in New Zealand. That supports the proposition that if you want a job you need to be in New Zealand first and employers are reluctant to engage with those sitting overseas.

The reality is those coming to New Zealand to test themselves against the labour market when not 100% on holiday does create issues for immigration officials because such people are not catered for in the rulebook - looking for work on a visitor visa is perfectly legal but not one of the stated ‘purposes’ of being a ‘tourist’. Rather than change the rule book to streamline the residence process and recognise the benefit of allowing the highly skilld to travel as visitors to find work, we end up with what seems to me to be little short of racial profiling.

I know the government will vehemently deny it as they always do, however, when our experience as Advisers screams racial profiling and the evidence is as plain as the nose on your face, all the denials in the world can't hide the reality. 

To try and reach an understanding on who might be allowed to visit in part to find work in order to be part of the residence programme, we came to an arrangement some time ago with a very senior immigration manager who said that someone meeting only one of the criteria below could ‘reasonably expect’ to be granted a Visitor Visa when they were primarily coming to New Zealand on holiday but with a secondary purpose of finding work:

- Their immediate family was remaining behind (implying they couldn’t be single); or

- They had a job to return to if they didn’t find work in NZ; or

- They had not sold the family home.

Either the officers in branches like Beijing never got the memo or they wilfully ignore the directives of their senior managers (and given there is a culture of not wanting to tell subordinates what to do in this circus, I don’t rule out the latter).

Right now somewhere in New Zealand is a single, 23-year-old South African with limited work experience, who has never owned property, who resigned his job and for whom we got a visitor visa to come to New Zealand because he wants to be part of the Residence program. We warned him when we applied that INZ should try and decline him based on the understanding of who should and who should not expect to get the visa. They approved him. Although he had not secured employment within the validity of his initial Visitor Visa, the Immigration Department was very relaxed about granting him a renewal for another three months. None of the three criteria above were satisfied.

Another current client is also from and lives in South Africa. He is not a South African citizen but holds a valid work visa and has lived there for a number of years. He is married with children and they were not included in the visitor visa application but we presented evidence of this as strong 'incentives to return' to SA if he was unsuccessful finding work in NZ. He is a highly skilled Electrician, is trade certified, speaks fluent English and has registration with the New Zealand Electrical Workers Registration Board. On top the fact that he works in an occupation that appears on the Long term Skills Shortage List should see him find work within days of stepping off the plane.  He has a job to return in South Africa in the unlikely event he cannot find one in New Zealand.

He satisfies two of the three criteria above. 

His visitor visa was declined yesterday.

One of these clients is white and one of these clients is not. Can you guess which is which?

The Immigration Department will suggest that is coincidence.

That can only mean one of two things - they are utterly incapable of consistently applying their own rules and the visa process is more than a little random…or something more sinister…and racial profiling or at least bias is at play.

They can deny the system is racist all they like and while different applicants do have different risk assessments attached to them, when a person satisfies criteria laid down by a senior manager to mitigate against that risk, and the state functionaries don’t follow those criteria, what other conclusion can be reached?

Is it a culture of racism or is it simply (subconscious?) bias on the part of immigration officers? 

When the only thing that seems to separate so many decisions is the colour of someone’s skin it is very hard to conclude that there isn't a racist subculture within the immigration department. It's impossible to conclude otherwise when white people who don't meet the criteria are approved for a Visa and non-white people who do, are not.

I take no comfort in writing about this, because it calls into question the way New Zealanders perceive themselves as being welcoming, tolerant and by and large, not racist. I think for the most part that is true but there's something about the culture of the immigration department, their training or simply their perception of ‘risk’ that leads them to treat similar applicants in different ways based on nothing more than nationality or race.

And someone needs to call them out on it.

Until next week...

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Tags: INZ

Four Visa Horsemen

Posted by Iain on Aug. 9, 2019, 3:08 p.m. in Immigration New Zealand

 

I am sometimes asked why we are more expensive than most immigration advisers. I respond, sounding immodest I know, because we employ the best, smartest immigration consultants and we deliver. You’d expect me to say that, right? Well, if that sounds like a self serving sales pitch, read on.

I wrote a blog last year about a case which demonstrates all that is wrong at the Immigration Department and why the smart wannabe migrant employs a very good immigration adviser to represent them. When living in NZ for the rest of your life is the goal, and raising your family somewhere safe and civilised, enjoying everything this country has to offer in an increasingly barmy world, is investing a few thousand more dollars too much of a price to pay?

The story I started to tell last year has just reached its climax and the ’four horsemen of the visa apocalypse’ have been slain.  I am happy, yet mentally exhausted to report, a positive outcome for the client who this week received their resident visas.

To briefly recap, the clients had four things going against them when we first consulted with them in 2017:

1.      They were Indian nationals (and yes, in my opinion, INZ does discriminate against Indian nationals); and

2.      The main applicant was a former international student (and the Government was, and remains, committed to ridding NZ of as many of them as they can and denying them the pathway to residence promised to them when they signed up to study in NZ at great cost); and

3.    The main applicant, post her NZ Master programme, was working as a ‘Retail Manager’ (for which INZ had issued her a work visa - take note of that); and

4.      The employer was a fast food business - in this case a Subway franchise.

I explained to the clients that any one of these four factors meant INZ would do everything in their power to decline their skilled migrant resident visa despite the case meeting all the rules to the letter. I went to great lengths knowing what lay ahead to ensure we had our facts straight and the evidence tight especially in relation to the nature of the role the client was filling at Subway.

I needed to be satisfied she was indeed the Manager of this business (there were two outlets she was running) and made most of the decisions in their operation, as managers might be doing. I had no doubt she was a Manager in every sense of the word. Her job was skilled despite it being with a fast food business.

INZ didn’t disappoint me and it declined the first application on the flawed grounds that the applicant was working ‘more’ as a ‘Supervisor’ than a ‘Manager’. Supervisor is not skilled under policy for this type of business. Their assessment of her role was wrong, or rather they ignored the facts,  but I could not get the senior managers to take another look. No one would listen and stop the clear injustice they were perpetrating. The senior managers supported the officers who lined up against the client.

This decision to decline the case was made despite client holding a valid work visa to be employed as a ‘Manager’ at the business. It is important to note that the same definitions as to what is a ‘skilled’ job apply for both work and resident visas. That then begs the question, how can you be acknowledged by INZ to be a Manager at work visa stage but not at residence when the job itself has not changed? In INZ’s world anything goes, especially when they want to decline a visa.

The obvious contradiction was either lost on INZ or they conveniently ignored it (in this case I am sure the latter). INZ demonstrated their stupidity (or vindictiveness) by suggesting that the job they had granted a work visa to because it was skilled, all of a sudden was not skilled for residence and therefore, no points could be awarded for it and the client failed to reach the 160 points required for residence. Everything I predicted INZ would do, they did. Case declined.

I had always expected that we would likely have to rely on the independent Immigration and Protection Tribunal (Appeal Authority) to pull INZ back into line.

I had no doubt we would win under appeal but we were thrown an interesting policy change lifeline which changed the strategy.

Around the time INZ declined the case, the Government introduced a new (stupid) rule that in essence says a job, even if unskilled when applying INZ task definitions, becomes skilled if the applicant earns $36.44 an hour.

Hmmm, I thought, INZ has already concluded this job is a supervisory one and not a manager and therefore is not skilled. If the employer now offers a (substantial) pay rise to the client to that magic new hourly rate, then the job becomes skilled and she must be awarded the 50 points for it. INZ could never say no.

I explained all of this to the clients and the employer who given INZ’s efforts to deny them residence once, were understandably sceptical. Trust me I said, I am right. The ‘effective hourly rate’ definition is not open to interpretation - if your job is unskilled by its tasks but you earn that particular hourly rate or higher, it is skilled and the points must be granted all other things being equal. Given the client had been working in the role for almost three years, INZ had verified her role with a forensic zeal I wish they’d apply to learning their own rules, I convinced the client that there’s simply no way INZ could argue that it was not ‘skilled’. They needed to have faith.

How wrong I was.

INZ settled on a line of thinking that was staggering. They argued the fact that because the employer had granted a significant pay rise to the applicant, that somehow made the job ‘not genuine’ and, scarcely believably, in doing so, the employer’s action represented ‘a threat to the integrity of the immigration system’. They never explained what the threat was however beyond the decision would lead to a resident visa potentially.

INZ wrote possibly the dumbest, most poorly argued ‘letter of concern’ I have seen in 30 years and that is saying something. Here was INZ, apparently with a straight face, arguing that if a client gets a pay rise to do a job INZ has said is not skilled, it cannot now be skilled because they were given the pay rise! That pay rise somehow represents a threat to a system that apparently has some ‘integrity’ and the job cannot not ‘genuine’.

Think about that for a minute.

Does that mean no migrant can ever get a pay rise if it takes them over a certain income threshold that opens the door to residence? INZ wants NZ employers to suppress migrant incomes? This, at a time the current Government is going to change immigration rules because migrants are, allegedly, being 'exploited' and being under paid and over worked?

I begged senior branch managers to get involved as I couldn’t make the case officer, or her immediate line managers, understand the utter stupidity and contradictions of their own argument. INZ was so hell bent on declining this case and defending an officer seriously out of her depth, they refused to help her see what to an 8 year old would be obvious. Unfortunately, in their usual ‘hands off’ fashion, these senior managers supported the officer and her immediate line superiors.

My rebuttal was 26 pages long and took over 30 hours to draft, refine and finally fire off to the department - I wont bore you with the detail of the arguments but focussed on the obvious - in what credible way could the applicant getting a pay rise represent a ‘threat to the integrity of the immigration system’ when the 'dollars per hour' definition is INZ's rule and the client simply met it? How could the job not be genuine when she has been working in that role for over two years?

Further, given INZ had granted this person a Work Visa to work as a ‘Retail Manager’ for this business, how could she not now be a Retail Manager at resident visa stage? And if she wasn’t now in their minds a Retail Manager that means the work visa she was on was invalid and the client had been working unlawfully for almost three years. No one at INZ commented on that obvious contradiction or the potentially parlous position it placed the client or her employer in. I suspect they were willing to turn a blind eye to this contradiction because it suited their twisted narrative.

I argued, if the Department could not understand (or were not interested in understanding) their own contradictory decisions through the life cycle of this client’s visa journey, I was happy to have her stay on her work visa as a ‘Manager’ because that was simply supplying me more legal ammunition if we had to take this to appeal. INZ had been warned.

Furthermore, if any logic ever applies to these people or this process, if someone has been working in a role for nearly three years it must be ‘genuine’ because it is real and that is what the word ‘genuine’ means. If an employer gives someone a pay rise (yes, it might be simply to ‘make’ an otherwise unskilled job ‘skilled’ and worth 50 points) that doesn’t represent any threat to anything, it represents an employer making a rational decision to secure and retain a migrant’s skills.

After years of being told that migrants continue to be exploited by not being paid enough, INZ was now trying to decline someone for being paid too much!

I have never been more frustrated in 30 years at the lengths that INZ went to in this case to decline these deserving migrants, not once, but twice.

However they played right into my hands by deciding in the first resident visa that the client was ‘more a supervisor’ than a ‘Manager’. They made that bed and I forced them to sleep in it.

I have now lost all faith that senior managers pay anything other than lip service to ‘putting the customer at the centre of everything we do’ (that isn’t a joke, it’s INZ’s ‘vision statement’). They abrogated their responsibilities to lead and left the decision making to an inexperienced officer with little knowledge of the rules she was required to apply and even worse English language abilities. They threw her right under a legal bus and should hang their heads in shame.

They put the customer through hell for 24 months with all their plans on hold (including the husband launching his own business start up which he is now doing).

The system is morally bankrupt, the Department employs people out of their depth, it has ineffective and weak 'leadership' and in any normal business heads would be rolling about now. But let's not kid ourselves, INZ is not a business - it is an all powerful state run monopoly that can act as it pleases and unless you have powerful advocates at your back, you are at their mercy.

The case took almost two years of fighting and hard graft but in the end the client got what they should have got over 12 months ago - a resident visa that they qualified for the minute one of them had the job offer with Subway.

It is clear to me and many others INZ has a thing against Indian applicants, former international students of all persuasions but in particular those from India, Retail Managers and fast food businesses.

I warned the clients from the start that they represented the four horsemen of the visa apocalypse to INZ but I was confident they could be slain. Even in my wildest nightmares I had no idea the lengths INZ would go to, to force these people out of the country that invited them to study here with the promise of a pathway to residence to follow.

And this, dear reader, is why you often pay us more than others. I have no doubt most immigration advisers could never have formulated the argument, connected the dots, used INZ’s dumb arguments against it, nor had the clout to ensure that INZ was always going to pay very close attention because the arguments came from IMMagine.

Until next week

Iain MacLeod

Southern Man

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Tags: INZ | immigration

New Zealand - Is It Really Closing It's Doors?

Posted by Iain on July 19, 2019, 2:23 p.m. in Immigration New Zealand

Immigration ‘cuts’ are back in the news this week and as usual the migrant world is in full panic mode. This is, to coin the phrase, ‘fake news’. However, drill down a little deeper and a very different, and depending where you come from, darker, picture is playing out.

In October 2016, in an attempt to block the pathway to residency to tens of thousands of international students to whom such a pathway had been promised, the then government increased the skilled migrant points "pass mark" significantly to 160.  They did this under the guise of improving ‘quality’, the real reason was having taken billions of dollars off international students, they decided they did not want most to hang around.

I wrote at the time the pass mark increase was the Government’s way of dealing to a problem of its own creation but to which it did not wish to confess. As a consequence, tens of thousands of international students, mainly from India, who had invested tens of thousands of dollars if not hundreds of thousands of dollars studying in New Zealand because the government here promised them a pathway to residence if they did, were effectively being shown the exit door.

We are now seeing the consequences of that but it is affecting different markets in different ways. I know a lot of South Africans have read the headline about ‘numbers being slashed’ and are now under the impression New Zealand is now closing the door. Not true.

If you compare all resident visas granted since 2010, the numbers of Indian, Chinese and South African citizens granted a visa under all categories looks like this (I’ve rounded the numbers off) for the years ending:

 

                     2010       2012     2014      2016       2018

 

India:            2500      3500      4375       6000      3152

 

China:            4030      3500      4633      5500       4800

 

South Africa:  1900     1035      1042       1250       1210

 

Drilling down even further and looking specifically at skilled migrant category applications, it is very much steady as she goes for South Africa, India is trending down rapidly and China is also on its way down.

Looking at INZs own published data, the number of Expressions of Interest (EOI) going into the skilled migrant pool has not changed much in recent times. That suggests demand for the available places is not increasing.

Historically, to meet its quota of 27,000 skilled migrant resident visas issued in any 12 month period with a variance of +/- 10%, 750 EOIs have needed to be selected every fortnight in order to achieve that targeted outcome. Tellingly, that target of 27,000 has not been reached in recent years, there’s always been unfilled places. That is largely because of the high pass mark of 160.

Looking at the most recent skilled migrant pool draws, INZ has been selecting between 600 and 650 a fortnight, significantly down on what is required to meet their own targets.

At the same time there has been an increase in those being granted resident visas who have been employed by an ‘accredited’ employer and I would expect this number to grow over the next 12-24 months as employers respond to high ‘pass marks’ for otherwise skilled migrants for whom no pathway exists for residence. These resident visas are included in the overall historical target of 27,000.

It is true that the current government has modestly reduced the current ‘target’ number of resident visas and they are now operating on an 18 month timeline, down from the traditional 24 month ’residence programme’ period. The current programme ends in December 2019 and new targets will be released in the next couple of months I expect. My money is on more smoke and mirrors when that happens but little effective change.

I suspect the current programme has been reduced from a two year cycle to 18 months because all three parties that have formed the current Government campaigned on reducing immigration levels and have spent much of the last two years trying to work out what exactly they really want in terms of immigration policy settings versus what they sold their voters.

The word we hear is that the junior coalition partner, New Zealand First (‘Mr 7%’ who in effect can veto anything and everything), might have a hand in the never ending delays in the Government announcing new immigration initiatives. For example, Work Visa policy which we were told would be rolled out about now I am currently hearing is not likely to be rolled out until the middle of 2020. I wouldn’t bet much that it will be then either.

There has also been a reduction in real terms of around 5000 skilled migrant places (which represents no more than the plus or minus 10%) over the last programme (I won’t bore you with the maths) but given the Government hasn't come close to filling the 27,000 in recent years, the ‘reduction’ is simply confirming what has already been happening. A case of smoke and mirrors if ever there was one. New Zealand is not officially reducing numbers (unless arguably you are an international student and/or from India). They were already being reduced thanks to the last Government.

Having said all of that we were shocked when 10 days ago a very senior immigration manager advised us that skilled migrant resident visa allocation times would now be seven months. That is up from three months at the beginning of this year. The senior manager suggested that was because increased demand was causing a backlog.

Into the numbers we once again dived to see what was really going on and to see if we could explain it.

Typically, the numbers tell a different story to what the media has reported and what INZ is saying. There is no doubt that the number of skilled migrant resident visa applications that have been filed but not yet processed has increased significantly in recent months but that has nothing to do with demand nor the government significantly cutting the number of places available to those Visa applicants - it is a simple reflection of the inability of INZ to get its act together to the point where they can continue making decisions at the rate they traditionally have.

How did this happen?

Apart from not being able to organise a good knees up in a brewery, I think the real reason explaining the increase in applications sitting idle in the system is because INZ "Managers" decided to condense a three year program of restructuring including bringing skilled migrant resident visa processing onshore and under one roof at the same time as they were moving towards an electronic visa processing system, into 18 months. It has caused chaos. INZ is a shambles at the best of times but I have never seen it more shambolic than it is today.

At the same time the normal churn in immigration officers continues and it is horrifying to think that every year around one third of all immigration officers resign and need to be replaced. As I recently pointed out in a call to a number of senior INZ managers, they are operating in the same labour market that the rest of us are, where anybody with half a brain, the right attitude and good English is actually already working and therefore INZ is having to scrape the bottom of the labour market barrel to replace the scores that leave every year. This is a complicated game where it takes the best of minds several years to be knowledgeable enough to know what you are doing - these officers are let loose after a few short weeks.

Lack of experienced staff and ineffectual leadership it seems to me is the real reason why applications are piling up.

I therefore urge those of you that spend your lives taking advice from those with an opinion, but little real understanding of what is going on in the visa world (my world), who believe all that is written on those online chat groups and migrant forums along with dear old Facebook to treat with great caution whatever you might be reading about New Zealand closing its doors. It is not closing its doors, this Government knows we still need every skilled migrant we can attract as we continue to create thousands of jobs every month and we don't have people to fill them.

They have however got an Immigration Department that is in a state of chaos and that, and that alone, is leading to blow outs in processing times and may well mean a reduction in ‘approvals’. That has nothing to do with an official ‘cut'.

So, rest easy. The door is still well open

Until next week...

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Tags: INZ

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