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Immigration Blog

REGULAR POSTS FROM NEW ZEALAND & AUSTRALIA

Posts in category: Immigration

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 clicking here.

The Politics of Immigration

Posted by Iain on June 12, 2017, 12:53 a.m. in Immigration

"Labour attempts to pick low hanging immigration fruit...that's already been eaten" - Iain MacLeod, Managing Director, IMMagine Australia & New Zealand Immigration Specialists

The Labour Party’s announcement today that they will make moderate cuts to immigration numbers will make no significant difference to the numbers of permanent migrants coming to New Zealand.

Putting the brakes on the numbers of students transitioning to work and potentially resident visas is a move that will, later this year, have enormous potential impact on thousands of international students that were studying with a clear intention to use the pathway to residence created by the Government. Clearly, an informed Labour Party is aware that the National Party had already played this card. Having promised cuts in the ‘tens of thousands’, I guess they had to come up with something, somehow.

Just as the Government hasn’t actually cut a single visa from its residence programme, it appears neither has Labour in its announcement today.

It’s all smoke and mirrors designed to take the wind of our of NZ First’s sails. 

No one suggests that many of the jobs currently being filled by temporary work or student visa holders shouldn’t be filled by locals, they should – but most employers will tell you those young Kiwis are not around to fill these roles or don’t want the work.

Denying many employers casual migrant labour might make a headline and take a few votes off Winston Peters but it’ll be interesting to see what ideas the Labour Party comes up with to reform our welfare entitlements to ensure there are young New Zealanders being ‘encouraged’ to fill these roles. Let’s hope so because there are going to be lots of vacancies. (Labour provided the example of a paediatric oncologist as benefitting from "their" changes – truth be told, anyone with these skills and qualifications would always have qualified for residence: would under National’s upcoming changes and will under Labour’s proposed rules.)

On the plus side, there is no doubt the changes announced by the National Party earlier this year and the announcements by the Opposition today will increase labour market shortages particularly in hospitality and tourism, creating plenty of opportunities for young New Zealanders to find employment in these sectors and in other casual work.

The export education industry will take another hit with these changes. The Government’s (quietly dropped) goal of it becoming a $5 billion a year industry just took another politically inspired hit.

Iain MacLeod, Managing Director, IMMagine Australia & New Zealand Immigration Specialists


New Skilled Migrant Points: Analysis

Posted by Iain on May 5, 2017, 7:23 p.m. in Immigration

Information received under the Official Information Act proves (if any proof was needed) that the Skilled Migrant Category changes Government is implementing on 14 August are largely directed at stemming the flow of international students through to residence and will not radically reduce the chances of those over the age of 30 that would likely qualify today. 

INZ officials are quoted in advice to Cabinet:

The remuneration threshold is likely to have a bigger impact on former international students than people entering through other SMC pathways. International students will typically have less experience and therefore earn less than migrants with more work experience. Around 50-60 per cent of the international tertiary graduates who were employed in New Zealand in 20135 (sic) earned below the proposed threshold. 

Told you so...

The Government’s promise to international students to provide a residence pathway has, effectively, been broken. Under these new rules the minimum salary threshold of $48,800 will see significant numbers of graduates from our local institutions no longer qualifying.

That must hurt the $3 billion export education industry far more than they care to admit right now.

While I feel for them, New Zealand offers limited numbers of places to skilled migrants each year and demand far exceeds supply. We have an obligation to get the most for our visa ‘buck’ so while for me it is a shame these students have been let down badly and the Government hasn’t ‘fessed’ up to really stuffing things up in that quarter, something had to give and it was the 'lower value' migrants that are missing out.

It is worth repeating there is no cut to the annual target of 27,000 resident visas under this category.

So, what are the new points?

Those aged 39 and under will score 30 points for age. This represents status quo for those under 30 years of age but 5 more points for those aged 30-39.

We can also reveal that high paying jobs with remuneration (note, not necessarily salary it seems) of $97,713.00 will attract 20 new points. 

Masters and Ph.D. holders will see their points for these qualifications increase to 70 points from the current 60. Goodness knows why...... 

In possibly the biggest change, those claiming points for work experience will only be able to claim points for that experience that is skilled (and in the jargon, Skill Levels 1,2 and 3 in ANZSCO). Right now, all work that is ‘relevant’ to a recognised qualification or a NZ skilled job offer gets points up to a maximum of 30. 

However, the points that can be claimed from August 14 increases to a maximum of 50 points for ten years of skilled work experience. That's 20 more points available to those with ten years of skilled work experience than exits today.

A case of taking with one hand and giving with the other, reasonably in my view and recognising that those with greater levels of skilled work experience are better for the NZ economy. 

New Zealand based work experience points increases from 5 to 10 once 12 months of skilled work has been notched up.

Gone, as reported in another blog post, are:

  • future growth area bonus points, 
  • bonus points for qualifications in an area of absolute skills shortage, 
  • close family sponsorship points 
  • bonus points for being in a skilled job for 12 months in NZ (eliminating a double dip with rewarding NZ work experience under the work points claim for effectively the same thing)

So, if you are aged over 29, have University, Technical Institute or Trade level qualifications these changes will be more or less neutral as I have written about before. Those that qualify today are almost certain to qualify after 14 August because they were not the targets of this fine tuning of the skilled migrant category.

The high salary/remuneration bonus points will assist some who don’t have qualifications to qualify but it is possible some will miss out.

What the Government might need to do (and may in fact be considering) is a return to multiple pass marks so that, for example, someone earning over $98,000 might have a lower pass mark than someone earning under that. The system is designed with and historically always has had multiple pass marks.

My analysis of these changes suggests government will still struggle to fill the annual 27,000 skilled migrant target it has had in place for over ten years with this new points spread.

That analysis demands a drop in the pass mark but given that is a political decision I suspect what happens from here is the Government will be pleasantly surprised the media completely swallowed the announced changes as a ‘tightening’ and ‘cuts’ (both of which have not happened) and leave the pass mark at 160 till after the election in September. They’ll be hoping they’ve painted a (false) picture of ‘toughening up’, New Zealanders ‘first’ and all that ‘anti’ talk in order to neutralise the opposition parties calling for reductions in migrants.

Then, once they have been re-elected (possibly in coalition with a small anti-immigration party), they’ll let the pass mark fall, confident neither will look like they haven’t ‘tightened up’ and have delivered on a promise to force a ‘cut’ to immigration without having done anything of the sort.

Wonderful use of smoke and mirrors that represent a few tweaks and a bit of fine tuning that in reality only impacts on those would be skilled migrants under the age of 30. Most of whom are international graduate students.

And we might see a few restaurants close around town because of the new minimum salary threshold of $48,800 unless we are all willing to pay more for our Phad Thai and pay migrant Chefs more.

Until next week...

Iain MacLeod

Southern Man


When is a cut not a cut?

Posted by Iain on April 28, 2017, 3 p.m. in Immigration

It took about a week after the Government announced its changes to Skilled Migrant policy and announced a review of temporary work visa policy for the message to finally get through to the mainstream media that things might not be quite as they at first appeared.

Why the Government did what it did and who it was really targeting was, in my view, actually quite different to the press statements. 

I get an ironic chuckle the way a 24 hour, first-to-report-the-story news cycle meant that the way the Government ‘sold’ these changes was swallowed hook, line and sinker by the media and of course in this online and connected world of ours, on social media platforms around the world. Chat groups and forums are still full of jibber jabber about doors closing, migrants being unwelcome and more.

‘New Zealanders First’ was a tidy headline and in keeping with recent developments in the USA (Trump, walls, immigration), Brexit (‘too many bloody foreigners and Britain isn’t British any more’), Marine Le Pen’s right wing rise in France (‘immigrants won’t become French and they want to make us become Muslims!'), Australia’s ‘Australians First’ announcements last week set a nice scene. 

We are in an election year and the two smaller but main opposition parties are calling for cuts to migration levels. One always did and is rewarded every four years with 8-10% of the popular vote. The other, always strongly supported by migrants, should simply be ashamed of itself. They are polling in the low 20% and are of course a desperate five months out to lift their support (but anyone who is ‘anti’ immigration will likely vote for the other ‘anti’ immigration party).

Naturally, neither are being specific about which categories of immigration they’d cut or in what numbers.

There is no doubt there is real pressure being brought to bear on the Government to ‘do something’ about infrastructure pressure in Auckland; clogged freeways and rampant house price inflation caused by the fact that...it’s a great place to live!

The economy is performing strongly, job growth is strong for the skilled, fewer Kiwis are packing their bags for overseas, more Kiwis are coming home and more Australians are joining them (there is a downside to every boom I guess!), pleasant climate, great public education and healthcare; the list goes on. Every year tens of thousands of wannabe kiwis want to join us.

How true is it that the changes announced last week represent some seismic shift and tightening...or indeed, any tightening at all?

The answer is pretty clear – the Government never announced any cuts to skilled migrant numbers.

Late last year the Government announced a modest, margin of error ‘cut’ to our overall residence programme which covers all migrants coming to NZ under all categories; not just the skilled. The two year residence programme was cut from 90,000 plus or minus 10%, to 80,000 - 85,000 plus or minus 10%. Do the math. The number of visas issued over the period may well be exactly the same.

The number of places available for skilled migrants has within that remained exactly the same – 27,000 plus or minus 10%. As it has for the best part of a decade. That did not change last week. An important fact that seems to have been missed by pretty much everyone in the media.

So if the numbers of skilled, investor and family migrants is going to be pretty much the same next year as it is this year then what is actually going on?

Again, I’d suggest it’s pretty simple. There are more people chasing those 27,000 skilled migrant places than ever before. Demand exceeds supply and that requires fine tuning from time to time to control the inflow. 

Over the past two years the numbers of international students treading the promised pathway to residence has been climbing. These youngsters were increasingly jostling with older and more experienced skilled migrants.

We simply don’t have room for them all (apparently).

I explain the Government’s dilemma like this. 

If there was only one resident visa left of that annual 27,000 to give away and there were two applicants on 160 points, which one is better for NZ if one was a 23 year old international student, recently graduated from Auckland University, no work experience but managed somehow to secure a job offer in Christchurch as a Retail Manager paying $38,000 a year? Or is it the 35 year old Software Developer with a degree in IT, ten years’ experience and a job paying $120,000? 

The answer is pretty obvious. The Software Developer. Trouble is the Government promised and marketed a study to work to residence pathway to international students. Creating in the process a $3 billion dollar a year industry employing 35,000 New Zealanders. As of last year something like 127,000 were in the country. Half leave at the end of their study. The other half want to stay. There are only 27,000 places for all skilled migrants available. Again, do the math...

So, what did the Government do last week?

They announced that those under the age of 30 will get fewer points for their age, all their work experience will need to be skilled to attract points and unless the job offer in NZ pays $48,800, the job would not be deemed skilled and there is no pathway to residence.

Who does that impact? The older software developer looking to come here or the young international graduate entering the labour market?

The country will still get 27,000 skilled migrants but there will be a slight shift that favours those over the age of 30.

No cut to numbers though. Just a change in the ‘mix’.

Pretty obvious really and if you were a political spin doctor you’d be sitting back this week adding another wee drop of whisky to your glass and admiring your handy work. 

You’d be thinking – it’s election year and immigration is a hot topic globally. Brexit started something; Government is getting it in the neck over not investing enough in infrastructure;   Aucklanders are getting grumpy over their traffic woes; sky high house prices are an issue...

One piece missing – immigration. Migrants drive cars. Migrants stay in houses. Migrants are different to us. 

So – announce a tightening to migration and let it be (mis)interpreted as a cut to get one headline out in front of the people – ‘New Zealanders First’!

I have to say I actually admire their gall.

Having created the problem of encouraging all those students to come here, they have been quietly pushing the knife into them for the past six months which, for the most part, the students never even felt (pass mark raised to 160 in October to ‘flush’ the pool of these youngsters). Most of these students think the cuts are to other immigrants and not the stinging in their own back. 

What we saw last week was part two of what, to me, is a very obvious and well-crafted plan to extricate the Government from the indefensible position over international students and the promises they made them with as little fallout as possible.

We do have population pressures and particularly in Auckland but what great problems to have? We are a ‘victim’ of a strong economy for which the government deserves some credit; interest in settling here has gone through the roof, Kiwis don’t feel like leaving, more are coming home and we only have room for so many new migrants and the government is right to be choosy.

Trouble for me is no NZ Government ever seems to have any sort of end plan when it comes to immigration; we have no population policy (and immigration is a poor substitute), we have all these students coming seeking residence, we have around 70,000 young Holiday Working Visa holders having a great time - many of whom are seeking residence and we only have 27,000 skilled resident visas to give away. 

What I cannot for the life of me work out is why the Government has not put the lid on these tens of thousands of young Holiday Work Visa holders.

At least the international students are spending big money to be here, are part of multi-billion dollar export industry and many are studying courses we cannot fill with our own young people.

At the same time the export education industry is going to be under severe threat if they don’t switch their focus to more ‘high value’ areas like Engineering, ICT, Medicine, Health and Architecture where entry level salaries will be above the newly announced minimum of $48,800, because thousands of students will go to other countries if the barriers to long term residence are lower.

In the meantime, if  there was going to be anyone ‘cut’ from the pathway to skilled migration the Government should be focussing on putting limits to Holiday Working Visa numbers.

That would be a ‘cut’. But last week was a fine tuning, dealing with the international student ‘problem’ and anything but a cut to skilled migrant numbers. 

Until next week...

Iain MacLeod

Southern Man


Criminal Convictions & Permanent Resident Visas

Posted by Iain on March 31, 2017, 3:40 p.m. in Immigration

We were approached recently by someone who had - whilst on their two year Resident Visa - been convicted for Driving Under the Influence (DUI).

On the face of it not the worst of crimes (however dangerous those that drink and drive are).

When she applied at the end of the two years for her (lifetime) Permanent Resident Visa (PRV), she was not only declined she was told she was to be deported.

We hadn’t come across this situation before and we weren’t completely clear on what the law said. So, we started to research and study.

If you’ll excuse the pun...it is sobering.

In effect, any person who commits a crime where the punishment handed down by the Court (whether in New Zealand or abroad) could be three months’ imprisonment (or more) not only won’t get their PRV, they are liable to deportation.

Black and white.

An appeal process exists and the person who called us had been through this herself. The appeal authority had clearly recommended to the Minister of Immigration that the appellant be given another chance. Seems reasonable to me.

The minister concurred and the outcome of the appeal was essentially a suspension of the deportation order for a further 24 months, and the appellant was told to ‘keep your nose clean for two more years’ and then apply for another PRV.

Unfortunately, the applicant was "DUI’d" a second time.

This time the deportation will take place.

We could not help. 

People inclined to do stupid things, at some point, must accept the consequences.

We are currently working with another client who is what might be classified as an ‘environmental activist’. Having secured a resident visa within the past two years, this person filed their own PRV application as well. INZ picked up on the fact that there was a conviction noted within the past two years against his name. This related to a charge for a non-violent crime committed during a peaceful protest in New Zealand. This person also happens to be married to a New Zealander.

INZ has now said, correctly, he too is liable for deportation.

The law is clear on this and it is not contestable with INZ – you get the conviction, you’ll receive the deportation notice. We have 28 days to appeal this to the independent authority and one would hope, if not presume, some degree of common sense might prevail here given the circumstances and nature of the conviction. 

One might expect the Minister to have a recommendation made that the order be suspended and one must hope this ‘warrior for a better future’ might be given another chance and will not go and get himself arrested or convicted again.

There can be no guarantee of that of course.

The message needs to be taken very seriously by anyone who does not yet hold that precious Permanent resident visa – if you transgress the law, even in a way you might think is not all that serious, it can have major implications for the rest of your (short) stay in New Zealand.

Without wishing to make light of this, we often say to our clients when their resident visa is approved to crack the bubbly and have a few drinks.

Now we will tell them to make sure they do so in the comfort of their home. 

For two years.

Until next week...

Iain MacLeod

Southern Man – letters from New Zealand


When will the Skilled Migrant pass mark drop (and why)?

Posted by Iain on Feb. 10, 2017, 3:18 p.m. in Immigration

A few people have asked me recently why I believe the skilled migrant pass mark will fall from 160.

The short answer is because it needs to.

My analysis can be found in the maths of the passmark calculations and a little bit of faith that the New Zealand Government is both serious and committed to issuing 27,000 resident visas under this category, which it continues to publicly state is its target.

Historically, for New Zealand to issue 27,000 resident visas in any 12 month period, they have had to select around 700 Expressions of interest each fortnight from the ‘pool’. Each EOI accounts for a little over 2 people. So, they select 700 EOIs covering say 1450 people every two weeks, and they do it 25 times a year (they skip one pool draw around Christmas/New Year). If all those selected were approved and granted Resident Visas that would mean around 35,250 resident visas issued in any 12 month period.

Which in turn tells you that more EOIs must be selected than are needed to fill the annual quota because many get no further than selection (they over claim or misclaim points and are either declined or thrown back into the pool by INZ following their selection as a result - it happens a lot). If they are lucky they will be invited to apply for residence based on a claim that looks credible but turns out not to be. 

Of those invited to apply for residence, we know something like 40% will never be offered or granted a resident visa and will be declined. 

There are many reasons for this - applicants often cannot satisfy INZ that the evidence to back their points claim is genuine, relevant, material or verifiable - each being a reason to knock points off - and decline. Furthermore, many people who had the pass mark at selection but did not have a job offer subsequently declined the offer of a job search work visa when INZ decided not to grant them residence at the end of the process. Finally INZ often makes poor decisions and it is they and not the applicant that gets things wrong.

So many more EOIs have to be selected because of the very high (some might suggest scandalously so) rejection rate.

Since the automatic pass mark increased to 160 from 140 back in October last year, each pool draw has seen around 350/360 EOIs selected each fortnight. This is simply because there are far fewer EOIs in the pool with 160 point claims.

So, extrapolating those selection numbers out to the numbers you might expect will be approved, it all points not to 27,000 resident visas being issued, but more like 15,000. Way below target.

I have little doubt there will be those in the pool that might, whilst swimming around, be able to legitimately claim additional points (you can edit your claim whilst in the pool). This may lead to higher numbers being selected. In recent weeks there was one draw for example where around 400 EOIs were selected. So, there is evidence of people ‘upping’ their points while in the pool.

Equally however as more people try and squeeze out more points, even more will be rejected following selection because they are not eligible for those points. We are seeing more and more of this when people come to see us.

If this whole process was objective and based purely on numbers the pass mark simply has to fall at least back to 140.

My best estimate of the earliest this will be allowed to happen is the end of April but I expect it will be later.

I have written before that it is clear the pass mark was shunted so high to ‘flush’ the pool of, in particular, large and increasing numbers of young, inexperienced, international graduates in New Zealand with (on the face of it) skilled job offers. Many thousands of graduates that did what our government, in partnership with local education institutions and their crooked offshore education agents sold them, came here, did courses that lead to a work visa as part of the deal when they finished their course and who - naturally - wanted residence. So they found or bought ‘skilled’ job offers to get them to into the pool with what they expected would be the pass mark. 

Increasingly they dominated ‘selectees’ from the pool through 2015 and 2016 and Government decided (correctly in my view) had to be removed because they were starting to crowd out what the system calls ‘higher quality’ migrants. 

So the pass mark was pushed up high enough that they would never be selected. 

An EOI stays in the pool for six months and if not selected, it lapses. Six months from the pass mark increasing to 160 is the end of April. By then thousands of these mainly young, often Indian graduates will have been flushed out of the system. Objective of the Government achieved (without looking like they had stabbed their international student customers in the back).

My pick for when the pass mark will be allowed to drop won’t be the end of April, it will be when the new skilled migrant criteria are released. We are told to expect these in July.

These new rules are going to make it far more difficult for recent graduates to get the points required - they’ll likely get less points for their age and their jobs often wont pay enough to meet the new definition of ‘skilled’ employment.

So, if it were purely maths driving the process the pass mark would fall now as the annual target is not going to be met at current selection levels.

Given however the Government has to dig themselves out of a hole they created by offering this (well intentioned but naive) study to work to residence pathway, coupled with this being an election year, is where my scepticism tempers my maths.

If the government is willing to box its corner, acknowledging the mismatch between the jobs being created here and the availability of locals to fill these vacancies, then we need at least 27,000 skilled migrants, their spouses and children every year and they will drop the pass mark in July when their new rules come out.

If they are really bold it could be as early as the end of April but being bold, being politicians and this being an election year tends to rule out anything resembling boldness. Especially when it comes to being ‘pro’ immigration. 

If they are looking a bit shaky in the polls my bet is they will let the pass mark fall quietly just after the election in September.

Here at IMMagine we have been able - even at 160 points - to give virtually all of our clients a solution that will get them residence or keep them here till the pass marks fall.

For others trying to negotiate this complex process on their own, this is for you.

Until next week

Iain MacLeod

Southern Man


You get what you pay for

Posted by Iain on Nov. 25, 2016, 3:52 p.m. in Immigration

Around nine months ago my colleague Paul sat with an Electrician (I’ll call him Peter, but that’s not his real name) in South Africa and outlined to him and his wife a carefully constructed strategy to get his family to New Zealand within about three months; with electrical registration in hand and with great job prospects. This strategy was tried and true with many other tradesmen down the years.

As we do, a fee was quoted to 'project manage' everything, from the electrical registration in NZ, visitor visas to work visas to resident visas. We advised that, based on our experience we should be able to do all of that and have the whole visa process completed by the end of this year, but more likely around October.

They went away and thought about it. They decided to shop around to see if they could get a better price. They found one (it isn’t hard; there’s always someone cheaper than us). This Auckland based consultancy quoted roughly half what we did. According to Peter, he was told if he paid the entire fee upfront, then the company would discount the price by 20%. When he tried to tie them up on the offer they apparently denied offering the discount. The full fee was handed over nonetheless.

Not being a man of great means and like so many South Africans staring down the barrel of an exchange rate of ten Rand to the NZ Dollar made the call to go with this other agency.

That was in March this year.

Fast forward to last week. He had been here over seven months, had a job on day one but still didn’t even have a work visa; let alone a resident visa.

He arrived in New Zealand around eight months ago. The pass mark then was 100 with a job offer and he’d easily have scored that before the pass mark was increased to 160 in October and now he doesn’t (but we have a solution to that as well).

He got the first job he applied for the day after he landed. Unfortunately, he says he wasn’t told he’d need registration here in NZ with the local electrical workers Registration Board before he left South Africa. Three months after he landed here, still unemployed, he had secured it. By then, his visitor visa was expiring so a new one had to be filed. He was advised to present medicals and a police clearance.

Unfortunately his medical showed high blood pressure (par for the course for stressed out migrants, especially from South Africa) and a further delay was incurred while INZ doctors decided whether or not he was healthy enough for NZ for a further short term stay. At the same time his two criminal convictions (relatively minor in his mind but not to the immigration system) then meant further delay while INZ decided if he met the temporary entry character standard for a Visitor Visa.

In the end the visitor visa was issued and now that he had his registration in NZ with the Electrical Workers registration Board he could file his work visa. 

For reasons best known to his agent, they filed a work to residence visa which created two immediate hurdles - he now had to meet a residence standard of health and the residence standard of character. What many people don’t understand is the health and character tests for short term temporary work visas are a lower test than long term temporary work and resident visas.

So there were further delays.

The most amazing thing about all this (but is testimony to the critical shortage of tradesmen in NZ) is that the employer kept the job offer open.

Earlier this week, Peter came to see me. I assessed the situation, scratched my head over how things had spun so badly out of control and came to the conclusion that the cheaper agency appeared to have badly mishandled the entire case.

Within two working hours of my intervening through my Relationship Manager (INZ has provided us with an amazingly proactive service oriented officer to work with agencies like ours) Peter had his work visa and the character waiver holding everything up was granted. Within 36 hours of that, his wife and daughter’s visas had also been approved. He hasn’t seen them for nine months.

This is less a story about the professionalism of IMMagine and the unprofessionalism of others but more about false economies and how not looking at the "big picture" financial costs and the cost of delays if you don’t choose the right service provider (or try this on your own).

If Peter had retained us back in February this year we would have told him to stay put in South Africa for about three months, keep earning his salary, we’d sort out his NZ registration with the Board and then he would fly to NZ to get his job. We knew he’d find work very quickly. Within 2-4 weeks all things being equal of finding work he’d have his work visa. His wife and daughter could have joined him about four weeks later.

So looking at the rough numbers - sitting in NZ unemployed for probably five months longer than he needed to be - cost him lost wages of around $30,000 (ZAR300,000). Maintaining a home in South Africa while spending precious dollars living here would have added several thousand dollars on top. More than that perhaps, he has been without his wife and daughter now for about five months longer than he needed to be and there is no price you can put on that (but his tears this week did serve as an uncomfortable reminder).

Our fee was twice what those that he retained were charging. However, had he looked at the bigger financial picture he’d have quickly realised that using us for his process would in the end have cost him in the order of $25,000 (ZAR250,000) less than what it has. 

And he is but one. We come across these stories all the time. If people have never heard of us that’s one thing but when people consult with us in many of the markets we operate in we know we lose customers to the cheap and nasty operators (who have no choice but to compete on price).

Our fees allow us to do just what I did for Peter. I could drop everything else because we are ‘boutique’ not ‘volume’ operators, focus on sorting his life out over a number of hours, use my contacts inside INZ, leverage the reputation IMMagine enjoys with INZ for high value and well presented applications and effect a solution so he could starting work and earning a salary on Monday - four days after he came to IMMagine for help.

Even more than that I had promised him when I sat down with him earlier this week I’d do everything in my power to reunite him with his wife and daughter in time for Christmas.

The moral of this story? You get what you pay for. Never more so than with immigration advice.

I see it all the time - in trying to save money we end up by spending a whole lot more.

A quick P.S. - I am off to Singapore shortly for a seminar tomorrow, Kuala Lumpur (4 December) and Hong Kong (10 December). For those of you in those countries this is your last opportunity for 2017 to come and hear what we have to say about how we can help you make NZ your new home; perhaps in 2017. If you wish to register you can click here.

Until next week.

Iain MacLeod

Southern Man


Future Skilled Migrant 'Pass Marks'

Posted by Iain on Nov. 4, 2016, 3:48 p.m. in Immigration

Whenever immigration rules change, most potential applicants and their Advisers (not to mention media commentators) tend to conclude that the changes will be in place forever.

There is often a knee-jerk reaction as people throw their hands in the air with horror and conclude the door is not only closed, it is nailed firmly shut and there isn’t a crowbar in sight.

The increase in the selection points for Skilled Migrants from 100 to 160 on 11 October has made many people think that they will have to score 160 points forever.

We have spent the past two weeks explaining to most of our clients that we are able to increase their points claims to the new selection level anyway, which is great for them, but will the pass mark stay at 160 forever?

I doubt it.

The ‘market’ constantly misunderstands what is really going on and why. The important reality that confronts applicant and adviser alike is that just as selection points can increase, so too can they decrease. The pass mark is simply a mechanism for controlling flow. We have all just got very used to it not moving around in recent years.

My assessment of why the pass mark was increased to 160 was, if I may be so bold, bang on the money. It was designed for one reason and one reason only – to flush out of the ‘pool’ those applicants claiming 100 points or more but who, while they had prima facie skilled jobs, these were relatively low quality jobs paying low wages and on the margins of what is considered skilled and not skilled.

The issue here was the sheer numbers of them increasingly dominating approvals. Over recent years the average skilled migrant’s salary has fallen; reflecting more and more recently graduated international students who have studied in NZ claiming places under the skilled migrant category.

I am talking here about your local store ‘Retail Manager’, your recent graduate who suddenly has a job offer as a ‘Restaurant Manager’ down at the local cafe or the ‘Manager’ of any number of small businesses.

All on the face of it, many still have a claim to residence even though many, I suspect, would have been declined anyway once verification was undertaken.

Government, however, simply couldn’t take that risk.

So how do you flush all these EOIs out of the pool and effectively start again once you put in place the new skilled migrant criteria?

Easy: put the pass mark up so high you stop selecting all but those who are older, more qualified and with more work experience. 

As I wrote about two weeks ago – who does a 160 pass mark close the door on? 

Largely, younger people. And which younger people dominate EOIs in the pool?

Recently graduated international students with on the whole, skilled, but certainly more entry level and certainly lower paying jobs than the 30 plus year old segment.

As I keep pointing out – if you only have one resident visa to give away and you have two applicants, both claiming say 100 points, do you give it to the 23 year old who came to New Zealand to study who secures at the end of that study an entry level but skilled job with a low salary? Or do you give it to the 35 year Software Developer with ten years of highly skilled work experience in an area that New Zealand is critically short of?

You want to give it to the older guy with the greater level of experience who is of greater ‘value’ to the economy.

How do you achieve that if they are both in the pool and both on valid work visas, working in these jobs while you put in place new criteria?

You put the pass mark up!

On the face of it, both miss out now and it will remain so in the short term. However for those willing to play the longer game (say, 6-12 months) and stay on a valid work visa then I predict by the middle of next year the 35 year old Software Developer will have enough points to be selected but the 23 year old Retail Manager won’t.

It is public knowledge that officials are shortly to make their recommendations on new criteria for the skilled migrant category. 

I don’t expect any recommendations they may make will surprise anyone inside Cabinet given the haste with which the review was announced and the speed of the public ‘consultation’. They will sign off on the changes designed to knock out the younger applicants (read: a large number of international students in their early twenties with little to no work experience) before the year is out. INZ will then spend six months ‘operationalising’ the new criteria (writing up the new rules, updating websites and application forms) and announce the new rules will come into effect in mid-2017. In the meantime the pass mark will remain beyond reach for enough applicants that the selection process is not overwhelmed.

So here is a prediction – the pass mark will be lowered once again to somewhere like where it has been – perhaps 140 points for automatic selection mid-2017 or thereabouts.

By then the pool has been flushed and thousands of EOIs will ‘lapse’ because they won’t have been selected. If those applicants are still in New Zealand they will no longer meet the ‘new’ rules to be granted residence.

The 35 year old Software Developer, or his contemporary Engineer, Manager, Accountant, qualified Tradesman, Technician, Teacher, Nurse and the like, however, will once again meet the selection points and will be selected. If they play their cards right thereafter they are in with a reasonable shot at residence.

The ‘tsunami’ of EOIs that drove the change in selection points/pass mark two weeks ago will have passed, albeit taking several thousand bitterly disappointed international students with it and the 160 point ‘bar’ will have achieved exactly what it was designed to achieve.

Let’s see if I am right.

Until next week.

Iain MacLeod

Southern Man


Alternative Pathways to Residence

Posted by Iain on Oct. 28, 2016, 4:46 p.m. in Immigration

Over the next few months - if not years - there will be some otherwise skilled migrants who won’t be able to achieve the 160 point pass mark even if they were to work for say 12 or 24 months in a job outside of Auckland.

What solutions can we offer them?

I am very conscious that the Skilled Migrant rules will likely change in the middle of 2017, but I am equally confident that here at IMMagine we have a good handle on the direction of those changes, even though we don’t yet know the detail and won’t till the rules are released.

We have a very small number of clients, principally aged over 50 and without any trade or academic qualifications who are still looking for a pathway up this visa ‘mountain’. Without wishing to digress for those tradesmen and artisans under 45 with no formal qualifications we should be able to get them all to NZ using the Australian residence visa process. Something we commonly do now.

One of the ‘NZ direct’ solutions is through a work to residence pathway and finding work and convincing a New Zealand employer to become ‘accredited’ with INZ.

Accreditation is a status given to an employer that allows them to effectively bring in anyone they wish on 30 month ‘Talent Visas' (Work Visas by any other name) without needing to prove they cannot find a local - so long as the salary is at least $55,000 gross per annum, or higher.

No need for it to be in an area of skill shortage, it doesn’t even need to be skilled, but rather INZ needs to be satisfied of a number of key points about the business before they will grant accreditation. The business must be (to quote the policy):

  • in a sound financial position; and
  • has human resource policies and processes which are of a high standard; and
  • has a demonstrable commitment to training and employing New Zealand citizens or residence class visa holders; and
  • has good workplace practices, including a history of compliance with all immigration and employment laws such as the Immigration Act 2009, the Accident Compensation Act 2001, the Minimum Wage Act 1983, the Health and Safety in Employment Act 1992, the Employment Relations Act 2000, Wages Protection Act 1983, Parental Leave and Employment Protection Act 1987 and the Holidays Act 2003.

On the face of it this looks quite straight forward but as always, the devil is not only in the detail but the attitude of INZ and the officer processing the accreditation application.

This category was really set up with the aim of assisting larger employers with an ongoing need to bring in talent, rather than for smaller businesses to keep 'one off' but very valuable staff. It does not however exclude the smaller employers like the three man automotive workshop, the bakery or the small IT company. The aim and objective is clear – to make global skills available to ‘trusted’ local businesses – and it is not for INZ to decide which business is ‘better’ than others if the above four criteria are met; nor which applicants or roles come with a greater economic need.

I suspect, however, as more employers now apply for accreditation owing to the tightening of criteria under the Skilled Migrant Category and a seemingly never ending tightening in the availability of local candidates for roles, INZ could try and make it difficult. So, yet again, strong and persuasive advocacy will no doubt be called for and we are well positioned to help companies to secure this status.

For the migrant, their Talent Visa will be granted for 30 months and after two years of working for 'an' (not necessarily ‘the’) accredited employer they can then apply for residence. It is not a points system and there are no quotas nor pass mark. They do, however, have to demonstrate they are still healthy (along with partners and children) and their character remains good. They will also have to prove they earned at least $55,000 by way of salary over the two years. Note: salary, not income.

With the ramping up of pass marks for skilled migrants two weeks ago coupled with the sort of changes we strongly suspect are coming next year, having an Immigration Adviser who is not only expert in the detail but creative in arguing some very vague sounding criteria is going to take on even more importance than it ever has.

From here on under the skilled migrant category, it is not only a case of the survival of the most employable but it might just also be the survival of those with the smartest Immigration Adviser.

Work to residence options are no different. I am expecting push back from INZ on these applications but the rules are the rules and whether the company is large or small or needs to bring in ten workers or one; it is not a value judgement for officials.

Finding alternative pathways up this seeming every higher and steep mountain is what we do very well with 26 plus years’ experience under our belts.

Work to residence on a Talent Visa is just one of those strategies that might be the difference between raising your children in New Zealand or somewhere else.

Until next week.

Iain MacLeod

Southern Man
Letters from New Zealand


Skilled Migrant Category Review

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

Control.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

So who don’t we now want?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

First line of attack - blame someone else.

Until next week

Iain MacLeod - Southern Man


Holding Back the Student Tide

Posted by Iain on Oct. 14, 2016, 9:57 a.m. in Immigration

After the upheaval of this week with the changes to the skilled migrant landscape and a few days to take it all in and digest the changes, you might be interested in my thoughts on it.

The changes appear to have been made in a big hurry. I have written several blogs in recent months and have been telling any potential client that might listen that I believed that change was going to be forced upon the Government in the skilled migrant ‘space’.

Why?

In two words – international students.

Tens of thousands have flocked to New Zealand in recent years to study, I suspect, only because the Government offered them an open work visa when they finished their course and through that, a pathway to residence under the skilled migrant category once they had secured a skilled job offer.

I have spoken of the ‘tsunami’ of Expressions of Interest that would start to wash upon the skilled migrant shores expected in late 2016 and through 2017 at every seminar I have delivered in recent times. Given there is a fixed number of skilled migrant visas available each year this massive increase in demand represented a clear threat to the entire skilled migrant programme. It was in danger of collapsing under the weight of applications.

When you operate a fixed pass mark of 100 points for those with skilled job offers and you have a finite number of resident visas to dish out, what do you do when the numbers being selected every two weeks from the pool who have claimed 100 points goes through the roof?

How does the system respond when, if they were all to be granted a resident visa, your annual target of 27,000 migrants would be filled within, say, six months? Would INZ just close the pool to further selection for another six months?

That is exactly what the Government was facing, yet until relatively recently I am reliably informed they did not accept.

The evidence was right in front of their faces.

In the past three pool draws alone the ‘normal’ 700 EOIs selected each fortnight for those claiming 140 points or 100 or more including a skilled job offer jumped from 700 to almost 1000. A 50% increase. 

We know that close to 40% of all skilled migrant approvals of late have come from former international students who studied in New Zealand and decided to stay. That percentage has been growing steadily in recent years.

I’d wager a close examination of those selected of late would reveal a significant percentage would be single young males, predominantly from India, with little to no work experience but an NZ qualification claiming points for job offers as Chefs or Retail Managers.

So the question confronting the Government (and the question some of us have been asking of them for a long time now) was – which skill sets does New Zealand need more of? The 24 year old international student who has studied in NZ but has little work experience and a job offer as a ‘Retail Manager’ or the 35 year old Software Developer with 15 years of work experience whose skills are desperately needed?

They can say whatever they like in terms of why they made the changes they just did but that was the dilemma facing the Government.

The solution?

Put the pass mark up to 160 points. Who does that knock out? 

Young inexperienced applicants with qualifications but with little to no work experience. Who dominates that demographic? International students, predominantly  from India. To be clear this is not an anti-Indian move it is jut they are the ones disproportionally impacted by the change as they make up the bulk of international students.

If I were a young international student who came to study in New Zealand having been, at worst, encouraged through the marketing carrot of the work visa and the residence, I might be more than a little miffed right about now. Their residence dreams will pretty much be in tatters.

Having worked through the options available to our many clients we are currently supporting with their applications, the fallout has by and large been minimal. At worst some are going to have to secure jobs outside of Auckland and some might have to delay filing their applications for a year or so while they accumulate additional points through New Zealand work experience. We have managed to give almost all of them a revised strategy to get them through this minefield.

The Government’s changes have however created another very real problem yet to be addressed.

There are tens of thousands of highly skilled jobs being created each year in Auckland. The mismatch between local skill sets among the unemployed and those jobs means these employers are not going to be able to fill many roles with migrants because those migrants now know they won’t have enough points if they accept the jobs.

Auckland is the nation’s jobs machine and many of the new jobs being created are in IT and trades related roles yet many of these applicants do not have qualifications that are now critical to securing the 160 points. 

These people have to look at going south or not coming at all (or appreciate their stay will be short term and on a work visa which most won’t tolerate; they simply won’t come).

So having dealt with the issue of the ‘tsunami’ the Government now has to come up with a solution that keeps intact Auckland as a migrant destination for the highly skilled without bursting the dam that is holding back the international students.

The simple solution would be a minimum salary threshold for jobs in Auckland that attracts additional bonus points. It would be an elegant solution (so long as you are not an international student) because it would reward the more experienced and the more highly paid; both of which tend to indicate a higher value skill set and greater value to the country.

My feeling is more changes will be announced soon because they need to be.

You cannot have a skilled migrant policy that now starves thousands of Auckland employers of desperately needed skills. The Government is smart enough to know it. They will come up with a solution packaged as ‘we only want highly skilled and high value migrants’.

This is simply code for ‘We blew it offering all those international students a pathway to residence but hey, we never promised them a resident visa...’

It isn’t pretty and there’ll be several thousand international students about to feel horribly let down.

It could have been avoided if the Government hadn’t been blind to the real reason the bulk of the students were coming to New Zealand – the study was just a part of their plan to secure residence.

Until next week...

Iain MacLeod

Southern Man


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