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Immigration Blog


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 entering your details below.

What Am I Doing Here?

Posted by Iain on April 5, 2019, 5:05 p.m. in Immigration

A client of ours, seven days off the plane in Wellington, has today signalled his displeasure with the impact of “damp". Yes, that’s right, damp. He is thinking of returning to South Africa. While it would be easy to dismiss this as a little silly given he’s only been in the country a few days, it does highlight a very genuine problem that we have as immigration advisers.

How can you prepare people for all the differences they are going to find when they immigrate anywhere and the insecurities they are almost always going to feel? We are not trained Psychologists, but in fact much of what we do falls squarely in the realm of that discipline.

We do have reasonable numbers of clients having (or choosing) to get work in Wellington in order to get the additional points for a job offer under the skilled migrant category. When the government of New Zealand forces people to get jobs in order to secure enough points to gain residency, sometimes they don't have any choice. They go where their skills are needed, not necessarily where they want to live. I warn everybody in every consultation where ‘windy’ Wellington might be a possibility that it is very trendy and cool and on a sunny day it is probably one of the prettiest cities in the world. It is the kind of city where you can live, work and play in the central business district. Lots of museums, theatres, restaurants and cafes but the truth is sunny, calm and windless days are few and far between. 

At my seminars I usually say something along the lines of "If New Zealand or Australia was exactly the same as… (insert Singapore/Malaysia/South Africa/UK)… what is the point in moving there? It has to be different doesn't it, or you might as well stay where you are”.

Yet it is those very differences that create, often within a few weeks or months the question in migrants’ minds, "What the hell was I thinking? What am I doing here? This is not like home. This plan is never going to work out for me”.  That is when some can get a hankering to return home. In the case of this young client, after six days.

Obviously, one size does not fit all when it comes to our advice. We have plenty of clients who have arrived and live in Wellington that don't seem bothered by the climate. Or much else for that matter. I tell everyone that of all the places I could choose to live in NZ, I could not live in Wellington. For that very reason. Climate. What I don't like however doesn't set the standard and we have many clients, particularly from South Africa, and Singapore along with the Philippines, blissfully happy in that city. 

A few months ago I wrote a blog called "The six week wall" and it was my attempt to try and help people understand how their emotions and feelings might change over the first six weeks or so once they have stepped off the plane. Excitement and curiosity is replaced by disappointment and frustration, then fear….as the rejection emails roll in for jobs critical to the success of the long term visa strategy.

In that piece I tried to put into words the insecurity and vulnerability many feel and pointed out that you wouldn't be human if you did not feel like that when you are in a "strange" land, usually having resigned your job, having left the family behind and then being made to feel somewhat alien in a labour market you’d be right to perceive (but incorrect in reality) as somewhat hostile to migrants (you must have a work visa to get the job but you can’t get the job without the visa).

Remember, employers are not anti-immigrant, they are most certainly ‘anti’ dealing with visas and the Immigration Department. No one wants to deal with the Immigration Department in New Zealand any more than anyone wants to deal with any immigration department anywhere on the planet. Like most, our Immigration Department is a shambles and worse than a three ring circus.

I give two pieces of advice to people when I sit down to consult with them, particularly in South Africa, but not limited to this market. 

The first is that there are no shortcuts to finding jobs and it is seldom as easy as applying online from the comfort of your living room couch overseas. Statistically, with 94% of all job specific work visas issued while the migrant is in New Zealand, for every one person that can secure employment without leaving home, nine more must get on that plane in order to create the future for them and their family that they want. The process is in the end, Darwinian, the ‘fit and strong’ survive. You go where you need to go to get the job that gives you the points. And suck up the differences, be they cultural, linguistic, or climatic.

From New Zealand's perspective, I have to say for those who do get to the top of this ‘mountain’, the country gets incredibly committed, positive and of course, employable migrants. The sad reality however for those that cannot afford good advice or think they can negotiate the process without professional assistance, many (I would hazard a guess, most) will perish on the slopes. Half will never get on the plane to go to New Zealand to climb the mountain, because they don't have the stomach or the money for it, and of the half that do get off the plane probably 50% of them will run out of money, or enthusiasm or they just plain can't take the emotional pressure and head home. 

The second piece of advice I give is that my team and I cannot, even after all these years of helping clients, adequately prepare people emotionally for that first 6 to 12 weeks when they get off the plane. I say to people in consultations "Think about it – you will have resigned your job, you have left your loved ones behind, left behind your security (real or perceived), you’ve likely dropped from two incomes to one and even with all the (social media) research in the world, until you are out there in the labour market trying to find work you cannot really know how awful an experience it going to be. You will feel vulnerable and you will feel insecure. There will be many dark days and lonely nights ahead”.

Usually people look at me, especially in South Africa, nod and tell me they are up for the challenge because they must be. They must get the children out of South Africa and they must create a better future for the family. I agree, there is little about the future of South Africa that looks bright for minorities but none of that is of any interest to my government or the employers of New Zealand.

I gave a seminar in Durban on Monday night. I wasn't feeling that well and I confess I was pretty negative on the whole stupidity of the way New Zealand and Australia select their immigrants. I was particularly dark over the fact that New Zealand forces people to take such incredible, yet calculated, risks in order to secure residence. I even said at the end, "I wouldn't blame you if you didn't make appointments to come and see me’ but the usual numbers lined up and I've been seeing them all week. 

I always tell people that at IMMagine we will tell them what they need to know not what they want to hear. We do not sugarcoat the process and would not ‘sell’ Australia or New Zealand as ‘paradise’. I remember one woman who had sat in the crowd and glared at me sternly all evening booked a consultation and I met with her and her partner yesterday. What she said about my presentation was "There was no bullshit and that's what I appreciated”. Praise be.

Right now we are moving approximately 360 families to New Zealand and virtually all are going to require jobs in order to secure residence. I know that there will probably be six or eight of them who will come to New Zealand and not find work. That is all. I know that because my team and I tell things how they are and in doing so it seems we put off many and only represent the strong(ish). It seems we better manage people's expectations, in particular and critically, to get them through those first 6 to 12 weeks while it feels like it has all been for nothing and is destined for failure. 

Don't believe the marketing of the New Zealand government. Migration is a very high stakes game, you cannot do it cheaply and as I say there are no shortcuts. We prepare people emotionally as best as we possibly can but still that's the biggest challenge we face.

Migrants must be tough and most people after one week on the ground are not thinking so much about damp housing, they are excited that everything works, there is electricity all day (the South Africans reading this will know what I'm talking about), the streets are safe to walk and the people are friendly.

As the weeks unfold the mood normally darkens somewhat as those insecurities build and the ‘What ifs’ ring louder in the mind, but we still have around 97% of our clients from South Africa and almost the same number from the rest of the world, securing employment within three months of getting off the plane.

Once they have that job offer, the sun comes out and life is worth living once again.

Until next week...

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Enquiry Due on the Immigration Department

Posted by Iain on March 8, 2019, 5:34 p.m. in Immigration

If there existed an Immigration Fairy who could grant us just one wish, it would be that the Immigration Department was consistent in what it did and the decisions it made. In my case this has been a 30 year wish; still unfulfilled.

Consistency offers migrants, living in ‘no mans land’, the ability to make concrete plans based on reasonable expectations. 

It seems like this Department (despite the rhetoric and the millions of taxpayer dollars a year they spend marketing NZ to migrants) always fails on the delivery. When I say always...I mean always. Despite millions of dollars on new IT systems, shutting down offshore processing, bunkering residence teams together in New Zealand, it takes exactly the same amount of time today to get a visitor Visa, a Work Visa or a Resident Visa as it did when (as a much younger man) I started my business back in 1990, before the Internet and emails existed the way they do today. 

While at times the job that immigration officers have to do is complicated, it is, for the most part, routine. How is it they can be so useless at so much for so long? 

Take the issue of visitor visas being granted to people coming to find work. We all know there is no such "purpose" for a visit for "Job Search”, but around three weeks ago, following more lengthy email exchanges, a very senior immigration manager advised us that if one of three conditions were met, an applicant could "expect" to be granted a Visitor Visa; in part to travel to find skilled employment.

It seems management understands and accepts that an overwhelming majority of skilled migrants get their Essential skills Work Visa when they're in New Zealand (the number is in fact around 94% based on the departments own statistics) and therefore in order for people to secure skilled employment and to keep the skilled migrant category alive, applicants must be able to come to New Zealand as "tourists" even though they will also be looking for work. This manager sseemingly accepts this is a reality in order to try and assist creating a pathway to a Resident Visa under the Skilled Migrant category. 

Those three criteria are:

  1. The family home has not been sold; OR
  2. The main applicant is travelling alone to New Zealand and leaving family behind; OR
  3. The main applicant has not resigned their job.

As sure as the sun will rise in the east it took around a week for us to receive two decisions based on two applicants who are coming to New Zealand for the same reason – to find employment in the first step towards being part of the skilled migrant residency program.

One is South African, young, single, owns no property and had resigned his job. We warned him that as he does not tick any of the above three boxes, the risks were substantially greater that the Visa would not be granted. I confess, we were nervous.

The other is also South African, married, his partner and children were not included in the visa application as were staying behind in South Africa and they had not sold the family home but he had resigned. We told him to relax.

Which one do you think was approved and which one do you think was declined?

You got it! The young, single, no home to sell and ’I've resigned’ applicant.

Some of my more cynical industry colleagues do love to say that “change is good and chaos is better" and an entire industry exists thanks to a fundamental reality that where there is no competition and any sort of profit motive, delivery can be inconsistent and poor, and there is nothing the customer of that monopoly can do. At least for our client who was declined, this decision will be overturned. The truth is, however, that it should never get to that point.

In my more cynical moments I too am grateful for the fact that Immigration Department is a three ring circus without any ringmaster but when they cannot even get consistency on relatively simple visitor visas, you start to appreciate just how damaging to New Zealand, not to mention migrants, they actually are.

Two weeks ago we were being told by the Department that critical Essential Skills Work Visas were taking three months to allocate (for processing) and we should all just suck it up and tell the employers of New Zealand they would be waiting at least four months to fill their vacancies. Three months ago we could with hand on heart tell most employers that the processing would take between two and four weeks from the time we filed these visas. Over 90% of the time, when there were no health issues involved, we delivered. How, only two months later, could those processing times have ballooned to 4 months? 

There has been robust email exchanges between myself and senior immigration officials in which they have never once said that they created the mess, and never apologised for it. We kept being told they were working on "triaging", assessing ‘high-value, low touch’, ‘high touch, low value’, Lord knows what other garbage language terms, in order to get the decision-making "in flow”, but the fact remained, they are still quoting 90 days to allocate. 

As usual however things on the ground can be very different. 

As one of my colleagues lamented this week when an Essential Work Visa was filed, allocated and processed in nine days for a client on a relatively low salary, "I could have avoided being screamed at by the applicant's wife, when I told her that allocation times have ballooned out and while we are pushing hard to get our cases given priority, the bureaucrats either don't care or are powerless to do to do anything about it. It's going to take two or three months to process this Work Visa”.

Maybe we should be grateful for small mercies but while that ‘low touch’ (English translation, low risk) Work Visa was being processed other "high-value" (translation higher skill level and usually a much higher salary) cases continue to gather dust.

The chaos obviously creates a business for me and several thousand other people. There is no doubt that this business of ours where we look after high-quality migrants, prepare top class applications which really require little in the way of processing (or dare I say, thought), represents a clear processing advantage to the bureaucracy. There is never much argument over documentation as we pride ourselves on presenting applications which subject to verification can be approved without much drama. Little to no recognition is ever given to that. I'm never quite sure if it is simply envy on the part of the bureaucrats that they don't prioritise applications from companies like ours, even though it's demonstrably better for them. I sometimes think that they get a kick out of flexing their bureaucratic muscles but in doing so they look like nothing but inept fools.

Immigration New Zealand is great at the MBA business buzzwords, but they are lousy on delivery. They talk a big game but generally deliver very poorly, the one consistency being their inconsistency. It would be nice, just once, if what their senior managements tell us is going to happen when we file visas, actually does. 

After all, in the scheme of things they don't run a very big business. What they do is not rocket science, so why are they consistently so bad at delivering? Where is the political leadership given the critical importance of skilled migrants to New Zealand employers?

This government has launched more reviews than almost any Government before them in history - perhaps it is time one was carried out on this department. 

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When Do the Heads Start to Roll?

Posted by Iain on Feb. 15, 2019, 4:52 p.m. in Immigration

Across Immigration New Zealand, processing times for work and resident visas are blowing out alarmingly. For those filing resident visa applications under the skilled migrant category, these cases - unless they are meeting some opaque and unofficial “high value’ priority test - are now taking five months to be allocated to an officer for processing. Processing time thereafter is likely to be another 3 to 6 months if you know what you're doing. 

More worryingly than that is Essential Skills Work Visas, critical to employers to fill skilled vacancies and labour market shortages and which open up the pathway to residency for 97% of all skilled migrants, is now taking in many cases more than three months to simply allocate to an officer for processing and then another 6 to 8 weeks to process. That is happening right across the board and as usual the Immigration Department blames everybody but themselves. 

It is quite obvious that if an employer believes it is going to take five months to process a relatively straightforward work visa, then they are going to withdraw the offer or not offer it in the first place. This will flow on to the skilled migrant residency program where already the Immigration Department is failing to deliver on its "contract" with government to issue 27,000 resident visas plus or minus 10% each year. They are already under-delivering by over 30%.

How did it come to this? 

The decision was made several years ago to centralise all skilled migrant resident visa processing under one roof in New Zealand; a recommendation made by few of us to the officials and Government of the day, in a desperate attempt to try and get greater consistency in decision making. We figured, and the department management agreed, that if you had all the officers processing the same kind of cases sitting aside each other you should increase the chances that they might all start interpreting the rule book in the same way. Consistency should improve. So far little sign of that...but that’s another depressing story.

At the same time the decision was made to shut down most temporary (visitor, work and student) visa processing facilities offshore as the move to electronic filing was rolled out in recent years. In theory any electronic visa could be processed by any immigration officer anywhere. We've been living with this "transition" now for many months. I wouldn't quite call it an unmitigated disaster but when temporary visas that used to take a few days now take weeks or months, either the planning was flawed or the execution was. In this case I would suggest both.

The reality is the department is not receiving significantly more applications, and as the old saying goes, there are those that could organise a good party in a brewery and there are those that could not. 

Last week I had a discussion with a very senior official in regard to the ever increasing timelines to process urgent work visas. I started the conversation with a pretty simple statement followed by an even simpler question - I am not much interested in how you got into this mess, what are you doing to get out of it?

The response went something like this.

‘As you know the business is in a period of transition, our product suite has competing priorities, we know we are failing to meet our KPIs, we acknowledge the opportunities presented and are working toward identifying and triaging applications based on being low touch, high touch and high-value, taking into account the employer and the nature of the labour market to increase throughput. We’ve taken on additional products from other parts of the business and this has led to a knowledge deficit which we hope to rectify through knowledge transfer planned to take place over the next few weeks. We are trying to get work in flow and the opportunity presented is to do so over the next two months. Some of the applications are going to be transferred to another onshore hub and in the meantime we hope our stakeholders will understand…’


Rolling this out over the past 24 months and despite spending tens of millions of dollars on new IT systems, when push came to shove, thousands of visas were dumped on local branches that everyone knew were in the system overseas but no one had planned how to deal with. So hurry up and wait.

If there is one thing that frustrates me more than anything it is these managers like to call a state monopoly "a business”. I couldn't resist suggesting to this Manager that if indeed they were running a ‘business’, they would have gone bankrupt an awfully long time ago. 

No organisation could be this bad at planning or executing strategies if they didn’t have a  monopoly on the "product suite”. If they had some competition for their “suite of products" they would soon sharpen up their act.

This department takes in fees of over $300 million a year and with those fees recently being increased you can add another $5 million to that this year. If any other business that had "sales" of that magnitude kept its customers waiting for months for something which can be processed in 15 minutes and continued to make appalling, incorrect and indefensible decisions, I would suggest management would be replaced and if that didn't work there'd be wholesale redundancies.

This is a slow moving train wreck and a scandal of the highest order that has been unfolding for years, but successive governments and Ministers are so captured by the bureaucrats when it comes to immigration that nothing ever gets better. The Ministers, who have no experience in either being a ‘customer" of this state monopoly or who have never worked in the field of immigration law have zero clue how visitor Visa policy and processing can impact on work visa policy and processing and how that can impact on resident visa policy and processing.

‘Everything will be better with in six months, Minister’ promise the bureaucrats. 

Around three years ago I had a private conversation with the then head of the Immigration Department, who told me when he took over the job he was promised by senior immigration management that with in five years everything would be different. Technology would transform "the business", “we are paying higher salaries so we will attract a better quality of immigration officer”, they declared. “We can be as good as the private sector” they crowed. “Why then” he asked me after five years in the job ‘had nothing changed?’ 

I said because you don't run a business, you're running a public sector monopoly where the disciplines and pressures of competition that exist in the real world, do not apply to you. NZ is never going to shut down the immigration department so there is no real danger to anybody that works inside the system. I can't go down the road to get a better service, my clients get what you dish up. My clients are not customers or ‘stakeholders’ they are prisoners.”

He moved on recently to another job.

In the final but insightful illustration of how the system works, I wrote a piece a few weeks ago about proposed changes to work visa policy which suggests greater emphasis was going to be placed on the employer rather than the migrant by forcing all employers to become "accredited". 

How interesting that in my discussion with this senior official last week, when I asked how they are prioritising work visas, the first criteria was more closely vetting the employer! Hang on a minute I thought, the government only released a discussion paper proposing that in December, they haven't yet completed the consultation period with ‘stakeholders’, let alone had the Government sign anything off, we have had no changes to the rulebook, yet I am being told that in effect the policy is already in place? 

The whole process is a shambles. At a time when New Zealand has never needed skilled migrants more and ironically this government relies on bringing enough skilled workers to deliver on its (dumb) promises to build 100,000 affordable houses over 10 years or reduce class sizes by finding 900 teachers, they remain controlled by an immigration department that continues to overpromise and under-deliver.

Here in the real world heads would have rolled along time ago.

Until next week 

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Is the LSD dead?

Posted by Iain on Dec. 7, 2018, 2:06 p.m. in Immigration

Not a day goes by in my working life when I am not reminded of my four golden rules I trot out at every seminar and every consultation having worked alongside the Immigration Department and the hundreds of officers that have come and gone down the years. I always advise those that wish to draw on my 30 years of dealing with bureaucratic madness, that in order to survive the migration process without losing your mind: 

  • Assume nothing about your eligibility.
  • Suspend logic.
  • Just when you think you understand the rules your visa will be processed by an immigration officer who does not understand them.
  • Read with great caution what you read on the Immigration Department website - much of the time it’s as if there are no rules and they make them up as they go along. If you get this 98% right, you will not be joining us in NZ or Australia.

This week's blog is a nod to all of the above. The situation I'm about to describe is at the time of going to print being escalated ever higher up the INZ food chain away from the initial counter level officer who made what we think is a dumb, inconsistent and embarrassing (to INZ) call on a visitor visa “extension" and we are watching immigration management circle the wagons rather than step up and pull a number of rogue officers into line.

Briefly, the client applied for a visitor visa through us to come to NZ because they were interested in the skilled migrant program, would have the points to be successful once they secured skilled employment but needed to visit New Zealand in order to explore employment prospects and also to decide if it was the kind of country they wished to live in.  A routine visitor visa then.

The purpose of the visit was declared as part holiday and part job search because that is exactly what it was.

We have always argued with INZ senior management that if they shut down visitor visas for this purpose they will destroy the skilled migrant programme. Why? Immigration stats prove that over 90% of all work visas for those who go on to secure skilled residency are issued to applicants while they are in New Zealand. That suggests, to deny people the opportunity of visiting for scoping the country, in part to look for jobs, could potentially see a catastrophic drop in the number of migrants securing employment and going on to secure residence. Hardly ideal in a labour market where we are desperately short of skills.

Our client then was granted an initial visitor visa and came to New Zealand and as his visitor visa expiry date drew closer we applied for an "extension". In several thousands of such applicatins down the years, there are none that I recall ever being declined. On this occasion, however, Immigration New Zealand decided that the applicant was not going to be given an extension because looking for a job is not an acceptable purpose for visiting the country. Say what?

My colleague argued with the officer, the officer’s supervisor and ended up with the Branch Manager. The Branch Manager confirmed in writing that in her view applicants should not be searching for work on a "tourist" Visa as that is not one of the purposes these visas are issued for in her opinion.

This, despite her branch granting an extension to another South African client of ours only a few weeks before for exactly the same purpose!

There was no difference in these applicants nor the risk profile that the Department would attach to such applicants. It was a classic case of an immigration officer exercising appalling judgement and management circling the wagons around the case officer, defending the indefensible.

Part of the argument put forward by the Branch Manager was that "senior management" was reviewing the policy of allowing people to travel as tourists but look for work. That was an alarming statement from our perspective because if it was true and if it was carried out, then the Skilled Migrant Category is in big trouble and numbers would certainly collapse. Our critical skills shortages would be about to get a whole lot worse.

Having tried to get this Branch Manager to see sense and to apply the rules consistently, we then approached a very senior immigration manager i INZ's head officewho has denied that there is no review of this policy going on but equally no one on a visitor visa should ‘expect’ to have that stay "extended" if they don't find a job.

That suggests then that the Branch Manager lied.

In writing.

INZ takes it very seriously when applicants are less than honest, present false documents or mislead. What happens when it is INZ management making the falsehoods? Nothing is the probable answer. Do as we say but not as we do?

Given all other branches are to this day granting extensions to these visas for this purpose, I know who I believe and it appears this is a rogue manager of a rogue immigration branch. That doesn't much help the client of course.

This situation highlights the very real dangers of dealing with this Department.

On a daily basis we are confronted with what is in effect the making up of rules that do not exist or the application of rules inconsistently or incorrectly.

I often explain to potential clients that you can give the same evidence to two different immigration officers and ask them to apply the same rule and you'll get two different outcomes. This is not always because the rules are written and vague language but the calibre of the people the department employs to make what are often life changing decisions is pathetically low. And management will neither over rule nor over ride.

It is perfectly legal to be in New Zealand as a "tourist" looking for a job.

It is also true that no foreigner is entitled to a Visa to enter New Zealand or to remain.

However given that even the people inside the Department (who for the most part live in a world that I don't recognise) seem to accept the fundamental reality that for the Skilled Migrant Category to work for New Zealand we need to grant visitor visas to people to come here to look for work and stay till they do. We struggle to comprehend what the risk is and where there is any harm to NZ.

In what we hope is an isolated incident and this convention to allow visitors to come and look for work and stay on will continue, we have a client who despite being highly skilled and having had a number of interviews for senior roles is being told to leave the country.

Just when we think it could ot get any weirder (or frustrating), since his visa was declined a few days ago and he was told to leave the country a few days ago, his wife and children have just been granted temporary visas to fly to New Zealand to join him!

If this was not people's lives it would almost be funny.

The system is not meant to be a lottery and the Immigration Department is expected to act fairly, transparently and consistently. Not lbehave ike a three ring circus.

More than that, immigration officers are not meant to lie in carrying out their duties. What this case exposes goes to the very heart of the integrity of the process, an alarming absence of accountability and an abrogation of leadership.

No one will apologise for the treatment of this client and the appalling decision in this case. No one will be taken to task for the misery they are causing this family and no one will lose their job for what appears to be lying to a legal representative of an applicant.

Until next week...

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Medical Issue Visa Bombshell

Posted by Iain on Oct. 19, 2018, 4:14 p.m. in Immigration

Last week I wrote a piece titled ‘Time is your enemy’ and it was meant to convey the simple but important message that Governments don’t wait for you when it comes to residence and visas.

When you consult with us we give you a snapshot of what your visa points or residence eligibility will be at some future point in time. No one that comes to see us is able to avoid waiting at least a few months from the time they decide to migrate to actually filing their visa applications and locking themselves into a set of known rules on the day the Government receipts their visa application. Given those rules can and often do change, particularly in Australia, the risk all migrants take increases with every day that passes without any visa being filed.

It usually takes months while all the various elements of a family’s migration are pulled together allowing you to file that precious resident visa application.

So much can go wrong if you dally. So much you cannot control.

If, like me, when you read articles or watch the news about people accidentally drowning, being killed in car accidents, getting cancer, being on the plane that crashes, you never imagine it will happen to you right?

So too with visas - I don’t expect if you read last weeks article you’d be thinking that the time it takes you to get into the position to file your visa application, would stop you achieving your goal of settling in New Zealand or Australia.

If you do think that you can take your time before you file a visa, here’s a real life example of ow It can go horribly wrong.

I am currently representing a South African family of four comprising mum, dad and two children. They have been in New Zealand on temporary work and student visas for almost three years. When they came to see us a few months ago they made clear that they always intended filing residence papers, they just hadn’t get round to it for various reasons (affording the Government fees of many thousands of dollars being one of the key factors). They also thought that time was on their side. In their minds there was no going back to South Africa because there was nothing to go back to. They were building new lives in New Zealand and everything was going well. Husband and wife had good jobs and they had work visas granted for a few years. The children were doing well in school.

My assessment indicated that they had had the ‘points’ required for residence since the wife secured skilled employment over two and a half years ago. Nothing was filed. What was the hurry anyway? They believed they qualified for residence. And they could wait.

Then the bombshell.

Around eight months ago the wife was diagnosed with breast cancer. In her early 40s it was the last thing they probably thought would happen to them, despite the medical reality that around one in eight women will develop breast cancer in their lifetime.

Surgery, chemotherapy and radiation treatment followed. Their work and student visas were due to expire around now.

We agreed to represent them to try and get ‘extensions’ as exceptions to the rules.

We advised them that given the cancer diagnosis, the treatment and the medical rules that go with deciding who, with such ‘conditions’ will and will not be granted visas, that they were not on the face of it, eligible for further temporary visas when they expired. And residence would be out as well unless we could argue a medical waiver for her (never easy).

We gathered all the evidence we could that indicated what her survival probabilities are now and her Specialists came up with 82-84%. Not bad you might think. Not high enough for the Immigration Departments own Doctors, however who wanted a 90% certainty.

The Immigration Department declined their applications this week. The client’s visas had already expired by this point.

Not only did they decline the application, INZ only agreed to issue visitor (tourist) visas to all four family members which meant from the minute the ink dried on their rejection letter, INZ, had in effect now barred husband and wife to quit their jobs without giving notice to their employers and their children to stop attending school immediately and they had three months to leave the country. Initially they were going to be given 6 weeks to leave but INZ felt a twinge of compassion and gave them 12 weeks….  I suspect the reason for this was mainly because if they had granted our client another work visa the taxpayer would be continuing to pay for her final round of radiotherapy or any other health costs in their final 12 weeks in the country which she is in the middle of.


One settlement dream shattered.

As I pointed out to a senior manager at INZ, it is one thing to tell these people they had to leave but to rip them out of employment without being able to work out any notice not only cuts off their cashflow but their children, who represented no risk to NZ were also supposed to stop their education? What about the two companies left without two key staff?

How about issuing the husband a work visa as an exception and the children student visas?

No, I was told.

Undeterred I continued to engage with this senior manager who I know reasonably well and I know is not without compassion and I continued to argue at the very least for work and student visas for the husband and children. They have no health issues.

The manager agreed and granted, as an exception, work visas for both the husband and wife and student visas for the children valid until the end of the year. At least the executioner’s axe was now stilled,  poised to fall, but not actually striking, if only temporarily.

Crucially the manager also agreed on the back of our representations to re-visit the decision to decline the original visas we had applied for, I think because an 82-84% chance of surviving this cancer, when the family was here, well settled, paying taxes and contributing is all pretty compelling evidence that an exception could be made.

If these visas are granted we have advised the clients to file the residence application and that at least affords us the opportunity to argue that she should be granted residence through a medical waiver (a mechanism by which if INZ can be convinced the country gains more than it gives). There’s never any guarantees with those but they’d have a good shot at it given her cancer is unlikely now to kill her.

When people ask what we do all day, what we charge the ‘big money’ for and think that immigration advisers fill out application forms, I tell them we actually spend our days fighting for every visa we get against a system that is at times stupid, cruel, inhumane and very subjective. It is never easy and it takes its toll, on us as well. This is not about me or my team but it has been a hell of an emotional week for us all as well, given we know these people and don’t think of them as reference numbers on a piece of immigration department paper, or ‘risk probabilities’ or ‘potential costs on the health system’. We very much think of them as people who gave up a lot to realise a dream of settling in New Zealand and they had done everything they needed to, to make it happen and make a contribution to this economy and their community, all of which they are doing.

Their mistake was to leave it too long to file their residence papers. Had they done so when the skilled job offer was landed they’d almost certainly have secured their residence (if we were project managing the process for them,) a long time before the cancer appeared and then they would not be in this situation.

In no way am I having a go at them, they never imagined they’d be in this position and money is tight as it is for so many migrants and none more so than South Africans with their plunging currency.

The message though is clear - if the residence door is open, don’t just peek through it, barge through it with your shoulder - you never know when it is going to be locked and you left stranded on the wrong side with no key to open it.

Until next week

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Tags: visas

Time is your enemy

Posted by Iain on Oct. 12, 2018, 5:24 p.m. in Immigration

Time is every migrant’s enemy. I trot this very good advice out consultation after consultation, hour after hour, day after day and have been for year after year. The longer you leave it to file your resident visa application in New Zealand or Permanent Residence Visa in Australia, the greater the risk of changes to the rules.

Migrants tend to forget that advice once, in their minds, they have decided to make a move. They make the decision to move today but it is usually many months before they can file anything and in that time Governments can, and do, move the policy goal posts. Governments on the whole have little regard nor care for what a potential immigrant might have sacrificed, invested or given up to get into a position where they can file residence papers.

They answer to their local voters, not future immigrants who have no vote.

Immigration policy is dynamic, fluid and political and nowhere more so than in Australia.

Thankfully New Zealand politicians on the whole are more settled on our policies and they remain stable for longer periods. That is not to say our clients can escape the consequences when our Government does change rules but they tend to change our settings far less regularly.

There are those that might mistake this ‘get on with it if you are serious’ advice for sales pitch and there are those that appreciate my colleagues and I have a reputation for telling people what they need to know and not what they might want to hear. We leave the sales pitch to others. Time being your greatest enemy is the best advice any potential migrant can be offered.

Anyone looking at a move to Australia will no doubt have read this week’s frenzied mainstream and social media reports that the Government is going to ‘force’ migrants to live in the ‘bush’ (as they strangely label anywhere that is not a city of several million people). To the rest of us these are usually very large cities and they don’t mean you are going to go and live in a one camel town in the desert with a few rough and ready elderly residents and a couple of mangy dingos.

Unfortunately that is how many non-Australian speakers interpret the term, ’the bush’. Think Adelaide. It’s the ‘bush’ in the Australian vernacular which I suspect many South Australians might take issue with. Until late 2017 Perth was also considered the ‘bush’ from a visa perspective. They might be a bit rough out that way, but the ‘bush’ is pushing it a bit.

The Aussie politicians must be loving the reporting - the media, as usual, has swallowed their statements hook, line and sinker. While I generally find Australian media do a far better job than their New Zealand counterparts in providing more accurate and insightful journalism, even they can be suckers for the spin of Ministers and the sensationalist headline.

Where, for example, did the Australian Government this week announce that migrants would be ‘forced’ to live outside of the big cities? I can’t find it in any offical releases suggesting that.

What I did find was a Government stating they are developing ‘proposals’ designed to ‘encourage’ through adding ‘possible conditions’ on some migrants to settle outside of the major cities. This was primarily designed, it appears, as part of a more well thought through look at Australia’s future population needs and wants. Like New Zealand, Australia has no population policy and it has used immigration policy as de facto population policy - which is nuts.

The proposals, such as they are, are aimed it appears at first glance, at taking some of the pressure off infrastructure and housing costs in Sydney and Melbourne which are already very large, congested and expensive cities that are adding more and more people.

Migrants today, in many instances, are already supposedly required to live outside of the two major cities of Melbourne and Sydney.

Already those that move to Australia on a Subclass 489 visa which is in effect a work to residence visa, are ‘forced’ to live in the ’bush’ (think Adelaide) for at least two years before they can get their residence visa (which makes it closer to three years all up) . The Government has simply said they are thinking about making that 5 years. I’d suggest as someone who doesn’t consider a city of 1.7 million people to be the ‘outback’ or ‘bush’,  that if a migrant has settled in a city like Adelaide and they have secured their residence after two and half to three years, they will not all of a sudden up sticks and move to Melbourne or Sydney. Why would they?

Currently under the Sub Class 190 Permanent Resident Visa (PRV) applicants require the support (‘sponsorship’) of one of the States. Getting the support of one of the states is increasingly important in terms of achieving the greatest level of certainty the Australian visa process offers.

I have certainly long wondered why when the idea of this is, in part, to spread skilled migrants around Australia, applicants are not forced, as in required, to live in that State, for any minimum period of time. Many Immigration Advisers incorrectly advise migrants that they must live in the State that sponsors them for at least two years. This is incorrect and shows a lack of understanding of the law.

Migrants are expected to 'give it a go’ in the state that supported their PRV and that is quite different. In immigration work, as with many other fields like accounting, there are legal and moral lines and they are not always drawn on top of one another.

When there is no definition of what ‘giving it a go means’ then there is no doubt that applicants will sometimes legitimately secure state sponsorship and move on to other states for work or to be closer to family or some will end up in New Zealand, as their circumstances or intentions might change. Most however believe that their future entitlement to live in Australia ‘forces’ them to live in that State so the majority stay, albeit at times in a big city. The fact however that New South Wales (Sydney) is nightmare to get sponsorship for visas from and Victoria (Melbourne) a close second means we only approach them as last cabs off the rank if we cannot find any other state that will support the client’s application. I find very few people who want to live in Sydney anyway (plenty for Melbourne).

It is certainly true that these applicants, once they have secured their PRV (usually before arriving in Australia) can then live anywhere they like and some may end up in Melbourne or Sydney.

Although it might sound uncharitable, there are those that argue that the less desirable the State, the easier it is to get their support to move there, but the less reason a migrant has for staying there. That is I suspect not entirely accurate, nor fair.

Across the Tasman Sea,  the New Zealand Government increased the points for getting a skilled job offer outside of Auckland for very similar reasons to what the Aussies are talking about doing  - urban voters are increasingly concerned that their children will not be able to afford to buy houses and migrants present a soft target to blame. I cannot speak for Australia but in New Zealand, low interest rates, until recently no effective capital gains tax and a populace that is largely financially illiterate has meant investing in multiple houses has been safe and profitable but the issue of housing affordability has become a political issue.

Australia is the same although for proponents of capital gains tax in NZ, it is salient to note, capital gains taxes haven’t stopped Melbourne and Sydney becoming unaffordable for many.

So it seems Australia might float some proposals to encourage people to live outside of the major centres. Perhaps even forced to live somewhere that wouldn’t be their first choice.

For that to happen it means either issuing a new kind of (permanent or work to) resident visa with conditions along the lines of, if you step over the state line within X number of years you’ll be deported.

If that happened, how exactly would the Aussies actually police that? Electronic bracelets or microchipping of immigrants or status quo whereby you somehow ‘encourage’ migrants to stay put awhile?

A Permanent Residence Visa of Australia allows a holder up to five years to settle in Australia having being granted the privilege. Even if you genuinely intended living in one state but by the time you got back there to legitimately settle you cannot find a job, are you expected to starve or go on welfare? Might these proposals include some kind of application for permission to move state?

Might the solution in part be to, like NZ, grant resident visas based on having a job offer and reward those with jobs in the ‘bush’ with more points? Unfortunately Australia has in fact been closing down pathways for those with jobs over the past 12-18 months.

Politically it is far more palatable as we know from client ‘visa chicken and egg’ stories getting jobs is never easy or straight forward when there are locals available to fill vacancies. It has worked in NZ however, despite its apparent brutality - you don’t get the job, you leave, but since the points awarded for jobs outside of Auckland increased significantly, around 70% of skilled migrants now settle in the regions. How long they stay is yet to be seen…NZ does often grant those people a conditional resident visa - its conditional on staying put for 12 months in the regions.

If any of these proposals in Australia requires a law change don’t expect any new rules any time soon.  Do not forget Australia is back in election mode and immigration is always one of the hot button topics in that place so the ‘get tough on immigrants’ rhetoric will be ramped up over the coming months. Never forget the influence of unions in that country. Politically they wield a lot of power.

There’ll be a lot of hot air spoken about immigration and immigrants and mostly it will be simply that, hot air. None of it will be positive, it will all be negative. I doubt much if anything will change in any meaningful way but we shall have to wait and see.

I would always caution anyone considering moving anywhere - politicians do hold all the cards. Governments can and do change immigration settings regularly and nowhere more so than in Australia and while less frequently in New Zealand, change is always part of the migration landscape.

Once you decide you want to make the move, do not dally, get on with it and get those papers filed in the shortest possible time, or you may live to regret it.

Until next week

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The 'Six Week Wall'

Posted by Iain on Sept. 7, 2018, 10:32 a.m. in Immigration

I had an interesting discussion with my business partner the other day who specialises in Australian immigration, and who is also licensed to give New Zealand immigration advice.
Given that getting a skilled job offer in New Zealand is, for most ‘skilled’ migrants, central to the chances of securing residence, he asked the very reasonable question ‘How, Iain, do you make people understand that they, for the most part, need to accept success comes with resigning their jobs, jumping on planes and going to New Zealand to try and find work?’
My reply went something along the lines of ‘Because they have no choice. If they want to live here that’s what they have to do’.
I think there was an expletive beginning with ‘f’ in the middle of that sentence somewhere. I was a little frustrated.
People who sit through my seminars around the world know that I describe the process of migration as akin to climbing Mt Everest. That is to say it looks magnificent from a distance; the view from the top is spectacular and worth the effort, but most people will never make it up that mountain. It is emotionally, logistically and often financially the hardest thing most people will ever do and a majority who start climbing, perish without enjoying the view from the top. It is not, as I counsel, for the faint of heart or those who are not fully committed and prepared.
To that, I often add a second analogy which is pertinent to those needing jobs in NZ to secure their futures and draws on my own experiences when, in my mad youth, I jumped out of aeroplanes a few times.  Every time that plane door slid open and the jump master ordered me out of the aeroplane my fear always, bar once, turned to abject terror.  I used to look down and ask myself  ‘What on earth am I doing this for? What if my parachute doesn’t open?'.  
And then I would quickly (because he was usually yelling at me that we were over the jump zone which meant there was a brief window to jump or I’d end up landing in the Pacific Ocean) work through the stats in my head.  Something like 99.99999% of all parachute jumps are successful and when I broke it down in my head I knew I had two parachutes strapped to my body, both were packed by professionals and checked by professionals and if one failed there was a pretty good chance the second one wouldn't.  In order to find out whether the advice and skill set of those professionals that had me on their plane was up to scratch I needed to jump.  While there was always the chance that I would explode like a watermelon 21 seconds later as I hit the earth at terminal velocity, it never happened. 
The point being of course, I had to jump to find out if I had paid the right people to look after me.
Getting work is very similar when you are a migrant - you need to jump to find out. You need to step out of your comfort zone. Do the research. Make a plan. Minimise the risks of failure (what clients pay us to do) and then there is nothing for it - a well calculated jump into thin air.
I know from thirty years’ experience that if you are in New Zealand, you speak very good English, you are culturally compatible with the dominant culture here, that is to say you are more or less like us, you have a resilient personality and can take the knocks inherent in the process, then demand for your skills will take care of itself.
What happens when people follow that advice is incredibly interesting because it doesn’t matter how often we tell them that they will not ‘explode like watermelons’ when they make the jump, emotionally, things go something like this.
The first two weeks after landing in NZ are exciting and while often viewed through a jet-lagged haze, is still new and fresh. Excitement is high.  The streets are clean, everything functions as a first world country suggests it should and everybody is incredibly friendly (those are the three pieces of feedback I continuously get).  CVs and job applications start to be made with the expectation, given the sheer number of job vacancies advertised in the current market, of multiple interviews to follow.
In weeks 3, 4 and 5 the rejection letters start rolling in. Application feedback normally goes along the lines of ‘We have carefully considered your application and thank you for your interest.  However, the fact that you don’t have a Work Visa means we will not be taking your application any further’.  Once clients have received ten to twenty of those, the nerves start to jangle, the lip starts to drop and the shoulders start to sag. 
At week six, clients hit what I call the ‘Six week wall’ where grown men, some of whom have fought in wars in Africa and beyond, are reduced to tears on the telephone with me and my staff.  They inevitably ask the question ‘If everybody demands a Work Visa but I can only get the Work Visa with the job, how am I ever going to be successful and get up this visa mountain?’ 
The rest of the conversation normally revolves around reassuring our clients that we are pretty good at picking winners and losers and we have a track record to back winners.  The understandable feelings of insecurity and vulnerability often ‘peak’ in week six. They are feelings that need to be respected because they are both real and justified. I don’t think all Immigration Advisers either understand or respect those fears.  It is in week six that clients feel like a Skydiver frantically reaching for the reserve chute as the earth rushes toward them. It is scary.
I can’t tell you how many clients have thanked me for getting them through week six down the past thirty years.  It makes weeks 7, 8 and 9 more tolerable knowing that what is happening to them is one hundred percent normal and their feelings about it, normal. It doesn’t minimise the frustration, but helping people understand in advance what to expect in a situation they feel they may not be able to control is to give them the strength to work past the fears of ‘what if’  and come out safely on the other side with that precious job offer in hand.
Inevitably in weeks 8, 9 or 10 at least one job offer is tabled and to most of our clients it feels like having jumped out of the plane and watched the Earth rush up toward them, their reserve chute opened a nerve jangling 500m off the ground. Around 98% of our clients get the job and the chute opens. They do not explode like watermelons. Thankfully.
Watching migrants go through a process that is so utterly dysfunctional as the visa one is, dealing with a bureaucarcy that is largely clueless on how migrants get work and state functinaries who for the most part don't understand their own rules, and dealing with rules set by Politicians, themselves equally disconnected from how the labour market operates and treats migrants, is certainly fascinating, but helping clients get through it warrants more than just an understanding of visa criteria; it requires a process of emotional project management. 
It doesn’t really matter where you come from in the world most people seem to hit that ‘wall’ at the same point in time for exactly the same reasons - fear of the ‘what ifs’ when the plane is receding in the sky above you.  
What is interesting is how people deal with it.  Those that were perhaps over confident in the beginning can crumble in front of my eyes and those who I think might not be up for the challenge are often those that rise to it best. Especially I might add, when the primary applicant is a female - which says I suspect a lot about the male ego but that’s a whole different story.
That six week wall is very real (there’s probably a Master Degree thesis in it) and for many of you that have yet to face the visa mountain with all its challenges, it is almost impossible to prepare emotionally for how you will undoubtedly feel.  With the help of friends and family or for those that (wisely) invested in an experienced and professional Immigration Adviser, who is more than simply a form filler, who is empathetic, who understands what you are going through, who has a sound knowledge of the local labour market and how employers and recruiters think, leads to the success rate that we have at IMMagine.
Virtually all our clients end up securing the job that then leads to Work and Resident Visas. One of their parachutes inevitably opens even though at times it is a close run thing.
My observations suggest that by week 12 of the job search and visa process most clients are laughing it all off and wondering what all the fuss was about.  However, at week six the enormity of what they are doing, the risks that they have taken to get the new life that they say they want, really does take its toll.
So be warned, if you haven’t been through the process yet, that period around week six is very real, very uncomfortable but for the overwhelming majority of our clients, you will get through it.
Until next week...

Iain MacLeod, Southern Man

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Purge of International Student Market in NZ

Posted by Iain on Aug. 31, 2018, 5:27 p.m. in Immigration

The ongoing purge of the international student market in New Zealand has continued with the Government recently releasing new criteria for those who wish to come here and study with a view to using that course as a stepping stone toward residence.

Although well heralded, this Government is seemingly prepared to throw the several billion export dollars a year this industry has been worth to the economy and the 35,000 jobs it supports out the window. To be fair, they are in large part simply cleaning up the mess created by the previous Government.

Ostensibly dressed up as encouraging those to come and study that can add the greatest good to the skills New Zealand needs, there is precious little evidence this is anything more than an effort to get student bodies that need housing out of Auckland. 

If a government is trying to take some pressure off housing in Auckland, international students represent ‘low hanging fruit’ in the popular vernacular, representing a human tap that can be turned on and off without damaging the credibility of the country too much. 

My disappointment is not at the new criteria released a couple of weeks ago; they are sensible and I believe fair. My anger is directed at those in positions of power who have taken advantage of young, powerless international students who lack the funding to fight back against successive Governments that have, frankly, screwed a great number of them out of a lot of money.

Since the previous Government changed their tune when the pressure was going on them over the lack of available housing in Auckland they turned on these students. The Immigration Department has been waging something of a guerrilla war against those that came here and studied the courses the Government identified as qualifications that would lead to the grant of a work visa upon completion and that, in turn, to a resident visa if skilled employment could be secured.

As I have written about numerous times, the policy of encouraging youngsters to invest their parents' life savings in an opportunity to study and secure residence saw a huge upswing in the numbers coming here. That in turn resulted in a huge increase in Retail Managers and Chefs with limited work experience being granted residence, correctly, under the Skilled Migrant Category. Because the country has a (clumsy) annual quota system of skilled migrants based on their points score and how they get the ‘pass mark’ (and there are any number of criteria that can be cobbled together to get to the required points score) but almost all require ‘skilled job offers to get there, the Government cannot effectively control the numbers of any particular occupations – we are just as likely under the policy settings to get Retail Managers as Primary School Teachers or Plumbers.

So the war was begun while the policy wonks and Politicians in Wellington took their time over changing who gets offered the pathway to residence from study. A low level and clandestine war it has been but no less destructive for its unofficial status. Thousands of graduate students were being denied work visas because their NZ qualifications were deemed by faceless immigration officials who have not been held accountable, to not be ‘relevant’ to the jobs they were securing. That got rid of a few thousand.

Those that managed to dodge that first round of bullets often then had their resident visas declined on the spurious grounds they were not really working in that occupation, they were working in something else. Retail Managers weren’t really Retail Managers even when their employment contracts and job descriptions closely matched the Department’s definition of what Retail Managers did. Chefs weren’t really chefs, they were ‘cooks’ – an occupation not skilled under policy. And so it went on – the officials had clearly been directed to find any reason to knock back these applications and they took to their task with ignorant relish and no comprehension it seems that they were incorrectly declining people who had every right to the resident visa they applied for. 

These powerless graduates, mainly from India, have been treated with utter contempt by a department and the politicians who I have no doubt issued an order to remove them from NZ. There will certainly be no written record of course and they should all hang their heads in shame.

For those looking to come and study here in future, the landscape has changed considerably.

Work Visas will now be granted upon completion of study to fewer courses and a greater emphasis is on ‘rewarding’ students who study higher level qualifications (degree or higher), that appear on a skills shortage list and who do so out of Auckland (proof positive this is as much about alleviating the pressure on Auckland housing than anything else).

For those studying courses (degree at Level 7 or other qualifications that sit higher on the NQF), they will now get a three year post study open work visa. That is a positive change that allows greater time for recent graduates to get local work experience and transition to more higher skilled work that one hopes will give them the points they need for their resident visas. One of the issues with the previous policy was students were spun a line by education agents, education providers and the Immigration Department that their study would lead to skilled work, which it often didn’t given the nature of what they were studying and the reality that most were seeking entry level jobs which were demonstrably not skilled under immigration policy.

Those studying post graduate, Level 8 qualifications in an occupation that appears on the Long Term Skills Shortage List (presumably at the time they complete, not begin, their studies) will be enable their partner to secure an open work visa as well

Those already in the country on post study work visas will not be affected by these changes – officially anyway but we continue to see evidence daily that the war against them continues unabated.

If there is any good that comes out of this, it is what was a grand idea to create a new export education industry which unfortunately hinged on luring often unsuspecting students, was in some ways a victim of its own success. It showed however how completely out of touch the Department calls its ‘customers’ was, in that they should have realised that offering a pathway to residence when relatively low level qualifications were being completed was a recipe for a tsunami of later resident visa applicants and that is precisely what happened. Instead of doing the honourable thing and adjusting policy settings for future students the previous and current Government clearly instructed their Immigration Department to just started declining the resident visas applications for a group of pretty powerless young people.

So ends a shameful period in our immigration history with goodness knows how much damage done to the country’s reputation for dealing honestly and ethically. 

In future, one just hopes that there is enough trust left in the international student markets that the industry will be able to be salvaged. 

It is my experience however that it is very easy to lose the trust of a market, it is very hard to win it back. Dark days lie ahead for the export education industry.

Until next week...

Iain MacLeod, Southern Man

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No Racism Here?

Posted by Iain on July 6, 2018, 9:52 p.m. in Immigration

One hundred people are queuing up to enter Eden Park to watch a test match between the All Blacks and France. Ninety nine are admitted entry without incident, but one is stopped, taken aside and questioned. When asked why that one person was stopped the official replied "We needed to check that the ticket was legitimate and not purchased off a scalper, because scalping is illegal". When the official was then asked "Okay, but tell me why did you stop and check that particular fan when you didn’t stop any of the others?" The official replied that "It was simply a random check".

Is it simply coincidence that the one person stopped was not white and the 99 allowed unchecked entry were ‘European’?

This is not a true story and this incident did not take place, but we see the parallels in our day jobs dealing with visas constantly.

I have long had an uncomfortable feeling that the Immigration Department does make decisions - or least scrutinises certain applicants - in a different way such as it is difficult to conclude that it is based on anything other than ethnicity and/or nationality. There is also increasing evidence of INZ targeting particular ethnicities and assessing their visas differently to others, or in the way they have historically done - former international students, primarily from India, for example.

That, I appreciate, is more than a very strong suggestion New Zealand may not be the country that it thinks it is – one which prides itself on being colour blind, tolerant and welcoming.

Let me offer a recent example and you tell me what conclusion you might reach. This is a true story.

We routinely apply for visitor visa ‘extensions’ for clients who have travelled to New Zealand on the so called ‘Look, See and Decide’ trips. These are trips essentially to find work. While the majority of our clients have secured work within the time given on arrival in the country and we file work visas, some don’t.

While nothing in this game could be described as routine, we recently had a client needing an extension so that he could continue his search for employment. He was highly educated (in the UK), an Accountant, had a history of overseas travel (for study and living), had never breached the conditions of his visa when overseas or while in NZ, had the funds required to extend his stay, was in an occupation where all clients before him had secured employment and in every respect was no different to the majority of our clients in terms of profile; except he was from Uganda.

We had discussed among ourselves in te office that INZ would likely give him a hard time over this ‘extension’ and so the application was watertight.

Our concern at the treatment we expected he'd receive was partly because Immigration New Zealand had given him a hard time when we applied for his first visa to come to New Zealand and they really put this client under the microscope. Therefore, we didn’t expect anything different for his ‘extension’. There was no reason for them to give him grief with the first application and even less reason to do the second, but as we said, he is from Uganda...

Almost on cue, we received a letter from the Department outlining their ‘concerns’ with the application – they did not question the evidence or the way the case was presented but expressed some doubts that he was employable.

The only factor we could see that made this applicant different to the hundreds of others we help each and every year go through this process was his ethnicity/nationality. Was it merely coincidence he was singled out and treated differently?

We pushed back, hard, and INZ eventually granted the visa but we were left with the very uncomfortable feeling that he was treated differently because of the fact he was African.

INZ, if challenged on this, would undoubtedly dismiss any suggestion of racism and their spokseperson would trot out their standard line of ‘INZ assesses each application on its merits and all applications aremeasured against a set of objective criteria’. That is garbage and everyone working in this industry knows it is simply not true.

There is increasing evidence that there is either a cultural problem inside INZ and officers are (sub)consciously biased or applicants are being profiled in a way that most New Zealanders would not feel happy about. I hesitate to say decisions are based on the race of applicants, but we know INZ do have what they call ‘risk assessment profiles’. They might suggest they have evidence that Africans are more prone to lying than non-Africans but in almost 30 years of practice I've seen little evidence of that.

I accept that there is evidence that some applicants with particular profiles from some countries do present a higher risk to the integrity of the border, but I cannot help wondering if Immigration Officers, given the culture they work in, start by assuming that if you are from a certain country or from a certain ethnic group, you must be dodgy and are as such obliged to try and keep you out. 

Alternatively, if one was to be charitable, it could be as simple as officers do not know where to draw the line on what is reasonable questioning and what is not but every day they lay themselves wide open to accusations of racist decision making.

It is also difficult for any reasonable person to comprehend how, if rules do not change but outcomes do and 'like' cases end up with different results, that a different assessment process  can not be in play. Of course it could just be INZ is not very good at what it does and these are just inconsistent outcomes (for which they are infamous). That would be bad enough, but I don't buy it.

I cannot escape the conclusion that there is not racism or some agenda at play. While it is another blog in itself, I have written previously of the terrible treatment being given in the past eighteen months to former international students seeking to follow a pathway to residency our Government dangled in front of them as reason to come to NZ and study rather than go somewhere else. When challenged on this INZ is on record as saying 'all cases are assessed objectively against a standard set of criteria'.

Hardly a week goes by when we don’t get phone calls from distraught young people (always Indian) who have completed their studies, have got a job but are being denied work visas because INZ claims that their ‘qualification is not relevant to their job offer’. A common example is the graduate with a Diploma in Business being denied the opportunity to take up a job as an Assistant Manager. Apparently because according to the bureaucats, a diploma in business isn’t related to working It always was historically, but these days suddenly isn't. There was no rule change that tightened the definition of what ‘relevant’ means, just the outcomes were different. 

There might not be racist assessments going on and it could be as I have accused INZ of previously, of a hidden agenda to rid the country of these tens of thousands of students the Government now does not wish to stay. That would be no better but while we keep seeing Indian students being singled out it could be both a hidden agenda that just happens to be a racist one.

I think too often we scream ‘racist!’ without justification and it can be something of a catchall when things don’t go our way.

I can say, however, that I know the difference at least when it comes to visa applications. INZ is at best suffering from an subconscious bias they need to rid themselves of and at worst it does make assessments and decisions based less on the evidence in front of it than the ethnicity or nationality of clients.

There is, as I say, more and more evidence of INZ agendas at play and as that body of evidence grows, the pressure is going to mount on the Government to do something about it.

It is not a good look for a country that has long prided itself on treating everyone equally.

Until next week...

Iain MacLeod, Southern Man

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The Numbers Don't Lie

Posted by Iain on June 22, 2018, 1:18 p.m. in Immigration

Back in February I predicted that in the current immigration year (1 July 2017–30 June 2018) New Zealand would undershoot its target of skilled migrants by many thousands of people. I was quietly scoffed at by some, but it seems I was right. As we approach the end of the current immigration year, the Government has approved 9,352 resident visa applications. Statistically, each Skilled Migrant resident visa application covers around 2.1 people, so of their stated target of 27,000, the Government has badly undershot that by around 8,000 people, or roughly 35%. I’d call that a big fat failure at a time when the economy continues to create thousands of skilled jobs each and every month and we need every skilled migrant we can get to come and live here. Demand to move here is as strong, if not stronger, than ever. 

I explained in a previous post why the Government of the day increased the pass mark (points required for residence) in October 2016 from 100 to 160 for those with jobs to come to. It had little if nothing to do with ‘raising the quality’ of applicants as the spin doctors and politicians argued so much as blocking the residence pathway the Government had promised to tens of thousands of international students that were completing their studies and taking the government up on its offer of a work visa and then residence. The sheer numbers (it was around 100,000) put at risk sinking the skilled migrant ship, and rather than ‘fess up’ and admit they made a residence pathway offer they simply couldn’t deliver to so many, the Government had to find a way of getting rid of those tens of thousands. The solution was neat if not cruel – push the pass mark up to a level where your average recent 24-year-old University graduate, even with skilled employment in NZ, could not reach. 

That ‘problem’ had its solution but that does not explain why the pass mark has not been allowed lately to settle back to where it mathematically wants to be – which by my calculation is around 120. If the government is undershooting its own target (they used to call it a quota) why, when we need every skilled migrant we can find, when the construction industry alone is reported to be short of 40,000 skilled workers, is the pass mark being held artificially high keeping out around 8000 badly needed people?

I’d suggest the answer is in part a Government comprising three political parties that campaigned last year to a greater or lesser extent on cutting migrant numbers. One was so stupid (but not as stupid as the 7% of voters that believed them) as to promise once in power they would cut migration by ‘80%’. One, the Greens, were a bit all over the place but wanted fewer numbers and the third, the Labour Party, never disavowed the mainstream media that thought when they campaigned on cutting migrant numbers by 20,000 – 30,000, they were talking about cutting places for international students, not skilled migrants.

It would be politically difficult, if not impossible now to let the pass mark fall to where it naturally wants to be so their own target of 27,000 visa approvals could be met. They’d be crucified in the media for their contradictory positions – they acknowledge today that we need thousands of skilled workers to come to the country and help us but at the same time they promised their base that they’d cut the numbers….  Oh, the webs politicians weave!

The reality is, and I suspect against their own better economic judgement because the major party in the troika only got 33% of the vote and are only governing at the pleasure of ‘Mr anti-migrant 7%’, the Leader of NZ First and bizarrely our Deputy PM, being the timid and weak bunch they are, they will not stand up to him because they know they’d risk losing their grip on power.

I cannot see them having the guts to let the pass mark fall any time soon and will wait long enough to hope the people that voted for them and the other two parties might think a lower pass mark that allows us to fill the 27,000 places is a good thing for the economy. When that might happen is anyone’s guess.

Across the ditch in Australia, real cuts in skilled migrant numbers have also recently been confirmed by their statistics despite denials they have been doing so.

Australia will undershoot their own target of 190,000 resident visas by tens of thousands this immigration year. While the Australian economy isn’t as healthy as the NZ one and we are creating in NZ half the number of jobs each month as Australia, despite their economy being six times the size of ours, they too need the skills their artificially high pass marks are keeping out.

We have been advising those we consult with for many months now, that where mathematically (based on the number of applicants chasing a finite quota of places for each nominated occupation), the points required for most skilled occupations should be 60 i.e. the minimum possible, most are in fact at 75 points and are clearly being held artificially high.

This cut is further evidenced in the fact that around 2000 Expressions of Interest need to be selected each round to achieve their annual quota (or ‘ceiling’ as the Politicians now refer to it). They have for most of this year been selecting 300 per selection round. If you are not selecting 1700 EOIs each draw when that is what historically you did to to achieve your annual intake, and tell me that is not a ‘cut’, I say you need to look in the Concise Oxford Dictionary on what the definition of a cut is.

It is true that some of the annual 190,000 places have been taken up by New Zealanders living in Australia because after years of pressure by our Government, that lot finally decided to offer a pathway to PR of Australia for some New Zealanders who had been living and contributing to Australia for a number of years. That doesn’t explain the massive cut in EOI selections however.

Securing a pathway to Australian residence is critical for many because Kiwis are treated as third class citizens in Australia and do not enjoy all the same benefits and advantages of others living there permanently.  Or, it is often pointed out, the tens of thousands of Australians moving to and living in NZ who from the day they get off the plane enjoy practically everything Kiwis enjoy in terms of access to education, health and social security.

As always, we have politicians both sides of the Tasman Sea letting the politics of immigration get in the way of good economic policy. 

In Australia, I genuinely believe it is because Aussies are, to be polite, more politically ‘sensitive’ to migrants than we are in NZ, which if you believe migrant surveys is more tolerant and welcoming for the most part. They also have a political system where single issue parties or even a single politician can decide which party governs and which does not.

In NZ, we suffer these lies and half-truths because neither of the biggest parties can ever get to the 48% of the votes they need to govern alone (owing to the quirks of our voting system 48% would get you into power with a majority of seats and none seem able to get to more than 45%) and they require a minor party to prop them up. In NZ that tends to be our one small party (‘Mr 7%’ who is currently polling 3%) that campaigns every three years on slashing migrants numbers – and given they never fight for it in coalition negotiations, seemingly lying about it – but it is they who hold the balance of power.

So, we find ourselves on both sides of the Tasman Sea with skilled migrant numbers being slashed at a time when both Governments try and tell us they have done no such thing. And both economies need every single skilled migrant both countries can attract.

To them I say, the numbers don’t lie. 

If you believe skilled migrants are, if not good for the economy and society, then at least needed, let the pass marks fall to where they naturally want to be based on the annual quotas/targets/ceilings and give the businesses of both NZ and Australia the skilled workers so many are screaming out for. 

Until next week...

Iain MacLeod, Southern Man

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