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Immigration Blog

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Immigration Blog

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

When an A Grade Means Fail

Posted by Iain on June 7, 2019, 8:23 p.m. in Immigration

I wrote a few weeks ago about the critical importance of filing ‘decision ready’ work visa applications in order to minimise the risk of the application being deemed ‘high touch’ (in English, requiring closer scrutiny) and being placed in an allocation queue which can mean four months simply to allocate to an officer for processing.

One of the four criteria that will see a work visa allocated to the slow queue is a medical certificate and tests that are not able to be immediately ‘auto cleared’ as indicating an acceptable standard of health.

A few years ago INZ introduced a grading system whereby all medicals receive an ‘A’ or ‘B’ grade by the Government appointed, and presumably trusted and trained, Doctor. An ‘A’ means ‘no significant findings’. We’ve always interpreted that to mean the applicant is of an acceptable standard of health.

After recent discussions with senior INZ managers we believed that a medical that receives an A grading, indicating no serious conditions, would be allocated to the ‘low touch’ queue because less scrutiny is required. We couldn’t work out then why a number of clients with an A grading were being referred to INZs in house Doctors for a recommendation on the clients fitness for entry.

From the ‘assume nothing’ and ‘suspend logic’ file when dealing with INZ, we nearly fell off our chairs last week (we seem to spend more and more time on the floor these days) when we were advised that just because an applicant receives an A grading and the Doctor declares ‘no significant findings’, this does not guarantee the medical will be cleared on lodgement. 

When I asked why this is the case I was told it is because someone deemed to be healthy by INZ’s trusted overseas Doctor might not meet INZ’s own health standards. I thought, clearly stupidly, that the Doctors tasked with testing migrants health and reporting on it, were trained in the standard NZ requires migrants meet. When they confirm there’s nothing of any concern, it meant something.

It got even more bizarre when a few days ago a client who is in NZ, had her medical done here, who received an A grading, failed to be ‘auto’ cleared upon receipt of the visa application.

That suggests, perhaps, that even NZ trained and trusted Doctors also don’t understand, or haven’t been trained, on the standard of health, costs of treatment and so on.

Hardly credible and hardly believable.

It also begs the question that if the trusted Doctor declares there’s nothing of any significance and stamps the medical with an A grading, yet it ends up needing to be looked at my a second Doctor inside INZ, what is the purpose of the grading system?

As we go to press I’m still waiting for an answer.

INZ did proudly tell me that 70% of the 3000 medicals looked at every week are ‘auto cleared’ and gave themselves a pat on the back. That still leaves 900 a week that are not.

I wonder how many of those get an A grading and could/should be ‘auto cleared’ up front, thus streamlining and speeding up the remainder of the work visa process.

So be warned, an A grading and a Doctor trusted by the NZ Government to test and interpret medical information for them, who says there are ‘no significant findings’, might still mean excessive and avoidable delays on work and other temporary visas.


NZ Skill List Changes Explained

Posted by Iain on May 10, 2019, 1:37 p.m. in Immigration

Every government likes to put their own stamp on things when they come into power to demonstrate that they are ‘doing things’. I remember being told this many years ago by a new Minister of Immigration over a coffee who changed the name (but nothing else) of the Appeal Authority. When I asked her why it was done given the cost involved to the tax payer (think how much it must cost a government department to simply change stationary letterhead for example), she looked at me and smiled and said "We all do it, it's called stamping our name on things’. The taxpayer be damned, obviously.

Unfortunately, this can lead to rank confusion in the marketplace such as is happening this week as my inbox is filling up with people, registered on INZ’s website (who are bombarded with marketing and pronouncements telling them how much we want them in New Zealand) proudly noting their occupation is now on one of the ‘new’ skill shortage lists and asking how that changes our strategy to secure residence.

As it seems with all things immigration, not everything is what it might first appear.

New Zealand operates a number of ‘skills shortage’ lists and their importance is by and large limited purely to whether or not employers need to prove a labour market shortage when wishing to employ migrants who require work visas. 

Only one impacts on residence eligibility or strategy, the others have no import whatsoever, either directly or indirectly on residency policy or eligibility for residence.

The first was until this week known as the ‘Immediate skills shortage list’ and this was a list of occupations, deemed to be in acute shortage in some regions of New Zealand. It has been renamed as the "Regional skill shortage list" and virtually the only change has been to increase the number of regions from 6 to 15. The occupations of Pre-primary, Primary and High school teacher has been added. The reality however is that the Immigration Department has been, for at least the past 12 months not expecting employers to demonstrate a labour market shortage because everyone knows there's a desperate need for teachers in New Zealand. 

Effective change? None.

The second is known as the ‘Construction and Infrastructure shortage list’ which is in effect exactly the same as the regional skills shortage list only it focuses on, as the name suggests, construction and infrastructure related occupations by region. 

Effective change? Nothing to not very much.

The third is known as the ‘Long-term skill shortage list’ (LTSSL) and this serves a double purpose. 

If a migrant has been offered a job in NZ in an occupation that is on that list and, crucially, has the New Zealand equivalent qualifications and/or minimum years of work experience that deems them qualified to be on that list, then it is accepted there is a shortage of those skills and no labour market test is carried out before a work can be granted. 

If a migrant has a job in one of these occupations, it also creates a pathway to residency. The applicant will receive a 30-month work Visa, and once they have worked for 24 months, they can then apply for residency from work, all other things being equal. This is not a ‘points’ based process and is in no way related to the Skilled Migrant Category. 

It is very rare however anyone with a job offer on the Long-term skills shortage list would ever need to wait for 24 months before having to file a residency Visa. The reason for this is simply because in all probability they have enough "points" to qualify under the Skilled Migrant Pathway. I don't think I've ever had to advise the client to wait 24 months to apply for residency from work if their occupation is on this list. It's a list we could probably get rid of or incorporate into the regional shortage list.

It's worth pointing out here that all of these lists are in effect not occupation lists but qualification lists because having a job in New Zealand with a job title that appears on one of these lists, but not having the required New Zealand equivalent qualification and/or work experience means any application will be treated as if you are not on the list and that therefore requires the employer to demonstrate to the immigration department a national shortage of those skills. You might want to read that again! It is one of those bizarre paradoxes that confuses everybody.

The point is, it is effectively a qualification test.

Take Software Developer for example. To be considered to be on a regional skills shortage list and for the employer not to have to demonstrate a labour market shortage, an applicant must hold a qualification comparable to the learning outcome of a New Zealand Bachelor Degree in IT or similar. Of course there are many Software Developers who do not hold bachelor degrees but do exactly the same job as those who hold them. 

For assessment purposes the one that holds the degree is not required to demonstrate they are not taking a job away from a New Zealander but the one who does not have a degree is required to demonstrate the not denying a New Zealander and opportunity.

My advice is no one should get too excited about these pronouncements this week. And effect they changed little to nothing but 99.9% of those looking to work temporarily or migrate to New Zealand.

Until next week...

>> Southern Man on Instagram (New Zealand)
>> IMMagine Australia & New Zealand on Instagram
>> IMMagine Australia & New Zealand on Facebook


How Do You Prove a Negative?

Posted by Iain on May 3, 2019, 3:32 p.m. in Immigration

I have no intention of this blog becoming a weekly whine about dealing with the Immigration Department. I do appreciate that their inefficiency, inconsistency and often downright stupidity creates a lot of very rewarding work for my team and me.

Many in my industry live by the mantra that ‘change is good and chaos is better’, but I can only take so much of it.

Take the recent workshops put on by the Immigration Department to try and teach the private sector how to prepare "decision ready" visa applications. Against my better judgement, I sent a few of my team along to get an insight not only into how the immigration department thinks but also how the knowledge of my team compares with a lot of the ‘competition’. 

There was also the chance, of course, they might learn a thing or two but by and large they all said it was a complete waste of time; an out of control ‘circus’ where the Department officials were unable to answer anything more than very rudimentary questions and it descended into chaos and the inevitable arguments about individual cases which all attendees had been warned by INZ management not to bring to the meeting. 

Handouts were given which detailed what documents the department expected to see for, among other things, work visas to be "decision ready” at the time of lodgement. All that this confirmed was everything that is submitted by my company, barring medical abnormalities, are cases which subject to verification can be allocated for processing and approved very quickly.

This is increasingly critical because the department is quoting 15 working days to allocate "decision ready" applications and 60 days for those that are not. There is clearly a very strong incentive to get it right first time.

Being able to file decision ready applications then is increasingly important and something my company has a proud track record of presenting. 

Being able to hold the department to their own expected service standards is critical so they can be held to account themselves.

There is one very interesting criteria which is demanded of the employer of work Visa applicants that I'm still awaiting clarification on. 

That is that the employer must be able to demonstrate a "history of compliance with employment and immigration law" and that they are not on the Immigration Department’s "Non-Compliant Employer List."

The second of those criteria is very easy for the department to check as they keep the list. This is a list of those employers that have been found to have transgressed immigration and/or employment law and are in effect blacklisted for a period of time from offering jobs to immigrants. 

The first however requires most employers to prove a negative.

How can you prove that you are compliant with the law when there will only be a public record if you have not been? There is no such thing in New Zealand as a "Compliant Employer List”. The only records that are kept will be against companies or businesses found to have transgressed the law - with, for example, the Employment Tribunal. There is therefore no way of demonstrating at the time of work visa is filed the employer has complied and has a history of compliance.

My fear until this is explained and resolved is that the immigration department officers could use that criteria as an excuse to flick work visas from the 15 day allocation queue to the 60 day allocation queue and believe me they will if they can get away with it.

All onshore work visas are now being processed by Immigration New Zealand Christchurch Branch and under their watch we have gone, between December 2018 and January 2019, from processing times of around 3 to 4 weeks, to 3 to 4 months. 

Initially they blamed Christmas for the blowout which is curious because for my 54 years on the planet, Christmas seems to arrive at the same time every year. Most of us that run businesses know it is coming and make plans.

By February they were blaming the fact that they needed to train a lot of their new staff - one presumes when the handover of processing to this branch took place, they were aware they needed to engage in training. It seems not.

By March they were, seriously, blaming the Christchurch mosque massacres for their inability to get on top of their work. They justified this as the government offered priority processing of offshore visitor visas to family members who needed to travel urgently to New Zealand which is fair enough. However, it's hard to believe there could more than perhaps 150 families needing these which are pretty simple applications. Given the branch was moaning they had too much work was no consideration given to a very small team of officers in another branch processing these?

With the visitor visas out of the way, April’s excuse was the Government's decision announced last week to create a new residency pathway for families of the victims already in New Zealand on valid visas. 

Given the very small numbers of these applications, coupled with the fact that these people are already in New Zealand on various temporary visas, what’s the rush? How does this decision increase the workload to such an extent most employers of highly skilled migrants are now being relegated to waiting four months or even longer for work visas?

Surely, given the victim's families are already safely on temporary visas, there is no desperate rush to process their residency. Given the numbers of applications are relatively small by the government's own admission, it is incomprehensible to me that Immigration New Zealand in Christchurch should be quoting 60 days to allocate Essential Skills work Visa - and those work visas are deemed less important than residency cases which would ordinarily be processed over many months anyway. 

And let's not forget the priority being given elsewhere to all those tourists around New Zealand who can go and get variations of conditions to their holiday plans to go and pick Kiwifruit in the Bay of Plenty.

Lame excuse after lame excuse from a 'business' that rakes in $300 million in fees. I tell you, it is a circus.

This is why understanding the criteria for applications to be deemed "decision ready” is absolutely critical whether you are filing your own Visa, filing one on behalf of an employee or if you are an Immigration Advisor or lawyer.

Assuming I get a straight answer on this question of how businesses can demonstrate a history of compliance with the law, it should enable all our work visas to get what is currently "priority" allocation without the department having the excuse of kicking it into the three-month allocation queue.

Until next week...

>> Southern Man on Instagram (New Zealand)
>> IMMagine Australia & New Zealand on Instagram
>> IMMagine Australia & New Zealand on Facebook


Why Do I Do What I Do?

Posted by Iain on April 26, 2019, 12:28 p.m. in Immigration

I was asked few days ago in South Africa why I do this work. It was funny because I was in a very reflective mood as I passed my 30th anniversary helping people establish their residence eligibility and working for them to process the visas necessary for the new life that they were after. 

I think she was surprised with my answer. Of course I get a great deal of pleasure out of helping people with what is the biggest decision of their lives and assisting them with what is undeniably an incredibly emotional and complex process where getting things 98% right actually means failure. 

I explained I do this work more because I am a New Zealander and these immigrants are needed for New Zealand to be the best it can be.

Increasingly, however, I feel it is like we are having to drag these migrants, exhausted, over the line. It is taking increasing effort from us as we deal with an immigration department which is out of control. To be fair, they too are suffering from an inability to attract the kind of staff with the intellectual capacity to deal with the complexities of this process. Good young people are being fast tracked to management within the department who are now rushing for the exits and looking for ways to escape the madness. Too much career deadwood remains in senior roles.

I am increasingly feeling a level of despair at the calibre of visa officers employed. I am dismayed at the unwillingness or inability of INZ managers to deliver on any of the myriad of promises constantly made to improve service delivery. Lots of talk. Little real change.

It is telling that it takes just as long to obtain any kind of visa today as it did when I started out in this business at the end of 1988, a time when we did not have instant communication, emails or the Internet. Despite technological advancements, what has not changed is the department continues to be a hotbed of distrust and paranoia. I do acknowledge that at times it cannot be an easy job but the department management has isolated themselves from the decision makers sitting at the immigration counter. In this absence of leadership, the quality of the decision-making continues to spiral downwards and alarm.

In their ‘MBA-speak’ the Managers probably call it ‘empowerment’ of the officers on the front line but the truth is what is happening at the counter level is truly frightening. It is quite clear that inexperienced and poorly trained officers with enormous amounts of power are being left with little effective guidance or support to make some very important decisions. Decisions which change futures.

Senior management, almost as a badge of honour, proclaim they don't need to know immigration rules. There was a time not so long ago when these managers had all worked as visa officers and this institutional knowledge of the rules was seen as vital to credible service delivery. If the immigration department was a profit motivated enterprise, I would suggest they would have gone out of business a long time ago. The entire system is in a state of constant crisis but as a government monopoly we can't go anywhere else to get better service and so we are all stuck with whatever they choose to deliver no matter how damaging it is to the country.

At the same time, given the reality that New Zealand in effect has little to no skilled unemployed people, means that the department is being forced to employ a calibre of person who is out of their intellectual depth. Above them anyone with a modicum of potential has been fast tracked to management without the solid grounding and years of experience that this process demands. 

We have been advertising lately for someone with in-depth immigration policy knowledge to join the company and we have had two Immigration Department managers apply to join us. I wouldn't generally entertain any ex-immigration officer simply because they come from an environment of negativity where distrust of migrants and employers is the order of the day, whereas we are employed to try and find ways to say yes. What was truly interesting is that both are frustrated and alarmed at the calibre of people being employed in decision making roles and their inability to ensure a service delivery standard that matches the rhetoric of those in management above them. 

One described the immigration department as "a shambles” and expressed frustration that they could not trust the decision-making ability of those at the front line. One described a culture that is so deeply entrenched and negative they feel it will never change. That was a very frank admission; nothing we did not know already because we deal with this culture on a daily basis. What's so surprised these young managers was just how bad it is on the inside. Enormous power is vested in people who do not know what they doing. 

Having otherwise good people who join the public service and have been fast tracked into management roles apply for a job with a company like ours and admit that they do not know immigration policy is a frightening reflection on how removed from reality the immigration department managers have become. Can you imagine any business having managers who don't understand the product or service that has been offered and wear it as some sort of badge of honour?

I have a case on now that I have written about previously where an application was declined when the department decided that the position that the applicant was working in was not skilled (despite granting a work visa that required that it must be). The position was obviously skilled but as I warned the client at the time of our being retained, the department would do all that they could to find a reason to decline it. Not because they should, but because the position the client held represented a type of job the bureaucracy was not happy to approve despite it meeting all the criteria. The case was declined because the job was not skilled.

Around that time the government introduced a new rule which changed how previously “unskilled” roles were going to be assessed through applying a salary test.  An ‘effective hourly dollar rate’ was introduced and it is a simple criteria. At a certain number of dollars per hour being paid a job that was not previously deemed to be skilled, now was, simply by virtue of the dollars being paid.

That presented an elegant and obvious solution. We advised the employer that if they wished to keep the applicant in their employment, given in this case the applicant had been working for them for over two years, consider a pay increase. The employer thought about it, weighed up the value of the applicant to their business given they were increasingly wanting to step back from the day-to-day operation themselves and, in an act of obvious self interest, they agreed to the increase. The pay increase was significant, entirely legitimate and genuine. The job was now skilled based on the dollars per hour, pure and simple. 

The client has been being paid the higher amount now for around eight months and the Department has verified it.

What I had not bargained on was the vindictiveness or the stupidity of the immigration department (I am still trying to work out which). They have now threatened to decline the application on the basis that the job is not "genuine" and that the decision to increase the salary to a level that made it skilled represents "a threat to the integrity of the immigration system’. I don’t know whether to laugh or cry.

Despite numerous requests to the officer and her senior line managers to explain why someone already being paid the hourly rate that deems it to be skilled, it is suddenly a ‘threat’ to the system, neither the officer nor her managers will (can?) give an intelligent answer. The best the case officer - so clearly out of her intellectual depth - has come back with is that the salary increase was designed to secure residence and that represents a threat.

Of course the salary increase was designed to satisfy the simple rule. The reality is the applicant has been paid this for over eight months so how could it not be genuine? The rule book says that if you are being paid X dollars per hour then the position is skilled. The employer’s motivation for doing so is not part of the criteria.

Every day we advise employers and migrants on how to meet immigration rules. For example we often tell people who have jobs in Auckland that they will need at some point to get a job outside of Auckland in order to gain additional bonus points to meet the skilled migrant pass mark. Or we advise the employer to apply for ‘accreditation’ to create a work to residence pathway for the migrant.

We recently advised a company to restructure their existing employment agreement with an existing work visa holder so that the applicant’s remuneration changed from salary plus allowances (value $105,000) to a higher straight salary (of $105,000 and losing the allowances) in order to meet the criteria that allowed for 20 bonus points to be granted for higher salary. 

I have on numerous occasions advised people to complete qualifications, sometimes in New Zealand, in order to attract higher points.

In none of these cases has any client ever been accused of representing a threat to the integrity of the immigration system by organising their affairs in such a way that in doing so they will secure residence.

To credibly suggest that my client’s employer in giving a pay rise is a threat to the immigration system is a little bit like the tax department accusing someone who legitimately arranges their finances to minimise their tax bill as representing a threat to the integrity of the tax system.

A judge would laugh that right out of their court. 

Yet as the managers of the immigration department proclaim not knowing immigration rules and unleashing inexperienced and poorly trained immigration officers onto unsuspecting Visa applicants is the future, this is the kind of thinking that we are now dealing with. 

In 30 years it has never been this bad. 

The system is thoroughly broken. It is a rudderless ship without a captain, the first mate and senior officers huddled in a cabin removed from the ship’s staff and a significant number of the men and women below decks on the oars are untrained and inexperienced and seem to be pulling the oars in different directions. The ship’s owners just look the other way defending the fact the ship is going round and round in circles and not getting anywhere.

It is thoroughly depressing and I am worried that New Zealand is going to be denied more and more highly skilled migrants unwilling to put up with the risks. People that we so badly need to fill the thousands of vacancies being created each and every month. If, just once, we had a Minister of Immigration that had any idea of how visa processes work, the risks that migrants take to be part of the program, the barriers we put in the way of employers to employ migrants and the low calibre of people sitting in judgement, we might see some change. 

I am not holding my breath.

Until next week...

>> Southern Man on Instagram (New Zealand)
>> IMMagine Australia & New Zealand on Instagram
>> IMMagine Australia & New Zealand on Facebook


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...

>> Southern Man on Instagram (New Zealand)
>> IMMagine Australia & New Zealand on Instagram
>> IMMagine Australia & New Zealand on Facebook


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…’

Translation? 

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.

Harsh?

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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