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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.

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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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 in...business. 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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Who Controls the Past Controls the Future

Posted by Iain on June 8, 2018, 2:32 p.m. in Immigration

"Who controls the past controls the future. Who controls the present controls the past."

So says the Party in George Orwell’s epic novel, 1984.

I do love my day job, I really do. Not dealing with the Government, but helping clients deal with a Government Department where up is down and down is up and no two officers seem capable of implementing the same definitions consistently. A system where it feels the bureaucrats, at times, have what seems unbridled power, where the checks and balances of a competitive market do not apply, their timid and weak leadership is unwilling or unable to pull their troops into line and they employ some of the best spin to deflect their idiocy, inconsistency and weak management.

They can, and do, run roughshod over applicants (or as they call you all, ‘customers’ or the more sickening, ‘stakeholders’) and their own rulebook. I always wonder how someone can be a customer when you can’t get a visa anywhere else and the government operates a monopoly. I’d call you prisoners because you can’t go down the road to buy the service from someone who offers it better. You are forced into dealing with whatever idiot the government says you must.

We are doing some work for a major telco right now that has been trying, without success, to fill a large number of technical customer support roles. 

Unemployment in New Zealand is officially 4.4%. That effectively means we have no skilled unemployed and even the unskilled are able to find jobs if they look. As an example, the government recently announced that tourists on visitor visas would be given permission to help pick this year’s kiwifruit harvest in the Bay of Plenty because there is no one to pick the fruit and the danger is that it’ll rot before it can be picked. It’s hardly skilled work; it just takes attitude and getting out of bed for six weeks. I suspect then that our real unemployment rate, if that is defined as those wishing to work but cannot find it, is actually almost zero. Those that wish to work, are working.

The real businesses of New Zealand continue to create thousands of jobs every month. The economy is humming. The biggest problems employers have today across the country is a lack of applicants.

Back to the Telco. No company we have tried to help has spent more time, money and energy in recruiting locally, training, upskilling and promoting New Zealanders wherever possible. As they say, why would it be otherwise? They are a Kiwi company with Kiwi customers, and what company in its right mind would ever get involved with work and resident visas if they could find locals to fill vacancies? Who wants to deal with the Immigration Department?

Well, the Immigration Department seems to believe, many.

The positions the company seeks to fill are demonstrably skilled requiring these Customer Support folk to understand and dispense advice on IT products and services to their customers. Although they work in a call centre environment the evidence we presented to the Immigration Department clearly matches the tasks for what INZ call an ICT Customer Support role. Appeals have been won against the Department for incorrectly declining resident visa applications when identical roles as this Telco is needing to fill were labelled as not being skilled. INZ has ignored those appeal decisions.

The department is currently trying their utmost to turn down a request the company has made to be allowed to top up their local work force with non-residents via work visa policy. Notwithstanding the company sat with several INZ officials in a friendly and relaxed meeting in which the company felt they finally got through to INZ why these positions were skilled (beware the smiling fox was my advice at the time), showed them what the staff do, explained the difference between, say, a call centre worker selling cellphone data packages and one that requires detailed knowledge and understanding of the complex IT systems and software that smartphones run, INZ continues to insist that these roles are not skilled for the purpose of work visas. They have put that in writing. This role, duplicated across scores of workers does not meet the definition of skilled employment for work visas, they say.

The funny (peculiar, not 'ha,ha') thing is the residence team of the same Government department continues to approve and issue resident visas to the employees of this same telco already on work visas, because the position is deemed by them to be...skilled!

For the uninitiated, the definition of what is skilled for the purposes of securing a work visa is the same for the purposes of securing a resident visa.

You might want to read those last few paragraphs again. Not skilled for a work visa but skilled for a resident visa – applying the same definition.

Talk about Alice in Wonderland!

So...on the one hand, work visas, and the company’s application to recruit more ICT Customer Support staff is being knocked back because the role is not ‘skilled’, yet where other staff doing an identical job are applying for residence, applying the same test of what is ‘skilled’ they are being granted residence. As recently as a week or so ago.

At the same time and somewhat chillingly, officers of the Department are in effect threatening the HR Department of this company to stop calling the role ‘ICT Customer Support’ when they file work visas. Our advice to the company is because it is required to ‘nominate’ the occupation off INZ’s skilled occupation list and it is unlawful to mislead an officer or the Department (as they love to remind their ‘customers’), the company must select that occupation that most closely matches the tasks these people are to do. The closest match is, without a shadow of a doubt, exactly what the company is calling them.

Without strong representation from the likes of us, willing to stand up against ‘Big Brother’, it would be easy (some might even say sensible) for the company to cave in. The problem with that is if they do what the ‘Party’ tells them to do, the department can then control the past (‘last time you filed this sort of application you said it was a call centre customer role’) and in so doing they can control any future applications by forcing the company to do what the Department wants them to do.

Very Orwellian, and I read the Departmental spokeperson on this particular issue (it has made the mainstream media) advise, one presumes with a striaght face, that 'visas are assessed objectively against a set of measures and criteria'. Yeah, right. Of course they are - so how can the work visas be declined for not being skilled but the resident visas approved? One of those two outcomes simply has to be wrong if the Department is as claimed 'objectively assessing' them.

The Immigration Department is an embarrassment. Worse than that they hinder and obstruct business, they manipulate and frighten applicants, they seek control and one unit of the Department says a job is not skilled so we cannot give you a work visa yet those clients that manage to get past that particular set of functionaries and secure their work visas through another pathway (as many of them are bizarrely) are in time being granted residence by a different unit whose staff say the same job is skilled.

Even though we have pointed out this obvious contradiction INZ management refuse to see it. They refuse to acknowledge it and refuse to do anything about it.

I have often said if the Immigration Department was a business, as they like to call themselves, they’d have been bankrupted a long time ago. 

Just like in that great novel, 1984, however they try and control what everyone is meant to think.

It is dark and it is dangerous and till my team and I breathe our last, we will fight it.

Until next week...

Iain MacLeod, Southern Man


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Variables in 'Effective Hourly Rate'

Posted by Iain on April 27, 2018, 1:02 p.m. in Immigration

A few weeks ago I wrote a piece explaining that INZ now uses an ‘effective hourly rate’ to determine remuneration when deciding if a job is skilled or not under the Skilled Migrant Category. To be skilled, the effective hourly rate must be $24.29 to get ‘points’ for a skilled job. However, under the Work to Residence/Accredited Employer pathway, there is also a need to establish an effective hourly rate. 

Strangely (or not depending on your day job), INZ approaches what is in effect the same question with two different processes.

As the new skilled migrant policy is now a few months old, we are starting to get a better idea of how INZ is interpreting this ‘effective hourly rate’ instruction which, on the face of it, seems pretty straightforward. As usual in the world of visas and bureaucrats, it is anything but.

This is owing to the fundamental reality that out here in the real world, employment contracts are not standardised and most people are not paid on the basis of an effective hourly rate but by salary or wages.

Both now must be broken down into this ‘effective hourly rate’ to determine points for skilled employment.

Employment agreements/contracts in NZ must confirm the hours an employee might, is expected to or will work (so there are three variables to begin with). To cover the possibility/probability (two more variables) that from time to time or regularly or never, (three more variables) these hours might vary; most employment agreements will say something along the lines of ‘hours of work will be 40 per week and any other such hours as might be required from time to time’. This outlines what is expected but covers the possibility that more might be necessary. 

I can’t remember from my schoolboy maths what the possible total number of outcomes these variable might lead to, but it is a big number of possible permutations INZ has to deal with in deciding how many hours someone has, or wil work. 

How does INZ deal with that in terms of breaking it all down to an effective hourly rate?

Not very well, is the short answer. As it turns out, it depends which office is processing it (and likely which officer) and which category of visa it is - skilled migrant or residence form work (for an accredited employer).

As it turns out, the applicants pay cycle is being used - even though you’ll find no reference to this is the ‘rule’ book.

INZ can, if it looks like there is any chance of the hours being variable and the possibility exists that the hours are not fixed, (and an officer can request evidence of actual hours worked) will attempt to calculate the hours per week. If, say, the applicant is paid monthly and in one week of that month they work an additional 5 hours, then the total hours worked in the entire month will be added up and divided across that month to give an average weekly number of hours. That will naturally then reduce the overall effective hourly rate but not by very much.

However, if the applicant is paid weekly and five additional hours are worked over the month, then the effective hourly rate reduces far more because the pay-cycle used to calculate the hourly rate is shorter i.e. one week. So this person is assessed as working 45 hours per week. The one on the monthly pay cycle is assessed as being paid 41.25 hours per week (assuming INZ works on a four week month)

How bizarre is that?

You could then have two employees doing an identical job in the same company - both are earning say $25 per hour. One is on a monthly pay cycle and works an extra five hours every month. The second also works an additional five hours a month but is paid weekly. The second one now has a job that will no longer be deemed to be skilled because once calculated, their average earnings falls below the minimum threshold to be skilled, but the first is fine. Both work the same job for the same company doing the same hours for the same gross hourly wage but the outcome is that one is granted a Resident Visa and the other isn’t...

The clear lesson here is if you are in a job where you might, from time to time, work a bit of overtime and you don’t earn significantly more than $24.29 per hour, ask your employer to put you on a monthly pay cycle.

If you are on a Talent (Work) Visa and working for an accredited employer things are a little different but INZ is, as usual, not being definitive nor helpful about how they might calculate those hourly rates.

When assessing the Resident Visa claim following 24 months in work for an accredited employer, INZ has suggested they calculats hourly rates by taking the annual amount paid, dividing that by 52 weeks and then by the hours worked as per the contract. The minimum hourly rate required to achieve the minimum salary threshold is NZD$26.45 per hour based on a 40  hour week over 52 weeks. Thus, someone being paid $55,000 (being the current minimum annual gross salary) but working 41 hours or more per week would not qualify for their Resident Visa.

There is, however, no similar clause in the 'rule book' to that in the Skilled Migrant Category in terms of how to deal with any additional hours that might be required to be worked contained in the employment agreement when calculating additional hours.

INZ has vaguely suggested that they may request evidence of actual hours worked at Residence stage for a Work to Residence applicant, and then add the total actual hours worked across the entire period (2 years) and divide that by 104 (being 52 weeks x 2) to determine the actual hourly rate.

So two different divisions of INZ are tasked with calculating remuneration and both apply different assessment measures to establish effectively the same thing.

I don’t know how I still have any hair.

Until next week...

Iain MacLeod, Southern Man


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Changes to the NZ Work to Residence/Accredited Employer Policy

Posted by Iain on April 20, 2018, 4:19 p.m. in Immigration

Sources have confirmed that Cabinet recently signed off on changes to the Accredited Employer/Work to Residence Policy. Details are yet to be made public but will follow soon enough. 

Accreditation has historically been given to employers who are able to demonstrate - amongst other things - that they are worthy of this trusted status with the Immigration Department. Trusted to do the right thing by New Zealand and New Zealanders, which includes recruiting locally where possible, training and upskilling, offering opportunities to those already working at the companies, having solid Human Resource processes and practices, being financially stable and have had no issues in terms of employment disputes, problems with unions, workers’ rights and so on.

This policy was created a few years’ ago to provide a Work to Residence pathway for people with jobs that in recent times paid a minimum of $55,000.00 per annum. The idea behind it being that there are those who come to New Zealand and find work who make a very valuable economic contribution to that company and the country but who may never get enough ‘points’ to qualify for Residence under the Skilled Migrant Category or whose jobs are not defined as “skilled” under the points system. It was meant to compliment the Skilled Migrant Category objectives and appears to my mind to have worked well.

Accreditation has been a great tool for companies that have ongoing recruitment needs that cannot be satisfied locally. There is no labour market test attached to the resulting talent Visa applications which means employers haven’t needed to keep proving they cannot find staff in NZ but made a genuine effort to do so. In an extremely tight labour market where thousands more jobs are being created each month than there are people to fill them, offering this work to residence pathway is one way to help a company retain staff.

From the migrants perspective this Talent visa - which is a 30 month work visa - allows them to apply for a resident visa after 24 months. Partners and children are also granted temporary work and student visas and so receive access to the same care I receive and their school age children are treated as domestic students in terms of cost of education (paid for out of their taxes for the most part).

It is potentially a really good option for a lot of companies in a country where we simply don’t have enough people to fill the jobs being created while at the same time offering a more certain pathway to residence for those willing to commit and prove their value over that two years.

Around a year ago, I had an interesting conversation with the then Manager of the Business Migration Branch, the unit of Immigration that assess Employer Accreditation applications. I was asked if I’d seen any increased interest or activity in the market in respect of employers wanting to know about accreditation. I confirmed that I had not but it seemed fairly obvious to me, given the pass mark for Skilled Migrants had recently increased so dramatically, that employers in an increasingly candidate-short local labour market would turn to other avenues to secure the services of non-Resident staff in order for their businesses to keep expanding and growing. So I was expecting to see an increase. I added that we were encouraging more and more companies to consider accreditation, especially to find a solution for those clients already on the ground in New Zealand on Essential Skills Work Visas, who were perhaps 10–20 points short of the new pass mark of 160. A few took us up on the suggested advice, most rolled over and went back to sleep.

The Branch Manager expressed some concern that perhaps his unit would be overwhelmed with applications from employers to get this special status and suggested it was already starting to happen. I asked what the problem with that would be given this pathway was created as an alternative to the Skilled Migrant Category. It has its place in the market and does potentially provide New Zealand employers with a solution to a local labour market where we are increasingly finding companies advertising for roles and literally getting no local applicants whatsoever.

In typical Immigration New Zealand fashion, however, it was viewed a little differently it seems. The Manager suggested it could be abused. ‘Abuse’ in this context meaning too many employers, shut out of the skilled migrant pace through the massive increase in pass marks in late 2016, might look to it as a way to help secure the long term services of very good and capable migrants because it offered a pathway to residence for their employee and they were all but guaranteed to have the services of someone for around 30 months. Earth to INZ - not everyone is out to rort the system!

Furthermore, it does appear to me that when INZ policy people decide (or are ordered) to change one part of the visa machine, they often don’t appreciate, or to be fair because they don’t work out here in the ‘real’ world, appreciate the degree to which the market will react to that and try and find a solution elsewhere if a problem, such as where labour and skills shortages are very real and worsening, exists.

We had already seen some changes last year to the evidence employers had to present to secure accreditation status from what had historically been required. This change required employers to demonstrate that they had advertised the roles they were looking to fill later as accredited employers, including the salary that they were willing to pay for that role. Ordinarily employers in NZ don’t advertise salaries. I’ve never understood why.

Our information is that the minimum salary threshold to get a Talent Visa is about to be increased significantly and while we do not know yet to what level, it is reasonable to assume it will be less than $76,000.00 because as soon as someone is offered $76,000.00, the Skilled Migrant pathway and points system opens up to them (because if you are earning that much in NZ your job is automatically deemed to be skilled). We are picking somewhere between $65,000.00 and $70,000.00.

No doubt there will be one or two surprises in whatever Cabinet has signed off and when I consider that so much of policy seems to be set based on the misguided belief that people are out to rort the system, I wouldn’t be surprised to see some additional criteria perhaps such as adding a requirement around the number of employees a company must have in order to become an eligible accredited employer. That is pure speculation on my part I should add.

With all Immigration policy changes, there are unintended consequences. With employers now having to advertise the salary in their job adverts before they can apply for accreditation, it is reasonable to conclude that the impact of those changes last year might simply be to push up local wages and create a musical chairs situation where local employees in that occupation will go and apply for jobs with a company down the road, having seen the ad online, and apply for it because of a higher salary. That doesn’t increase the number of people in the labour market. I’m not suggesting that was the motivation for that change but those of us who live in a world where market forces are real, that would be an obvious outcome. If the new minimum salary became, say $70,000 then you imagine how that will go down in a company when the migrant worker is now earning say, $70,000.00 in the same role as a New Zealander who might only be earning $58,000.00. You’d not be surprised if all the staff doing that same job alsodemanded the higher salary - I certainly would. Will that financial reality put a break on companies expanding and growing?  Will companies simply decide not look offshore to fill the roles given the minimum salary might be higher than the market would usually pay in NZ? If so who does that help?

I also understand that people who are currently in New Zealand on Talent Visas should not expect the higher salary threshold to apply to them, whatever it might be. The new rule will not be retrospective. If, however, they change from one accredited employer to another before they file their resident visa, they will have to meet the new minimum salary threshold with the new employer.

When we know more, we will let you know.

Until next week...

Iain MacLeod, Southern Man


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