It's just a thought...
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Posted by Iain on April 3, 2020, 12:47 p.m. in New Zealand
A lot of people have been asking me lately what I think will happen once New Zealand comes out of lockdown in a little over three weeks. I think too many of you flatter me for my crystal ball gazing abilities, but I'm happy to tell you what I think as I have been doing as much reading as I possibly can over the past few weeks on the COVID-19 disease and thinking about how that will impact our economy, our employers and our clients.
According to a local expert on public health, Professor Michael Baker, New Zealand might be the only western nation to eliminate the virus - no other western nation is on track to do so. In Asia, only Taiwan, Singapore, Hong Kong, along with China might. It is sobering to note that this virus will infect around 60% of humanity and until a vaccine is developed, manufactured on a scale never seen before and distributed, Prof Baker estimates around 20 million people will die. Compare that to SARS when around 760 people died and more recently the Swine Flu which took around 500,000 lives.
It is going to decimate the global economy. I can see countries like South Africa, slip off the economic cliff they have been teetering over in recent years. My biggest fear in countries like that is the absolute breakdown of law and order. And not just South Africa, but in any country where public institutions are not strong or are not trusted by the societies they serve. And where poverty and living day to day is the way the majority of people live in ‘normal’ times. It almost doesn’t bear thinking about.
I am pretty sure the economic protectionist walls will go up. Even here in NZ, we have a Government making noises about getting into business. That is a blog topic all of its own. God help us if that happens. Public/private partnerships maybe, but the Immigration Department call themselves a business and they can’t even get their communication during this time out to their ‘customers’. They couldn’t run a business if their livelihoods depended on it.
Of course for us to have any chance this lockdown must be tight and rigidly (self) controlled.
Professor Baker believes, if we all do this in NZ for three more weeks, infections should peak in 7-10 days but having cut off the possible infection chains, should then go into fairly sharp decline.
Here, until a vaccine is created, manufactured and rolled out over the next 12 to 18 months, we are presumably going to see outbreaks popping up because we will probably never completely eliminate the virus from the population and because with everyone separated we're not going to build up any sort of ‘herd immunity’.
So what happens at the end of the lockdown if indeed we are on a path to eliminate the virus here?
My reading is the borders will essentially have to stay closed at the end of four weeks (no airlines to fly anyway) and will only gradually open up in the months that follow. If other countries haven’t eliminated it, we are not going to want those people coming here - or if we do, one presumes every person will be tested at the border (I understand there are now reliable ’15 minutes to get the result’ test kits) and if they prove positive, such travelers will go into some formal and mandatory quarantine.
We simply cannot shut ourselves off completely from the rest of the world until a vaccine is developed. If we do we will be eating turnips and hoeing the fields behind draught horses again.
After this four week lock down period, on the assumption the rate of infection is trending toward or has reached zero, and we are on the path to elimination, I suspect we will have the current Level 4 lifted in most parts, if not everywhere in New Zealand, and so long as we continue to practice social distancing, some, may be allowed back to work. I would not rule out an extension of the lockdown though for a week or two if we are still seeing infection outbreaks.
I can imagine a situation where government isolates villages, towns or even cities on an ongoing basis to snuff out any chance of rapid spread. Not quite sure how you do that practically, but you can't keep the whole country at home forever - will it mean roadblocks and the military, ah la Wuhan and other parts of the world? I suspect so.
I expect the government will have to consider allowing those sitting offshore with work visas, or who are granted work visas, and work in essential industries and in essential occupations (a list which I expect the immigration department to be working on now with our political leadership) will be expanded as they roll out the recovery program, allowing work visa holders to start entering (or returning to) New Zealand relatively quickly following the lifting of the Level 4 lockdown.
I don't think we're going to escape a significant jump in unemployment rates - economist are picking anything from 5% to "low double figures". That effectively means nobody knows.
I'm expecting the government to roll out some further business support. The Australian Government was very slow to start making any decisions over how to treat the virus (still is) but I can’t fault them on their support for businesses. What is on offer to help our business in Australia is greater than anything offered to us here in NZ, at least to date.
The early feedback we are getting from the labour market here is quietly positive and encouraging. Only a handful of clients have been given notice they are going to lose their jobs, the significant majority have not. I suspect the wage subsidy ($585 per full time worker per week for 12 weeks), is helping with that but I think most businesses are probably in something of a holding pattern, pending further announcements from the government. Many companies are cutting wages and salaries by 20% (the maximum allowed to keep the wage subsidy).
I’m confident further assistance is on its way as there is no government that wants to have 10% plus unemployment.
I'm also conscious that the majority of our clients are in highly skilled and specialised roles that are not going to be easily replaced even within a softening labour market. We are still 2000 teachers short and we aren’t going to be able to pull them out of any local hat any time soon. Ditto Engineers, particularly civil and construction related. Also Tradesmen, technical and IT workers.
I do expect it's going to take longer to get those jobs and we're probably back to looking at 3 to 4 months for many as we were back in the dark days of the global financial crisis that lasted around two years through 2009 and 2010.
I do believe that this recession is going to last at least as long as the GFC event and that means two years of (relative) high unemployment rates.
In the short term the government has somewhat clarified what options exist for families separated by the border closure. After a week of people like me demanding some degree of clarity, family members can now file an expression of interest in travelling and if they are invited to apply, can theoretically get a variation of conditions to their existing Visa. I have a few clients starting to apply for these but no outcomes at the time of writing. I’m advising most of my clients that applying for this seems to be a waste of time, at least while the country is in lockdown, because the starting point for any decision is that the border is closed and it is closed for good reason.
Anyone needing to travel during the lockdown period must show “exceptional circumstances”, have a ‘critical purpose’ and a ‘compelling’ reason to travel here - I don't think missing the wife and kids is going to cut it.
Also, it is worth noting, that no Skilled Migrant Category pool draw took place this week. I had previously been advised by a senior manager that it was going to, but in discussing this with at least one other industry colleague post the fact, she had heard from the department that it was not. I don't read anything into this not taking place beyond the fact that Immigration New Zealand’s comms are a disaster, INZ itself is in lockdown and their IT systems don't allow them to work remotely. There's no point selecting expressions of interest from the skilled migrant pool, if there's no one to process them.
At this point we can still file resident visa applications - they are simply piling up outside the branch office in their courier bags. We have been assured that will deem them to have been lodged, once INZ is back to opening the mail.
It would've been nice if the Communications team inside the department had signaled this week’s (and future?) pool draws were on hold. How hard would have been to have posted something on their website? No one appreciates the uncertainty - and the Department had a week following the lockdown to get ahead of this. They haven't bothered to, or have been incapable of doing so.
That’s my take on things folks. Interesting times.
Until next week (or next Covid-19 blog update)
Posted by Iain on April 3, 2020, 11:48 a.m. in New Zealand
No Skilled Migrant Category pool draw yesterday?
It appears no Skilled Migrant Category pool draw took place yesterday. We were advised by a senior INZ Manager a few days ago it was going ahead suggesting even senior management are out of the loop. No one from INZ has explained why, no press releases, nothing on INZ's web site, nothing sent to Advisers - yet again a communications void. I do not know what to read into this.
April 1 - Those stuck offshore
Late last night INZ released further information on who can travel to NZ while the borders are closed beyond the standard NZ citizens, permanent resident visa holders and Australian citizens or PRV holders who are usually resident in NZ. I note that no definition has been provided as to what 'normally' resident in NZ means which isn't very useful. Given a temporary visa is by its very definition for a finite, short stay it is hard to reconcile that with the holder having to show they'normally' live here. For how long? One month? Two months? Six months? Longer?
Government has put in place a process, via an online Expression of Interest, where you include your details and submit it. Someone, somewhere, somehow will make a call based on the information provided whether to approve a variation of conditions to the current visa being held by someone offshore which will, if successful presumably be annoted to includes words to the effects of 'Covid-19 response and during the border closure, the holder may travel to New Zealand before X date'.
You should note however the language used in the release.
'Consideration will only be made for people with exceptional circumstances who have a critical purpose for travelling to New Zealand. The starting point for any consideration is that for the protection of New Zealand the border is closed. Exceptions are only in place for extreme circumstances.'
The key words being 'exceptional', 'critical purpose', 'extreme circumstances' and the 'border is closed'.
That suggests a very high bar and I have a very strong feeling that missing your partner and or the children will not cut it.
Who then might this apply to and who not?
1. Most importantly for our clients - the partner and/or dependent child of a work or student visa holder (who is currently in NZ) may be granted entry as an exception so long as the offshore (not in NZ) visa holder 'normally' resides in NZ. This suggests if you have previously visited NZ, your partner or parent is still in NZ, you may be in with a shot. Without wishing to burst any bubbles, I don't think they will say yes but it may be worth a crack.
If however you have never used the temporary visa you hold to travel to NZ, you will not be approved.
2. Those who have been granted a resident visa but never used it to travel to NZ will not be allowed to enter - unless one of the the criteria in point 3 below applies.
3. Partners, dependent children and legal guardians of:
i. New Zealand Citizens or permanent resident visa holders may be okay, and
ii. New Zealand resident visa holders who are travelling to New Zealand for a second or subsequent time, may be okay and
iii. New Zealand resident visa holders whose resident visa was granted in New Zealand are okay
The kicker however is that the NZ resident or citizen party must themselves also be offshore (not in NZ) and travelling on the same flight as those with temporary visas if they are approved to travel.
There are others but these are the ones critical for our clients.
As we learn more, we will post more.
MARCH 30 - A few Visa changes
Government has today eased the work visa requirements for two groups of workers for a period of 30 days freeing them up to undertake more hours of work or to work in a role different to that specified if they hold a work visa:
Supermarket employees – only those as part of the Woolworths or Foodstuffs groups may now do any sort of work for that employer; and
Student Visa holders – where they were restricted to 20 hours per week, they no longer are (but it is not clear if there is any maximum hours of work they can work – one assumes so long as the amended employment relationship complies with all employment law, then the visa holder will be acting within these new 30 day rules.
MARCH 24 - What Visas Can Be Applied For On Partial Lockdown?
What visas can and cannot be filed?
The Resident Visa Operations Manager has confirmed this afternoon that:
1. Expressions of Interest (EOIs) under the Skilled Migrant Category can still be filed. The SMC fortnightly selection process is still underway or at least no official decisions have been made about stopping them. I do expect delays in getting Invitations to Apply (ITA), if any ITAs are generated at all. No word yet on how INZ will treat Resident Visa applications that cannot be filed within the four month deadline who have received an ITA.
2. Any Resident Visas filed (manually, in paper form, as they must be) will not be receipted nor entered into the system for allocation and processing. However, INZ will it seems ’deem it to have been lodged’ subject of course to checking in due course it meets the mandatory requirements to be receipted and accepted for processing.
3. Temporary visas - work, student and visitor - can still be filed electronically. I think it reasonable to expect delays in processing….
(i) Any person with a temporary visa expiring before 1 April must file a new application prior to 1 April. This needs to be done online. No information on what evidence INZ is expecting to accompany it e.g. are applicants for a work visa for example expected to provide evidence of labour market shortages? No idea…. Minimum lodgement requirements for a visa to be accepted under the Act is form (online), fee, passport sized photo (jpeg) and passport (copy). It should be noted that what is on INZ’s website and what the PM suggested a couple of hours later was slightly different and might be interpreted in a slightly different way. What we think the message here is tough is if you are INZ and your temporary visa is going to expire before 9 July, don’t worry….
(ii) Those with temporary visas expiring between 1 April and 9 July will according to INZ’s website be granted a new visa. What they do not explain is whether that is automatic (but that is what will means) and we note they have not advised if they expect any online application to accompany that. A strict reading of their website suggests not but we learned a long time ago (like Friday) that what they publish in their rule book and on their website are often two different things.
4. Those needing to apply for a variation of conditions on a work visa (changing like job for like job in the same region) must continue to do so manually. It is logical to assume that these applications will be held till the Department re-opens. I am giving the advice to our clients that they take up the new role. I am giving that advice because I know our applications are ‘decision ready’ and there is no reason for INZ not to approve it when they can.
That’s it for now folks.
Hoping the INZ Comms people get a whole lot more detailed in their advice.
MARCH 23 - NZ Complete Lockdown Wednesday
Last Thursday the NZ Government closed our borders to travel only to New Zealand citizens and residents.
A few hours ago, the Prime Minister announced New Zealand will be in full lockdown by Wednesday afternoon for a period of four weeks (initially). This means the immediate closure today of all non-essential businesses. Schools will be closed from Wednesday.
I think in the end the Government just couldn’t get through to enough people how grave this situation is.
Everyone in the country will be expected to isolate (individually or in self isolating groups) from today. This means an extended ‘staycation’. We are not prisoners in our homes, we are allowed to go out for walks and exercise for example but we must only do it with those people that we are isolation with. And stay 2 m metres away from others.
Supermarkets, pharmacies, hospitals and pizza parlours will remain open. Just joking. Anywhere where people gather inside or outside is now closed for the next four weeks including pizza restaurants, all bars, restaurants, theatres, gyms - all those communal places that you might imagine - anywhere human beings may gather in any sort of numbers.
This is drastic and even though there was only 100 reported cases earlier today including two believed to be community spread, the Prime Minister has acted decisively and sensibly in my view. As I indicated on Friday in my blog the government has announced further support mechanisms for business owners and their employees.
If we don't do those the Prime Minister stated the medical advice is that ‘tens of thousands of New Zealanders’ would have died. Reading between the lines she still expects many to not survive this outbreak but it does appear that we have got well ahead of where countries like the US, Italy and dare I say it, South Africa are likely to be in the coming weeks.
We are basically cutting ourselves off from the rest of the world apart from freight and the travel of essential personnel across the border.
Obviously clients have a million questions but one million is probably at least one fewer than we have right now. Here is what we can tell you:
1. The Immigration Department has been woeful in their communications over all of this. We know through ‘out of office’ auto replies a number of Managers are not in the branches and a few minutes ago I was advised by a senior official that all staff will now be sent home. I have been told in the past few minutes INZ is closed for business. He awaits advice from the Minister over what functions might continue - the rest are on holiday. I am told the only parts of INZ that are ‘essential business’ is their border unit. Visa processing onshore has now halted. Offshore offices might have some limited processing but given the border is closed it is hard to see the point….
2. Later this evening the Prime Minister will issue an ‘epidemic notice’. What this means is under the Epidemic Preparation Act 2006, anybody who is in New Zealand and whose Visa expires cannot become unlawful. Anyone then reading this in the country who cannot file another application or who has and which now will not be processed, for whatever reason - can stay in the country without fear.
3. Some clients, already in NZ and looking for jobs, are asking us whether they should stay on their visitor visas or head home. We cannot give a blanket answer to that one as everyone’s circumstances are different. The reality is they cannot become unlawful if they feel safer in New Zealand than in other countries (and again I'm thinking specifically of South Africa and my grave fears for how Covid-19 is going to unfold there). Those on visitor visas are not going to have access to the health system beyond the normal accident related issues should they have one but again you must weigh up the realities of what happens when, not if, our hospitals are overwhelmed with New Zealanders needing a bed. It has to be questionable how many employers are going to be offering too many people too many jobs for a number of months. You need to weigh up how long your money will last, what financial or family support you might have here.
4. We have a number of clients who have been separated from their family who want to know if those family members overseas can fly and join them. According to the published rules where one partner is in New Zealand on a work or student visa and the rest of the family is offshore with visas of their own, they can fly - but all our clients trying to fly have been prevented from doing so. We have a number of clients separated by the virus and the border closure desperate for clarity. This is what the rule book says:
1. Humanitarian reasons
2. Essential health workers as confirmed by the Ministry of Health
3. Other essential workers as defined by the New Zealand Government
4. Citizens of Samoa and Tonga for essential travel to New Zealand
5. Partners or dependants of a temporary work or student visa holder, and currently resident in New Zealand where the temporary work or student visa holder is currently in New Zealand.’
Although, in point 5 above, the second part of the sentence is absolute gibberish, the first part is very clear. If you are not in New Zealand but you hold a temporary visa and your partner, or in the case of a dependent child, is in New Zealand currently on a work or student Visa you should on a case by case basis, as an exception, be allowed to board your flight to New Zealand.
We have begged the Immigration Department to clarify this because point 5 above is pretty simple to understand… if anyone is overseas looking to join a partner who is in New Zealand on a temporary work or student visa, and who goes to the airport to check-in, you can expect the airline to call the Immigration Department in New Zealand and while the answer should be that you should be able to travel - they probably won’t let you.
No one can tell us why.
Either we don’t understand English, the rule as written is incorrect or the airlines have been told something different.
What infuriates me is what happens to clients that should have been allowed to fly but were kept out by incorrect advice being given to airline staff, if indeed the idea was they should have been able to come to NZ.
Although there is an awful lot happening at the moment in New Zealand and I'm sure these government agencies are busy, we are mortified that we are all being left in the dark not just in terms of who can still travel to New Zealand but what is happening inside the department itself. It is shameful.
Stay tuned for more updates as we can provide them.
MARCH 19 #2 - Exceptions to the Border Closure
Following on from our newsflash of a few minutes ago, INZ has just posted a very hastily written piece of advice on their INZ website which seems to contradict what the Prime Minister said earlier today. The website states and I quote verbatim:
‘Exceptions can be made on a case by case basis by Immigration New Zealand for:
The holder of a visitor visa who is the partner of (sic) dependent of a temporary work or student Visa holder and who normally lives in New Zaland (sic) and is currently in New Zealand’
There are a number of obvious questions that I have sought answers to including:
1. Is there a formal process to gain an exception and what is the process?
2. Why only visitor visas or is this a typographical error or omission? There are plenty of clients who have partnership work visas for example who I don’t imagine the government meant to exclude.
3. How do we define “who normally lives in New Zealand’?
I have sought some answers from a very senior manager in charge of temporary visas and as soon as we know the answer we will come back to everyone. I do believe that if you do hold a valid temporary visa of any kind and your partner is in New Zealand then they’re not trying to exclude those people.
Presumably however they will require the recently arrived family to go into isolation but I suspect it will be a small price to pay.
Until we can find out more…..
MARCH 19 - NZ Border Closure
At 6 pm New Zealand time the Prime Minister of New Zealand announced that the border is being closed to all non-New Zealand citizens and non (permanent) resident Visa holders, effective 11.59 tonight NZ time.
She has not given any indication how long this ban on people entering will be in place.
Anybody who is “en route to New Zealand” is not covered by the ban and will be allowed to enter. What we cannot tell anyone is if that means your last airport if you are transitting to the country e.g Sydney or where you started your journey e.g. Johannesburg. The not unexpected bombshell (rumours have been swirling al day) is a little short on detail.
It should be noted that anyone who is in New Zealand on a work, visitor or student Visa and who was expecting a partner and/or children to join them, needs to understand this will now no longer be possible. The government has only said that medical personnel and limited “humanitarian" cases will be exempt. Again, no detail on what constitutes humanitarian but I don’t expect it will mean partners and children of those in New Zealand on temporary visas.
I’m hopeful there will be more detail available to us in the morning New Zealand time and I urge you to contact your lead consultant here IMMagine.
I do know the only way we are going to get rid of this virus is for everybody to self isolate, practice strict ’social distancing’ and this is one part of the NZ Government’s plan to ensure the health of New zealandrs and it is a prudent decision which will lead to the quickest way of ridding ourselves of the virus.
MARCH 14 - Mandatory self-isolation for all travellers to NZ from Sunday night
In the interests of getting ahead of the breaking news we are sending this message to all our clients. I intend for all our clients to be contacted who might be affected by this on Monday when the team is in the office and you are welcome to email your lead consultant (or me) any questions you might have in the meantime.
A couple of hours ago the NZ Government announced all passengers arriving in NZ will be required to ‘self isolate’ for 14 days. This takes effect at midnight tomorrow (Sunday).
This is not a travel ban.
Only those travelling on Iranian and Chinese passports or who are transiting through those countries en route to NZ (if that is even possible today) are actually banned from entering New Zealand. Everyone else remains welcome once they’ve done their 14 days of laying low.
We await further details of exactly what self isolation means. I am still in South Africa along with my wife and youngest son and we won’t be home till the new isolation rule is put in place so we are going to find out soon enough but clearly it is going to be a voluntary thing and it’s more ‘taking one for the team’ than anything the Government can actually control. I am assuming that we will still be able to head out to the supermarket and pharmacy (although of course you can order everything you need online and have it delivered in NZ). And I’m not sure how anyone could be stopped anyway….
Part of me says this is an over reaction. Here in South Africa there has been one reported case of the coronavirus although I am sure there are many more not yet reported. The reality is I’d have more chance of getting the virus if I was working in my Melbourne, Australia office!
Another part of me says it is better that we take the hard economic hit this will undoubtedly cause and come out of the ‘pain’ sooner than those countries stiff faffing around (like the US) or who moved too slow and too late (Italy).
I wish everyone though would just listen to the science here - this virus DOES NOT KILL 98% of those that get it. Hells bells, even Tom Hanks thought he just had a cold!
The fact is however the government has made this move and we need to live with it.
To those clients planning on travelling to find jobs our advice it so ‘keep calm and carry on’ with the plan. Getting jobs takes 6-12 weeks for the vast majority of our clients so spending the first 14 das getting over jet lag, chilling and starting to apply for jobs online is not going to be too much of an inconvenience.
Posted by Iain on March 20, 2020, 8:54 a.m. in New Zealand
At every consultation I have I remind people that the strategy we offer is based on a snapshot of their future eligibility for NZ or Australia. This is because there are so many steps and applications to third parties, English exams, skills assessments, qualification assessments, finding jobs and so on before anyone can file a visa. I warn those looking to make the move that every day they delay executing the strategy we offer, is another day for the Government to change the visa rules or things to change. I am sure more than a few think this is cynical sales talk. It has never been so.
Well, this week is the best example of that very good, non ‘sales’ related advice, I can think of!
What a week.
Last night the NZ Government announced they were closing the border from midnight. This applies to everyone except NZ citizens or (permanent) resident visa holders and on a 'case by case basis' some temporary visa holders whose partner or parent (if the visa holder is a dependent child) is in NZ on a temporary work or student visa (note, not visitor visa) and whose partner or parent is currently in New Zealand. Although the situation is rapidly evolving, INZ's messaging and advice was predictably muddled and confusing.
I have to presume that this border closure for NZ and Australia will be in place for at least a month, but I am picking it is more likely to be 12 weeks at least, as it will take that long to work this virus out of our systems. That is pure speculation on my part based on watching China, Hong Kong and Singapore deal, pretty effectively, with the virus.
I expect more restrictions on movement and gatherings will be put in place locally in NZ (and I expect, Australia).
Last week ‘self isolation’, ‘social distancing’ and ‘flattening the curve’ were all new terms for me, now it is as if they have been part of my vocabulary forever!
My wife, Karina, son Tom and I arrived back in New Zealand on Monday night from South Africa to mandatory 14 day self isolation. I left my colleague Paul behind in South Africa to do a series of seminars starting Monday evening.
We are cutting short his trip and he is flying home today, while we have the chance to get him on a flight. I don't think it will be long before all airlines are grounded except for vital trade/cargo routes. And even then only with Government support.
On Sunday night the South African President decided, belatedly in my view, it was time to address his nation on the imminent threat of Covid-19 and the measures being put in place to deal with the coronavirus, including banning meetings of 100 people or more. I suspect the horse has already bolted.
I couldn’t believe how this time last week while I was in South Africa, Covid-19 seemed such a non issue while it was rapidly spreading around the world and had already arrived in SA. Given our seminars see between 300-400 people attending we scrambled to secure multiple nights at the venues we'd booked to present two or three seminars to smaller audiences.
Unfortunately, all the hotels and venues have decided to either close for the next 6 weeks or so or are limiting meetings to no more than 10 people. No use to us, that's a knitting circle not an immigration seminar.
So Paul is heading home into self isolation.
Our Government has warned New Zealanders if they want to get home they need to leave wherever they are without any delay. As more and more airlines ground their fleets, it is definitely going to get harder to get to Australia or New Zealand over the next few weeks.
We have made a few key decisions this week:
1. All staff in Melbourne and Auckland will largely be working from home for the foreseeable future so we can minimise contact and ensure ‘social distancing’. We will have minimal and purely essential staff in the offices. The decision to spend big a few years ago on our own bespoke CRM allowing us to work from anywhere with wifi now looks like a very sensible business investment. I don’t expect clients will notice any difference to the way they interact with us.
2. Seminars - having had seminars cancelled in South Africa and made difficult in Hong Kong owing to their recent decision for almost everyone landing in Hong Kong to self isolate for 14 days, we are shortly going to offer our first online seminar to audiences in Singapore and Hong Kong. Once we iron out any wrinkles we will start offering them to our South African clients in a few weeks. In some ways I'm quite excited because the technology now exists for us to do this in a way that even a few years ago, we couldn't. Adversity sometimes forces change and those changes can be very positive. The end of my seeming never ending jetlag?
I have been very reassured by the reaction of our clients, virtually all of whom are carrying on with the process of migration and looking beyond the border closures.
For those, particularly in South Africa, who might be worried about their employment prospects, particularly in New Zealand given you need jobs to get enough ‘points’ to get visas, can I add some words of relative comfort. I have been through a few financial crises now - the 1998 Asian Financial Crisis, the fallout from the New York terrorist attacks in 2001 and the GFC of 2009/2010. None were pleasant, yet almost all clients coming to the country were still able to secure jobs. Over the past two years the majority of clients have been taking between two and eight weeks to find employment, I imagine we will be looking at three to four months or so, as clients were back in the GFC of 2008 - 2011.
I don’t want to sugar coat what is happening however. This virus is going to tip New Zealand and Australia into instant recessions. Economists here believe that the fiscal stimulus should limit it to around a 1% contraction.
Governments of both countries have cut interest rates to virtually zero and significant fiscal stimulus packages have been announced. Earlier this week the NZ government announced $5 billion of wage subsidies and health spending to prepare for the inevitable uptick in patients needing hospitalisation, equipment and if they can find them, personnel. Wage subsidies are being put in place for 12 weeks to assist employers keep staff (if you take the subsidy you cannot lay anyone off).
The Minister of Finance advised the package, amounting to 4% of GDP, is ‘just the beginning’.
The advantage NZ has is we have very low levels of public debt which currently runs around 19.5% of GDP (Italy by comparison has debt levels of 134% of GDP, the US in the order of 105% and South Africa around 65%). Our government therefore has a lot of room to borrow big and borrow cheap to get us through the next 12-24 months.
I couldn’t find a single economist finding fault with their announcements on keeping the money flowing. The sharemarket has been pretty stable this week while carnage has been the order of the day on most international sharemarkets.
On Thursday the NZ Government also announced a $54 billion infrastructure spending package covering projects over the next ten years. I suspect they were going to wait for the May budget to announce this (we are in an election year) but they wanted to give certainty to the construction companies and others that big money will be flowing as we build roads, freeways, light and heavy rail and public transport.
I expect other ‘war time’ measures to be announced over the next couple of weeks.
The Australian Government is busy announcing similar policies.
If you are sitting wondering if you are about to jump out of a frying pan into a fire (particularly those of you in South Africa) allow me to offer you some perspective on the risks. South Africa, before the outbreak of Covid-19 a couple of weeks ago, had 30% unemployment, was in a recession, had an insecure energy supply leading to power black outs virtually every day of 2-4 hours, had an insolvent national airline, bankrupt municipalities and affirmative action policies meaning the first people to lose their jobs as the recession deepens, as it will, will likely be you.…
However bad South Africa has got in recent years, it is about to get worse by degrees.
How will South Africa be able to respond when, not if, the virus gets into the overcrowded and unsanitary townships when you already have a health system that in the best of times cannot provide care for the majority of South African citizens?
New Zealand has been creating thousands more jobs every month for two years than we have had pepole to fill them. We continue to not produce enough teachers, engineers, IT workers and many more. Demand will take a hit but we come off a base of such accute skills shortages, the demand will not dry up.
If you lose your job or fear losing your job in South Africa you will still be far more employable in New Zealand than in South Africa no matter what happens here. I have long liked the frying pan and fires analogy when it comes to leaving South Africa (understandably worried about job prospects) and many South Africans and other potential migrants have asked themselves if in search of a better future they are jumping out of a frying pan into a fire by considering migration at any time. My view on South Africa has long been, that you are actually already sitting in the fire, upon which fuel is about to be poured. Migration is always hard and it is about to get a lot harder. It won’t be comfortable for a while but you won’t burn in the fire either.
I was in Hong Kong a little over a month ago. The economy is tanking there the strict border control and isolation measures, including shutting down schools, but they have shown the world how to get on top of this virus. Singapore has achieved it slightly differently but no less effectively.
I am absolutely confident NZ will cope with this. And the border closure is part of that. Shutting down the economy for three months works. It's incredibly painful and that pain awaits New Zealanders and Australians, but shutting down the border is really the only way of stopping more cases of those with the virus entering our countries.
In NZ, Australia, Hong Kong and Singapore these measures are by and large understood and accepted by almost everyone.
I am less confident about South Africa and if I had the chance to leave I’d be looking to do so, no matter how long our borders remain closed.
For those clients headed for Australia, short of any change in Government policy you are in a very good position. The process to get the visa is taking around a year to 15 months at the moment, you have the thick end of 12 months to get to Australia to activate the family’s visas once approved and you have at least another 12 months, if you headed home, to go back to Australia and settle - that’s a very enviable four year window which allows Australia plenty of time to right the economic ship which will be listing for a year or two like the rest of us.
Make no mistake, as someone who has seen a few recessions, the next few months will be brutal on all of us to a greater or lesser extent.
NZ has taken the first step in closing ourselves off from the world and although it is not good for the economy, it is the only thing to do. The US, Europe and every other nation on this planet need to do the same thing or this virus will linger and fester and destroy economies, and kill thousands more people. If we can take the hit, bear the pain and then rebuild, we will get through this.
I’d far rather take that hit in a first world, law abiding land of plentiful energy and food like New Zealand than anywhere else on this planet.
Until next week,
Posted by Iain on Dec. 20, 2019, 11:13 a.m. in New Zealand
It is sometimes lost on us, as we live our ordinary and for the most part, urban, lives, so utterly disconnected from nature, just how wonderful this country of Aotearoa/New Zealand really is. Often we only appreciate it when we step out of our comfort zone and head for the hills (or in my case, mountains).
We are surrounded in New Zealand by nature and it is cheap and accessible on all levels. Within 40 minutes’ drive of downtown Auckland we have beaches with few or no one on them, regional parks and reserves, conservation areas where battles rage against introduced pests and predators, marine reserves that hark back to pre-human days still exist and all can be enjoyed at minimal to no cost.
Travelling a little further afield, I left the humid northern summer of Auckland last week and flew to Queenstown in the South Island where the temperature in the mountains was around 10 degrees cooler than I had left.
I then spent three days walking the Routeburn Track with my wife and some good friends. The Routeburn is a 35 kilometre, three-day hike across the Harris Pass dividing a mountain range and several valleys.
There are two types that ‘do’ this track. There is what is known as ‘independent’ walkers, those who carry everything on their backs and stay in very comfortable, warm and dry (free, can you believe it?) Department of Conservation huts (dormitory sleeping and no showers!) or for the more well-heeled, you can pay Ultimate Hikes, which has a concession in this and the Milford Track to provide guides and accomodation, as we did. They have their own accomodation (with showers!) and chefs so while you carry your own kit, they provide the (most excellent) food and bedding.
The Routeburn starts in the Fiordland National Park and ends in the Mount Aspiring National Park.
Day one saw us dropped off halfway to the more famous Milford Track, climb steadily though Beech forest, stripping off layers of clothes until we finally got to the (winter) snow line where the forest ended and the alpine vegetation began. A well-formed and relatively easy side track took us up to 900 metres above sea level where we were still dwarfed by towering mountains, topped with the last of the winter snow, and deep glacier carved valleys stretched out in all directions.
After six or so hours of hiking over some 15 km, we arrived at the MacKenzie Hut where tired feet were consoled by excellent local, Central Otago wines and a hearty meal. At the latitude we were at (think southern France for those of you that know Europe) it seemed like the sun was never going to set. At 10pm it was still only dusk. A rare teat indeed for we northern New Zealanders where even on the longest day of the year the sun is gone by 8.45pm. Pink clouds snuggled the nearby mountains, enveloping us after dark and providing a gentle patter rain through the night. Thankfully it was gone with a crisp dawn.
We had gone to sleep and woken up to the sound of the local mountain parrot, known as the Kea, screeching and squawking. These birds, only live above or about the snow line, and are said to have the intelligence of a 3-4 year old human. The stories you hear about what these critters can do as they work individually or in teams to solve (usually food related) puzzles was absorbing as the guides shared their experiences observing them over the years. Like the pair working in unison on getting into one of the cabins — one landing on the door handle of a room while another sits at the bottom ready to push the door open with its shoulder makes you look at them a with a profound respect.
Day two started with 30 minutes in dense beech forest with a floor littered with giant boulders cracked from the valley walls or pushed down the valley by advancing glaciers thousands of years ago. It is almost impossible to describe and I am not a good enough wordsmith to do it justice. Picture if you will 20 metre high trees, growing on or in between massive boulders. Every surface of every rock, the forest floor and even the trunks themselves were padded with many different species of moss, lichens and liverworts. The only visible stone was on our pathway. It was so ‘Lord of the Rings’ but no set designer or builder could have ever imagined or created anything as beautiful. Every shade of green you can imagine everywhere you looked.
There had been so much rain the previous month (the next valley over had had 2600mm of rain - that’s no typo…) in four weeks, everything was dripping or felt like a wet sponge when touched. We had to take a detour out of camp because the usual way out of the camp was under a metre of water.
Higher and higher we trundled and the forest gave way to the most amazing abundance of alpine plants, many in flower. Many plants in New Zealand owing to millions of years of isolation often resemble plants of a quite different genus or even family. The best of them was the Mount Cook Lily. What looks like a lily actually turned out to be a buttercup. Pure white petals surrounding a bright yellow centre, they only flower for three weeks a year and we happened to be there during one of those three.
The walk was punctuated every 50 to 100 metres by waterfalls, some over 100metres high, tumbling off almost vertical valley sides. Scores of them. Waterfalls with the sweetest, freshest water you have ever drunk. Side note: how depressing it was that our guides felt obliged to advise those ‘uncomfortable’ filling their water bottles from these purest sources of water that if they wanted sterilisation tablets they could be supplied with them. Who could be ‘uncomfortable’ drinking water that may well have fallen from the sky hundreds of years ago and lay locked up in glaciers before being perfectly filtered through layers of moss? I swear I have never drunk water so sweet. But how far removed from mother nature so many urban dwellers have sadly become.
Day 3 was a doddle 9 km walk. Downhill, our backs to a mighty waterfall we descended back into the beech forest, snacked by a glacial fed river and a forest full of bird song. The past seven years has seen active pest control meaning the valley is once again habitable for some of our most precious and rare native species and they are finally able to reestablish viable breeding groups.
Lunch in a corner of a winding river running deep and crystal clear. Every rock and every pebble visible given the clarity of the water. A deep gorge sliced through by often raging waters, we were treated to the seemingly fearless South Island Robin, a bird of black and cream, hopping onto our hiking boots and picking at the gravel where we had had scratched the surface, looking for its next meal.
We were reminded once again of the volume of rain this part of New Zealand can get. I am not far off six foot in height and standing up the trees above my head were laced with mats of grasses and other dead vegetation, caught in the branches when the river was last in flood a few days before we got there. Huge logs, stripped bare of any remnant foliage, balancing precariously on house sized rocks some two metres above the river level. According to our guides they hadn’t been there a week before….
You are left in no doubt in New Zealand of the awesome power of nature. In particular, and in the lower south west of the South Island the immense power of water, whether frozen or liquid to shape and define the landscape.
Equally, you get to share an experience out of the ordinary and enjoy a part of New Zealand where depressingly few people venture. It was great to share the experience with a group of Japanese tourists, the oldest I understood to be about 70, a couple from San Francisco and another from Taiwan. The enthusiasm of the young guides from New Zealand was infectious.
To those of you who have moved here or will move here, I wrote this time last year about walking the Milford track in November 2018 - a valley or three removed from the Routeburn. I may have mentioned a bucket list and although I don’t have one of those, the Milford Track being ranked one of the top walks in the world, was always a must do for me. I didn’t think it could be beaten. While it was epic, if you want something a little quicker and less difficult on the body, add the Routeburn to your list. I think most older children could manage it, so if you have any and you want to experience a true ‘100% Pure NZ’, the Routeburn is for you.
You can do it cheap (actually the whole thing is free including the accomodation) and carry your own bedding and two minute noodles or do it ‘easy’(er) and book through Ultimate Hikes.
But please do it. I get so frustrated that so many people move here for the wonderful New Zealand lifestyle but never get out into these places. I think the south African clients make the effort coming from a similarly outdoor culture but the clients from Singapore and Hong Kong? Get out of Auckland’s shopping malls this summer and get into the heart of ‘God’s own’ country.
This will be the last Southern Man for the year. We close today at mid-day. What a year it has been. We are currently assisting over 650 families to make a permanent move to New Zealand or Australia. It has been a year of cuts from the Governments of both countries, depressingly sensitive to the politics of immigration despite the unarguably positive aspects of ‘new blood’. In New Zealand, we end the year with increasing pressure on the Immigration Department which seems to have moved from a state of chaos last year, to I suspect, breaking point now. Resident visa applications, that a year ago were taking six months to process are now, with a few exceptions, taking over 18 months. While I hope that 2020 will be the year the department finally gets its act together I won’t be holding my breath.
Will 2020 be the year of higher pass marks for skilled migrants coming to New Zealand as we head into an election year? I don’t rule it as the Government has so dismally failed to deliver on most of what it promised such as more housing and continues to have its immigration agenda controlled by the New Zealand First leadership that they chose to jump into a coalition bed with.
I confess for the first time in a long time, despite the fact that jobs continue to rain down on almost all of our clients, I am worried that the economic need for every single one of you that chooses to come and join us here, might be tossed on the pyre that is an election year bonfire. The minority coalition partner will do and say anything to appeal to the small number of New Zealanders that think migration is a bad thing (at last election they amounted to 7% and polling 4% now) and which trots out the anti-migrant rhetoric every three years to keep its status of kingmaker.
Those peaceful mountains suddenly feel a distant memory.
Have a peaceful and restful Christmas as we, at IMMagine, intend doing in the best kept secret on planet Earth.
Posted by Iain on Nov. 8, 2019, 3:45 p.m. in New Zealand
A week ago a client, whose heart was clearly never really in the process, decided to leave New Zealand after two weeks in the country looking for work. We got a lengthy email telling us how unaffordable it is.
The fact that he never resigned his job in South Africa suggested to me a half-hearted effort. He never really wanted to leave behind his (good, well-paying by SA standards) job and his South African ‘lifestyle’ for his children, despite what he had told us. Although we warned him getting work inside of two weeks is usually reserved for teachers and tradesmen, he seems to have spent the entire two weeks convincing himself that he was going to be poor if he moved to this country.
As my colleagues and I explain to anyone who listens, until you have a job, hold a work visa and are earning local currency, you cannot get all the cost of living advantages that tourists, like him, cannot get (and therefore cannot see or possibly imagine). Education that is 97% funded out of our taxes, health care the same, drugs (prescription, I hasten to add) that are virtually ‘free’ is not something tangible a tourist (looking for work) will see for the most part because it comes later, after there is a job in hand. Likewise access to social security and pensions most of which are funded out of taxes are not on view for those visiting for two weeks.
All the South African sees is house prices (eye watering) and a cup of coffee costing twice as much as in South Africa. Suddenly New Zealand is unaffordable….
Garbage for the most part of course.
This viewpoint is reinforced by the Global Wealth Report released by Credit Suisse last week naming New Zealand as the fifth wealthiest nation on the planet on a per capita basis.
The countries ahead of NZ? Switzerland, Hong Kong, USA and Australia (4th).
While global growth in wealth increased by 2.6% over the past year, in New Zealand each adult New Zealander was more wealthy than the year before by around 3.1%.
Rising house prices was a large contributor to that growth which makes me wonder a little. I always say a house is only worth what someone writes me out a cheque for, if and when I sell it. Telling me my house is worth $1 million is all well and good - I don’t have $1 million in my pocket. I might feel wealthier but unless I am buying and selling real estate all the time for most of us the value isn’t being realised (don’t start me on capitalism as a giant Ponzi scheme please).…
In New Zealand around 47% of an individual’s wealth comes from the value of their property so any downturn in that assets class is going to lead to us getting ‘poorer’. Our wallets wouldn’t be any fuller or emptier but I suspect we would feel ‘poorer’.
Of interest in the local context is personal debt has been falling in relative terms since the start of the GFC in 2008. That event I suspect gave us all a bit of a fright. With record low interest rates most people (I know) have kept up the mortgage/bond payments at the same rate even as interest rates have plummeted by 65% in the past decade. The equity we all have in our homes has therefore increased.
Household debt in New Zealand now averages around US$67,500 (NZ$105,000).
Interestingly the analysis found that wealth in New Zealand is far more evenly spread that in most of other countries and this aligns with our socialist ethos of redistributing through a progressive tax system (the top rate of which is 33% on all income over and above $70,000). Those coming to live here that whine about our ‘high taxes” (among the lowest in the developed world) tend to forget that we get an awful lot for those taxes in terms of heavily subsidised education, health care and retirement along with a myriad of other benefits.
In New Zealand the top 1% hold around 19% of the wealth. Compare that to the top 1% holding around 45% globally.
I keep on saying it to those that think this is an expensive place to live (South Africans) or we have hideously high taxation (Singapore and Hong Kong), you need to look at what you start the week with in your bank account, what you have to spend to support the family and how much is left at the end of the week. I don’t believe there are many of the middle classes who aren’t as well off here, if not better off (and that’s before we add the intrinsic lifestyle benefits).
While in New Zealand we spend our money in quite different ways to many of our clients’ home countries, I don’t see too much evidence that Auckland, say, is significantly more expensive overall than Johannesburg (security, mandatory health insurance, private schooling and retirement self-funding). Singapore or Hong Kong is little different. It is just that we spend our money differently. I am not saying New Zealand is cheap, it isn’t, it is just that when you take into account how we spend our money it can be quite different to what migrants are used to. And what those on tourist visas experience.
When you are here, looking for a job, it does seem expensive but this latest report illustrates what I have long thought - while some slip through the cracks, we are well off here financially.
On top of that we maintain our place as the second happiest people in the world and in terms of prosperity (measuring things like quality of education, health care, environment, safety, etc) we are still at a very respectable number 8.
Long may it remain!
Until next week
Posted by Iain on Sept. 6, 2019, 5:29 p.m. in New Zealand
A few years ago I was asked what I believed was the biggest future challenge facing New Zealand by a young man in Durban. Having told him I thought that was the most interesting and thoughtful question I'd ever been asked, I thought about it for a while.
What do you think my answer was?
China taking over the world? Unemployment?
Youth suicide? Gangs?
Drug and alcohol abuse?
Nope. My answer was the economic and social challenges of a rapidly ageing population.
Like most developed economies we have small families. We average slightly under two children per family now and for a population to grow you need at least three. Two represents long term population decline if you have zero net migration.
As the baby boomer generation barrels toward retirement it has long been clear to me that our commitment to socialised health care, where our needs are overwhelmingly paid out of general taxation, is going to require more and more money paid for out of a potentially declining tax base - yet no Government seems to be addressing the issue. Obviously a shrinking population does not get ‘poorer’ and the tax does not need to fall if those that are in the workforce produce more income on a per capita basis.
New Zealand however shows no sign of increasing productivity. Like other similar countries productivity is pretty much stagnant. In future we are going to spend more as a percentage of government spending on healthcare (but equally at the same time we won't need to spend as much on public education as there will be fewer children to teach).
Our labour needs are going to change. Right now our immigration policy seeks to attract highly skilled people yet our future needs will probably be fewer teachers, accountants, marketers and carpenters and more Doctors, mental health professionals, Pharmacists and nurse aids along with hospital orderlies.
To date there is little if any account being taken of our future labour needs and how immigration policy fits into that. Every immigration policy change continues to focus on a politically acceptable immigrant - one with higher skill levels rather as opposed to possibly being able to fill a labour shortage.
Who says the only good (and valuable) migrant is one with a university degree?
This needs to change and change quickly. Public policy should be looking at our labour and skill (for they are not the same thing) needs 10, 20 and 30 years out and at the very least a conversation started about what our future immigrant might look like (if we are not going to or able to train up our own to fill the vacancies being created).
My mother in law has dementia and two weeks ago fell and broke her hip. Almost all those treating her in the (wonderful) public hospital were foreign born and trained - the Doctors, the nurses, the nurse aids. There’s always a pathway to residence for the doctors (if they will put up with the Medical Council and their protectionist practices) and the nurses (with Bachelor degrees) but those on the next skill level ‘rung’ can get work visas but they do not have a pathway to residence. As we start thinking about longer term institutional care for her, our family is starting to take these issues very seriously. I am sure she will be fine, the public system right now is equipped to cope but when, in 20 to 30 years time we have four times the number of dementia sufferers and one of them could be me, will we have made the plans to ensure we have the workforce to take care of us?
It’ll require very different immigration policies than what we have today.
Until next week
Posted by Iain on Aug. 30, 2019, 6:02 p.m. in New Zealand
I am finally home after another five weeks on the road.
It is funny the things I notice when I've spent the past 14 days in high-rise hotel rooms with the constant hum of air conditioning and where the elevation separates me from terra firma below. The shoebox in the sky, the meeting room with clients, many stories high in the air, the only view a field of concrete and glass buildings stretching to the horizon and foraging for food in malls - all possible without ever actually stepping outside and feeling the sun on my face.
As a New Zealander I feel very attached to the land, my rain forest and the sea and I find these cities like Singapore and Hong Kong so utterly sterile – they are the most human of environments and totally removed from nature. I really struggle with it. I’m always good for a few days - in fact I enjoy it - but after about three days of everything being ‘human’, I need to get out. I took a walk around the famed Singapore Gardens which like so much of Singapore is very contrived into my eyes whilst attractive, not natural. I couldn't find anything like that in Hong Kong but I was too busy interviewing dawn to dusk with the desperate many to get any chance of finding anything resembling isolation or nature even though I know it does exist there in some form.
My wife and I went for a long walk last night up Mount Eden, our local (extinct I hasten to add) volcano where the views of Auckland are spectacular. The sun was setting and the air was cool without being cold. The undersides of the clouds to the west glowed a bright orange and the usual gaggle of tourists snapped photos (mainly of themselves but occasionally of the view).
The street I live in is lined with cherry trees and in the third week of August every year, like clockwork, they burst into blossom and make for the most incredible sight. Trees that had been bare for the past eight weeks since losing their summer growth explode in a profusion of flowers in a vivid shade of cerise. And, as if on cue, one of my favourite native birds, the Tui, descend in huge numbers only seen at this time of the year to gorge themselves on the nectar that the flowers produce. They argue and fight and chase each other over, around and through the trees, jostling for position and trying to keep every sweet flower to themselves. All the time their melodic calls fill the air. Magical.
It's a time of year I love, knowing that winter is largely behind us. Although I try and be out of the country for the bulk of Auckland’s short winter, it didn't really arrive until August this year anyway and will have gone by end of September.
After very little rain in the preceding months (our dams were 55% full in July) August is turning out to be one of the wettest on record here in Auckland. There has apparently been rain recorded somewhere in Auckland on 28 days of the month which is highly unusual. Auckland, you need to understand, covers an enormous area and we are talking about a measurement of 0.1 mm of rain recorded somewhere in the city on any given day. We are not talking about monsoonal precipitation, rather the occasional spit although I understand a couple of weeks ago there were some enormous thunderstorms and torrential rain over a number of days. Having been home just under a week I actually haven't seen any rain myself. The weather has been very mild with daily highs around 16 or 17°. Not tropical, but certainly not cold.
The days are getting longer and the sun is now setting around 5:45 pm. On the shortest day at the end of June it sets around 5:15 pm which I find utterly depressing…
As we walked through the suburban streets towards Mount Eden last night my wife, who has an acute sense of smell, was constantly asking me if I could smell this fragrant flower or that fragrant flower, as all around us, trees and plants were in bloom. She said ‘It smells like spring’.
For the record I don’t seem to have much of a sense of smell any more - my wife blames years of abuse of nasal sprays like Otrivin. So there was an awful lot of “No, I can’t smell it” in reply. There would be a slight huffing noise from her because she could obviously smell it all too well.
I do however smell the ‘big smells’ like damp grass as we climbed to the summit of the volcano, the freshly cut grass of the neighbours lawn up the road and the Jasmine which seems to climb over every other property in these parts.
After two weeks of sensory deprivation in Singapore and olfactory overload Hong Kong (but not of anything pleasant) I do find the air here in New Zealand, even in Auckland, the country’s biggest city, to be sweet and clear. Getting out and walking of an evening after sitting in an office all day is a real pleasure.
I'm about to head up north to my beach house where the lawn is overgrown, the first bunch of bananas I've ever grown seem to have survived winter, the vegetable beds need weeding and preparation for a spring plant, the forest block awaits attention tomorrow with more clearing and rebating traps as we continue the relentless fight against the foreign animal invaders decimating our forests.
It couldn't be different to the weekends I've just had cooped up in Asia. I love Spring and I'm counting the minutes till I can hit the road.
Until next week
Posted by admin on Feb. 1, 2019, 3:46 p.m. in New Zealand
I asked Tracy Kruger to share with us, her and her family’s experiences in making the move from South Africa to Ashburton, Te Wai Pounamu (South Island) of New Zealand. I asked her to be brutal and open. Here is what she has to say (and thanks a heap Tracy for taking the time to share your experiences). Iain
“Stay away from the Facebook groups and buy lots of wine, you are going to need it.” said Iain.
I am I suspect like most South African migrants to New Zealand. I am married, mortgaged, middle class with two teenage children. Iain described us once as his ‘every client’. Here is our story in brief.
We first ‘e-met’ Iain on a NZ summer’s evening in early 2017. He was talking of a Friday night whisky while we were at home clutching our early morning coffee in Tulbagh, South Africa. He carefully, but with a confident air, laid out the strategy to get to NZ. His belief in my husband Marius and his potential employability (key to residence as a skilled migrant) in New Zealand, was a like a bank of strength that we both drew heavily on in the months to come. He was very reassuring but still promised us nothing but stress and uncertainty for many months as we engaged what turns out to be a trip to the twilight zone, where the visa process seems disconnected from the real world.
It has been over two years since our journey to NZ began and 13 months since we arrived in the country and I don't feel that we have given anything up in leaving South Africa. Financially we will recover the cost of the visa and settlement process (around R500,000), we can visit our family and friends and we will make new ones.
We have come to realise that while we had a life in SA, we are really living here in NZ. We have all had opportunities, experiences and support that we would have never received in our previous life. Marius and me with work and our children with schooling and their own part time work opportunities and freedoms.
Make no mistake, it is not all wine and song. Although to get through this visa ordeal took plenty of wine! There were some terrible and very dark days that I never want to repeat. But the amazing far outweighs that entirely, so much so that it is not even worth mentioning.
We didn't leave South Africa because of the crime, in fact I don't think any of us truly appreciated how bad it really was until we came here - but it one of the reasons we won't be going back. We left because after spending all of his working life in Africa and the Middle East, South Africa wasn't prepared to offer Marius employment. When his contract in Angola ended, we saw a small window of opportunity, so we closed our eyes and grabbed it with both hands having spoken to Iain.
Since we have left, it has opened our eyes to how we really lived, often fearful but largely shrugging it off - our life was like everyones life so surely it was ‘normal’?
Marius started to worry in recent years that returning home to South Africa from working in other parts of Africa, it was starting to look, feel and operate the same way - that is to say deteriorating on almost every front. Where getting anything done was an exercise in frustration and it appeared the fabric of the economy and society was coming apart at the seams.
I look out now into my garden in Ashburton, there are no bars on any windows, no security gates, no alarms, beams, razor wire or high walls. The sliding doors are only closed when the bumblebees are wafting in from the lavender outside and we sleep with doors and windows unlocked and wide open in the summer.
Come January the landscape of our little dorp changes, as the pavements become highways, bursting with young kids, all on their own - racing each other to school on bikes or scooters. School kids on skateboards head out to lakes, forests, parks and to town all on their own in the afternoons. Teenagers with surfboards and bicycles heading to the beach in their own cars or on the bus. Our teenage daughters run and bike river trails through forests completely on their own.
I remember when we first moved here, I was incredulous at some of the sights I saw. It was like a kind of culture shock that hits you full on. Women walking alone at 5am, people driving in the city with their windows open – WHAT?! Motorbikes and bicycles parked on the side of the road, helmets just balanced on the handlebars. Teenagers walking around at night with their friends.
You can buy fruit, flowers, nuts and all sorts of things at unmanned stalls on the side of the road. Pop your money in the jar and take your produce home. Nobody there to take your money.
The smiling woman at the Automobile Association counter apologises profusely for keeping us waiting for 5 minutes and I struggle not to burst out laughing in delight!We have had power, internet and running water all at the same time for 365 days of 2018 and counting! In South Africa, it was a standing joke that we could never have all 3 at the same time. Running a business there was like trying to nail jelly to a tree....
Walk into a NZ bank and smart sliding doors open for you to enter. The counters at the tellers are completely open – no bullet proof glass, alarms or guns in sight. The plant nursery across the road from our Ashburton home recently had a massive delivery of punnets of flowers after hours. They were offloaded on the footpath outside and left overnight until the staff came into carry them in and replenish their stock the next day.
Not once have I felt unsafe or looked behind me in fear. In fact, I am convinced that the only thing that can kill you here is the price of Avos (Editors note - cheap as chips up this end of the country).
Culturally we fit in so easily yet at the same time it feels like we are in a parallel universe and I can’t believe we are in it!
We could not have done this without the calm and confident Skippers of our Ship – Iain and Jo at IMMagine. Their unparalleled knowledge and experience along with their ability to astutely navigate us through the biggest event of our lives, have given our family the finest start in New Zealand than we could ever have hoped for.
Never did an email go unanswered, never was a promise made that wasn’t kept and we were never once led to believe that anything was bigger or smaller than it truly was. Even when Iain was out of the country – he continued to ensure every email was answered the day he got it.
Iain and Jo, we are so very grateful and feel incredibly fortunate we had you to help us through a very emotional and stressful journey. We would do it over and over again with you.
And of course, you were right, it was indeed a very high mountain we had to climb and there were days we wondered if we'd ever see the summit but now we are there, the view from the top really is breath taking.
Iain - and this is the reason we do this work. Leaving everything you know for something you hope will be better is never easy and in some ways represents an act of both research and faith.
Until next week
Posted by Iain on Feb. 23, 2018, 4:06 p.m. in New Zealand
Around 18 months ago, my sister cashed in on the Auckland house, packed up, threw the dogs in the back of the car and moved down south to Christchurch to her partner’s old home town.
My son suggested as his summer comes to an end and university beckons that my wife and I might drive his car back to Dunedin (and he’d fly, bless his cotton socks). I jumped at the chance and have been a week on the road reacquainting myself with parts of the country many of my clients have moved to but which I hardly knew.
I particularly wanted to spend some time in Christchurch and I was determined to see what was going on as our second biggest city’s centre has been largely rebuilt and new suburbs have sprouted while others have been bowled.
I was following the footsteps of my father who had been there a few weeks earlier and had came away feeling quite empty and sad at the loss and the destruction (there are still lots of empty plots of land with wire and plywood fences around them). He found a city that had lost its soul. My experience couldn’t have been more different. Where he saw emptiness and destruction I saw re-birth and creation of what is, even now, an amazing city full of light airy open spaces, parks, new buildings and old, many put to uses never before envisaged.
It is seldom that any country has the chance to redesign from the sewers up an entire city but that is the opportunity born out of the February 2011 earthquake.
On a hot summers afternoon with the sun beating down we first took a tour of the city on a vintage tram, one of several that ply a ‘figure 8’ path through wide, cobbled streets that cover the city centre.
We then explored a city centre where new buildings (and they are virtually all new) are limited to 28m in height (and for the civil engineers among you, mostly sitting on top of 28m deep piles). These stand back, almost respectfully, from the wide boulevards where it seems cars have been almost banished. This is a people centric city covering perhaps 20 hectares and several blocks, but has been rebuilt at a human scale. Canterbury summers are hot and dry and there are public spaces and areas to ponder, reflect, relax and eat everywhere. Public art was plentiful.
I asked if the city has a public bus service as I didn’t see any belching thick trails of disel exhaut as we get in Auckland and it was confirmed there is an excellent bus service, but the main terminal is on the edge of the city centre and given it is relatively small in area and flat, an easy walk to offices, shops and restaurants.
Being a flat city, I was surprised I didn’t see more bicycles of the 'pay as you go' and 'drop anywhere' variety so common in many bigger cities. Perhaps that will come. The city is criss-crossed by cycle paths and why I didn’t see so many more people out using peddle power might have been because it was extremely hot – 28 degrees in the shade.
Running through the heart of this gorgeous city is the iconic Avon River (more of a wide stream than a river I’d suggest) which was badly polluted in 2011 as broken sewers and storm water systems spewed all sorts of unpleasantness into its slow flowing waters. After several years of love, care and restorative planting and construction it is now a series of wonderful spots to stop and linger, while away a lazy half hour on its grassy banks or to dangle your feet in its cooling water at one of the many newly constructed pontoons. As we sat on the grass, foot weary, we enjoyed watching tourists being ‘punted’ along the Avon, a braces-bedecked and bearded hipster complete with boater hat polling them along. Cameras clicking and the 'more than a few' Chinese ‘princesses’ looking quite out of place, too dressed like dolls sitting ramrod straight in the front, posing it seems for those they passed.
The old University grounds now converted into an Arts Centre - badly damaged, now rebuilt and strengthened to last a thousand more years. Sitting in the ‘quad’ along from a small work room where (Lord) Ernest Rutherford was studying physics, it could have been Oxford in England.
Along the road, Christ College, the ‘Eton’ of the south. The local joke goes if your son as has brains you send him to Christchurch Boys High, if he doesn’t you send him to Christ’s College, for the old boys networking opportunities.
As an Aucklander, it comes across still as a very English of cities, in what seemed to me to be a transplanted English province. I saw hardly a native tree but plenty of oaks, elms and poplar trees. At once familiar as New Zealand yet so different to the multi-cultural melting pot that is Auckland. Hardly a sign or any recognition that pre-1840 this was a part of New Zealand with a very strong local Maori population. No mention or acknowledgement of the Chinese who settled here. Street names solidly English. I have heard it said that one of the attractions of this city for many from the UK is that it is more ‘English than England’. I’d be lying if I said I am not sure whether in the 21st century that is a good or a bad thing.
If I might venture a suggestion to the good folk of Christchurch; the earthquake might have been a chance for this very ‘white’ city to perhaps acknowledge that the New Zealand of the city’s founding fathers who had arrived on one of the first four ships, is a part of their history and with the rebuilding comes a chance to create an international and outward looking city. I get the feeling there are many who might agree and many others who would not.
Case in point is the Anglican Cathedral which was largely destroyed on 22 February 2011. It stands forlorn now, fenced off, one end open to the elements and only standing though steel bracing. An iconic building for sure and for many it represented the beating heart of the city centre. But that was 100 years ago when the country was more than Christian in name only as it is today. Its future in many ways represents the stark differences between those that look back and those looking forward. Roughly 50% wanted to pull it down (including, it should be said, the local Bishop) and 50% wanted it rebuilt. In the end the ‘rebuilders’ have won, and the taxpayers of New Zealand are about to fork out $100 million to rebuild it. One can only wonder what Jesus might have suggested the Church do with that sort of money, but that’s Christchurch.
I have to say that they have done a wonderful job after years of heartbreak, frustration and I am sure more than a few heated arguments. Given the price of housing is half what it is in Auckland and $500,000 buys you a three bedroom brand new home on your own piece of paradise, there are more reasons to look at it than not.
If you might be worried about earthquakes; remember that was a one in 750-year event so the chances of a repeat are so tiny as to not be worth a second thought. For those that might still not be convinced, we kill around 300 people on our roads each year and close to 500 people drown (many of them migrants that cannot swim). So, I’d be more worried about taking the kids to the beach in that ten-year-old Toyota than being swallowed up by the earth.
Christchurch may just become one of the world’s most liveable cities in the not too distant future.
Until next week...
Iain MacLeod, Southern Man
Posted by Iain on Jan. 26, 2018, 7:46 p.m. in New Zealand
Those of you who have attended my seminars know in what high regard I hold Rocket Lab, an amazing New Zealand company. Last weekend they launched their Electron Rocket successfully and deployed a payload of three satellites into low Earth orbit. Last year, they got the rocket up to low earth orbit level but had to kill the rocket when there was some technical hitch. On only their second attempt they have managed to go one better.
There was talk of a fourth object released and media were all atwitter as to whether it was something top secret. Turned out to be far less ‘James Bond’ and more ‘James Brown’ - dubbed a disco ball by some witty Journalist - a ‘humanity star'.
In typical fun Kiwi fashion, the Chief of the company, Peter Beck, decided to launch this ‘humanity satellite’ which will be (for a time) the third brightest object in your night sky, visible from all parts of the earth. It can be tracked online here, and for those of you not in New Zealand, you might be able to look up into the dark night sky right now and see this little piece of New Zealand hurtling from horizon to horizon above you.
This successful launch and deployment is amazing on so many levels, not just because it is homegrown high tech New Zealand. We join an exclusive club of eleven countries with a commercial space industry and a fully fledged space programme. It is the also the first launch from a privately owned launch site. It is also really cheap. This company is able to launch satellites into (low orbit) space for between $6,000,000.00 and $10,000,000.00 which is 1/10th of the price of its nearest competitor. There is talk of this creating a multi-billion dollar per year industry.
The genesis of this company began over a decade ago when a number of young engineering lads sat around what I imagine to be a pub table and someone said after I suspect at least three 8% alcohol content local craft beers: “Lads, I have a proposition for you. Why don’t we build and put a rocket into space?”. The others, perhaps after a few more local ales, decided to do it. And so the journey began.
Being young and poor, these guys had to think so far outside the square they were probably in a different room. They basically had to reinvent so many aspects of rocket engineering including, as I understand it, the engine. The Kiwi way of being creative when there’s not much money around is what has led directly to these guys now being able to build these rockets and get them into space very cheaply.
I also believe it reflects the New Zealand education system which is one where teamwork is promoted and an holistic education is valued over regurgitating numbers and facts. Aligned with that - and perhaps what makes us such a successful bunch - is that education seems to work well with a “can do” attitude that seems to lie deeply in our DNA. It was a little more than 12 months ago that the company opened its launch complex on the tip of the Mahia Peninsula in Hawke's Bay. They now have six more of these 17-metre high “Electron” rockets in production and are expecting to be able to launch one a week by the end of the year. Not even my other hero, Elon Musk, comes close to these fellas.
Interestingly and in reflection of the tightness of the local labour market, their biggest issue was (and remains) recruiting skills. Rocket Lab leader Peter Beck is reported as saying that they don’t want rocket scientists (believe it or not) but all sorts of other trades with skills critical in manufacturing these rockets for regular space launch. If this sounds like you and you want to be part of NZ’s space industry, check out the Careers Page on the Rocket Lab website.
You can watch the entire launch on YouTube and if you got half the thrill that I did as they launched from possibly the most picturesque launch site in the world until the point of payload deployment, you’ll have a really good 8 minutes.
I often describe New Zealand as the little country that could, and this is yet another wonderful illustration of how far we have come as a country in the past 20-30 years.
I find it wonderful that the first NZ satellite that goes up was designed to make us all look up at this bright object whistling across the sky and to look beyond it into deep space; contemplating our place in the universe and, Peter Beck hopes, make us start thinking more about our home planet and how important it is to each and every one of us.
So while technically it isn’t really a disco ball, I love the fact that this first successful deployment was not just about making money, but about making a statement. I think it is the coolest thing that has happened in New Zealand since got my first pair of flared jeans when I was 8 years old.
I, for one, could not be prouder of what this says about New Zealanders and this little country that could.
Till next week...
Iain MacLeod, Southern Man
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