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Immigration Blog

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Posts in category: Skilled Migrant Category

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.

Skilled Migrant Review Announced

Posted by Iain on Feb. 25, 2021, 11:22 a.m. in Skilled Migrant Category

Last week I wrote a piece speculating on what the outcome of next month's review into resuming the expressions of interest selection process, might be.

The upshot of that analysis was that if the government does not start selecting expressions of interest next month, they have enough work on hand to see them through the rest of the year but by early 2022 they will be getting very low on skilled migrant applications.

I did apply some logic to that analysis – by making the assumption that all those who could file an EOI since the selections stopped in March 2020, would have. People acting logically is a big leap of faith I know but I can't see why people would not have filed an expression of interest if they could but I accept there may be some who didn’t.

Irrespective, and let's assume there's another 2000 families floating around New Zealand who have not filed expressions of interest but who might if they thought selections would resume at the end of March or early April, it still means the government will in 2022 to struggle to reach its own target/quota of 25,000 skilled migrant resident visas.

Speculation went through the roof about what the government is going to announce at the end of March in respect of resuming selections given that at 2 pm on Wednesday the Minister of Immigration announced that a review of the skilled migrant (points) system is a “priority”. No doubt out there in the ‘chatterverse’, the Facebook chat groups will be going into overdrive trying to determine if this review is linked to the review that is to be made at the end of next month.

I think that indirectly they probably are linked. The reason is that every three years a first principles review of the skilled migrant category takes place as the government of the day does with all major immigration categories on a three yearly cycle. The last SMC review was in 2017 and I was involved in that (and would love to be involved in the 2021 review). The government then is 12 months late in carrying out a fairly standard review.

I have a feeling that the government may well be talked by the immigration department into not resuming pool draws next month and this ‘review’ could be used as a smokescreen (given you can only blame Covid so long for so much). As I pointed out last week if this is a purely mathematical decision there is no reason for selections not to resume but this is not a purely mathematical decision - it is political.

INZ continues to experience unacceptable processing delays on skilled migrant cases. No one who filed a non-priority application after 25 July 2019 has at the time of writing been allocated for processing. "Priority" cases which are a minority are being allocated as soon as they are receipted. There’s about 180 a week of the former and 50 of the latter.

Although I am clearly no fan of the circus that is the immigration department and its management, when the previous government cut the number of skilled migrant resident visas available, the pass mark to be selected from the pool should have gone up (to reduce the numbers selected to better align with the visas available to be granted) but it did not. Immigration New Zealand doesn't have an option if it is told by Government to select someone from the pool based on their having enough ‘points' and it also doesn't have an option not to invite those people to apply for residence if the points claim looks ‘credible’. Because the government did not provide a formal target for INZ to work to when the current residency program expired at the end of 2019, the department was effectively flying blind on numbers - the. As a result they went on something of a "goes slow" and it took the current government around one year before they said to them to work as if there was a target of 25,000 visas in place. Hence the current backlog.

As a consequence of all of that we now have the 20 month delay in allocating the majority of cases to an officer for processing.

The delay in allocating residence cases has caused all sorts of unintended consequences including complications for those on temporary visas that could have been avoided if there was no backlog. A lot of hurt and misery for families split by the border restrictions to name but one.

There’s been a lot of navel gazing in social and main stream media over whether the Government might put up the pass mark at the end of March in order to ‘clean out the pool’ and start afresh. Yes, they could do that but I don’t think they would do so. They are more likely to simply not resume pool draws for a few months.

If they did push pass marks up what happens to the young teacher, software developer, electrician or engineer who even with a job outside of Auckland cannot get more than 160 points? If the pass mark goes up at all we will lose a whole lot of them. The babies will literally be thrown out with the bathwater.

What I didn’t mention last week was that EOIs are only valid or ‘live’ for six months. Therefore, in theory, if the Government did resume pool selections in early April this year and set the pass mark at say 180 or 200, anyone in that pool not selected is out. (They can file another EOI if they are happy to pay). Any EOI that has been in the pool for less than six months when the first pool draw takes place who is not selected in that first pool draw all remain ‘live’ for the balance of six months. So if they filed 4 months ago, weren’t selected in the first pool draw would stay ‘alive’ for another 2 months of pool draws.

So Government could flush the pool but I cannot imagine them being so cruel. Or borderline fraudulent having taken $530 off every EOI aspirant. If they were to be that cynical and cruel I am sure they’d also refund the money to assuage their consciences. At the same time reminding those that filed that all they did was to ‘express an interest in residence an dit was never any guarantee of selection or residence itself’. Technically rue but not what they spend millions of dollars every year marketing to the world.

My best guess today in light of this announced review is EOIs won’t resume in early April and Government will announce that decision will be reviewed in an additional three months. And three months after that. All because it gives time for INZ to get its embarrassing backlog sorted. Hold a gun to my head and I’d say they’ll resume September by which time the SMC review will be complete and they can ‘reset’ or ‘re-calibrate’ or however they might spin it.

Bottom line is NZ has an economy pretty much the same size as it was before covid landed. Unemployment is 4.9% and falling. Skills shortages are getting worse and now 45% of businesses are saying they cannot fill vacancies, particularly skilled ones. Until we produce all the skills we need locally we are going to need a skilled migration programme. And unless we force young people to stop studying things we have no demand for we are going to have an overs supply of lawyers and under supply of nurses and teachers. They have to come from somewhere.

I am not going to speculate on what the review of the skilled migrant programme might reveal but while the system is hard on migrants (get a job to get the work visa/residence when employers demand the work visa first most of the time) it does work. The most employable (linguistically and culturally), the most resilient and those able to afford to be unemployed for 2-4 months in New Zealand are the winners in the programme. That is why the three yearly review normally results in tweaking, not wholesale change.

If I could make one recommendation it is that we follow Australia and award points based on the result of the English language exam. I did advocate for this when I was involved in the review back in 2017 but the idea wasn’t taken up. If we are looking to tweak I'd also recommend looking to drop the maximum age for a skilled migration to 50 or even perhaps 45 (with certain exceptions like Australia does for those occupations where you are far likely to be older to be able to have the skills, knowledge and dare I add, wisdom, to do the job - thinking of Professors at university as one example).

As we wait for the government to make the call on pool draws resuming I think the smart money is on them kicking for touch for a few months. Not welcome news for anyone sitting in the pool but it sure as heck beats them increasing the pass mark because they want it flushed clean.

Until next week

Iain MacLeod

Southern Man

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Will INZ Pool Selections Resume In March?

Posted by Iain on Feb. 19, 2021, 9:17 a.m. in Skilled Migrant Category

It is coming up 12 months since the NZ Government quietly suspended selections of ‘Expressions of Interest in residence’ from those people wanting to be part of the Government’s much marketed skilled Residency program. Six months ago when the suspension was confirmed officially, the Government announced they would "review" the decision in March this year.

So what might the Government do next month?

In trying to understand what might happen it is important to first understand what really did happen this time last year to cause selections to cease. Suspension of the category had nothing to do with Covid-19 which is the line trotted out daily inside the Department’s call centre and by Government Ministers but the virus was, as I wrote at the time, a convenient smokescreen. It had everything to do with the fact that three years ago the Labour Party led Government cut the numbers of Skilled Migrant Visas available which built upon cuts by the previous Government 18 months before that.

When you operate a points based system the whole idea is to use the selection point (a floating pass mark which can go up or down) to control the flow of applicants into the system to try and ensure the Government neither undershoots its target nor overshoots it. When Visa numbers were cut three years ago the pass mark should have increased but it did not. That decision ultimately lay with the Minister and for reasons that escape me INZ was allowed to continue inviting significantly more people to apply for residency than they had Visas to give away. Given how much power the Department has and Ministers has ceded, it seems that the obvious consequences escaped all those involved in making the decision.

This cutting of available residence visas but not cutting the numbers of people being Invited to Apply for Residence, resulted in the creation of the processing backlog that we still live with today.  Currently, those Skilled Migrants who do not meet the priority processing criteria, arbitrarily set by the Immigration Department 18 months ago, can expect to wait between 18 - 20 months before their applications are even assigned to an officer to be processed. They take another few months to process the application thereafter. Those deemed to be ‘priority’ are allocated within a fortnight of being submitted. Priority case numbers are small and we were advised this week it is roughly 25 applications on average a week. 

Strangely, processing times on non-priority cases have not got quicker despite numbers of Skilled Migrant Category (SMC) Residence applications being entered into the system falling off a cliff, particularly in the last 6 months. Logic says that if you cease ‘selection’ you have no supply of applications so this drying up of applications is no surprise.

So why is it still taking 18 plus months to allocate SMC applications to an officer to process?

The Department explains this as demand for places exceeding the supply which was partially true through 2019 and the early part of 2020 but the numbers in the system today tell a different story. Significantly, in my opinion, the backlog now can in large part be explained by an institutional inability of the Department to process what can be complicated cases but often are not, in a timely fashion. By institutional inability what I mean there is an awful lot of inexperienced Immigration Officers who have little training or understanding of the rules operating within a chaotic management structure with managers (proudly) abrogating any responsibility for understanding Visa rules. It means there are a lot of very inexperienced immigration officers trying to negotiate often complex legal questions. The knowledge pool is ‘shallow’ would be the polite way of putting it. Immigration managers have adopted a 'trust us we are the government' approach refusing to explain or intervene in clearly cruel or inconsistent decisions.

The situation would be a little like the All Black forwards and backs coaching staff telling the team members at practice sessions to read the playing manual and then do whatever they think is right. And still expect to win matches.

Figures recently released publicly show there is currently around 5000 ‘Expressions of Interest’ sitting in the Skilled Migrant pool. That would suggest roughly 12,000 people awaiting selection because each Resident Visa application covers just over two people if all were selected and all were approved.

Numbers have obviously been falling over recent months with the closed borders preventing new ‘blood’ getting job offers in NZ.

We know, because we’ve checked, that the majority of those sitting in that pool have claimed 160 points or more. 160 points was the last magic number to be selected for consideration for Invitation to Apply for Residency. It is reasonable to expect then that the bulk of those sitting in the pool would be selected if the pass mark remained at 160.

We do know that the number of people who do subsequently file Resident Visa applications which are declined is reasonably significant because they incorrectly claimed their points, they over claimed their points, they don't have independently verifiable evidence to prove their points or they get an Immigration Officer who is relatively clueless on the rules.

That would suggest based on historical norms that if all those people were to be selected in March this year probably 10,000 Resident Visas more or less would be issued. The annual target (or quota depending on what the politicians want to get out of the program) is 25,000 people. Given the numbers sitting in the queue awaiting allocation today that suggests roughly 25,000 approvals if selections were to resume next month.

Figures we recently obtained under the Official Information Act paint an interesting picture of what is going on right now in the lead up to the decision that needs to be made.

The Skilled Migrant program covers those applying under the "points" system and those who are working for Accredited Employers and seek residency following two years of work.

Although there is only one official “stream”, called Skilled Migrant, there is effectively three subgroups created by the Department:

1.       Residence from Work (Talent Visa holders working for an Accredited Employer); or

2.       Skilled Migrant Category priority cases - those earning $106,000 per annum or who work in an occupation in New Zealand that requires statutory registration; or

3.       Skilled Migrant Category non-priority cases – those who don't have a salary as above or do not work in an occupation requiring statutory registration.

Over the past few months, as I predicted in a blog last year, the numbers of Skilled Migrant (points based) applications awaiting allocation and processing is trending towards zero. It wasn't rocket science to predict this, when you have a closed border and you operate a labour market driven policy, it is impossible for most people to find work for the simple reason that employers demand that candidates are in New Zealand. For the statistically minded of you around 94% of all Work Visas granted to those who find jobs and who go on to secure residency, have those Work Visas granted while they are in New Zealand. Proving the point that if you want a job you need to be here but as long as the border is closed that isn't going to happen. So numbers are starting to fall off that cliff.

In the past few months the balance in the “don’t call us we will call you” allocation queue has seen the ratio of those applying under the Skilled Migrant Category to those seeking Residence from Work reverse. There’s now a significant majority in that queue seeking Residence from Work.

Again, there is an historical reason for this. In late 2019 the Government increased the minimum salary required to get Residency from Work for those on Talent Visas and working for an "Accredited" Employer, from $55,000 to $79,560. The market had expected such an increase for some time (we predicted it roughly a year before it happened and got the salary number almost right) and therefore many people who might not have applied for residency, rushed to file under this pathway because they knew they’d never be paid the higher salary.

In the six months to June 2020 there was an inflow of roughly 600 to 650 SMC (points) Residence applications per month that needed to be processed. Over the same period there was roughly 40 Residence from Work each month. By January 2021 the numbers of non-priority SMC applications being accepted into the system plummeted to around 30 a month. Residence from Work numbers however had ballooned to the low hundreds each month. A complete reversal from the year before.

In terms of Resident Visas being issued the numbers have effectively cancelled each other out even though the ‘Resident Visas issued’ trend is, down.

Which can mean only one thing. The Government needs to start selecting those Skilled Migrant Category Expressions of Interest sitting in the pool next month.

They will be cognisant of the two-year time lag however between the rush of Residence from Work applicants who filed applications before the salary level increased at the end of 2019 which should start to show up in the processing system now (I’d speculate that the increase in numbers awaiting allocation is a reflection of that already). I don't think then there will be a tsunami of applications toward the end of the year because people like us had worked out a long time before that salary increase in October 2019 that it was coming. We advised all those who could file their Residency applications to do so.

Regardless, we were advised by a Senior Immigration Official back in October 2019 that in the month or so before the new salary threshold of $79,560 was put in place the Immigration Department received between "3000 and 4000” ‘Resident from Work’ Visa applications.

This I think will result in an increase in ‘Resident from Work Visa’ approvals this year and early next. That ‘blip’ however will not compensate for the fall off in Skilled Migrant ‘points' applicants if selections do not resume soon. The Government won’t reach its annual target/quota of 25,000 people.

The Immigration Department is going to start to run out of work by early 2022 if they don't reopen the selection process next month. They should, based on their own advice, have allocated all the non-priority Skilled Migrant points case systems within a few months. By the end of this year the number of Skilled Migrant cases awaiting allocation in their system will be virtually zero if selections don't resume soon.

Which makes the decision the Government has to make about whether to resume pool selections a very interesting one. If it is a mathematical decision, as the points system is because it's an annual numerical quota/target of 25,000 visas to be issues for economic reasons, the decision is easy. Selection must resume with a pass mark of 160 or even less (but in my view there is no way I'll drop the pass mark even with skill shortages and unemployment locally falling).

This Government has shown itself to be increasingly anti-migrant and Covid was the smokescreen used by the Immigration Department to try and solve their backlog issues and the politicians went along with it, I suspect for reasons of convenience (I shudder to think it could be ignorance of their own immigration policies and processes).  Because OF the popular narrative, stoked by Labour Party politicians, that laid the blame for skyrocketing house prices on the rate of inward migration means they can hardly be seen to be 'opening up' now. (Which is ironic because since the border closed and nobody can be granted a permanent stay in the country if they aren’t already here, property values are up by 20%).

The numbers make this a political decision, not a mathematical one. Political decisions are often divorced from economic reality but if the selections do not resume you'll now know why.

Until next week

Iain MacLeod

Southern Man

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No SMC pool draw for six months

Posted by Iain on Oct. 19, 2020, 10:35 a.m. in Skilled Migrant Category

 

The NZ government (in waiting) announced this morning that they will not be resuming skilled migrant ‘pool draws’ for another six months. They haven't done any since March this year anyway so this is hardly ‘news’, more a clarification of an existing position.

It has many people aflutter as usual but I don’t feel the fear.

I have written about why they stopped pool selections previously and to me the agenda was always clear – they got themselves into a right processing pickle with many skilled migrant resident visa applications sitting unallocated and unprocessed for up to 24 months because there was no ability of the Government to agree on the numbers in their residence program. In fact there hasn’t been a residence programme since the last one finished in December 2019. The numbers of resident visas available has never been made official so INZ was flying blind for much of 2019 given they had already filled the years ‘quota’. Naturally the immigration department stopped approving visas (or at best were on a go slow in terms of allocation) last year and the backlog grew larger and larger. A number of months ago they clearly got a nod and a wink from the political parties in the government to resume processing and approving residence as if there was a residence program with the same numbers of visa places available as in previous years.

INZ then was presented with a de facto residence programme but by the time they started to gear up on processing, the backlog had grown exponentially.

After Saturday’s landslide win by the Labour Party, the ‘handbrake’ that was the NZ First Party that sat around the cabinet table with the Labour party has been released. If you haven’t heard New Zealand First is gone from the Parliament and the Labour Party is the first political party since 1996 to be able to govern alone without any coalition partners or side agreements with minor parties.

This announcement does not mean they are closing down migration because traditionally the Labour Party has always been very pro-immigration given its traditional voting base. Turkeys don't vote for an early Christmas so I think we will return to the days where we had sensible policy and residence programmes allowing INZ to stay on top of numbers.

Not that INZ is faultless in the debacle that has been the past 18 months. In order to deal with the skilled migrant case backlog and under the smoke screen of Covid back in March INZ stopped doing pool selections. They said at the time it's because they had no ability to work remotely but that was clearly untrue because as soon as they went back to work pool draws did not resume.

We have been waiting for this announcement since March.

I said back in March when pool draws stopped that INZ was buying time to start dealing with that backlog. It was becoming embarrassing on so many levels, with unintended consequences and creating a whole lot of uncertainty for anyone trying to plan their move here. In fact, it was confirmed unofficially to me by a very senior manager a few months ago that the truth was INZ wanted to get rid of the resident visa backlog. They are currently around 18 months from receipt date to allocation of these resident visa applications which means they are starting to get ahead of where they have been over the past 12 months.

So what does the future hold?  When they start resuming the pool draws what will happen to the pass mark?

Government will have a number of options and in some ways we might be about to go back to the future:

1.      Simply increase the pass mark to be selected from the ‘pool’. That will instantly lower the number of applications flowing into the system but the problem with that is the more points people need, the more points they tend to get. When for example the pass mark went up to 160 many clients dealt with the signal by getting a job outside of Auckland (30 additional points) and continued to qualify. And the more points people need the less control Government has over the skills mix – for example a 26-year-old genius software developer with a job offer in New Zealand or the 27 year old teacher we are desperate to find might only ever be able to get 160 points. Putting the pass mark up to 180 and cutting them but allowing entry to a 36 year Master of Arts carrying Marketing Manager might not be the best outcome for NZ. Increasing the pass mark will certainly slow down the flow of applications into the system but will create other serious problems so I don't believe a higher pass mark is the solution. I don't believe it will solve any of the problems.

2.      Return to the days of multiple pass marks and prioritise selection based on whatever has the most positive impact. We could therefore see multiple different pass marks once again. It worked before and was relatively transparent. For example, if you work in an occupation that is on the long-term skills shortage list the pass mark might be 160 points. You might make it 190 points for people who do not work in an occupation on a skills shortage list. If you want people to go outside of Auckland you might make the pass mark 160 but make it 190 for someone with a job in Auckland. If your priority is high income earners give them a lower points threshold or give points based on salary bands.

3.      We could adopt the Australian model whereby you keep the pass mark at, say, 160 points for everybody but it is a first in, first out situation. Given there is a finite number of resident visas that can be approved and issued in any given year, what the Australians do is they say if you are a Civil Engineer and you filed your EOI in July last year and you have the same "points" as a Civil Engineer who filed in January this year, you will be selected first.  I am not suggesting we go to annual quotas by occupation - it could simply be a pass mark of 160 and first in first out. It’s clean but again it means you might miss out on particular skills sets because the applicant has to wait for so long to get that shot at residence and they want certainty so take their skills off to Canada instead. 

There is always positives and negatives in any system.

The market always reads the sort of signal sent this morning as negative. I don't feel that way at all.

Clearly the skilled migrant system needs tweaking (and a points based system is a very blunt tool to begin with but given the intellectual capacity of your average civil servant the system is almost designed for them to not have to think terribly hard) but the backlogs in recent times was largely caused by the New Zealand First political party that wanted, and therefore could cause, significant disruption to the migration program.

Now that they are gone, that handbrake has been released.

The Labour Party has also said in their manifesto that one of their priorities is to review the settings of the Parent Category. This will be welcome news to many when the child(ren) they have living in New Zealand who currently don't earn enough to sponsor their parent(s). The only way the Labour Party could get any parent category policy past the New Zealand First coalition partner in the last Government was to limit the numbers annually to 1000 visas and also to impose household income levels that would put the sponsors in the top 20 to 30% of earners in the country or they couldn’t sponsor their parent(s). That excluded many people that would traditionally vote for the Labour Party and given many who traditionally vote Labour are immigrants themselves, I think you can expect to see some movement over the next few months in terms of parent category settings. An easing, not a tightening.

The next three years are going to be very interesting with the government able to govern without worrying about what any coalition partner might think. Given the Labour Party has moved to the right and are very much a centrist party, conservative with a small ‘c’ (but continuing to tell us they are progressives) these days they will want to keep as many of those who would traditionally be centre-right voters.

My prediction is they will return to their pro-immigration roots.

That doesn't mean an open door but equally nor should the confirmation that the pool draws will not resume for another six months be seen as New Zealand shutting the door. Think of it as a bit of house work.

Until next week

Iain MacLeod

Southern Man

Tags: government | eoi | Eligibility

Walking the High Wire

Posted by Iain on Feb. 21, 2020, 1:26 p.m. in Skilled Migrant Category

Writing these weekly blogs is a delicate balancing act between informing over matters relating to visas and migration, hopefully with a bit of explanation into the whys and wherefores, and frightening people who might start to wonder if they are moving from or to a disorganised third world county.

I can assure you New Zealand is overwhelmingly ‘first’ world but right now the Immigration Department is operating like something from the DRC (which might be an insult to the Democratic Republic of the Congo). It isn’t corrupt but it is not functioning well. Much of that is self-inflicted but some of the blame must be directed squarely at the Minister of Immigration and his parliamentary colleagues.

On the positive side visitor visas are once again slowly being processed which is great news and we seem to be seeing more of these taking around 4-5 weeks to get through the system.

Work Visas are largely back to historical processing time norms and for most of our clients coming through in around a month for clients without health issues or any other complications.

ARTICLE UPDATED Saturday 22 February - INZ has just released advice confirming they are moving officers who process Essential skills Work Visas to process visitor visas - they are warning now of significant delays processing work visas. Allocation times on these which have been ten days to 6 weeks.

The problem continues to be resident visa processing. With every passing week the visa allocation queue gets longer and longer and longer. The greater issue now is the Government’s delay in publishing its residence programme (quotas) that was meant to be published at the latest in December last year with a start in January 2020.

All the while the Government continues to spend millions (around $11 million a year to be precise) every year marketing and encouraging skilled migrants to join that queue. Say what? You encourage them to come and find jobs, you invite them to file and pay thousands of dollars for a resident visa application and you don’t have any residence programme in place? If I did anything like that I’d lose my license, my business and I imagine I’d be facing fraud charges. It is more than a little disturbing that in all their glossy advertising they don’t warn their ‘customers’ what is happening (or more to the point, not happening). More than a little dishonest, actually.

I am not saying that those that have applied will be declined, only that we cannot tell them when they are going to be approved.

All the while, INZ continues its 30% staff churn every year, meaning as fast as they develop some institutional knowledge of policy, which should lead to higher productivity, faster and better decisions…people leave. The department continues to be undermined by the good people leaving and the deadwood hanging around.

My senior colleague Paul was bemoaning the fact that on Wednesday this week he was having five pretty inane yet critical conversations with five different immigration officers about visa rules that are plain and simple to understand if you’ve been doing this as long as he has, but which the officers not only did not understand, but when it was explained how they were misinterpreting or misunderstanding the rule in question, they ran off to their line supervisors who circled the wagons around them and defended them (God knows how) and the line managers above both, then joined the defensive lines.

I’m all for a united front when it is justified, but when the rules clearly require a particular type of evidence and these officers insist on something different, despite history and precedent (if not common sense) supporting our interpretation, it is embarrassing for the department and by extension, the country. Yet no one ever blushes. Managers generally won’t intervene in applications (they probably call it ‘empowerment’, I call it abdication of professional responsibility) and they let the junior and inexperienced staff get on with ruining lives.

The Department might be staffed and managed by people that as a colleague snidely suggested after this weeks antics, ‘I wouldn’t let manage my Big Mac Order’ but they are not entirely to blame.

While the Department in my experience has weak leadership, the Minister of Immigration and the current Government has an awful lot to answer for. With every passing month they continue to demonstrate they are clueless.

The Government was supposed to announce their residence programme last year for the 18 months from January 2020. That programme confirms how many resident visas they intend dishing out over the following 18 months. The target was 60,000 in the 18 months ending December 2019 under all categories. Previous Governments released their programme before the end of the current programme. The current one is now two months overdue.

Without a programme INZ cannot approve too many resident visas. The Government will at some point soon get around to releasing the programme quota or targets but in the meantime, they are keeping everyone, including INZ, guessing.

Therefore INZ is restricting themselves to only giving priority processing to those skilled migrants earning a high salary ($104,000, about to become $106,000) or those with NZ occupational registration. I still cannot fathom why they believe those applicants are better ‘value’ for New Zealand and more worthy of priority than the rest of the applicants who paid the same fee. Everyone who is non priority as I have previously written about is being told to suck it up and wait, no matter the uncertainty, inconvenience, cost and frustration that is causing them.

One presumes the Government will come up with a number but in the meantime no ‘non priority’ resident visa application receipted after 11 December 2018 has or will be allocated until INZ knows what their target/quota is.

I am certain that the upcoming election in September is dictating the thinking inside the halls of power. Having promised to cut skilled migrant numbers and doing it when they took power in 2017; having abandoned the promise to build us 100,000 houses over their first ten years in power (not least because of skills shortages), recently over turning their own 2017 cancellation of over $8 billion worth of much needed infrastructure projects of road, rail, hospitals and schools, they now find themselves in a visa numbers pickle.

To deliver on these new infrastructure projects, to keep Auckland employers happy and the country growing, they need more, not fewer, skilled migrants. But they promised the cut and I cannot see them backing down on it. There’s only so many back downs and u-turns you get away with before the voters realise they voted in a bunch of wallies.

So things continue in processing limbo for the vast majority of skilled migrants.

I am increasingly recommending Australia over New Zealand (those that know me know how much that hurts!). The problem with Australia these days is not so much processing delays (they too cut their numbers which has led to faster processing times) but they are increasingly only issuing five year ‘work to resident visas’.  That doesn’t suit a lot of people looking for certainty in troubled times particularly in South Africa and Hong Kong.

I just wish politicians might appreciate immigration isn’t ideological, it is driven by labour market reality.  If employers cannot secure the skills they need on a long term basis they will not grow - in fact with an ageing population, businesses will shrink.  Surely it a non-partisan issue? We either need Teachers, Engineers, Solutions Architects, Nurses, Carpenters and Welders among others or we do not.

If we continue to not encourage (force if they want subsidised tertiary study?) our own young people into courses the labour market wants (enough lawyers, already!), we will continue to need to supplement our work force with foreign talent. If we restrict those foreigners with the skills we desperately need because we are creating so many jobs, to a few years on a work visas, most won’t come.

These delays for those applicants in the system already has more than an emotional impact. Even if no one in Government gives a toss about the migrants, I am hoping they give a damn about the employers of New Zealand, the tax take and all the New Zealand jobs at risk if businesses have to start thinking about downsizing or not taking on that additional export order because they cannot offer certainty to the migrant they need to complete their labour force planning.

This numbers question will pass (the fools inside INZ will remain) and a degree of certainty will return, but right now it has never been as bad as it is currently trying to help people make decisions and plans.

I can just imagine the Government announcing an unchanged quota or even a reduced one and with a straight face tell us all that the decision was not based on internal squabbling between the Labour Party and the tiny but powerful anti immigrant NZ First party (to whom the Labour Party must daily grovel to stay in power) but something like ‘the economic fundamentals of New Zealand remain strong but the external economic environment is becoming less certain, creating short term challenges for local businesses caused by the coronavirus and head winds in our export markets, suggesting to the coalition government that it is appropriate to take a cautious approach to the numbers of visas we approve.’

And the Minister or the Prime Minister will say, ‘We think on balance we have the numbers about right’.

Bullshit we do.

Until next week

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Kia kaha

Posted by Iain on Feb. 14, 2020, 4:22 p.m. in Skilled Migrant Category

Kia kaha.

In Maori this means "stay strong”. It is one of those terms that has found its way into every day usage in New Zealand. I love it. It speaks to where I come from and the work that I do. People everywhere are freaking out over the skilled migrant resident visa allocation and processing times, frightened by what the government might do.

At my seminars I like to paint a picture that migration is like climbing Mount Everest. It takes a lot of good planning, careful execution, patience and courage. Mental toughness is rewarded. Migration is emotional, logistically complicated and generally expensive (as in, employ a cheap mountain guide, or no mountain guide at all and your chances of summiting Mount Everest are significantly lower — indeed that decision to do it on the cheap may cost you your future).

Migrants are always tested but never more so than today in New Zealand where allocation and processing times continue to get longer and longer. I have written recently something has to give in terms of what is going on with the skilled migrant category. Foolishly the government cut the number of resident visas they wanted to approve last year but left the points pass mark at 160.

Demand is not diminishing, nor increasing (as incorrectly claimed by the Minister of Immigration recently), but by cutting numbers while keeping the pass mark the same, has led directly to these processing backlogs - most skilled migrants are going to be waiting 18 to 24 months for their residence to be allocated, processed and approved unless they work in an occupation for which they have NZ registration or are earning at least $104,000.

Backlogs in and of themselves don’t necessarily suppress demand. Having dealt with the Australian system for some years the significant majority of resident Visa applications take 18 to 24 months to process. The big difference between Australia and New Zealand however, is none of those people wanting to move to Australia have sold their houses, given up their jobs, given the dog away to their neighbour, found employment in Australia and are now sitting waiting and worrying over their Resident Visa outcome. They are all still sitting at home getting on with their lives. All the people affected by the backlog in New Zealand, are in New Zealand on work visas. They have burned plenty of bridges to be part of the Government’s residence programme (that curiously they still spend millions of dollars marketing).

These NZ migrants cannot make any long-term decisions. Many have children finishing school and wanting to go to university during the waiting period and the majority simply cannot afford to pay international fees for university. Many are having to put on hold decisions to buy houses. Some might be stuck in jobs that are not ideal but serve the residence purpose.

I find we have two kinds of clients. Those that simply suck it up, and get on and enjoy life in New Zealand having faith we know what we are doing and residence is a matter of when and not if. They appreciate the delays are not of our making. As possibly the best Advisers in the game they appreciate that all we can do is to ensure that we file decision ready applications which is what we do.

Then there is the second kind. These are the people that take it out on us. Thankfully they are a minority but it isn’t very pleasant being blamed for changes in the rules half way through the game - when we don’t write the rules. There's nothing we can do to make the government go faster but we along with the entire industry has made it very clear to the government that the current situation is unsustainable and ignoring the problem will not make it go away.

Ultimately however it is the Minister that sets the pass mark to get out of the skilled migrant pool and it is the government that sets the criteria to qualify as a migrant. As I have written about recently I have no doubt some plan is being hatched in Wellington to deal with the situation. My major concern is the solution might be politically expedient rather than economically sensible.

Every single skilled migrant requires a highly skilled job to get into New Zealand. Employers the world over prefer to employ locally simply because of the perceived or real hassle getting visas. That means the government has in that backlog people who have been able to break into the labour market, secure a job for the most part against the odds, and that says one thing and one thing very clearly - their skills were desperately needed in New Zealand by that particular employer because no employer I’ve ever dealt with will play the visa game if they can avoid it. That reality seems lost on the politicians - or they choose to ignore it for political gain.

Obviously the simplest solution is for the government to increase the number of resident visas they will issue and clear the backlog. Sell it as a good economic news story, for that is what it is. Too many jobs, not enough Kiwis to fill them.

I was thinking the other day that another solution could be to return to the multi passmark system we used to have. The way things used to work was that applicants were ranked not just on raw points total as they are today, but according to what we deem more important and valuable e.g. claiming points for a job in an occupation on a national or regional skills shortage list, or having a partner with a skilled job offer, or higher salary - the criteria themselves could be ranked. Then, at least, it is transparent.

Or consider prioritising processing in terms of the points score that people claim. The more points you claim the faster your case could be allocated. The obvious problem with that of course is people would start claiming points they are not entitled to. I would then adopt the Australian approach – a bit of a scorched Earth - if you claim it and you can't prove it you’d be declined. That would force people into getting it right up front and first time but the flip-side of that is it would require immigration officers to understand their own rules completely — and we know how bad they are at that. It is however worth considering. It would certainly force migrants to make sure they have the evidence of their points claim before filing an Expression of Interest in residence. That alone should cut down on applications that are always doomed to fail under the current system.

A simple across-the-board increase in the pass mark would obviously decrease demand for the available places but equally it's going to deprive the labour market, particularly in Auckland, of skills desperately needed that we do not produce ourselves as a country.

And that makes the simplest solution, the best. Recognise that the skilled migrant category rewards those that are able to break into a labour market that is, owing to the disconnect between employers wanting people to have work visas, but the government not wanting to grant work visas without jobs, seldom easy. The annual target of resident visas allowed to be issued should simply be increased — at least while the Government comes up with a better idea that does not hurt the economy. The government backtracked on infrastructure spending recently, perhaps they should backtrack on cutting skilled migrant numbers as well - and take the heat they will rightly get for making silly, politically motivated decisions in the first place.

If they were to do that and the economy keeps growing, then of course it creates more jobs. So arguably the problem never goes away. It’s a valid point (unless and until we can create the skills we need locally). The government should recognise that with that would come an increased demand on infrastructure, schools, roads, housing and everything else that would come with a growing population.

Well, here’s a thought — how about a population policy?

What this situation shows is it is a complex issue and you can't solve the problem unless you have an idea about how many people we want to share this land with and that demands a population policy which New Zealand has never had.

And no New Zealand government wants to have a discussion about what our ideal population might be.

So we find ourselves in a situation where the government sits on its hands when it comes to this critical issue and I continue to fear they will do something really really dumb.

Some positive news to end, however. Visitor Visas now seem to be being issued once again and we have had at least one issued this week for a South African client that was filed in mid-January. 

That's a real relief for us and our clients looking to come over and find jobs.

Remember, migration is stressful and our jobs at IMMagine exist because the process is legally complex, logistically challenging and emotionally very tough. Don't start the process if you're not up for it because there's no point getting halfway up that mountain and turning around and going back down again.  And migration is as much political for any country as it is economic so you will always be at the whim of self-serving politicians (or well-meaning but simply stupid ones) until that precious resident Visa is in your passport.

For migrants to be one of Darwin’s ‘winners’ it takes the creation of a good strategy (usually incorporating a Plan B), a steady nerve and listening to the advice that you are paying for. In our case it's normally spot on and we continue to enjoy watching over 98% of our clients come to New Zealand and find skilled jobs and go on to secure their residency.

Even if now, it is going to be a two year process.

Kia kaha. 

Until next week

Iain MacLeod

Southern Man


Skilled migrant processing times - update

Posted by Iain on Jan. 31, 2020, 5:09 p.m. in Skilled Migrant Category

Two weeks ago I wrote a blog which explained how the immigration department is allocating Skilled Migrant Category (SMC) Resident Visa applications and how they are choosing to prioritise.

I did that in part because we have received a small number of emails from clients in recent months along the lines of "Why is my application going to take one year to be allocated when my friends were allocated more quickly and they lodged their application after we did?”

I contacted the Regional Manager and the Resident Visa Operations Manager for the Manukau branch where all SMC migrant cases are now processed and put this question to them.

They replied, very emphatically, that unless an application meets the criteria for priority processing, which is either the principal applicant has a high salary ($104,000 per annum) or they work in an occupation for which registration in New Zealand is a statutory requirement and they hold that registration, they would not be afforded priority. All those applications are going to be allocated in ‘strict chronological order of receipt’. I have no doubt that once allocated, our cases will be processed very quickly because they are "decision ready" when they are submitted. Those going it alone I imagine will take many months even once allocated so most people are probably looking at 18-24 months more or less from the time the file their application.

These Managers went on to confirm that the only cases being bumped up the queue are those that are already in the priority queue.

That is to say they are now prioritising some of the prioritised cases! One example I was offered was a surgeon living in a regional area i.e. outside of Auckland. I have no idea why that person is more important than the local electrician (registration) or the Accountant earning $104,000 but there you are. A priority system within a priority system - how very INZ.

What we tend to find is when clients give us their “But my friend…” stories and we get more information about those friends, we usually find that the applicant meets one of the criteria for prioritisation.

I don't believe that the senior managers are lying and I do stand by the piece I wrote two weeks ago in which I explained that the backlogs are growing because the government is now holding INZ to what appears to be an annual quota of SMC resident visas they can issue, rather than the "target" they previously described the annual visa numbers as.

There is no doubt in my mind that it’s politics at play and the fact that we have an election coming up in September, the country is groaning under an infrastructure deficit and the last thing the government wants going into a new election is even more population pressure and the house price inflation that has been created in recent years. Especially when all three parties to the current government campaigned in 2017 on cutting immigration numbers and set out to do so.

I am going to be intrigued to see what the biggest party making up government, the Labour Party, announces its immigration policy to be this time round. Given that they rule at the pleasure of the very small New Zealand First party, a small anti-immigration party (at least whilst not in Government), I am not sure they will have the courage of their historical convictions that migration is a positive force not a negative one. Things change when you want to get your hands on the levers of power.

I outlined three possible options two weeks ago that the government might adopt to deal with the backlog that is rapidly growing:

 

1.       Increase the pass mark significantly but that has downside economic risks particularly in Auckland as we need every single skilled migrant that is finding work in New Zealand or live with the economic contraction keeping them out will almost certainly cause; or

2.       Let the visa allocation times get longer and longer and effectively kick the can down the road at least till after the election. I suspect this is what they will do until the election is out of the way. All bets are off once a new government is in place.

3.       Nuclear option - shut down the policy temporarily. They did it with the parent category but I don't believe they would be stupid enough to do it with the skilled migrant category. There is simply too much at stake economically.

The smartest move would be to recognise that every skilled migrant who jumps through the hoops to find a job whilst on a Visitor Visa is obviously in acute demand in New Zealand. No New Zealand employer employs migrants and deals with the Visa process if they can find locals. A simple truth, always ignored by all those who complain about "mass migration" and filling up New Zealand with "cheap foreign labour” (and you would be quite surprised how many people think that!). We have neither mass migration, nor is New Zealand being flooded by cheap foreign labour. Foreigners actually have to earn around 20% more than locals or they don't get work visas.

The government should have the courage of their economic convictions and revert to describing the annual number of resident visas they are prepared to issue as a ‘target’ and not a quota. Funny how when they weren't filling the annual numbers two years ago we were told the ‘magic number’ wasn't a quota but a ‘target’ and it was about ‘quality not quantity’. Now however it seems to be a quota and it is about quantity and not quality.

Back to the ‘My friend’ stories however. If you know of anybody that has filed a resident Visa application under the SMC policy who is not earning $104,000 a year or does not hold registration in New Zealand in their occupation, but has been given priority, I would very much like to hear about it. Email me at iain@justimmagine.com

I do believe the senior departmental managers when they tell me they are not prioritising anybody else and not allowing people to queue jump but at the same time I know the immigration department is consistently inconsistent and its management doesn't always know what is going on at counter level.

I don't rule out INZ management believing people are not jumping the queue, but that doesn’t mean queue jumping is not taking place nonetheless.

I'd like to find out.

Iain MacLeod

 

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What does 2020 bring for skilled migrants?

Posted by Iain on Jan. 17, 2020, 6:50 p.m. in Skilled Migrant Category

What does 2020 bring for skilled migrants?

The short answer is delays and frustrations.

INZ continues to advise that they are placing skilled migrant (points) resident visa applications into two queues — those that warrant prioritisation based on two limited criteria and those that do not.

Priority to INZ today means you earn a "high salary" of $104,000 or higher. Alternatively your New Zealand job is in an occupation that requires statutory registration.

The priority cases are being allocated within a few months of receipt and everything else I am continuously told by the senior management will be allocated “strictly in chronological order of receipt of the application”. As recently as yesterday.

INZ has essentially stopped allocating for substantive processing, non-priority resident visa applications received after December 2018 (not 2019).

It is extremely difficult to explain to a Software Engineer earning $103,000 that his case will now take 2 years to be allocated and processed when his colleague sitting at the next work station on the same work visa is getting priority because he earns $104,000. Or tell the Auditor they don’t warrant priority but the Electrician does.

What makes the (registered) Electrician more valuable to the country than the Auditor?

And where did these prioritisation criteria come from anyway? Who dreamed them up?

It is arbitrary and a mess. And it is getting messier. The Minister of immigration, Iain Lees-Galloway was warned and acknowledged this problem in April last year. He has done nothing about it.

The reasons we got here are clear and were predictable. The consequences of a wrong move now by Government is frightening. All the solutions are unpalatable.

INZ is contractually obligated and resourced by their political masters to only process and approve the number of skilled migrant resident visas that the government has set out in the publicly listed residence program (which lasts 18 months before being revisited). Although for years, and when convenient because they issued fewer resident visas than their annual ‘target”, the politicians constantly told us that they operate targets and not quotas (‘the numbers aren’t important, it is about quality”), yet all of a sudden, when the economy is on fire and lots of migrants have skilled jobs these ‘targets’ cannot be exceeded. Which rather makes them sound more like quotas to me. Targets when it suits. Quotas when it suits.

As of yesterday I am informed that there are 10,000 priority and non-priority applications covering approximately 37,000 people sitting in the queue waiting to be allocated. What took six months last year will take 18 months now.

So how did we get here?

It is the government that sets the annual targets/quotas and it is the government that sets the pass mark to be selected from the skilled migrant pool. I have written previously that the pass mark is clearly too low and the number of migrants getting skilled jobs in the economy is too high.

In many ways the immigration department's hands are tied. They cannot increase the target/quota which means they say they must delay allocating cases for processing system (or at least that is their story and they are sticking to it). They cannot put the pass mark up (that is true), the Government does that. At 160 points to be selected, the numbers building up in the system awaiting allocation is increasing with every subsequent pool draw.

So what are the solutions?

1.       Significantly increase the pass mark to perhaps 190 or 200 which will certainly lead to significantly fewer applicants being invited to apply for residence. That is what the pass mark is for — it acts as a valve system to control the flow of applicants into the system. So why doesn't the government put up the pass mark?

I can think of a few reasons — the most important is it will screw the Auckland labour market and the Government needs Auckland votes. Auckland continues to be a ‘jobs factory’ and we have a critical shortage of workers across most sectors and industries. Already around 70% of skilled migrants are being forced out of Auckland in order to secure enough points even to reach the 160 threshold.

In construction, hospitality, tourism and child care, the impacts are already being felt with the current pass mark exacerbating existing skills shortages. If they put the pass mark up the government is going to have Auckland employers screaming even louder. Given the importance of Auckland to the national economy, if the Government restricts the labour market there too much, you're going to see a significant decrease in economic activity. That is not politically very palatable for the government.

Another reason is that many of the skills we need desperately (and tradesmen spring immediately to mind) already struggle to secure 160 points, even outside of Auckland. Put the pass mark up higher and you'll be excluding some of the most critical skills we lack.

2. Let the allocation of processing times continue to get longer and longer.

That also creates a political headache for the government which is already getting it in the neck because we have some 150,000 odd people in New Zealand on work visas. The reality is many migrants are only here on work visas because there is a potential pathway to residence. If they think they can secure that future more quickly in Australia, Canada, the UK or the US then that is where they will go. Migrants will put up with a certain amount of crap to get where they want to go but they do have limits and many of them have choices.

3. The nuclear option — shut the program down and don't accept any more applications into the skilled migrant pool until the current backlog is cleared. Based on current estimates that would take two years.  

It would be simple, it is clean and it turns off the tap. Experience demonstrates however that when you want to turn the tap back on you've lost the trust of the market and the skilled migrants the economy demands will go and settle in countries with a more forgiving and certain process. That is if we had any economy left to worry about.

I'm sure there are many policy makers in Wellington who would argue that it takes two years to get residence of Australia for example. That is true but the significant majority of our clients secure that residency while they are sitting in their home country. They are not uprooting, they're not selling houses before their future is secured and they are not taking the risk that skilled migrants coming to New Zealand are.

The bizarre thing is all this interest in New Zealand is actually a good economic news story (it’s just a bad political one for the parties in Government because of the things they said to get into power back in 2017). To get into this country you must be able to get skilled employment and given the very real barriers to getting work for migrants without work visas, (our old friend the ‘chicken and the egg’), the fact that so many employers are still willing to play the visa game is testament to what full employment in the local labour market looks like when your business is expanding or you need to replace someone who is moving on.  These migrants are getting jobs because we have more jobs than we have people to fill them and it is as simple as that.

Simply put, employers have no choice but to employ immigrants. They aren’t doing it because they want to. A fact usually lost on the anti-immigration politicians and voters.

Now, put yourself in the shoes of the current government. This is an election year and all three parties making up the current government campaigned in 2017 on cutting immigration and they did cut skilled migration targets by around 20% when they gained the treasury benches. Oh for that breathing room now!

The current government also promised to build 100,000 houses over 10 years, a policy since abandoned as unachievable (surprise, surprise, we don’t have the skills to build them!) and house prices have continued to climb, pushing many people out of the permanent home ownership market. While many migrants have been pushed out of Auckland in order to score the 160 points, that is now putting infrastructure pressure on other centres. It is interesting to note for example that in recent months property prices in Wellington have almost caught up to Auckland.

Obviously more migrants means more infrastructure is needed and the lack of a comprehensive population policy and planning for the numbers is the root cause of the problems today.

If we don’t want migrants, fine.

The only alternative to that however is to ensure we are producing the right sets of skills we need locally. We are not, and have never done so. How do you force a kid to become an Electrician or a Teacher or a Brain Surgeon if they want to be a Lawyer or Tattoo Artist or Software Developer?

Migrants only get residence because we are creating jobs we simply cannot fill ourselves. Deny them the possibility of residence and a long term future, and for the majority, they will go elsewhere. For those who might be inclined to let out a rip roaring ‘hurrah’, consider how you might feel when you have no one to teach your kids at their school or a plumber to fix your burst water pipe, or Brain Surgeon to remove your tumour...remember you wanted fewer migrants so please don’t whine about it.

There is a big problem to fix with the Skilled Migrant Category and right now all we are seeing is the can being kicked down the road through longer allocation and processing times — no doubt in my mind to keep immigration as far away from the election campaign as possible. It won’t work.

Whatever they do or don’t do, the pressure is building on Government with every passing week. The lack of policy or even foresight on this issue by this Government is incredibly disappointing — they had nine years in opposition to come up with some (costed) plans. They spend a whole lot of time talking and ‘virtue signaling’ but very little time actually doing anything, because I strongly suspect they are clueless when it comes to solutions.

And given how hard they campaigned that we had too many migrants, they are now lying on a bed of nails that they hammered into place.

Going to be an interesting year.

Until next week

Iain MacLeod

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Is the Skilled Migrant pass mark set to increase?

Posted by Iain on Oct. 4, 2019, 3:20 p.m. in Skilled Migrant Category

Of late, and very publicly, the Immigration Department has been blaming the blow out in Skilled Migrant Resident Visa processing times to a surge in demand and a massive inflow of applications.  

I cannot help thinking that they are softening up the Minister of Immigration to increase to the skilled migrant pass mark from 160 to give themselves some breathing space to process the ever increasing backlogs that they have created. 

The reality is that there is no evidence to support the claim of significant increase in Resident Visa applications flowing into the system over the past 12 months but there is plenty of evidence that the restructuring that the Department has been undertaking over the past 12 months has been rushed and is disastrous. It has led to scores of newly employed, inexperienced and poorly trained immigration officers sitting in judgement on complex visa applications beyond their ability and capability to process. This is the single greatest factor that has led to the slowdown in decision making (we see the evidence every day).

It is this uncomfortable fact that the department does not want to concede but which I have little doubt has contributed to the blow out from 4 to 6 months to process most residency applications this time last year to more like 10 to 12 months today. The queues just keep getting longer.

The number of skilled migrant resident cases sitting waiting for a decision has now reached a point where there are 15,000 people waiting for decisions on their (largely) skilled residence visa applications. This is an increase of roughly 10,000 people over this time last year. INZ blames demand.

It would be easy to conclude that a points pass mark increase is warranted to slow down the inflow when you consider how many people are sitting waiting for the Visa to be processed.

Is there any evidence though of a surge in skilled migrant residence applications being filed?

Short answer is no - until early August. ‘Demand’ (being the number of people chasing the finite number of places available each year) seems to be fairly consistent over the past decade or so.

Our analysis based on the numbers below shows demand each year over the past decade is very consistent — it fluctuates but there’s no obvious evidence of any spike in demand.

People with applications receipted for processing were

2009/10  30,700

2010/11  23,500 

2011/12  23,400 

2012/13  24,000 

2013/14  24,000

2014/15  28,000

2015/16  32,800

2016/17  27,200

2017/18  21,500

2018/19  26,400

 Interestingly, the two months of August and September 2019 saw the number of applications receipted into the system for processing jump to an astonishing 7000. It is very hard to pin down where these have come from because extrapolate those two months out to the end of the 12-month period and those two months of receipts would suggest there will be 42,000 odd lining up for a resident visa.

Given average decline rates of resident visa applications, the final number of Resident Visas issued will be much lower and likely be closer to 34,000 — which is still a lot higher than the existing ’target’. For reasons I won’t explain here I predict a significant increase in decline rates over the coming months.’

INZ increased ‘pool’ selections to around 630 Expressions of Interest - note not people - from 550 each fortnight back in March, and the Resident Visas applications that will have followed, would absolutely contribute to the 7000 people added through August and September, but does not begin to explain the sudden and massive increase in people being receipted into INZ’s system.

Increased selection numbers and a 30% lower annual target of skilled migrants cannot begin to explain the massive increase in either the alleged surge nor the time it takes INZ to process these visas.

These historical data illustrate no significant increase in applications flowing INZ’s way over the past year— the reason INZ has so many cases on hand waiting for a decision seems to be better explained by INZ’s inability to process them.

The two month August-September 2019 snapshot of 7000 new ‘people’ sitting in the system presents an interesting ‘blip’ and I cannot explain why there has been such a significant jump. I suspect it is more administrative than some sudden surge in demand.

Those two months however might still be reason for INZ to suggest to the Minister that to get on top of the ’delays’ in processing, a pass mark increase from 160 might be nice. For the Department perhaps to save a little embarrassment, certainly not the employers and the economy of NZ.

After all, the Minister and the Government would likely prefer to sell the line that it is time for a ‘bit of a breather’ so they have decided on a ‘modest’ increase in selection point to 180 or more…as demand for places is outstripping the target’ Even if it isn’t strictly true.

Thinking about the political ‘optics’ blaming increased demand would always be preferable to this Government than admitting that under its watch the Immigration Department has descended into chaos following its recent restructuring requiring the employment in New Zealand of legions of new immigration officers who are quite clearly not equipped with the knowledge to process cases as quickly as in previous years.

What Minister would want to admit the ongoing INZ restructuring is the real cause of applications piling up? After all the work flow ‘in’ has not increased until 8 weeks ago, yet INZ is only now allocating (most) skilled Migrant Category cases received in December 2018! There was no increase in demand last year based on INZ’s data.

If there is a pass mark increase, the markets will freak and we know how easy it is to turn the migrant tap off and how much harder it is to turn it back on.

If, as Minister of Immigration Lees-Galloway keeps saying (as did his National Party predecessor before him) ‘it isn’t a numbers game, it’s a quality game’, then the pass mark should stay where it is and INZ should be told to pull its delivery socks up. Such a decision also has political risks for the Minister of course if (when?) the Department doesn’t.

It should not be forgotten when thinking about this speculative piece, we are heading into an election year next. Our Deputy Prime Minister (‘Mr 5-7%’ of the popular vote) is one who will be reaching for the well-worn speech he dusts off every three years proclaiming we let in too many migrants in order to secure another three years of influencing our nations policies. A selection point increase now with the associated ‘look, we are cutting back’ message would surely play well to his old, white base and boost his re-election chances in 2020….

And the Labour Party, which currently only governs at that politician’s pleasure is unlikely to want to deny him given he is the difference between them ruling or observing from the side lines.

What is clear to me is that demand is not driving up processing times — it’s INZ’s failure to be able to deliver decision making at the same rate it historically has. How they manipulate that and how the Politicians weight up the political and economic risks will determine whether the skilled migrant pass mark is going to be increased.

I’d say the risk they’ll put it up to save embarrassment is increasing by the day.

I am not saying the pass mark will increase. I am saying I can see the Department agitating for it and politicians thinking blaming ‘migrant demand’ for the situation created by internal departmental chaos, sounds a whole lot better than taking responsibility for the processing chaos created under their and the bureaucracy’s ‘leadership’.

Until next week 

Iain MacLeod

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Skilled employment and ANZSCO

Posted by Iain on Sept. 28, 2018, 2:29 p.m. in Skilled Migrant Category

Part of the mystery to applicants is how immigration officers decide if the job they hold in New Zealand is a ‘substantial match’ to the skilled job descriptions in the Australia New Zealand Classification of Occupations (ANZSCO).

To get your head around his, you must first understand what ANZSCO is - it is in effect a list of all the occupations known to the Australian and New Zealand Departments of Statistics. It was never designed for use by Immigration Departments in Australia and New Zealand. It is used for statistical gathering purposes. It was, a number of years ago, adopted by both as a tool to give to immigration officers to determine whether what someone says they do all day can be matched against one of these skilled occupations. It was thought, naively, it would lead to better and more consistent decision making because it meant immigration officers wouldn’t need to think too hard.

That presupposes of course, that employers, when offering jobs, consult with the ANZSCO in constructing job descriptions. Obviously, most have never heard of the ANZSCO let alone appreciate the critical role it plays in the minds of immigration officers when deciding whether that employer is going to get the services of that skilled migrant.

This is compounded by the lack of knowledge of their own rules displayed constantly by immigration officers. To be fair on them, I learned to my horror a week or so ago around 50% of officers, sitting in judgement on resident visa applications are new to the job and lack anything more than a few weeks of training and a rudimentary understanding of the rules.

Back to the process - if you claim points for a job offer in NZ, you are expected to provide the six digit ‘lead definition’ number in ANZSCO of the occupation that you think most closely aligns with the tasks of the job in New Zealand. This ’lead definition’ tells you what the primary responsibilities will be for someone working in that role. In some cases it can be quite straight forward as the job description as claimed, doesn't overlap much with any other - think Primary School Teacher versus High School Teacher. They both teach but the difference is the age of those they are teaching.

ANZSCO also provides a four digit unit code which is a ‘family’ of similar but different occupations that broadly fall into one ‘related’ group. ANZSCO provides a single bullet pointed list of all the tasks in all of these occupations under this four digit unit code.

Take Civil Engineering Professionals as an example - this four digit ‘family’ comprises Quantity Surveyor, Construction Estimator, Civil Engineer, Geotechnical Engineer, Structural Engineer and Transport Engineer.

Clearly a Transport Engineer doesn’t have much in common with a Quantity Surveyor but a Construction Estimator does.

Immigration Officers are expected, without prejudice or prejudgment, to compare the job description of the applicant with the six digit lead definition in ANZSCO and ask a pretty simple question - is it a ‘substantial match’?

This is not always easy and even those of us with years of experience can disagree over the ‘closest fit’ simply because two occupations can appear to be very similar, Construction Estimator and Quantity Surveyor is a good example.

The six digit lead definition in ANZSCO for a QS describes a role that ‘Estimates and monitors construction costs from the project feasibility stage, through tender preparation, to the construction period and beyond.’ 

A Construction Estimator describes a role that ‘Prepares and delivers estimates and cost plans for construction projects up to the tender settlement stage’

Similar but not the same. Equally it needs to be said, not that hard to work out whether an applicant’s job description is more like one than the other.

‘Substantial match’ is broadly defined as where an applicant does ‘most’ of the tasks listed in the six digit lead definition. One officers ‘most’ though is not the same as another's.

Immigration rules require objectivity and an assessment which requires officers to grapple with the facts - check the applicant’s job description against the six digit lead definition. When there is some overlap in tasks between two occupations officers must decide which occupation represents the better match.

Although I helped to write last year what at the time was thought to be a pretty simple series of steps to help officers apply this rule, now enshrined in the immigration rule book, it continues to amaze and frustrate me that officers so often seem unable to understand a process and apply this rule which requires them to ask:

1. Is the applicant’s job description a substantial match to the six digit unit code for the occupation they nominated in their application? If yes, it is skilled and points should be awarded.

2. If it is not a substantial match, is it a close match to another (skilled) occupation based on its six digit lead definition? If yes, it is skilled.

3. If the answers to one and two is no, officers are directed to consider whether they can find the answer in the four digit ‘family’ group task list but they are also directed to only take into account those tasks listed that are relevant to the nominated occupation (or to another not nominated by the applicant). This is because that list encompasses all the task of all the occupations in the group

4. If they conclude that there is no substantial match to any six digit lead definition or the relevant four digit unit group tasks they are to compare it to the three digit unit group - I’ve never seen a single case of this happening. If that doesn’t satisfy them the only conclusion is that the occupation does not appear in ANSZCO and;

5. The officer has one more assessment tool they must use in this situation and that is to assess whether the applicant is earning enough to be considered skilled irrespective of what their job description details. That rule says that if they earn an effective hourly rate of $36.44 per hour their job is skilled even if they are employed to vacuum the floor. If they do not earn that minimum, their job is not skilled and they cannot be awarded points for their job.

It really shouldn’t be as difficult as many officers make it, but a combination of a paranoid culture, lack of sufficient experienced officers and institutional knowledge, and at times, the unfortunate reality that INZ employs people that are out of their intellectual depth, continues to lead to inconsistent and incorrect decision making.

Working out what is the most appropriate occupation to nominate and being able to back that up with genuine, clear and evidence based proof of daily tasks in New Zealand is critical to the success of all skilled migrant applications, and it all starts (and should usually finish) with the six digit led definition.

Until next week 

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Tags: work visa

Work in NZ: The 5 Key Drivers

Posted by Iain on Feb. 9, 2018, 5:14 p.m. in Skilled Migrant Category

The start to 2018 has been among the busiest we’ve ever experienced here at IMMagine. Packed houses across Singapore, Hong Kong and Kuala Lumpur and turning people away in South Africa, literally in their hundreds, as that country continues to make building futures - particularly for its youngsters - an ever more perilous proposition.

Part of the plan to handle the demand is to encourage people to order Skype consultations with us so that we can give them the answers they want far more quickly and without having to wait for our regular seminars. Naturally of course, that also enables us to offer our services to far more people from far more countries. New Zealand continues to be attractive to people from, well, almost everywhere.  

What strikes me when I consult with people on the Skilled Migrant pathway (the points system) and the process to achieve the current selection points of 160, is that while most understand the process and the steps to achieve the visitor, work and resident visas that virtually all Skilled Category cases demand, many still miss the point on the executing the strategy and order of events. In particular, how to go about securing a job and the timing of that part of the process.  

Once I complete the consultation, given how much ground we cover during the 60 – 80 minutes it takes, I always invite questions in the days following. I think it’s fair to say that once the reality of what the process demands sinks in respect of the financial, emotional and logistical commitment, many are probably shell-shocked.

Most, understandably, cannot get their head around how a Government that professes to welcome skilled migrants and which itself spends close to NZ$9 million a year marketing the country, makes it so damned difficult for those skilled migrants it says it wants so badly.

I hear myself explaining the disconnection between the way the visa process works and the way the labour market works, i.e. what employers want is people with works rights and residency preferably, whereas the Government says ‘find a job first and we’ll think about giving you a visa’.

As I explain to everybody at seminars and consultations, the 5 key drivers which determine the speed with which migrants get jobs that open the doors to Work Visas and Residency, in descending order of importance, are:

  1. Being in New Zealand, available for interviews and sending a very strong signal of commitment to the process;
  2. Speaking very good English;
  3. Cultural compatibility, i.e. for most positions, the less like the dominant culture you are, the less likely you are to get employment;
  4. Resilient personality – you must be able to take the hard knocks of rejection for weeks and sometimes months;
  5. Demand for your skills — if you tick the four boxes above demand takes care of itself — most of our clients are not on any skills shortages list.

Most people imagine that it is demand for skills and shortages of skills that determines the speed with which people get work. This has never been the case in my experience; it is those first 4 criteria that are the key drivers and none more so than number 2. There are some exceptions to that, especially in highly technical roles such as IT where there isn’t a lot of human interaction going on.

What still amazes me is how many people email me a few days later and they say “Right Iain, so what I need to do first is to get a job so I will start applying online...”

To them I reply “No, the first thing is not to get a job, the first thing to do is to lay the foundation for coming to New Zealand to find a job and that usually involves English language examinations, qualification assessments, gathering all the documentation required so that when you get the job, we can move very quickly in order to keep the New Zealand employer happy in terms of a prospective start date.' 

I completely understand why many people freak out at the prospect and simply roll over and go back to sleep, hoping tomorrow will bring better prospects for their family’s future than today.

That is the very reason why all the talk in the local media about Brits fleeing Brexit and Americans fleeing Trump is simply not true and there is no evidence to support the assertion that New Zealand is benefitting from those two acts of nationalistic madness. Unlike a country like South Africa which is clearly falling apart at the seams, people in the UK still have law and order, still have running water, don’t have a broken political system (well, not very broken) and as vile as Trump may be, most Americans still have electricity, running water, rising wages and jobs.  There’s no great pressure on them to take the risks inherent in the NZ Skilled Migrant Category process, real or perceived.

For those people who live in countries where the future is far less certain, a small percentage will decide - having weighed up the risks, done their research and consulted with professionals - that it is their only option. They still need to commit and to be in, boots and all. There is not much to be gained from applying for online jobs - it works for a minority, but no more than 10% in our experience.

Not understanding the reality of the job search process is the main reason why the Brits will still be complaining about their weather, crowded motorways and too many immigrants in Birmingham long after Brexit has run its course.

Ultimately, skilled migration takes incredible planning, careful execution, usually a great deal more money than most people ever imagine and a single-minded focus on the reasons what needs to happen to climb the visa mountain.

The New Zealand Government never seems interested in making it easier and nor for that matter do most employers, despite their constant moaning about skill shortages as this economy continues to create around 10,000 jobs a month and we have a labour market with virtually no skilled unemployed anymore.

Understanding the pathway to employment is critical in any successful strategy for skilled migrants and our consultations cover that in some detail.

Until next week...

Iain MacLeod, Southern Man


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