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Immigration Blog

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Posts in category: Skilled Migrant Category

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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.

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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Danger in the Pool

Posted by Iain on Nov. 24, 2017, 4:27 p.m. in Skilled Migrant Category

Just when you thought it was safe to get back into the water after the Skilled Migrant changes earlier this year in both New Zealand and Australia, it seems that you might need to think again.

Both countries allow applicants to file Expressions of Interest and enter their skilled migrant pools – in Australia you need a minimum of 60 points and in New Zealand, 160, (we give more points to qualifications and work experience but the type of person with those scores will be very similar). In both countries the immigration year begins on 1 July.

New Zealand targets 27,000 skilled migrants per year with a variance of 10%. Between the start of the immigration year and 3 November, New Zealand approved and issued around 4,100 resident visas. If you annualise that you’ll see that it will barely reach 50% of the stated target. That is not to tell the whole story however. We had clearly signalled that there would be no pool ‘draws’ for six weeks through to late August as the new system was reset. This saw three draws skipped. 

It may be that numbers recover in the months to come but given the difficulties I have written about so often about the disconnect between the visa process and the labour market (employers want work visas but Government won’t give work visas without jobs for the most part), the jury is out on whether New Zealand will reach its self-declared quotas this year.

I see no prospect of pass mark increases.

The question is whether we will see it fall. If so when the politicians will let it as unemployment continues to fall rapidly in NZ. It is now down to 4.6% which effectively means if you want to work there is a job with your name on it.

We are continuing to find that in the significant majority of cases our English speaking and experienced clients are finding jobs in 8-10 weeks. If all migrants are doing the same then I think that there is a chance the pass marks may not need to fall and the next few months will confirm that.

Over in Australia things have taken a bizarre turn in recent times.

The Aussies, never ones for originality, took the NZ skilled migrant system – Expressions of Interest (EOI), a pool, selection and invitation, modified it and I believe are seeing the first signs of it falling apart.

Historically to meet their own skilled migrant quotas (which are not national quotas like NZ where you compete against everyone chasing one of those 27,000 places, but occupation quotas – you compete against those in the same ‘nominated occupation’ as you).

Historically, the Australians needed to select 2000 EOIs each selection period. They have cut that in half since July 1. Inexplicably or with an arrogance that one might suggest is misplaced, they feel no obligation it seems to ever explain what they are doing, nor why. The implications of cuts to the numbers being selected means more people are fighting for fewer places and that pushes up pass marks.

One might speculate they might be doing this to push applicants toward state sponsorship. It would be nice to know.

In Australia, each State or territory has its own ‘in demand’ occupation lists so there is the possibility the Federal Government is in effect abandoning their own national occupation targets and devolving the decision on which skilled migrants get into Australia to the various  States. If they are it makes some sense. I’ve never understood how some bureaucrat in Canberra can possibly know how many Primary School Teachers, Electrical Engineers or Software Developers the economy needs over the next year.

State sponsorship has the advantage of creating greater certainty for our clients as the pass mark for those with state sponsorship is fixed at 60.

Further, the Australian Government recently decided, again without explanation, not to do a pool draw. This has huge implications on many levels. We have at least one client in the pool (after racing the clock to get him to that point following a Herculean effort by our team in Melbourne) who turns 40 any day now. At that point, while he will still secure a Permanent Resident Visa, it won’t be the ‘live wherever you wish’ visa, but a State Sponsorship visa which requires him to have an ‘intention’ to settle, or at least spend two years in that state. He doesn’t have to live there, the law on that is clear, but he is expected to ‘give it a go’ (whatever that means).

If the Australian Government does not offer greater certainty to applicants they’ll lose people they say they need as more and more choose countries where a plan offers greater certainty.

We also suspect that Australia is suffering a flood of fraudulent or at least mischievous EOIs. Whereas in NZ you pay to file an EOI, in Australia you don’t. I have always thought this invited frivolous applications. When there is no skin in the game there is nothing stopping people filling as many EOIs as they like.

If they claim the pass mark they must be selected. Equally stupidly, unlike NZ, being selected from the pool leads to an automatic and guaranteed Invitation to Apply for residence. We believe that this is the reason that the pass mark for Accountants for example shot up to 85 points despite the annual quota of places being doubled this immigration year. The pass mark at the end of the previous immigration year was 70-75. When you double the supply of places unless there is an unprecedented increase in demand (which there has not been) the pass mark should have fallen, not gone up. That strongly suggests people are filing frivolous applications. And why not? It’s free!

I hope the Aussies learn from NZ some of the lessons of running a pool system. Charge to get into it. Don’t automatically invite everyone that you select. Carry out credibility assessments. Invite them when things look credible. They’d cut down on the fraudulent and plain stupid applications if people had to pay the $500 odd that you pay to file an EOI in NZ and while credibility checks in NZ still result in large numbers of applicants being declined, our system isn’t broken.

Australia’s is. While they don’t tend to take advice off Kiwis they might want to do so on this occasion.

If they don’t, skilled migrants will continue to look elsewhere when Australia’s slowly falling unemployment rates and an improving job market for skills suggests they need these skills sets.

But hey, they’re Aussies, and since when have you been able to tell an Aussie they might not be doing something right?

Until next week...


The Skilled Migrant – Determining Deemed Qualified Date

Posted by Iain on Sept. 1, 2017, 6:27 p.m. in Skilled Migrant Category

Under the new Skilled Migrant rules that were formally released this week but which I have had a copy of for some time, applicants now face a somewhat complicated issue when claiming points for work experience under the Skilled Migrant Category. 

The Government has now introduced what is effectively a “deemed qualified date”.  I suspect many people, including Immigration Officers, are going to have a lot of trouble working out when that date occurred.  Under the new rules, anyone trying this application process themselves has to become familiar with the Australia New Zealand Standard Classification of Occupations (ANZSCO) reference material.  This “book” is a list of all the occupations known to these two Government departments and provide task lists for them.

Only work experience that is Skill Level 1, 2 or 3 as recorded in ANZSCO will now qualify for work experience points (with some exceptions but I won’t go there). 

You will be required to identify the occupation that most closely matches your claimed period of work experience.

Once you have done that you’ll notice that ANZSCO records that a particular qualification such as a degree or diploma or certificate is required to be deemed qualified or (usually) some period of work experience may substitute for that qualification.  More higher-level/skilled work experience tends to require a Bachelor Degree or higher, or five years of work experience can substitute for it.

Where the applicant does not have the listed relevant qualification, they must deduct five years of their Skill Level 1, 2 or 3 work experience from their overall work experience claim.

Where an applicant has both the relevant degree and more than the minimum years of relevant work experience, the rule book is meant to say they get to choose which they want to use to be deemed qualified.

In a situation where an applicant completed school, went to university, obtained a degree for example and then began their career, it’s relatively simple, i.e. you would be deemed qualified and would claim you were  based on when you got your degree.

If you have no degree you must deduct a few years of skilled work experience from your claim.

If you fished school, went to work and then say completed a degree when you were older, it becomes far more problematic.

Take for example, a 38 year old who completed a Bachelor of Commerce in 2012 but had been working as a Marketing Manager since they were aged 27.

They have 9 years of work at Skill Level 1, 2 or 3 as a Marketing Manager and let’s also assume they have a job in New Zealand as a Marketing Manager.

They must therefore decide whether they use the Bachelor Degree as the deemed qualified date and only the five years of post-qualification work experience since 2012 or they deduct five years of work experience from the 9 years that they have, leaving 4 years of work experience for which points can be awarded.

This gives two very different outcomes and could be the difference between success or failure.  If the applicant went with option 1, their points look like the following:

Age                          30

Degree                     50

Work experience       50

Job offer                   50

Total                        180

If they went with the second option, then their points are:

Age                         30

Degree                    50

Work experience      20

Job offer                  40

Total                       140

Another complication that has been introduced into the process is that the degree must be deemed “relevant” to the occupation listed in ANZSCO.  So what happens if, for example, in the example above, the applicant’s Bachelor of Commerce was in Economics but they have worked as a Marketing Manager?  Is that going to be deemed to be relevant by an Immigration Officer or not?

The rule book now suggests that Immigration Officers should look at the “major” in determining the answer.  But how much of a degree is a major and how much is a minor?  And what happens if, for example,  one-third of the subjects were marketing-related, one-third perhaps accounting and one-third economics?  How will Immigration Officers determine whether that is relevant or not relevant to working as a Marketing Manager?

One suspects, inconsistently.

What has been delivered to us in terms of the Skilled Migrant Category is a level of complexity we have never seen before.  Applicants are going to have to be able to justify against ANZSCO job descriptions why their employment is deemed to be Skill Level 1, 2 or 3 and then to demonstrate by way of evidence that the work periods they have claimed points for are a very close match to it.  I will make a very bold but easy prediction right now – rejection rates for those selected from the Pool and decline rates for those who file Resident Visa applications will go through the roof.

Until next week…            


Amendments to the Skilled Migrant Instructions

Posted by Iain on Aug. 18, 2017, 6:20 p.m. in Skilled Migrant Category

Government released the amendments to the skilled migrant instructions yesterday that I and a few other experts have been helping to draft in recent weeks.

No surprises having seen a third draft ten days ago.

Major changes to Skilled Migrant points include:

  • Increase in points for those aged 30-39 from 25  to 30 points
  • Increase in points for Master degrees and higher from 60 to 70 points
  • Increase in points for work experience from a maximum 30 to 50 points

Reduction or elimination of points for:

  • Close family in NZ -  was 10, now 0
  • Qualifications in an area of absolute skills shortage  - was 10 now 0
  • NZ work experience - from maximum of 15 down to 10
  • Partner’s qualifications - Diploma or less to 0 (from 10) points , Bachelor or higher down to 10 (from 20 points)

Addition of:

  • Points for high salary of around $97,000 - 20

One interesting change is that any job in NZ that comes with a guaranteed minimum salary (note, not remuneration package) of $73,299 is deemed to be skilled for points (50 of them if the job is offered in Auckland or 80 if outside) and all relevant, for want of a better word, work experience now attracts points.

The example we like to offer is the migrant with a job in NZ as a pencil salesman and 20 years work experience in the same occupation will now get points for the job offer and all his work experience (even though neither has historically counted) so long as there is a guaranteed salary of a touch under $75,000. This is a radical departure and demonstrates that skill can now be based on what the position pays.

In theory a tea lady who is guaranteed this salary can get into NZ permanently. 

At the same time the Government has released new Essential Skills Work Visa rules and again no surprises.

The key points here are:

  • Salary prescribes how long the work visa can be granted for (up to 12 months, 3 years or 5 years)
  • At the lowest end of the scale low skilled workers can apply to ‘renew’ their work visas for another two blocks of 12 months but must leave NZ at the end of the stay for a full 12 months. They will also not be able to bring their partners or children with them. This is a clear signal Government does not expect these lower skill folk to expect to put down roots or ask to stay long term (it isn’t going to happen)

In a further change that is already causing havoc is Government now expects all employers to demonstrate they have historically, and will in future, comply with all NZ immigration and employment law.

I am not sure how anyone can prove they will not break a law in future...and I do not know how they can prove that they have not in the past without getting a letter from the Ministry of Justice confirming no convictions against that company or business for breaches of such laws.

Instead of perhaps telling employers to do precisely this, in typical INZ fashion they are taking this rule to extremes and case officers are demanding for example tax records for every employee in a company and along with that, wage and hours worked records for every employee. 

Only this week this evidence has been demanded from a company a client of ours has been offered a senior management role with, paying six figures...the company employs 41 staff including three migrants. You might think, given the rules are designed to prevent migrants being exploited, INZ would only want to see the records of the three on work visas. But no, they want the lot...

We have questioned senior INZ managers how reviewing tax records and hours worked of a person proves that the employer has not broken any laws? If they had copies of their employment contracts then maybe, but they are not asking for all 41 of those.

These new rules for both Skilled Migrant Category are going to be a nightmare. The great thing about being invited to assist in drafting them is understanding the objective of the changes making us best placed to push back when, inevitably and sadly, immigration officers get it all wrong. The madness seems never to end.

Until next week...

Iain MacLeod - Southern Man


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