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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.

It's Time to Fix the Broken Skilled Migrant Category.

Posted by Iain on Nov. 30, 2018, 7:24 p.m. in Visitor Visa

I have on a number of occasions down the years tried to impress upon the senior policy managers inside INZ and the politicians (when they will talk with us) how disconnected the (three) visa process is for skilled migrants from labour market reality and what New Zealand employers want. And how that hinders in achieving the aims of the skilled migrant residence programme.

I am of course referring in part to the much written about ‘chicken and egg’ reality whereby most employers want migrants to have work visas or resident visas before they will be offered a job but the migrant can’t get either without the job offer first.

I explain at very packed seminar that according to INZ’s own statistics over 90% of all skilled migrants are issued work visas while they are in New Zealand reflecting the reality employers demand job candidates are in the country.

The need to be in NZ means they need visitor visas either before they travel and/or at the border. 

It looks a bit like this in terms of process - a visitor visa to travel to the country to find work (as a tourist), a work visa once they have secured skilled employment (which is subject usually to a local labour market test) and then a resident visa some months later (which is not subject to any labour market test).

The reality is these three different Visa classes do not "speak" to one another. By that I mean they all exist for completely different reasons in isolation from another and are unrelated in individual objective to one another. They all exist for their own end and there is no visa 'end game' programmed into the process when applicants apply for visitor or work visas but the ultimate goal is a resident visa.

The visitor Visa is in effect a tourist Visa. If clients advise that the purpose of the visit is to find work because they wish to be part of the skilled migrant program they are usually (and correctly) declined. If they lie and say that coming on holiday then they risk being accused by the Immigration Department later in the process (at work Visa and residency Visa stage) of misleading an immigration officer. Classic case of you are dammed if you do and you are dammed if you don’t.

Today we were advised by one senior manager at INZ that if they come and do not find work within the validity of the visitor visa they are given at the border and find work they cannot ‘expect’ any further visitor visa and by yet another manager that this policy is 'under review by senior managers'. That I can tell you is being denied at the highest levels. At the time of going to ‘print’ I am waiting on that (very) senior manager to urgently clarify if he is simply stating what we already know and that is that no one is entitled to any visa ‘extension’ at any time or he is saying that there is now an evolving yet unofficial policy that if you come, cannot find work on your initial visa you won’t be allowed to stay longer and look. 

On the assumption the "tourist" is allowed to cross the border and enter new Zealand, it is quite lawful for them to look for work so long as they have not "misled" the department as to the purpose of their visit. 

If they find work, most of the time the work visa is then labour market tested i.e. if you are taking away a job from a Kiwi you're not going to get the work visa. Bizarrely, that labour market test does not apply to the later resident visa application. So…if we think you're taking a job away from us we won't grant you a work visa but we will reward you with permanent residence if the employer will keep the job offer open for a few months and the Department has the time to process your residence. Something no applicant should rely on.

It is almost as if the policy makers have intentionally designed a process so disconnected from reality that it is designed to make people fail but I know that is not the case.  There is simply a whole raft of unintended consequences and no one has been willing to do anything about it. I find it frustrating because the solution is pretty simple and I have been thinking about those solutions for a number of years.

If I was running the show I would apply exactly the same tests as we do to skilled migrants today but I would change the order of those tests and the visas - and eliminate the need for visitor visas for skilled migrants. 

How? I would welcome any person who believed they were able to claim and prove enough points to meet the current pass mark of 160 but for the fact they don't have a skilled relevant job offer. 

I would allow those people to file an expression of interest, be selected, carry out a credibility check on the claim (it is meant to be done today but largely isn’t) and if it all looked credible I would invite them to apply for a resident visa. They would then file a fully and correctly documented application including police clearances and medicals for the family.

I would then carry out thorough verification checks and subject to all boxes being ticked in terms of satisfying instructions (the rules) I would then grant that person at Job Search Work Visa which would be valid for six months. That would mean they must get to New Zealand within that time and start the job search (or now that they have full work rights) find a job before coming to New Zealand and quickly finalise the residency. Just as we do today there would be very strict conditions including the person must take up the job, provide evidence three months after they started that they have been doing that job and being paid the money their employment contract said they would..

If they travel to New Zealand within six months I would give them 15 weeks to find a relevant and skilled job, sort work and submit all the relevant evidence to INZ (like today) and then they and their family would be granted their residence. Right now I believe one of the objections to this is the fear that people may enter New Zealand, not get a job and never leave. 

The reality is the way we do things now the same possibility exists. Under my proposed scheme that is far less likely to happen because a person would already have gone through the same intense verification and vetting process that currently happens only when they are in New Zealand. Under my policy this would happen before the applicant entered NZ so if there is a problem you simply don’t let them in. This proposal actually lessens the risk to the integrity of the border.

There is no downside to this and a whole of upside. 

It would mean employers would get applicants for roles who already had work rights and have demonstrated that they are committed to moving to New Zealand and went to the time, trouble and expense of filing a fully documented residency application. 

Furthermore, if the migrant wants to travel to New Zealand and could not find work within 15 weeks I would argue they played the game and lost and they were clearly either not committed or they were not employable in the local labour market. They would not be allowed to do ‘any’ job while on that for visa, just as now, they’d have to find skilled employment that is ‘relevant’ to their qualifications or work history for which they were granted ‘points’.

Again, no different from today.

Right now we are forcing applicants to not be completely truthful about the purpose of their visit because if they tell the truth they are not ‘bone fide’ tourists. Although INZ has come to accept the ‘Look, See, Decide’ purpose, this is a convenience and not policy. Like all conveniences what might be acceptable today might not be tomorrow and it dos put immigration officers in a difficult position.

What of the many hundreds of skilled job seekers that come over every year to find work who resign jobs and then don’t get jobs-who benefits from that? NZ doesn’t. I hasten to add our clients almost always get work but that is because we are good a picking those ‘winners’ that employers want and you can count on one hand the numbers of our clients that don't find work and go on to secure residence. Our clients however are I suspect the exception and not the rule.

This proposed policy adjustment then is not to the advantage of my clients, all of whom have a greater understanding of how the labour market works before they leave home (because we make sure they do) and therefore are able to successfully negotiate it. 

I do have real sympathy for those who don't understand how local employers think and are seduced by skill shortages lists, media articles, Immigration Department websites and their marketing (propaganda) and it must be said unscrupulous immigration agents and lawyers.

Right now New Zealand is in something of a crisis in regards to skill shortages and ignoring the problem is affecting the ability of many companies to grow and compete in local and international markets. 

The current system is crazy and puts a lot of pressure on Immigration Department and creates an additional layer of complexity that doesn’t need to exist with regards visitor visas and extensions of them. It is crazy that for work visa applicants one officer is applying a labour market test to a work visa application when another officer at the desk beside them is not applying any labour market test on the same job because they are concurrently processing a resident visa application.

The department is not famous for applying common sense nor pragmatism, but then the rules often don’t allow them to. Luckily for us we have relationships with most senior managers who will from time to time exercise discretion and common sense. It can still be a battle getting anything ‘out of the box’ even from them however, but pity the poor applicant that does not have this access.

To be fair on immigration officers, the rules are written in such a way as the officer processing the visitor visa, for example, cannot consider the endgame (residence) and the officer processing the work visa is similarly constrained. They have their mandate to assess against the limited set of criteria which creates this myopic and dysfunctional system.

I'm not talking about increasing skilled migrant numbers. I am talking about meeting the government's current target of 27,000 including their partners and children which really means migrants only filling around 10,000 jobs a year. Given New Zealand has been creating numbers of jobs in that order each month for some time we are in affect trying to fill one in 12 (8.5%) of the jobs being created through migration so no one can suggest we are being ‘flooded’. The government would still have absolute control over temporary and resident visa numbers. 

Given right now government does not penalise resident visa seekers for filling jobs that in theory might be able to be filled by New Zealand residents it's hard to argue any political downside either.

None of this would stop a person who had a job offer sitting overseas applying for a work visa and coming to New Zealand and filing residence once here. Status quo.

Unfortunately the skilled migrant category was reviewed last year as it is every three years and the current government shows little or no appetite for improvements to what is in my view a system not quite falling apart, but is certainly not firing on all fronts to serve an economy with 3.9% unemployment.

We could have the best of all worlds - protecting the borders, managing the border risks, providing harried employers who have no interest in not employing locally gain access to highly skilled and committed skilled migrants with work rights and who have all but completed the residence process. It would not only give greater certainty and assurance to employers and the skilled migrants that we so desperately need, but it reduces the workload on the Department and even more importantly allows them to better control the risks around those entering the labour market than they can today.

It’s such a good idea it’ll never happen. 

Until next week.


Will you be denied entry into New Zealand because you’re South African?

Posted by danni on June 24, 2016, 4:08 p.m. in Visitor Visa

The Internet is a double-edged sword. It is the Great Proliferator. This is ideal when you’re sharing news, education or encouragement (or you’re an advertiser…) but when ill-informed discourse proliferates virally, this seemingly innocent “web-chatter” can thwart even the best made plans to move to New Zealand.

Imagine the moment at the airport. It’s the stuff of nightmares. You’ve packed your life up. You trust in your ability to get a job in New Zealand that might result in your permanent residency. You trust in your decisions and your research about the job market and your ability to fit in. You trust in the advice you’ve received from your licensed adviser which is that it is perfectly lawful to enter New Zealand on a temporary visa on a “Look, See & Decide” basis. (In other words, if within the 3 months that your visitor visa is valid in New Zealand (sometimes 6 if an extension is approved) you are offered a job, you are permitted to apply for a work visa and start the ball rolling on your permanent residency process.)

Sometimes it isn’t quite as straight-forward as that. 

By sometimes, we’re talking a small percentage of South Africans being turned away at the border, considered dishonest for arriving on a visitor’s visa after selling & packing their lives up with the intention to live in New Zealand. Of course, things would be much easier if everyone filling skills shortage gaps could be employed from offshore, but we all know that’s not how it works. Including Immigration New Zealand. 

Our senior consultants and Iain MacLeod, our company director, spent over an hour on the phone this afternoon with senior Immigration New Zealand officials and came to an understanding that further mitigates the already small risk of being denied entry into New Zealand specifically to IMMagine clients by applying for Visitor Visas for some South Africans coming to find work.

These are the actual statistics to dispel the myth that New Zealand has something against South Africans:

  • 3.2 million tourists entered New Zealand in the last year
  • of this, 3,780 visitors were either offloaded before arriving in New Zealand or were denied entry upon arrival (that’s 0.12%...)
  • 294 of these visitors offloaded or turned away were South African

Sensationalism is rife in digital media and your decision to migrate must always be based on fact, not bitter discourse. (For example, chat forums for the thousands of happy migrants don’t exist online; only those for people who’ve encountered problems making it somewhat one-sided.)

Armchair advisers and keyboard warriors don’t have contextual access to the latest information and misinformation could so easily impact your decisions to migrate and as such, any opportunity moving to New Zealand might provide you. 

Given our relationship with Immigration New Zealand and their dedicated consideration of our qualified clients coming in to the country on a Look See & Decide basis, the tiny risk is even tinier. Spread the word. 

(For those of you interested in attending our free upcoming South Africa seminars about moving to New Zealand, please visit this link to register)


Decided, Looking and Seeing or Looking, Seeing and Deciding?

Posted by Iain on Nov. 27, 2015, 12:01 p.m. in Visitor Visa

That is the question...

Regular readers in South Africa will know that in recent times increasing numbers of South African citizens travelling to New Zealand are being questioned about the purpose of their visit when they check in to their flights in South Africa, in transit en route, during a stop over or on arrival in New Zealand.

It is causing understandable consternation among many.

I have been trying to get the NZ Government to acknowledge that it is quite legal to come to New Zealand to look for work, to attend interviews, to check out schools, cost of living, lifestyle and so on because you might think you fancy settling here if everything falls into place. And they have. What they don’t have though is a formal class of visa for this. 

I believe there is a relatively simple solution to that.

To once again explain the issue; with New Zealand employers overwhelmingly demanding face to face interviews, demonstrations of commitment to the settlement process, fluency in English and cultural compatibility, there is only so much you can do through CVs, emails and Skype. In the end, our experience clearly demonstrates that employers want to see your boots on the ground here, evidence of real commitment and availability to start work subject to having appropriate visas.

As I have written about previously, we are finding about 10% of our South African clients are being questioned at check in, en route, or on arrival as to the purpose of their visit. The other 90% have no issue so this is not a big problem...unless you are one of the 10%.

On what to say if asked we have always advised clients to tell the truth - they are here to 'Look, See and Decide' if they want to settle here - primarily on vacation and as a secondary purpose to see if they are employable and might want to live here.

What happens when people are questioned depends very much on who does the questioning, rather than the answers given. Around half of the clients questioned are not hassled further and are allowed to board their flight or receive a ‘normal’ Visitor Visa on arrival. This means once they get their job they can stay in NZ and change their immigration status later e.g. get a work visa once they have secured their job rather than fly home secure the work visa and then come back to NZ a few weeks later.

About one in 20 of our clients has been given a 'Limited' Visa on arrival meaning they could not change their status once they found their job which as I understand it, all have done.

Realising this is a very subjective area of the rule book INZ recently issued one of their internal information circulars to their staff which sought to offer further guidance to their officers - what to do when someone standing in front of you says they are on a ‘LSD’ trip.

Officers have been told that if the person who might become the main applicant for residence i.e. the potential job seeker has sold their home and resigned their job then in the mind of Government the person has in fact ‘Decided’ and is only now ‘Looking and Seeing’ and should be as such given a Limited Visa.

Government is not wrong on this - given most South Africans fund their migration through the sale of their home many will have had to have sold it to raise the funds and to get the process under way.

Equally, given most migrants take 2-4 months to find employment once landed here they are forced to resign their jobs in order to have enough time to find work here. If they come for two weeks and try and land a job I’d suggest 99% would fail to secure the job.

So all the migrants (ones we will later congratulate on securing residence and adding to our nation’s skill base) here looking for jobs are effectively being forced to resign their jobs at home to maximise the chances of the outcome they seek here eventuating.

Given New Zealand employers ultimately determine who gets residence (because they decide who gets jobs) this situation is still highly unsatisfactory.

It is not unreasonable for migrants to want a degree of certainty they will be able to enter for the purpose of finding work - because this is what NZ employees demand and there is little to no evidence that South African citizens overstay their visas if they don’t find work - they go home.

It is not unreasonable for them to have to have the money to do it - and like most middle class skilled migrants their wealth is tied up in property.

Nor is it unreasonable for highly skilled, fluent english speaking migrants from anywhere to have resigned their jobs. Time is needed on the ground in NZ because most employers demand work visas before they will offer a job and the only remedy for that is applying for many roles to find the one employer willing to play the visa game. Time on the ground is the only solution on offer today.

At the same time New Zealand has a right to protect its borders and it is very clear that our Government has an opinion on what is happening in South Africa that has led to the ‘risk profile’ of South Africans being elevated to the level where people are even being stopped in South Africa before they board the plane.

There are some obvious solutions to this which would require tweaks in immigration rules but I continue to be disappointed no one inside INZ seems terribly interested in listening to what they might be even though it increases certainty for migrants and acts to protect the border at the same time.

The simplest solution would be if a person is employed in an area of immediate or absolute skills shortage that they file an Expression of Interest in residence, and if they meet certain criteria - age, qualifications in that area of skills hostage and X number of years experience, they be invited to apply for residence and at the same time are subject to health and character requirements being met. They'd then be issued an open work visa, valid for perhaps three months, so they have that long on the ground in NZ to find the skilled job offer to ‘top up’ their points claim.

That allows the Government to keep these people ‘at home’ until the risk is assessed, allows a detailed assessment of their employability and whether they tick the other ‘risk mitigation’ boxes and then give them work visas to travel (possibly alone and without any family which further mitigates the risk) to NZ.

If they find a skilled job offer in the three months, the process can move on from there.

Not difficult and it wouldn’t require immigration officers to do anything more than they do now in terms of assessing people against the set criteria we look to attract - it would simply change the order of bureaucratic and visa events.

To my way of thinking, that makes far more sense than sending out signals that a significant target market for skilled migrants might be increasingly excluded. To be fair I have no doubt the Government is NOT trying to exclude South Africans - their concern I would speculate is people who can get here visa free are people who can raise they hands at the airport and say ‘I want asylum’. If South Africa continues to deteriorate as it has in recent years that is a distinct possibility.

However, and in the meantime, we are having to advise clients not to sell their homes (just take out a flexi-bond or increase your mortgage if you don’t have the cash for the process saved) and think seriously before you resign your job and travel.

Remember, 90% of South Africans travelling here for the purpose of finding work are not challenged along the way and only 10% are (in terms of our clients anyway). Of that 10% less than half were given limited visas. So we are talking one in 20 with a problem, so it needs to be kept in perspective.

Our concern is that the number is increasing and it is unsettling. We do not know if we should raise the possibility that 10% have an issue and frighten the other 90% or just say nothing. Our morality doesn’t allow that unfortunately - we feel obligated to advise clients of all the risks just in case.

The internet is abuzz with false rumours and jibber jabber about this issue and for the sake of changing the system to accommodate principally the needs of NZ employers, INZ and the Government need to get with the (their!) programme.

Right now they are expecting the same people they want as skilled migrants (and it should be said not just from South Africa but from another 30 odd countries from which people can travel here without visas) to either not tell the whole truth or simply lie when asked the purpose - in order to meet the same Government’s residence programme criteria.

It isn’t fair to say to the highly skilled - 'we want your skills and we want you to secure a job but at the same time won’t let you in potentially to look for one when it’s what the employees who have the skills shortages demand'.  

I would even be so bold as to say more it's more than a little crazy, when there is a pretty simple, risk free solution that I can offer.

Until next week

Iain MacLeod

Southern Man


Visitor Visa Lottery

Posted by Iain on Sept. 25, 2015, 2:01 p.m. in Visitor Visa

Before a game of rugby at the World Cup it is common for the two coaches to sit with the referee and ask how various rules might be interpreted and enforced given there is always a degree of interpretation of many rules.

All parties to the game leave with an understanding so they can prepare in order to play within the rules once the whistle is blown for kick off.

Getting a Visa can, depressingly, often seem like a game without rules let alone interpretations at times.

As advisers to hundreds of families each year making life changing decisions, we need to know exactly how each immigration rule will be interpreted before kick off. 

What an exercise in frustration it has been in getting straight answers about who will and who will not be given ‘General’ Visitor Visas for the purpose of coming to New Zealand to test themselves against the labour market. Which, if successful, leads them to score enough ‘points’ to ensure they will able to be part of the NZ Government’s much marketed Resident Visa Programme.

I have blogged about this before. The issue is there is no such thing as an ‘I-want-to-come-NZ-to-look-for-skilled-employment-so-I-can-then apply-for-Residence’ visa.

Unfortunately no one in the halls of power seem very interested in acknowledging how migrants and the labour market go together - not helped by dysfunctional and contradictory rules undermining ‘big picture’ residence outcomes.

If you are seeking to enter New Zealand because NZ employers demand to meet you in order to know that you are serious and available to take up any job you apply for, you need a Visitor Visa - either issued before you travel or issued on arrival if you are able to travel visa free.

Unfortunately only ‘tourists’ can get Visitor Visas, so if your purpose is to (among other things) look for work, you are clearly not on vacation and you are not a Tourist.

So what are you? You are a square peg looking for a round hole is what you are...

You can lie and say you are entering for a vacation but the problem with that is you can later be accused of a false declaration once you have a job and are applying for a work visa (I have seen it).

You can tell the truth and risk being denied entry or the visa to travel to NZ by an officer who doesn’t wish to apply a flexible risk assessment.

As recently written I have had a number of meetings with senior officials in Wellington and the Branch Manager of INZ in Pretoria (as it seems to be South Africans that have the biggest problem with this). The Branch Manager, to his credit, was most supportive and because he understood that the specific ‘risk profile’ of the clients of IMMagine (low risk because about 118 out of 120 who come to NZ each year get jobs and go on to get residence) was such that they should be treated fairly and based on the facts of their application - or in INZ-speak - ‘each case on its merits’.

One basic ‘rule’ interpretation was agreed to. If the applicant intended, before flying to NZ, to sever all their ties to their homeland (resigned job, sold house, etc) then it was envisaged such Visitor Visa applicants could expect to get what are known as ‘Limited Visas’ i.e. allowing travel and/or entry but which could not be changed to say a work visa when the job hunt was successful. The applicant would have to return home and apply for a work visa - an expensive waste of everyone’s time and money.

It was however a line in the sand that we were resigned to working to.

So we filed three applications for Visitor Visas through INZ in Pretoria - two families both of which said one partner would travel over to NZ while the other remained behind but the family home would be sold and the main applicant’s job resigned by the time the main applicant landed. The other one young single male who had no house to sell and who INZ knew would be resigning his job.

All, based on our understanding, should have been given Limited Visas.

All were granted ‘General’ (they can change their status once they got their jobs in NZ) visas. While this was great news it went against what we thought the ‘rules’ were. And left us confused. if the line in the sand was over there but is now over here - can we expect that it will remain there?

Maybe...but the Branch Manager left and he passed the ball to his incoming replacement.

Knowing that in this game it is the referee that counts and not the rule book we asked the new guy what he thought.

He ‘thought’ that the three visas were issued in error and he would review the decisions (but honour them - which legally he had to do as they were not granted in error at all) as he thought they were incorrect.

He said he’d sit down and speak with his staff as he believed all should have been given Limited Visas.

When pressed on why and where the line in his sand was he ducked for cover and suggested the discussion was above his pay grade and passed the ball to his bosses in Wellington.

This has left Team IMMagine half way through the game once again wondering what the rules are we are playing to.

It gets better.

One of the clients that we secured the Visitor Visa for was a South African who travels on a British passport. While British Citizens can apply on arrival for ‘entry permission’ (a Visitor Visa), it is not guaranteed so we advised this client to get the Visitor Visa through Pretoria before travelling to make sure they’d not be stopped and questioned as to the purpose of the Visa at the border if stopped.

On arrival the person was stopped and was questioned because they had a Visitor Visa in a British passport! The officer was suspicious. Wanted to know why it was issued. How much they paid for it (the clear implication being that we had created some extra work for an extra fee - for the record we charged nothing extra to do this). The client was granted ‘general’ entry.

It really is quite unbelievable. And ludicrous.

Even when you try to do the right thing and tell the truth it is still not enough for some officers at the airport and inside INZ. They are programmed to be suspicious of everyone and anything they say.

INZ have a problem - they now seem to have (finally) recognised that when the majority of skilled migrants require jobs to gain entry to the country it is NZ employers who will determine whether as a nation we get the skilled migrants we want or not. They call the shots. 

The temporary entry rules are at odds with the way employers work.

Employers won’t change and frankly nor should they have to.

Government won’t change the visa rules even when the visitor visa rules demonstrably undermine the intended outcomes of the resident visa rules.

So our solution?

We are now advising all our South African clients and others who can travel visa free when they come over to look for work to simply travel visa free. We know 90% of our clients are not stopped and questioned but given ‘general’ visitor visas on arrival, meaning they can change their status to work visa once they get their job without leaving the country.

Perhaps 10% will be stopped and they are being told to tell the truth about the visit  - about half of them will be given general visas if they do. The other half will be given Limited Visas in the great NZ border lottery.

I am meeting again with the senior officials on 2 October in Wellington and the issue again features on the agenda. However this time I am simply going to tell them that as they seem incapable of explaining to their own ‘referees’ how to interpret their own (simple) rules, or coming up with some new sensible ones we are simply going to advise the ‘players’ to follow the rules as we understand them.

Given there is nothing illegal about coming to New Zealand with the primary purpose of ‘vacation’ and the secondary purpose of testing yourself against the local labour market it seems the obvious way forward. Just get on the plane.

If the Government wants to seriously work with us to find a solution to a problem they know they have but seem incapable of solving, we are, as always, standing by to render assistance.

Until next week.

Iain MacLeod

Southern Man

Tags: visas

The Truth, The Whole Truth & Nothing But The Truth

Posted by Iain on Aug. 8, 2015, 8:22 a.m. in Visitor Visa

I am sure that you were always told by your parents to tell the truth. As the old line goes, if you have nothing to hide you have nothing to fear by being honest and truthful. Right?

What happens however when one rule contradicts a second that you must comply with later in order to win the game – and you have to comply with both to get what you need?

Should you lie to achieve the aim of the second if the first stops you achieving the outcome the second rule requires?

What am I talking about?

Most skilled migrants need jobs to achieve the stated aims of the Government residence programme. To get jobs, employers demand that a candidate be in New Zealand. That means getting permission to enter New Zealand either before you travel or at the border.

Only trouble with that is Visitor Visa rules are not compatible with Residence Visa rules.

Many people are being stopped at the airport on arrival and if they say they are on holiday but also intend looking for work (because they are interested in the skilled migrant residence programme and with the job have enough points, they now risk being turned around, given a visa that does not allow them to change their status or they get a normal visa.

My team and I have been wrestling for some weeks now over what to advise those clients who need job offers to secure their skilled migrant visa points who can travel to New Zealand without a visa, but to enter the country must get a visa at the border. Although this is not exclusively a South African issue we are in particular concerned about South Africans...

This condundrum has arisen because about 10% of our South African clients are now being stopped at Auckland airport on arrival and questioned on the purpose of their visit.

If they tell the truth – that they are in the country both on holiday and to check the place out as a possible settlement destination (all of our clients - if they can secure skilled employment - meet the points threshold for a resident visa) then recent history tells us telling the truth can get some into trouble.

It all depends which officer stops them and questions them at the airport - not the rule, but how the rule is applied and by whom.

Most are given ‘normal’ visas which allow them to change their status to a work visa once the job is secured. Others are given limited visas which allow them entry but if they get the job they then have to leave the country and return home to apply for their work visa offshore. I am even hearing of people (not our clients; thank goodness) being turned around at the airport and denied entry.

The only thing they all have in common are their South African passports. Thereafter, it is random – no pattern to who is stopped, who gets a normal visa and who gets the limited visa. The outcomes are consistently inconsistent. The outcome is determined by an immigration officer and how they feel.

Therein lies the dilemma.

If 90% of South Africans entering New Zealand are granted ‘normal’ visas that allow a change of status, why are we seriously considering advising all to apply for Visitor Visas before they travel? If 90% don’t have a problem and 10% do, isn’t this creating an additional cost and bureaucratic burden for all when only 10% have a problem?

I guess it depends on whether you turn out to be one of the 10%.

For the record it is perfectly legal to enter New Zealand as a ‘tourist’ and if you decide you wish to stay longer or even permanently or had even entered wanting to stay subject to finding a skilled job and you find a skilled employment, you are allowed to change your status. Given the significant majority of work visas are issued within New Zealand this clearly happens a lot.

I have met with everyone from Immigration New Zealand’s head of global border security in recent weeks to try and come to some agreement on resolving this issue and eliminate the risk for those 10% highly skilled ‘wannabe’ migrants who are hassled at the airport or to get some agreement that all of our clients coming over will be granted ‘normal’ visitor visas subject to demonstrating that they are not a risk to the country.

You might think that is easy when you can demonstrate that the number of our South African clients who have overstayed their visas is as far as we know – zero.

So if our clients tell the truth at the border about their intentions, some officials at the airport hold it against them. Some don’t. These officials are the same ones employed by the Government that is encouraging skilled migration and demanding that the majority secure work.

In trying to meet the Governments permanent residence rules, the client can be damned if they tell the truth and damned if they don’t at the border.

After three weeks of discussions the outcome I always expected happened a few days ago.

The Government suggested all of our clients should apply for these Visitor Visas offshore before they travel BUT they would not guarantee the client that on arrival at the border in New Zealand they would be granted a visa that would allow them to apply for a work visa onshore. That of course completely defeats the purpose of applying for the visitor visa offshore in the first place because once such applicants find jobs (and in the case of our clients about 98% do) they have to leave the country, apply for a work visa and return a few weeks later.

In the end this refusal to come up with a solution that is geared toward my low risk clients and to manage them as a subset of some greater perceived risk is incredibly disappointing but hardly surprising. If there is one thing Immigration New Zealand is not very good at it is holding the system to account and demanding consistency of outcomes whereby similar applicants with very similar circumstances be treated the same and should be able to reasonably expect the same outcome.

It leaves me concluding that it is not always smart to tell the whole truth. Applying for visas before a South African travels isn’t going to solve any problems. 

Forcing visa applicants to be less than completely truthful in order to give the Government what they want in terms of the Residence Programme is a nonsensical and stupid way of dealing with risk.

However for the time being it seems to be just what Immigration New Zealand is demanding.

The discussions continue.

Until next week.


P.S. There's still time to enter our competition which runs until the 23rd of August - submit your photo and you could win $1500 in cash and 2 luxury nights for two at the Azur Lodge in Queenstown. To enter, click here: http://www.justimmagine.com/competition


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