It's just a thought...
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Posted by Iain on Jan. 15, 2021, 9:58 a.m. in Immigration
Happy new Year everyone.
Naturally our inboxes at IMMagine are full of the same question from clients as the new year starts - when do we think the Australian and New Zealand borders will re-open?
The short answer is your guess is as good as ours as the NZ Government in particular has been all but silent on any plan. Australia only slightly less so. But here is what might be termed a very good educated guess based on public statements by the political leadership.
The New Zealand Government has made clear that it only plans to begin vaccinating border facing and front line health workers in March. The rest of us will have to wait till they start to roll out a national vaccination programme in July. The Australian administration has set the same timeline, I imagine for precisely the same reasons, but has recently advised they are pushing ahead with vaccinating front line health and border workers starting in February.
Why the delay when other countries are rushing to vaccinate?
The short answer is the Governments in our corner of the world have basically kept the virus at the border. Good management and a deal of good luck along being surrounded by a lot of water helps both countries in that regard. Australia has seen recent outbreaks but they seem to be doing a great job keeping them contained without risking lengthy national, state or city wide lockdowns (Brisbane for three days last week the exception but it seems to have worked).
Prime Ministers in both countries have said they want to watch and see what happens in the rest of the world for a while. Sit back and watch. Are the vaccines safe? Are they effective? Let’s not rush to inoculate our people until we know - that seems to be the plan.
Both Australia and NZ have more than enough doses on order (not sure if they are all in the countries yet) to roll out national vaccination programmes.
If both roll out programmes I imagine it’d take until the end of the year to get to that ‘magical’ 70% mark which we are told is the minimum expected to provide some sort of ‘herd immunity’.
On the other side of the ledger I cannot see either Government opening up their borders to general travel till those wishing to come can prove they are vaccinated and that the vaccination is effective and safe.
The two Governments can obviously control the rollout of their own programmes but they cannot control the roll out that might or might not happen overseas.
So two things need to happen in my view - we need to get a majority of Kiwis and Aussies vaccinated and people overseas need to get vaccinated (certifiably and verifiably which of course is yet another risk).
That suggests to me that the borders will remain closed to general travel for the most part or all of this year. Before you panic… I don’t know this - I am, like most of you, pulling together the public statements and whatever titbits of information I am reading about.
Both countries will continue to allow border exemptions for humanitarian cases and for some critical workers.
In the case of New Zealand we were effectively advised by a national manager in INZ right on Christmas that they had been granting humanitarian exemptions in error for much of 2020. After months of us, and others in the industry, challenging the bureaucracy on why two cases, so similar in circumstance saw one being approved and one being declined, INZ finally put it in writing - they should not have said yes to most of the humanitarian cases that they had. And that includes split families where, say, one partner is in NZ on a work visa but partner and/or children are stuck offshore. One thing is for certain this year - expect far fewer such humanitarian exemptions to be granted. Quite an admission but par for the course.
This will be shocking to many in this position as the NZ Government allows sheep shearers, film makers, fishermen (another bunch just arrived from Russia and at least 14 brought the virus with them), fruit pickers, sports teams and individuals, musicians (NZ had its annual raft of multi day musical festivals across the country full of international acts over the festive season) into the country.
It makes no sense not to reunite what is in effect a small number of families and is especially cruel on those split families with children and even more difficult to understand when INZ has resident visa applications in process for many of them but refuses to prioritise them (which would provide an elegant solution to the clamp down on granting humanitarian exemptions to reunite these families as those with resident visas can come to NZ without an exemption).
I do believe that the number of critical worker visas that will be granted border exemptions will increase in NZ at least. Job adverts on , NZ’s largest online job site, showed job vacancies surge 19% in December and get this - it means there are more jobs being advertised in NZ today than there was before the pandemic reached these shores! This reinforces another statistic released just before Christmas - in those businesses employing 20 people or less, the number of people employed was actually 1.3% higher than pre-pandemic.
Therein lies the Government’s dilemma. The economy has not just rebounded from the lockdowns of last year, it has grown. Skills shortages for the most part have not gone away. Unemployment at 5.3% has probably peaked (the biggest losers were young and the low skilled, so not those the Government wants to be part of the residence programme).
Pressure will mount for the list of critical workers to grow. After much lobbying and pressure from people like us, Vets were added to the list of critical workers (but what a s*** show getting that across the line) just before Christmas.
In Australia, personal savings rates are up over 11% on this time last year. The printing of billions of dollars and its dispersal has meant that demand there is pent up. I cannot believe how much money the Australian Government is giving away. They continue to send us money as well which we are very grateful for but here in NZ we’ve been standing on our own two feet since September last year.
The elephant in the room of course is balancing the pressure to increase numbers crossing our respective borders with the increased risk of the new South African and UK variants, both, as you’ll be aware, far more transmissible than the original varieties.
This has led to the Australian Government halving the number of people they are allowing to go to or return to Australia. They announced last week all travellers will have to have a negative test before boarding flights to Australia.
The NZ Government has also announced all travellers will also now need to test negative before boarding flights - including Kiwis.
A number of prominent local epidemiologists have spoken out strongly that the NZ Government is not going far enough. They are encouraging the Government to ban all flights that originate in places where this virus is out of control - UK, US, India, South Africa - to name four. That would be a big step but our border is currently under assault as is Australia’s. I would be surprised if the Australian PM isn’t wrestling with the same question.
Anecdotally, including in my own personal circles, plenty of New Zealanders are now saying that if as a Kiwi you didn’t take the opportunity of getting home last year, don’t whine now that you might not be able to now. That’s a little harsh perhaps as they seem to forget some perhaps couldn’t come home for all sorts of reasons. It would be a big step for the Government to effectively ban thousands of Kiwis that might want to return home but there’s some merit in the argument - many had their chance but chose to stay put - especially in the UK and the US where you’d hardly be able to argue Governments there have covered themselves in pandemic glory.
I wouldn’t bet the farm on flights being banned from certain countries because I am not sure either how effective it would be. You can’t fly direct to NZ from the UK (you can fly London to Perth) and most international travellers coming here have to have at least one stop over. That stop over complicates everything. You might pick the virus up at an airport en route.
I’m also not sure how the Government here could stop someone who lives in the UK, catching the Eurostar to Paris, boarding an Emirates flight to Dubai and then flying non stop to NZ. I am sure this is the reason why banning flights would be a last resort. Any of you sitting in South Africa quietly freaking out at that prospect you too cannot fly here directly and every flight involves at least one stop - so that would be a last gasp effort in my view by Government.
As more and more epidemiologists around the world are lamenting, many Governments particularly in the US and the UK are treating this virus as a short term problem and no one seems to be doing much planning for the next few years. When you add to that countries won’t be able to afford to vaccinate everyone (South Africa is one such country) it begs the question - what does 2021, 2022 and beyond look like? You could add the NZ and Australian Governments to that list - particularly the Aussies where the political leadership is all talk about recovery and good times ahead. It might take longer than they are publicly willing to admit and I’m not sure anyone really has a longer term plan.
My final thought is that all of this is going to increase the pressure on the Government here to throw caution to the wind, if indeed that’s what these vaccines represent, and start the roll out, at the very least to those MIQ, border and front line health workers sooner rather than later. Maybe they are worried some will refuse to take it and they’ll no doubt be having talkfests ‘around’ personal and human rights. Whatever the safety and efficacy risks are, the vaccines perhaps represent the lesser of a number of evils.
Hold onto your hats!
Until next week
Posted by Paul on Dec. 17, 2020, 11:05 a.m. in Immigration New Zealand
Avid readers of our blog will be familiar with some of our recent posts, comparing the inner functions (or dysfunctions) of INZ with a mystical land where you spend most of your time chasing a white rabbit with a pocket watch down a deep dark hole.
While those posts of the two Veterinarians applying to enter the country resulting in one being approved and the other declined whilst INZ split the finest of hairs over the differences between them, lurking in the background was another border lottery with potentially even greater consequences.
When New Zealand closed its borders as part of the ‘go hard and go early’ approach, it threw many migrants’ plans into disarray. People who had been working here but had left the country briefly found themselves stuck offshore. People with Work Visas who had not yet arrived were also stranded, unable to take up their new lives and new jobs. Then there were those who had made it here before the gates were closed but whose partners and dependent children were expecting to follow later, caught out and unable to travel.
For many of those families, split apart, the future looked increasingly uncertain. They had to deal not only with the impacts of the pandemic that were widespread (job security, public health risks and learning to live at arm’s length from one another) but they had to do so in two different time-zones.
Shortly after we shut up shop in New Zealand, the Government acknowledged that certain people had to be allowed to enter. New Zealanders coming home were given permission and certain critical workers were allowed to apply. Over time that has extend to cricketers, Netflix film crews and even badminton players, all of which we have been told are vital to the recovery of our economy.
As New Zealand managed to contain and control the virus, further gaps in the border were opened up and some of those people who had valid Work Visas and had been in NZ prior to the lockdowns were able to enter, provided their jobs still existed.
During all of this, the split families remained in limbo. With no signals from the Government there was only really one last bastion of hope and that was to apply under the “humanitarian” border exemption process. A last resort of sorts, if you didn’t fit in anywhere else but you believed your situation was worthy of being allowed to cross the border.
Just like the Visa Neverland we described in our previous posts, the process to secure one of these exemptions under the humanitarian category was an absolute lottery. We filed many of these and for most clients, there was more than one (in fact many more). Most were declined but occasionally one got through. Despite nothing really changing that much, those occasional approvals, whether through us, other advisers or those attempting it on their own, created hope. It might be the number of times you apply, the specific words you used or which officer looks at the request, all factors which might give you the winning ticket. Every time the one out of ten (which is the approximate success rate of these requests) was approved, it sparked that hope for everyone else.
Surely however if people are all in the same situation, then they should all receive the same outcome and it shouldn’t be a lottery?
That was the question we asked and asked multiple times of INZ and its senior management. Why do we have similar cases with such varying outcomes? Surely if one family, split across countries with young children, meets the humanitarian threshold, then everyone else should.
INZ replied with a myriad of processes and procedures that were being developed to achieve some degree of consistency. Officers were being calibrated, quality circles were being formed, entire teams of quality assurance bodies were analysing outcomes and pieces of work were flying all about the halls of INZ.
When all of this “busy work” had supposedly been completed, we asked what the outcome was. The answer, not surprisingly, was that each case is assessed on its merits. That’s code for we don’t really have an answer. In fact, one of the very senior people involved in this lengthy and often heated email exchange, was waiting for her quality assurance team to tell her whether the quality could be assured. Surely as the manager of this very delicate and often complex process you would have that information in front of you at all times?
So when the Government is still selling lottery tickets you would of course be mad not to buy them. There is still hope and for a family split apart for the better part of a year (in some cases longer than a year), you take any chance you can get. People carried on filing requests, spending the $45.00 in the hope that they might be as lucky as those folks on Facebook last week or the family that just arrived down the road the week before. You take your chances, you roll the dice and you hold out for any hope on offer.
Yesterday, we received a final response to a formal complaint we submitted to INZ concerning this process. That response contains what I believe is an admission that should have been provided months ago.
...there has been some inconsistency in decision-making, I believe there may have been some offshore family cases approved under the humanitarian criteria which perhaps did not meet the bar for a humanitarian exception (which is detailed above). I can advise that this feedback has been acknowledged and acted on...
What does that mean? Well INZ will suggest it means they are improving process, calibrating officers, transferring knowledge and moving forward. My reading of that is they got it wrong, realised their mistake and won’t do it again.
For many people out there this will be a sobering thought because it potentially means that the lottery has ended, although I will add to this that there is nothing stopping anyone, caught in this situation from buying another ticket. What it signals to us as people working within the inner mechanics of this process however, is that INZ having got it wrong have decided to correct that mistake. I would suggest the chances of an approval are slim unless your situation really is exceptional (and that bar is now potentially very high). Those who secured these exemptions are incredibly lucky to have them and should in fact be buying a ticket for the actual lottery.
For those still waiting to bring family across, whilst it might be a bitter pill to swallow, at least you know where you stand and ultimately that has to be better than the potential false hope that was being dished out previously.
Frustratingly the Government has failed to signal this to those affected in any meaningful way. In fact, very recently, having unsuccessfully challenged one such situation with the Associate Minister, the response was that this was all about the “absolutely critical” nature of protecting the health of New Zealanders – yet everyone allowed in to NZ, be it family members or Netflix crew are forced in to quarantine for 14 days, there is no health risk. Perhaps the Minister needs a little more calibrating.
Sometimes to be kind, you need to be cruel and for anyone stuck in this limbo situation, to be fair to them and to allow them to make informed decisions, the tough answer, as difficult as it might be is always the best one. Why the Government has failed to offer that and instead would rather string out the hope (hardly being kind) remains a source of ongoing frustration for myself and my colleagues but more importantly for the families this impacts on.
However, if there is some light at the end of the tunnel and whilst it is still speculation, the potential move to a travel bubble with Australia next year will mean more managed isolation spaces become available. That capacity could (and in my view should) lead to consideration being given to families split apart for what will then be well over 12 months. Pressure is mounting not only from the families themselves but from employers (scared of losing good skilled staff who may decide to leave) our industry and many others. All of which we hope will catch the attention of the Minister in early 2021.
To those families caught up in all of this, don’t lose hope. It may not be best placed in INZ’s lottery border exemption process but rather in the fact that all of this has to change at some point and to have held out this long under these circumstances is nothing short of miraculous. It is the bravest of things you do and we are approaching the toughest of times to be doing it in but there are plenty of us out there fighting your corner.
Till next week…
Posted by Iain on Feb. 8, 2020, 10:10 a.m. in Immigration New Zealand
Many years ago and before the immigration department started transitioning to online electronic applications the then Deputy Secretary asked me how I would feel if it were possible to file any kind of Visa from anywhere in the world from any device. I said I think it would be fantastic if INZ could make it work and it led to the speedy resolution of visas applications. I had visions of someone sitting on a camel with a laptop computer, powered by a solar panel draped over its hump, filing a Visa for New Zealand for some strange reason. I wasn’t so keen on being told a computer would soon be able to make the decision however.
Fast forward 12 years or so, goodness only knows how many tens of millions of dollars on IT systems and now it is possible to file temporary (visitor, student and work) visas electronically. In many ways it has been a giant leap forward. That giant leap is yet to translate to most Resident Visa applications which we were supposed to be able to file electronically over 12 months ago (two, less common types can currently be filed online). Some IT consultant probably told the government that would cost another $100 million and is still building the platform….
What hasn't been built into the existing system it seems is how to deal with the risk to the entire system by the creation of single processing hubs for specific visa types. INZ chose the Beijing office to process all global visitor visas which was a logical choice given the importance of the Chinese tourist market to New Zealand.
That decision however now doesn't look quite so smart as the office has been forced to suspend operations, effectively until further notice, owing to the outbreak of the coronavirus and attempts in China and by the world to contain it within its borders.
The Immigration department has been scrambling to find an alternative which is exceedingly difficult when you consider that:
1. Partnership work and dependent children (of work visa holders) processing times are being quoted in months by INZ in Hamilton simply to allocate these Visas for filing and goodness knows how long there after to process – obviously that depends on the quality of the application and the evidence presented. We are advised these delays have been caused by capacity constraints.
2. Skilled migrants, unless they are being afforded priority, which is a very small number, are not going to be allocated for 12 plus months for substantive processing to begin. It seems that ‘team’ has its hands full.
The Beijing office processes thousands of visitor visas every week. We know that tens of thousands of Chinese have cancelled their trips to New Zealand because the New Zealand government has now, at least for the time being, shut down entry to New Zealand by anyone from, or transiting, through China.
As the hysteria around the coronavirus continues to grow globally and it dominates the news cycles causing panic I don't think that the shutdown in Beijing is going to be for only a couple of weeks. I'm picking many weeks, if not months to resume processing of visas there, and then potentially playing catch up to try and get processing times back to historical averages.
Unless the department can get another office to take up the job.
We have learned today that the immigration department is probably going to reallocate all existing electronic visitor visa applications to their office in Manila. That sends a chill down my spine because those people were never much good at getting these visa decisions right when they used to process them from their region.
The message from my team to all our customers is clear.
Visitor Visa applications are now going to take longer to process than any of us had expected before the virus outbreak caused the havoc that it has in China. Things will almost certainly be delayed and what was a 2 to 4 week process is now going to take far longer I expect and everyone needs to plan accordingly.
I don't recommend buying airline tickets until visas are approved and nor, at the risk of sounding like the immigration department itself, should you make any concrete plans in terms of travel dates, unless and until that Visa is granted.
Here in Hong Kong after another incredibly busy week dealing with people eager to leave, panic buying has set in as the government has announced yesterday some vague plan to quarantine for 14 days mainland Chinese who come to the territory. Naturally people are starting to wonder what will happen with the supply of goods if the borders are effectively closed or at least the flow of goods severaly curtailed. Apparently and within only 24 hours of the announcement of tighter border controls you can no longer buy a toilet roll in Hong Kong! As they stampeded for face masks last week, the locals were rampaging though the aisles to get toilet paper this week (a Psychologist would have a field day in this place).
When I was here in November and the protests against the government were at their peak, the streets were eerily quiet after dark. Although it's one of the most densely populated cities in the world, it is almost like a ghost town now when the sun goes down now. Everyone, and I mean everyone, is wearing face masks. I have seen queues of up to 500 people waiting outside pharmacies to buy what is an effect a placebo. The best of these masks can keep out something which is 0.3microns in size. The problem is the virus is 0.1 microns so it will sail right through the fabric. But they still love their face masks!
The government has closed schools until March and government employees are being told to work from home. I've never seen so many people so scared in my life but many people here still have bad memories of the SARS outbreak back in 2003 which hit Hong Kong particularly hard. In no way diminishing the loss of over 300 lives to that viral outbreak, I imagine that ten times that many people die of influenza in Hong Kong every winter.
If the virus breaks out here in Hong Kong (thankfully so far it hasn’t) and establishes itself in any other country in the region I do think that we are probably looking at it even more travel restrictions.
My message to anyone looking to visit New Zealand is obviously to avoid transiting through China or you won't be allowed in and if we are filing visitor visas for you expect processing times now to significantly increase.
With skilled migrant cases now taking an eternity to process, partnership visas an unacceptably long 4 plus months for most and now coronavirus causing havoc with visitor visa processing this may turn out to be your friendly immigration adviser's ‘annus horribilis’ to quote her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II.
I do not think it is insignificant that the Assistant General Manager of Immigration New Zealand has now been seconded to the office of the Minister of Immigration. That the Minister has now drawn the second most senior Manager in the department into his office suggests the immigration portfolio is now starting to trouble the minister.
All I can say is it took him long enough - he was warned 12 months ago of the processing delays and their reasons and has done nothing. I imagine the senior manager is there working on a plan.
I do not think we have ever seen a more ineffective Minister than this one whose focus has been on the wrong parts of his portfolio. The ship of immigration has been rudderless now for three years, Immigration New Zealand leadership has always been weak and largely ineffectual and we have a government that has dug itself a very deep political and economic hole by promising to cut immigration at the last election (which it did) at a time of economic boom and increasing skill shortages.
I suspect the Minister wants a senior manager holding his hand as his party negotiates the approaching election where it has to reconcile its cuts to desperately needed skilled migrants, new infrastructure spending but not enough workers to build that infrastructure, facing well founded fury at abandoning its plans to build 100,000 houses when it finally dawned on it that we simply don’t have the skills to get that job done…..and a thousand other unfulfilled promises.
Going to be an interesting year!
Until next week
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
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.
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
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
Posted by Iain on July 31, 2015, 5:58 p.m. in Jobs in New Zealand
The New Zealand Government announced a few days ago that it was increasing the bonus points that can be claimed for a skilled and relevant job offer outside of Auckland from 10 to 30 points. The internet is abuzz!
Not sure why. I suggest everyone stay calm. Much ado about very little.
Government announced they were doing it in order to encourage more migrants to settle outside of Auckland. This was clearly a response to the overheated Auckland property market and rising disaffection by Aucklanders that migrants are contributing to an overheated property market.
As usual when the press get hold of a very modest tweak in an existing policy they get confused on the consequence, don’t seem to bother asking an expert and the misinformation spreads like wildfire.
My inbox is full of enquiries from people asking me if they ‘must’ now get a job outside of Auckland and if this means it is easier to get into the country? One even telling me he read that if you have a job ‘offer’ outside of Auckland you don’t even have to live there but it is now easier to get in if you say you are ‘planning’ on settling outside of Auckland but you don’t actually have to live there.
Oh a dollar for every false rumour!
Sorry folks but this change is modest and if you get a job outside of Auckland you must take it up.
In fact not only must you take up the job you must work outside of Auckland for 12 months. Those with jobs in Auckland ‘only’ have to stay employed for three months for their resident visa to become unconditional.
So how effective will it be? Does it really change anything?
No is the short answer. This is a case of politics trying to trump labour market reality.
The pass mark for those with a job is 100 and so far I am not seeing anything that suggests that pass mark will increase. This policy will only make any significant difference if it does.
This is because a 30, 37, 41, 45 and 54 year old (and everyone in between) will still qualify for residence with a skilled job in Auckland if they have between 8 and 10 years of relevant and related work experience (all other things being equal). Even a 54 year old will still be able to get a job in Auckland, work for a while and accrue the points necessary to get to 100 point passmark.
The only people we have identified that will benefit from this policy would be a 55 year old with no qualifications and at least ten years of work experience related to the job offer he or she gets outside of Auckland. When you hit 56 you cannot apply no matter how many points you might claim or where your job is.
So the winners here? Unqualified 55 year olds. Absolutely neutral for everyone else.
I am in South Africa and have over the past week consulted with 44 families who are looking to gain entry under the skilled migrant category. Only one would benefit from this policy change. One. That individual will now qualify with a job outside of Auckland because he is 55.
More than that it is all very well rewarding people to head out to the regions to spread the skilled migrant love and their skills sets but the reason about 70% of migrants already get jobs in Auckland is largely because that’s where the jobs are. Not all of course and we have clients spread all around New Zealand but around 70% in Auckland.
So might the Government increase the pass mark for those with jobs to 100 or even 120?
They could and that would force greater numbers to look outside of Auckland. Is this on the table? Not as far as I am aware.
I would hope that behind closed doors Government will have been warned against it.
Given Auckland is the engine room of the economy and has the critical economic and cultural mass for many migrant communities (which feeds through into good settlement outcomes) a higher pass mark would prevent many otherwise excellent skilled migrants from coming.
So the Government has found a nice way of appearing to be doing something without in reality doing anything at all. They did get the headlines they needed however...
Good politics is all folks. So stay calm. You won’t be moving to the sticks – unless you want to.
Our photo competition is going along great guns and we are getting some fantastic photos coming in. I would like to see a whole lot more from those who live in New Zealand and illustrating what it is about every day life in New Zealand that they love.
I am thinking about photos of your house and street (no burglar bars or security walls you South Africans), your children climbing a tree (you Singaporeans), morning coffee at a sidewalk café (you French), walking along the street with your baby in a stroller without a protector, children riding their bikes, your office colleagues, and so on.
I am loving what we are getting but let’s see some of the real life stuff that you love about this wonderful country of ours. If you have missed the competition we are giving away a weekend in Queenstown at the five star Azur Hotel plus $1500 spending money. For further details if you have missed it click here to submit your photo entry - you can enter as many times as you like for more chances to win.
Until next week
Posted by Iain on Feb. 14, 2015, 10:47 a.m. in Living
It’s been a big week and my apologies for the later edition of the Southern Man.
It’s that time of year when the Accountant wants to see me, the Dentist decided on a bit of root canal, I had a mediation over a leaky house issue before it gets to the Courts and somewhere in among all that did a week’s worth of work. Collapsed on the couch last night and dozed instead of sending this out.
Hey, I am only human and Southern Man’s letter from new Zealand just had to wait.
A bit of a hotch potch this week of thoughts and events.
Paul is off to South Africa on Monday for two weeks of Seminars in Johannesburg (now looking to be virtually fully booked), Durban and Cape Town. Suggested he pack a good torch and some extra batteries. How far has this once proud nation fallen that there is now four hours a day of power blackouts (something the South African spin doctors call ‘load shedding’). Call it what you like if but you can’t boil the water it’s a power blackout……. My partner Myer has been there the past two weeks talking to packed houses about moving to Australia. He wryly observed - they seem to have got used to 20,000 murders a year, a rape every three minutes, rampant Government corruption, public service inefficiency but cut off their power for four hours a day and they all start running for the door. It’s curious what we get used to.
I’d suggest the last one out should turn off the lights, but the lights it seems are likely already off.
Locally, we have electricity in abundance but as happens in most years we now have drought conditions declared on the east coast of the South Island (cricket fans might not believe that as this morning’s first game of the Cricket World Cup in usually very dry Christchurch is threatened by rain interruptions). Up here in Auckland (nearly 1000 km away from Christchurch) there has been no substantial rain for over 6 weeks - the back garden needs regular watering to keep it alive.
Temperatures have been a very pleasant 25 - 28 degrees Celsius now for six weeks and we are told to expect this through to April. Wonderful, unless you need to grow things for a living.
The World Cup of cricket kicks off n about an hour and it is filling all local cricket fans with an excitement not really experienced before. For the first time in a very long time, if indeed ever to be brutally honest, New Zealand can consider itself among the favourites. Those of us who enjoy this sport have been in that ‘I can’t wait’ mode for at least the past week. My apologies to those who think thesis like watching paint dry but can 1 billion Indians all be wrong? I don’t think so…….
Wonderful to see Christchurch playing host to the (rather low key but a hell of a lot better than what Australia put on as co-host!) opening ceremony. This was a chance for New Zealand’s second city to show the world it is back. out of adversity comes some wonderful opportunities including the new ‘village green’ type of cricket field at the Hagley Oval. Compare that venue set in a huge park with grassy areas and ‘low rise’ seating stands to the concrete jungle that is the MCG, where England take on the typically cocky Australians later today. The MCG is magnificent but in typical low key New Zealand style Hagley Park oval somehow seems more intimate.
In a final thought before i grab another coffee and settle into the couch for the Black Caps versus Sri Lanka I get the feeling that momentum is building for the addition of a compulsory IT qualification for all school leavers. Shockingly for a country that exports over $7 billion in ICT products and services every year only 6% of school leavers have a recognised IT qualification. The fact that there are in Auckland alone today over 1500 unfilled high skilled IT roles reflects the fact that our universities and technical institutes only produce 50% of the graduates this booming industry needs to satisfy it’s demand.
Around 20% of all my clients work in IT and they are the one group of clients that can generally expect to find work in a few short weeks of landing with a high degree of certainty. This industry is also showing the most rapid increase in salaries with graduates starting around $60,000 and with 5 years experience most are on $85,000 plus. Thereafter the sky really is the limit. There has been a sea change here in this industry and New Zealand, if it can find the workers required, will see ICT exports become one of our top three or four exports within the next few years. it is already in the top ten.
For any of you (or any of your family and friends) might be thinking of joining us we are still trying to help a local IT recruiter fill some 200 IT roles and while we don’t hold ourselves out to be recruiters, we may be able to help some wannabe Kiwi IT specialists into roles locally if they retain us to handle the entire visa and settlement process.
Our New Zealand bound clients will shortly (if they haven’t already) receive an invitation to start using our sexy new in house developed client management system called HuM (as in ‘Helping U Manage’). In development for the past 18 months HuM was designed to help us better manage our clients visa applications in an electronic environment given from later this year more visas will be filed with the Department electronically and we wanted to be ready.
It has also given us the opportunity to provide our clients a one stop shop on our server to upload documents we need to see and to manage the logistics of their move - a place to create folders specific to the move such as ‘Bringing the Dog’, ‘Shipping my personal effects’, ‘Finding accommodation’ and ‘Finding jobs’. Rather than have folders for this stuff all over your desktop you can save it all in your secure personal file on their own protected cline file on our server. Noting earth shattering but we hope a tidy solution designed not just for migrant but any small(ish) business with multiple clients that need to be managed in an increasingly electronic and cloud based world.
We will roll this out to our clients using our Melbourne office a little later.
Last but by no means least in about a month’s time you are going to notice a change to the IMMagine branding - principally to shades of blue. This change is the final step in the re-brand of IMMage new Zealand and IMMagine Australia to better reflect the ‘one company, two country solution’ we offer to those seeking a better life.
We will be rolling out a new website which we believe better reflects who we are and what we do across these two countries.
Okay, the umpires are making their way out on to the field shortly so I need to get to the couch before my son ‘shotguns’ it.
Until next week
Iain MacLeod - Southern Man
Posted by Iain on Nov. 7, 2014, 3:25 p.m. in Jobs in New Zealand
I have written many times about the “chicken and egg” situation that exists for migrants trying to enter the labour market before they have a Resident Visa. That is that the employers generally demand Work Visas before they will offer jobs but the Immigration Department cannot (on the whole) give a Work Visa without that job.
It is the reason why many migrants fail in their quest to get New Zealand Residence (I hasten to add not our clients as we seem to do a pretty good job at identifying those who have all the appropriate attributes to secure employment).
I had an interesting experience this week which is worth sharing and might help employers who are willing to engage in the immigration process but who don’t want floods of applications from people not in New Zealand.
A client had applied for a job whilst in New Zealand through www.seek.co.nz.
He received a computer generated rejection on the basis that he did not have a Work Visa (it was one of the questions asked).
He then followed up with a phone call to the company and asked if they would be interested in talking to him or reviewing his CV. They suggested they would and he seemed like a very interesting and qualified candidate.
He then rang me to see if I could call the employer and explain how the immigration process worked given they were somewhat reluctant, he felt, to engage with the visa process.
I called the employer and quickly learned that contrary to the perception they might not be willing to engage the immigration process (a perception they created by their online advertising), they already employed ten migrants on various forms of temporary Work Visas.
I then called the client back, who has now had a conversation with the employer to be, which I hope leads not only to an interview, but a job offer and I will secure him the Work Visa within two or three weeks.
What would have been a more sensible approach from the company when advertising online, was to have three questions that they ask and which may trigger an automated response. These would be:
In this instance, had the employer done that they would have avoided getting thousands of applications from applicants who are not in New Zealand, not available for quick and easy interview and who might not be seriously committed to the process of migration, but they would have identified my client who is here, serious and available.
It continues to amaze me in this connected world how employers and recruiters still only deal in their minds with two types of potential “foreign” candidates – those who have Permanent Residency and those that do not.
There is clearly a simple way for them to further refine their criteria which both protects them from a deluge of overseas applicants but which provides them with access to potential employees who can get Work Visas who are in New Zealand.
Food for thought for all you employers out there facing increasing skills shortages.
Until next week
IMMagine New Zealand - Southern Man
Posted by Iain on Aug. 8, 2014, 8:16 p.m. in Jobs in New Zealand
Reflecting an economy in expansion mode latest unemployment statistics must make very pleasant reading for a Government one month out from national elections.
The unemployment rate has fallen to its lowest level in 5 years and at 5.6% New Zealand now has the 9th lowest unemployment rate in the developed world. By comparison our Australian neighbours were surprised this week by a jump in their unemployment rate to 6.4%.
When unemployment hits 5% in New Zealand skills shortages generally become acute and extend beyond the highly skilled to the semi and unskilled.
Over 85,000 new fulltime jobs have been created across all sectors of the economy over the past year.
Hiring intentions continue to run at historically high levels. Skilled vacancies are 17% higher than a year ago and employers continue to report difficulties in filling those vacancies.
With net migration running at close to 40,000 people over the past year many of these vacancies are being filled by highly skilled and fluent English speaking migrants. Including you might be surprised to learn the 25,000 Australian citizens who migrate to New Zealand every year under our open border policy for citizens of one another’s countries.
As a consequence of this flow of Australians joining us, New Zealanders returning home from a contracting labour market in Australia and few New Zealanders heading across the Tasman, many migrants from other countries may continue to struggle to find the skilled jobs they need to secure their residence.
When asked how they intend to meet the growing skills shortages employers indicated:
It is insightful how few consider migrants as part of the solution but explains why low unemployment does not always lead to securing employment more quickly.
In greatest demand were tradespeople, forestry, manufacturing, construction, IT and Telecommunications.
What always interests me is how few employers seek to recruit migrants as part of their mix but chase an every decreasing pool of local applicants.
I appreciate that employers prefer migrants to be in New Zealand, preferably with work visas (which you cannot get without the job), fluency in English, culturally compatible, a personality they identify with and obviously some demand for their skills set.
Only 51% of employers survey4ed believed that the staff they have possess all of the skills they need to adequately carry out their jobs.
Looking on the bright side, although the bias toward local applicants continues we are heartened by the number of employers and recruiters (even!!) who are now more willing than they have been in recent years to entertain migrant applicants.
One might imagine that the Government might begin to increase the numbers of migrants they let in without job offers but it is my view that they will not. Recent experience suggests that as the Government has demanded more skilled migrants find jobs first, they have. This will reinforce the governments view that with a tightening local labour market migrants should (in theory) be able to secure jobs more easily. And the politicians can defend their jobs first for New Zealanders mantra (as they should).
Our message remains one of caution optimism for our clients urging you to carefully research the frequency of jobs that you might be able to fill, accept that you’ll need to be in New Zealand for 2-4 months to secure employment, to persevere, remain positive and accept that you need to apply for many jobs to secure a small number of interviews, an even smaller number of short lists but ultimately it is very rare for our clients not to secure the employment they require to secure their residence visas.
Until next week
Iain MacLeod - Southern Man
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