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What does 2020 bring for skilled migrants?

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

What does 2020 bring for skilled migrants?

The short answer is delays and frustrations.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

So how did we get here?

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

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

So what are the solutions?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

If we don’t want migrants, fine.

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

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

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

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

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

Going to be an interesting year.

Until next week

Iain MacLeod

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Who Controls the Past Controls the Future

Posted by Iain on June 8, 2018, 2:32 p.m. in Immigration

"Who controls the past controls the future. Who controls the present controls the past."

So says the Party in George Orwell’s epic novel, 1984.

I do love my day job, I really do. Not dealing with the Government, but helping clients deal with a Government Department where up is down and down is up and no two officers seem capable of implementing the same definitions consistently. A system where it feels the bureaucrats, at times, have what seems unbridled power, where the checks and balances of a competitive market do not apply, their timid and weak leadership is unwilling or unable to pull their troops into line and they employ some of the best spin to deflect their idiocy, inconsistency and weak management.

They can, and do, run roughshod over applicants (or as they call you all, ‘customers’ or the more sickening, ‘stakeholders’) and their own rulebook. I always wonder how someone can be a customer when you can’t get a visa anywhere else and the government operates a monopoly. I’d call you prisoners because you can’t go down the road to buy the service from someone who offers it better. You are forced into dealing with whatever idiot the government says you must.

We are doing some work for a major telco right now that has been trying, without success, to fill a large number of technical customer support roles. 

Unemployment in New Zealand is officially 4.4%. That effectively means we have no skilled unemployed and even the unskilled are able to find jobs if they look. As an example, the government recently announced that tourists on visitor visas would be given permission to help pick this year’s kiwifruit harvest in the Bay of Plenty because there is no one to pick the fruit and the danger is that it’ll rot before it can be picked. It’s hardly skilled work; it just takes attitude and getting out of bed for six weeks. I suspect then that our real unemployment rate, if that is defined as those wishing to work but cannot find it, is actually almost zero. Those that wish to work, are working.

The real businesses of New Zealand continue to create thousands of jobs every month. The economy is humming. The biggest problems employers have today across the country is a lack of applicants.

Back to the Telco. No company we have tried to help has spent more time, money and energy in recruiting locally, training, upskilling and promoting New Zealanders wherever possible. As they say, why would it be otherwise? They are a Kiwi company with Kiwi customers, and what company in its right mind would ever get involved with work and resident visas if they could find locals to fill vacancies? Who wants to deal with the Immigration Department?

Well, the Immigration Department seems to believe, many.

The positions the company seeks to fill are demonstrably skilled requiring these Customer Support folk to understand and dispense advice on IT products and services to their customers. Although they work in a call centre environment the evidence we presented to the Immigration Department clearly matches the tasks for what INZ call an ICT Customer Support role. Appeals have been won against the Department for incorrectly declining resident visa applications when identical roles as this Telco is needing to fill were labelled as not being skilled. INZ has ignored those appeal decisions.

The department is currently trying their utmost to turn down a request the company has made to be allowed to top up their local work force with non-residents via work visa policy. Notwithstanding the company sat with several INZ officials in a friendly and relaxed meeting in which the company felt they finally got through to INZ why these positions were skilled (beware the smiling fox was my advice at the time), showed them what the staff do, explained the difference between, say, a call centre worker selling cellphone data packages and one that requires detailed knowledge and understanding of the complex IT systems and software that smartphones run, INZ continues to insist that these roles are not skilled for the purpose of work visas. They have put that in writing. This role, duplicated across scores of workers does not meet the definition of skilled employment for work visas, they say.

The funny (peculiar, not 'ha,ha') thing is the residence team of the same Government department continues to approve and issue resident visas to the employees of this same telco already on work visas, because the position is deemed by them to be...skilled!

For the uninitiated, the definition of what is skilled for the purposes of securing a work visa is the same for the purposes of securing a resident visa.

You might want to read those last few paragraphs again. Not skilled for a work visa but skilled for a resident visa – applying the same definition.

Talk about Alice in Wonderland!

So...on the one hand, work visas, and the company’s application to recruit more ICT Customer Support staff is being knocked back because the role is not ‘skilled’, yet where other staff doing an identical job are applying for residence, applying the same test of what is ‘skilled’ they are being granted residence. As recently as a week or so ago.

At the same time and somewhat chillingly, officers of the Department are in effect threatening the HR Department of this company to stop calling the role ‘ICT Customer Support’ when they file work visas. Our advice to the company is because it is required to ‘nominate’ the occupation off INZ’s skilled occupation list and it is unlawful to mislead an officer or the Department (as they love to remind their ‘customers’), the company must select that occupation that most closely matches the tasks these people are to do. The closest match is, without a shadow of a doubt, exactly what the company is calling them.

Without strong representation from the likes of us, willing to stand up against ‘Big Brother’, it would be easy (some might even say sensible) for the company to cave in. The problem with that is if they do what the ‘Party’ tells them to do, the department can then control the past (‘last time you filed this sort of application you said it was a call centre customer role’) and in so doing they can control any future applications by forcing the company to do what the Department wants them to do.

Very Orwellian, and I read the Departmental spokeperson on this particular issue (it has made the mainstream media) advise, one presumes with a striaght face, that 'visas are assessed objectively against a set of measures and criteria'. Yeah, right. Of course they are - so how can the work visas be declined for not being skilled but the resident visas approved? One of those two outcomes simply has to be wrong if the Department is as claimed 'objectively assessing' them.

The Immigration Department is an embarrassment. Worse than that they hinder and obstruct business, they manipulate and frighten applicants, they seek control and one unit of the Department says a job is not skilled so we cannot give you a work visa yet those clients that manage to get past that particular set of functionaries and secure their work visas through another pathway (as many of them are bizarrely) are in time being granted residence by a different unit whose staff say the same job is skilled.

Even though we have pointed out this obvious contradiction INZ management refuse to see it. They refuse to acknowledge it and refuse to do anything about it.

I have often said if the Immigration Department was a business, as they like to call themselves, they’d have been bankrupted a long time ago. 

Just like in that great novel, 1984, however they try and control what everyone is meant to think.

It is dark and it is dangerous and till my team and I breathe our last, we will fight it.

Until next week...

Iain MacLeod, Southern Man


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Protecting "Vulnerable" Advisers

Posted by Iain on Dec. 15, 2017, 2:58 p.m. in IMMagine

The Immigration Department and most of our clients appreciate how seriously we take our jobs, the importance we attach to getting things right and the professional pride we feel every time we can tell a client ‘visa approved, hope you enjoy your new life’. However, that is not an externally driven process; it has always been something that we demand of one another as Advisers and is the reason we have watertight internal systems to ensure two sets of ‘licensed’ eyes check every strategy we are retained to execute and visa application that leaves this office. 

As part of our licencing, we are required to operate robust systems and we had these in place long before this industry was regulated and it became mandatory. I suspect this was part of the reason why, when the Immigration Advisers Authority was being established, I was asked to sit on the Government’s working group to advise on the appropriate structure for it and then was invited to sit on the reference group during its first year of operation. It is fair to say I believed that those of us who believe in the simple adage of ‘treat others as you’d like them to treat you’ (with a pinch of caveat emptor), these regulations controlling everything we do was not required. I have come to accept, however, that not all Advisers are as good, honest and professional as we are.

I never thought that the IAA might, in a roundabout way, protect us from our own clients but as this piece demonstrates, an unintended consequence of making sure our systems are extremely robust is that we are protected from the rare client that might have questionable ethics.

We have only ever had two complaints filed against us in the ten years we have had licenses (during that time we have processed in excess of 10,000 visa applications) and both have been thrown out as baseless.

While both in my view were always destined to fail, the second was an interesting test in my mind of whether the Registrar of Advisers would come down on our side and accept that no company does more to ensure that their processes and systems are possibly the most robust in the industry, but that we cannot be held responsible for clients that choose to be less than honest with the evidence we are asked to present on their behalf.

During the investigations into the first complaint, our internal processes were scrutinised, tested and stood up to very close examination, and the complainant thoroughly discredited given she was clearly the master of her own misfortune.

A few years ago we agreed to represent this particular client who, like most of you reading this, required a job offer to secure a resident visa under the skilled migrant category. Having represented other members of her family and having delivered to them everything we’d promised, this client came to us to replicate that outcome. 

My partner assessed her eligibility whilst she was in South Africa and considered matters beyond her potential points score as well as (as we always do) how employable she might be at the time within the NZ labour market. A strategy was presented to her and the factors for success all carefully explained in detail in writing before the process began.

She came to NZ, but struggled to get work (this was around the time of the GFC). After several months she secured employment as a ‘Store Manager’. Before suggesting she accept the job, we got a copy of the proposed job description, the draft employment contact, and we spoke to the employer to satisfy ourselves that the job itself ticked all the Government’s boxes for being ‘skilled’. We were satisfied - based on the written advice we received..

We filed a work visa based on this information and it was approved and issued. The client began working. To be approved, INZ had to accept that it was a skilled position based on the evidence presented, which they clearly did having taken the evidence at face value. So far, so good, and no surprises. 

A skilled migrant residence application followed. INZ carried out routine verification on the job by way of a telephone call to the client. She panicked (at the time we just presumed it was because she was very highly strung) and terminated the call to INZ and then called my colleague handling her case. She wanted to know what she should tell INZ when they called back. Although he was confused by the question his advice was simple and transparent. Tell the truth. According to the employment agreement and job description your job is skilled, so answer whatever questions they put to you.

When INZ called back, the description that she gave of her duties differed materially to the written job description she had presented us. We read the interview transcript later provided by INZ and the evidence was irrefutable. While she was busy shooting herself in the one foot, her employer had been busy blowing off the other one. He had received some written questions from INZ, which had corroborated her version of what she told INZ on the phone that she actually did all day – not what her employment contract and job descriptions said she was actually being employed to do.

While we did what we could to get her out of the mess she had just created through being less than honest with us about the true nature of her job, the application was understandably declined.

She demanded her money back from us and threatened a complaint against my colleague if we didn’t. She was basically accusing us of negligence (saying that we didn’t prepare her for the telephone interview with INZ) and incompetence (saying that we should have been able to make INZ realise her responses on the phone were contestable – they weren’t). 

I knew that we had been rigorous in our assessment of the job she told us she’d been offered, INZ had agreed that based on that contract and job description the job was skilled and gave her a work visa, so the only reason her residence case was declined was because the truth about her position was apparently different to the written information we had advised her on. 

I refused to refund a cent and invited her to go through with her threat to file a complaint with the industry regulator. She did.

My colleague didn’t thank me for it and he hardly slept for the next 18 months as we waited for the IAA Registrar -not known to be kind on Advisers - to rule on the complaint. In my view, not unsurprisingly, the complaint was dismissed following submissions from us presenting file copies (which we were more than happy to do) and explaining that in the end we have to rely on the honesty of clients and cannot base our advice on anything but the evidence they provide us. 

We asserted that the client had clearly misrepresented her actual daily tasks and responsibilities (as had her employer) in the employment agreement and that they had been caught out. We can hardly be held responsible for that. The IAA agreed and the case was dismissed with the observation our systems are very robust and the appropriate checks carried out and records of all that took place were kept.

What I didn’t know is that the client, who it seems must be a sucker for punishment, didn’t let it lie. Unbeknownst to us she then filed an appeal against the decision of the IAA not to uphold her complaint with the New Zealand Immigration Advisers Complaints and Disciplinary Tribunal.

That too was dismissed as lacking foundation.

The Tribunal ruled it is not for us to check the veracity of the offer unless we have reason to believe it might not be genuine or was misleading. We had no reason to presume the client or her employer were being anything less than 100% honest with us. Our internal checking and QA systems meant that three of us had sat together, reviewed the job offer and decided that it was skilled.

The reason I am writing about this is that there are lots of Advisers out there in the market and they are not all as ethical nor competent as those who work at IMMagine on both sides of the Tasman Sea. Equally not all clients are honest, either, and this was an interesting test of whether we could be held responsible for the actions of a rogue client.

In its decision (2016-NZIACDT -66 Edana Blieden vs Registrar of Immigration Advisers which you can read here) the Chair of the independent authority found that IMMagine ‘had robust review processes in place’ and found the complaint was without foundation and the appeal got the short shrift it deserved.

The Chair raised the obvious question; given the client went on to secure a resident visa when employed in the ‘same’ position with the same employer in the same location through a second and subsequent application, how was INZ able to approve it? 

That is a very good question and one we also asked Immigration New Zealand. How could they approve a second application when they found the first time they looked into the job offer it was not skilled? What changed? The employer didn’t, that much we know. The client advised the title was the same. 

I asked INZ to audit the decision to approve the later application and they said, without showing me any evidence, that both decisions were correct. That points to only one explanation – the second job offer was modified and INZ, for reasons only they can explain, accepted it. My suggestion INZ might want to investigate thoroughly to ensure the client and/or her employer hadn’t filed misleading information was not taken any further. I suspect INZ didn’t want to investigate because it could have gotten very embarrassing for them as well.

In the end we can only control our own systems and processes and ensure our quality assurance is the best in the business. 

That means ensuring nothing leaves this office that is not 100% accurate. I have always insisted that a second licensed Adviser check all case strategies before we agree to represent any clients, all temporary visa applications, skills assessments, qualifications assessments, all online EOIs, and all Resident Visa arguments and put their name to it on the file, as one seemingly small oversight can be the difference between success and failure. Two pairs of eyes is what leads to our success rate of almost 100% on visa applications.

Although there is no accounting for clients that mislead us or are doing jobs different to what their employment contract says, it is somewhat reassuring to see the Regulator helping to protect ‘vulnerable’ immigration Advisers, even though that isn’t their role.

Unfortunately in this social media driven world we are always at risk that a disgruntled client who shot her own feet off has the opportunity of running us down and we don’t have any way of countering it. 

Her complaint to the IAA is part of the public record as is her appeal against that decision so I feel quite justified in writing about it.

The takeaway is both the Immigration Advisers Authority registrar confirmed in dismissing the complaint that the quality of the systems at IMMagine is the highest possible quality, that our QA process is robust and, in the end, clients trying dodgy things cannot hide behind us - they can get caught as INZ carries out its verification processes (that is, after all, what they are designed to do). Should they try something less than honest, they cannot blame the Adviser who acted in good faith and had the records to prove it. This was reinforced by the independent Chair of the Immigration Advisers Complaints and Disciplinary Tribunal.

Apart from being honest, it pays to stick with Advisers with robust assessment and detailed checking systems, track record of success and water tight QA processes, as we do.

Until next week...

Iain MacLeod, Southern Man


Skilled Migrant Category Review

Posted by Iain on Oct. 21, 2016, 3:49 p.m. in Immigration

Control.

It’s the thing about Governments everywhere I suppose. They have to give the illusion of being in control even if they are not.

The announcement two weeks ago of the pass mark increasing to 160 from 100 had an instantaneous impact on the numbers of Expressions of Interest being selected from the pool - it cut them by around 50% which was exactly what was intended. No surprises there.

The demonstration of lack of control came from the fact that the numbers of EOIs sitting in the pool that the computer had to select because ever increasing numbers were claiming 100 points or more including an offer of ‘skilled’ employment was allowed to grow and grow and grow. In the end the Government simply had to act - the ‘tsunami’ of EOIs I have so often written about and spoken about at seminars was washing ashore. Big time.

I still get this picture in my mind of Government Ministers standing in a huddled group on a beach with their backs to the sea wondering why everyone was running away for higher ground.  With puzzled looks on their faces they are asking one another ‘What’s the threat? What’s the problem? We can’t see any problem.There’s no problem here’.

Having been told by those that should know less than six months ago the Skilled Migrant Category was not going to be seriously reviewed for some time (policy review priorities lay elsewhere, principally with the Investor and Entrepreneur Categories) all of sudden the Minister announces that it is in fact being reviewed. Nothing to do with the system about to crash under the weight of EOIs, nothing to do with focus groups and polling showing immigration is going to a very hot topic in the run up to next year’s elections, nothing to do with the fact that the ‘quality’ those being selected has been falling for some time, nothing to do with Auckland house prices…..all now seemingly just one of these three yearly reviews ‘we always do’. A ‘tweak here’ and a ‘tweak there’ as you do when you are on top of the situation.

Except this one wasn’t gong to be reviewed for some time yet…and it won’t just be tweaks.

Government released a hastily put together public consultation document this week and has asked for feedback on how the rules might be ‘tweaked’ in order to improve quality. Over about two weeks.

What is clear is that New Zealand is in great demand as a migrant destination and we can choose who we want and likewise who we don’t want when we have so many to choose from.

So who don’t we now want?

The consultation document is interesting in that it essentially confirms everything I predicted it would in last week’s blog.

If the changes which are at this stage (if you can believe it) only talking points you can expect by mid 2017 to see a shift toward:

1. More highly educated applicants i.e. whereas qualifications have not been a pre-requisite for entry for the best part of five years now, they will play an increasingly important role in the future. The days of getting a resident Visa based on your age, work experience and having a skilled job offer are over for the time being.

2. More highly paid applicants - there is clear signal that entry level but skilled job offers are not going to be enough to get younger applicants over the finish line - I predicted last week salaries would come into the mix to both assist with determining skill level of jobs but also to act as a mechanism to prevent younger, less experienced applicants taking places in the programme away from older more experienced applicants.

3. Potentially applying a minimum work experience requirement on all applicants - designed clearly to cut out the young, international student who has studied in New Zealand. This takes  a leaf out of the Australian song book which they also introduced a few years ago to deal with the same issue of over promising international students a pathway to residence in order to develop an export education industry.

4. To focus through points on those aged 30-39 as being the ‘optimum’ aged applicants. This shouldn’t mean that older applicants won’t be able to still qualify and I’d suggest for those with higher education, jobs outside of Auckland and higher than median salaries they’ll still be okay.

I made the suggestion last week these rushed changes now and the more considered ones to follow in 2017 is designed to all intents and purposes to solve one problem - when you have a 23 year old who came to NZ to study (on the promise by the government of a pathway to residence) but that youngster is competing say with the 35 year old software developer for a single place in the SMC programme, the government was  forced  to decide which of the two was of more ‘value’ to the economy.

The answer is obvious to me but it does not bode well for the tens of thousands of international students lured here by Government, less than honest education agents overseas (unlicensed) and a fair number of private and public education providers who saw nothing but fees and commissions at the end of a principally Indian rainbow.

I was invited to a meeting a few nights ago where the Minister of Immigration was speaking to a small group of predominantly white, oldish men in cheap, ill fitting grey suits (bankers and investment types for the most part). Never have I seen a man’s lips move so much without actually saying very much and when he did it was by and large, garbage.

With a completely straight face he laid the ‘blame’ for the unfortunate reality about to confront thousands of international students who will not now get residence firmly at the feet of (unlicensed) education agents. 

For the second time in a week I heard him say ‘We (the Government) never promised anyone residence. Coming to New Zealand should only ever have been about getting a ‘world class’ education.’

That will come as a surprise to more than a few students. If this is the case why did the Government offer them all open work visas when they finished their study if it wasn't designed to provide a pathway into a labour market and from there to a resident visa?

Now that rug has been clumsily pulled from right under their feet, not by agents but by the government, Ministers I guess have to be seen to be controlling the situation as if this was their plan all along.

I’d be interested what a lot of these international students might think about it all given for a great number of them their dreams of settling here have been ripped out from under them and by mid 2017 any chance most have will surely be extinguished for good.

My only surprise about all this is that so far few seem to have cottoned on to what the Government has just done.

What they have done last week is to stick their finger in the dyke to try and hold back this ‘tsunami’ of graduate students looking for residence but the point that appears to have escaped these youngsters is how the government is about to start draining the lake behind the dyke without those frolicking in and on it realising they are the ones about to be drained.

I have to say it is quite a sight to watch the Government try and defend the indefensible and how incredibly well they seem to have done so. Equally how their target appears to have missed it completely (and by and large as has the media).

Whilst they were rapidly losing control of a situation of their own making the Government is doing a jolly good job of making it look they are in control. 

First line of attack - blame someone else.

Until next week

Iain MacLeod - Southern Man


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


Cricket, Power Cuts and Root Canals

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


The Importance (?) Of English

Posted by Iain on July 24, 2014, 4:39 p.m. in Immigration

I have just spent four weeks in Paris and Barcelona (relax this isn’t a story about what I did on my summer break…) on a working holiday and am constantly surprised not so much what I learn about other people and places on these trips but what I learn about New Zealand and New Zealanders. And how these experiences shape my view of what would make good immigration policy and an even richer country.

Take the importance of English as a current part of our immigration criteria (for everyone except family category applicants and the uber-rich).

For many people from similarly Anglo-Saxon countries, New Zealand has historically been an easy cultural fit in part because of the commonality of English as the dominant language between migrant and New Zealander. There is little doubt in my mind it has been an important settlement tool. And probably will be for a while yet.

While those with English as a second language face a more challenging settlement process, with increasing numbers of ethnic communities reaching a critical mass it is arguably becoming less important. I recognised a long time ago the key to good settlement outcomes was linguistic compatibility and thereafter cultural compatibility. This has served migrants and New Zealand well as a country but I question in future how important it will need to be when the 'linguistic compatilibility' refers to English and the 'cultural compatibility' predominantly 'South Pacific British'.

Right now we rightly demand migrants speak, read, understand and write English to a reasonably high level – the rule book ‘only’ demands conversational or competent despite in my experience ‘native’ employers demanding a greater level of fluency. As more New Zealand employers are not ‘native’ however is it as important when those employers local and overseas customers don’t speak English as their first language?

Immigration policy is almost always a year or two behind the times. There is a disconnect between immigration policy and an evolving labour market, particularly in Auckland. Outside of Auckland it is fair to say that many (would be) migrants will struggle to secure employment at a similar level to that from which they have come given potential local employers will be largely ‘native’ New Zealanders and a high level of English is a must have.

This is why at Immagine we focus on the English speaking markets of the world and irrespective of how many ‘points’ a potential client might have we only agree to represent those that we believe have English good enough to secure them the job and the future they seek in a short(ish) period of time.

Spending two weeks in Paris with only two years of boyhood French to call on was something that filled me with trepidation before I left New Zealand. Luckily I found, in Paris anyway, the outcomes of a European education and business system that produces a significant bi-lingual population who could speak English. This came as great relief – I didn’t want a diet of steak and chips for two weeks.

It does make me and a great many other New Zealanders feel somewhat inadequate that we come from a country that has historically been, by and large, mono-lingual. This constrains us somewhat when we travel and that of course creates disadvantages in not being able to maximise business (not to mention leisure) opportunities that exist to the multi-lingual.

All of that got me thinking that in New Zealand we have no ‘end game’ in mind with our immigration policy. Skilled migration tends to be based on a relatively short time horizon – New Zealanders emigrate (shock horror) and there are skills we do not produce enough of. The simple solution is to encourage migrants to fill those current vacancies. Traditionally those migrants have needed to speak fluent English because historically most employers only spoke English.

But times they are a changing.

In my own suburb of Mount Eden the population over the past 20 years has moved from being largely Pakeha (New Zealander of European descent) and Polynesian to North Asian – mainly Chinese. I have three local supermarkets – one ‘western’ and two ‘eastern’ within a few minutes’ walk of home. I generally shop at one of the Asian ones. Everything is labelled in Chinese so if I don’t know what I am looking for I am in trouble. When I walk in the door I am often the only Pakeha in sight. Few people are speaking English. I don’t speak Chinese. It still works. I get my bok choy and chicken thighs.

What has happened where I live then is a whole lot of people had to prove they spoke English to the level of a competent user to get their Resident Visa but once in, there is now a sufficiently critical mass of Chinese speakers for them to revert to their home language and apparently thrive.

Although it is a controversial thought, perhaps it is time to have different English language levels for different migrant groups or even different cities if they have jobs inside or outside of Auckland. Given in Auckland we now have 20% of our residents born in North Asia and 15% in India, is it appropriate in 2014 we demand such a high level of English for Chinese and Indians if the job they get is say in an exporting or tourism related business? If as skilled migrants they could get a skilled job offer what do we really care if they score English in the IELTS exam of 6.5 or higher?

I can but wonder if we had 20% of our migrants coming from Italy, France or Spain if we would feel differently. Imagine an Italian quarter, a Spanish quarter, a Brazilian or a French quarter in Auckland where many people speak their home language with a smattering of English. I have seen it in New York and it seems to work okay. I doubt anyone would feel threatened.

I say we have little to fear but much to gain.  Aucklanders, (but perhaps not yet the rest of New Zealand),  have shown that in the space of a generation they have accepted becoming one of the most ethically and linguistically diverse societies on Earth where 42% of the residents were not born in New Zealand. When I was a boy in the 1970s there was only about 10% of us not born locally. The sky has not fallen in as that has changed.

The children of these migrants will all be fluent English speakers thanks to our education system and if mum and dad can survive quite adequately speaking little English does it really matter if they were able to secure the ‘skilled’ job the Government demanded of them to gain entry in the first place?

I can but hope their parents demand these children remain fluent in their second, ‘ancestral’ language. And that these first generation Kiwis appreciate the economic and cultural strengths of maintaining the language of their parents and forebears.

I also wish that a second language was compulsory for all New Zealanders.

We have, thanks to our small domestic population always been a nation of exporters. What better tool could we use to secure our own future economic prosperity in a globalised economy than competency, if not fluency, in a second major language – be it Mandarin, Spanish, Japanese or French? Rather than forcing migrants to speak fluent English in future might we be better served economically if they can speak some English but bring with them fluency in other languages?

In some respects the Europeans are increasingly forced through the political and economic integration of Europe to learn at least one other language (usually English). I was amazed, delighted and relieved how many Spanish could speak excellent English and French.  And how many French could speak excellent English and Spanish.

New Zealand is the poorer for our one language focus both in our education system and with our migrants.

I love the fact when I walk out of my office and along the streets of downtown Auckland I can hear 20 -30 languages in the space of 15 minutes. We are richer for it. It makes me feel part of the global family.

I made a recommendation as part of the Skilled Migrant Category review a year or so ago that those with better English be rewarded for it. I stand by that recommendation but I do wonder if it is appropriate to still be doing so in 5, 10 or 20 years’ time as different linguistic (migrant) communities reach a critical mass whereby they are able to secure or create for themselves meaningful economic opportunity once here. If they cannot speak great (or are not willing to learn) English and they do not become dependent on the state what’s our loss? The risk is theirs.

Australia awards points for English on a sliding scale with a minimum threshold – the higher the score the more points awarded. It is the one part of the Australian skilled policy which seems logical to me at this point in time. I was interested to see that it is one of two recommendations made by the Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD) in a report they issued earlier this week on New Zealand’s immigration policy. They have encouraged this reward for superior English for the same reason.

I am not at all certain any more the future lies with our country’s education remaining mono-lingual and I am increasingly far from convinced that we should expect migrants to speak ‘the Queen’s’ English as well.

For our country to thrive in the 21st century as many people in the population need to be bi-lingual if not multi-lingual as we can create or import. Migrants play a vital role in creating those conditions.  In the meantime that does not eliminate the importance of English for most migrants at least in the short term but we must be smart (or brave) enough to know when it is appropriate to review this position.

I think we are almost at that point.

Until next week

Iain MacLeod

Southern Man- Letter from New Zealand


How Licensing Fails Migrants...

Posted by Iain on March 28, 2014, 2:14 p.m. in Government

Did Confucius or some other sage (at Saatchi and Saatchi?) once say that self-flattery is the lowest form of compliment?

I am not sure.

I learned this week just how good the team at Immagine really is when compared to the rest of the immigration advice industry. This week’s blog is not so much about my team as it is the abject failure of the New Zealand Government’s licensing scheme in protecting migrants from shoddy Advisers but it demonstrates I hope just how good we really are at what we do.

I long rallied against regulating this industry but have concluded that sensible regulation that is enforced can be beneficial. I didn’t need a license to build a name and a company off the back of delivering what migrants struggled to achieve without professional advice but I concede now having a license can reinforce that ‘brand’. 

This business has been built on three key principles:

1. Treating clients as we would have them treat us if the roles were reversed

2. Don’t’ make promises you cannot keep

3. Offer value for money

We have now helped by our estimation over 21,000 people negotiate the residence process. Our success rate on visas filed is over 99.8% and possibly higher (but my math isn’t quite that good). Suffice it to say that if we file a Visa for someone there is very little chance it will not be granted.

I always assumed that while we are very good at what we do we were one of many. I learned this week that is not the case and we are among a tiny minority of Advisers with success rates this high.

Globally there are around 600 individually licensed immigration advisers.

I am not about to break confidences or name my source (the source is impeccable) but I have learned that if your immigration advisers/lawyer has been practicing for 5 years there is only 20 (something) on this planet who have better than a 90% visa approval rate.

To say I was shocked at this is an understatement. If among the best two dozen advisers there are any that have decline rates even approaching 10% on visa applications then it has to be concluded that the Government has allowed too many people to obtain licenses too easily and not enough is being done to lift the standard of entry into the industry or ensuring the standards of those with licenses remains high.

As a result of intense industry pressure late last year the Government announced a review of the Immigration Advisers Licensing Authority at which a number of us had levelled serious criticisms about their failure to offer much in the way of protection to so called ‘vulnerable migrants’, in large part because they were dishing out licenses to people simply unqualified and who lacked the experience to be given the responsibility. A few weeks ago the Registrar fell on his sword and resigned. I could be generous and say he will be missed but that would be untrue given migrants are, in my view, still not getting the protection the Authority was legislated to provide.

The Authority’s programme of creating a (pathetic) Immigration Advice Diploma course at the end of which ‘graduates’ are given a full licence to practice was always foolhardy and they were warned of it. Setting loose on the markets people who have no practical experience with the real world of migration laws and processes, migrants and the Immigration Department was a recipe for disaster.

And so it has now proved.

The first mistake of the Authority was having no real understanding of what good, competent and ethical Advisers like us do all day. Their focus was on making us comply with odd business practices rather than the quality of the work we do. It surely was simple enough to monitor approval rates on visa applications which in my view is the measure of the value and competence of an Adviser.

The second was to believe that graduates of their course were somehow entitled to employment and are being given licenses to practice. Who believes that graduates of any course are entitled to anything? Auckland University School of Law doesn’t promise law graduates jobs. No one promised me a job when I left Auckland University.

For some reason the Authority believed they needed to create an industry – when one already had been in existence for a quarter century and generally working well (certainly no worse) than when it was created six years ago.

As a consequence the market has been flooded by about 70 Advisers a year most of whom have no practical or real world experience. People who are sanctioned by the State to wave a license around and offer advice to those thinking of making the biggest decision they will likely ever make in their lives.

We have strongly advocated (and will continue to do so through the formal review of the Authority) that given the serious damage (financial and emotional) of getting eligibility advice wrong no one should be given a full license to practice without either working under the supervision of an fully licensed, experienced, competent and ethical Adviser for 2-3 years (law graduates in New Zealand for example cannot work on their own account for I believe three years after qualifying) or if they wish to be self-employed until they have filed a certain minimum number of visa applications across all categories, whose applications and outcomes have been closely monitored by the Immigration Department and/or the Authority and who cannot demonstrate an approval rate of at least 97% (I’d exclude refugee claims from that given they are a whole different kettle of legal fish).

There is also the issue of beefing up complaints and compliance.

In every market we work in overseas we are constantly meeting migrants who have been ripped off or poorly advised on their options by people with full licenses but who should quite simply not hold them. Particularly in South Africa and Malaysia.

The Authority clearly has real problems trying to enforce NZ law on overseas based Advisers but it is hoped once they get their house in order under new leadership they will focus every more rigorously on cleaning out those with licenses in South Africa, Malaysia, India, Philippines, China and beyond who are giving inaccurate, misleading and often woeful advice to would be New Zealanders whose visa applications are failing to be approved.

While I hesitate to compare helping people relocate and settle with selling milk powder, New Zealand enjoys a reputation globally for openness, transparency and above all quality of product and service. The national Farmer Co-op, Fonterra, got into big trouble last year in its biggest market, China, through a botulism scare in some of its infant formula product. While it turned out to be a false alarm it did serious harm to one of New Zealand’s key industries, cost the country several hundred million dollars in lost income and more than that brought into question New Zealand’s reputation for only dealing in quality and reliable products and services. While the milk powder and infant formula markets have bounced back and continue to lead the economic expansion of the economy it was a good lesson for not settling for less than 100%.

My industry is no different to all those New Zealand exporters competing around the world. As Licensed Advisers we have the power to shape futures positively or negatively. The Immigration Advisers Licensing Authority was set up not just to protect migrants from dodgy or incompetent Advisers but to help protect the reputation of New Zealand as a migrant destination and every Adviser that lets the side down by filing inadequate or incorrect visa applications lets ‘team New Zealand ‘down. 

To learn this week that Immagine New Zealand probably employs 4 of perhaps two dozen people on this planet with a success rate with visa applications higher than 90% was truly a shock to me. 

Our aim is 100% and probably would be if all clients were honest about everything from the get go. I can probably only expect 99.8%. 

It isn’t bad even if it isn’t perfect. And it does put our team in a minority of perhaps 3% of all those with licenses. 

Things have got to change and I intend continuing to be part of the charge.

Off to South Africa Monday for three seminars across the Republic For further details. Click here for details.

Until next week

Iain MacLeod - Southern Man


Let's Rip Up The Rule Book!

Posted by Iain on Jan. 23, 2014, 3:58 p.m. in Immigration

“If you hadn’t been representing the client, the visa would never have been approved”. These words from a Branch Manager to me this week when I refused to give up on a Visitor Visa application that one of her staff wanted to effectively decline.

Nice validation of the value we offer clients but it became unpleasant, frustrating and oh so avoidable.

The client, a Philippine national living in Singapore needed a Visitor Visa so he could fly to New Zealand, explore employment opportunities and if successful in finding skilled employment allow us to file applications for Work and Resident Visas for him and his family.

We took him on as a client because, with an offer of skilled employment, he will meet all the criteria for skilled migrant residency.

But, as we so often do, we ran into the conflict between the aim and intent of Visitor, Work and Resident Visas and to boot, we ended up with an officer with a subjective view of residence policy rather than an objective one.

To get jobs, overwhelmingly clients need to be in New Zealand. It isn’t the law, it is a reality imposed on migrants by employers. In the mind of the employer why would they offer someone work they have never met, who may not be all that serious, who has not demonstrated they are linguistically and culturally compatible and who is worth employing? Instead of demanding employers fit in with the Immigration Department there is an argument the Department should fit in with employers.

This ‘Look, See and Decide’ Visa issue that has occupied several pages of this blog in recent times was seen as part of the solution to this gap between employers and potential skilled migrants. The trouble is most immigration officers either are not aware of the memo that recognised the solution or have conveniently chosen to forget it.

This Visitor Visa is supposed to be given to someone who can satisfy the Department that they do not present an unacceptable risk of overstaying their visa in New Zealand if they do not find employment; who we have demonstrated have more than sufficient funds to support themselves on their trip (and then some usually); who have demonstrated they are employable in skilled positions and who are usually travelling alone, leaving their family behind (what greater incentive could there be for leaving if the client cannot find employment?).

How frustrating then to be told by the case officer my client is not skilled enough (his occupation is on the skilled occupation list), that he does not have recognised qualifications (doesn’t need them, with a skilled job in NZ he has enough points without needing any qualifications); is not in an occupation on the skills shortage list (skilled migrants don’t need to be and 90% are not….) and that my client is a risk of not leaving New Zealand. 

While, eventually a visa would be granted it was of a type that would not, under any circumstances allow him to change his status. So as I explained to all the higher powers involved in this drama inside the Department, the applicant needs to be able to change to a Work Visa as and when he finds employment in New Zealand.

Me being me, I went to the case officer’s Branch Manager and when she started circling the wagons around her staff, I went to the Regional Manager.

This week they reversed their decision and gave him a ‘normal’ Visitor Visa. He has no idea of the emails, the phone calls, the arguments – if he did, he’d probably have thought he was not as welcome in NZ as the Immigration Department’s website told him he is.

What continues to frustrate me is that the Immigration Department officials think they have the right to make up rules that do not exist and to subjectively sit in judgement on applicants that tick all the policy boxes.

To be told this week that in the view of the officer and the Branch Manager the client would not add much to New Zealand was nothing short of an outrage. As I pointed out officers do not write the rules - they implement them. This client’s occupation appears on the list of occupations that will lead to residency irrespective of what the officer, me or anyone else might think about whether his skills are good for New Zealand or not.

At the same time my colleague Paul is battling a separate bunch of immigration officers over a question of whether non-custodial parent consent is required for a 17 year old to leave South Africa. South African law says that ‘children’ aged 17 can make their own choices – custody effectively no longer applies. The NZ Immigration Department is demanding a witnessed statement from the non-custodial parent (who lives in another country) giving his permission for his son to move to New Zealand.  Paul has presented sensible legal argument (sitting up till 10pm preparing it) why this is absurd and not Government policy but he is being met with a brick wall. Yet another example of the Department making up rules on the hoof and not applying the rules in their own rule book.

And herein lies the sort of challenge we face as Advisers every day. There is, we sometime have to remind ourselves, a rule book and there are immigration officers who apply their own rules based on their own world views and opinions. 

Hardly a way to ensure consistent, fair and transparent processes for applicants.

Of course this is in part what keeps us in business and we are grateful to an extent for this chaos.  Unfortunately it causes a lot of unnecessary and avoidable stress for clients at a time when the Department should be working with us, experts in immigration law and process, to limit it.

They speak of us being ‘trusted partners’ when it is clear they do not trust our judgment at all. So we got the visa but only it seems because I am like a dog with a bone. As I explained to the Branch Manager over coffee, to decline the visa would have been to suggest I had got it wrong in advising the client to move forward with a visa application and residence and while we are not infallible our success rate suggests overwhelmingly we are very good at picking those that meet Government criteria and those who do not. 

And if the Department wants to challenge that expertise and experience they need to have very very good arguments ready.  Simply deciding someone might not be ‘very good for New Zealand’ is not part of their job description and we will continue to hold them accountable.

 

Until next week

Iain MacLeod - Southern Man 


It isn't meant to be a lottery...

Posted by Iain on Dec. 6, 2013, 2:08 p.m. in Immigration

What you are about to read is a true story. It shows, if any evidence was needed, how inept the Immigration Department can be and how idiotic decisions can literally change lives.

I today met a Malaysian who on paper is possibly the highest scoring skilled migrant I have ever met and if he had a job offer would score over 220 points. Which, trust me, is about as good as it gets. A highly qualified Electronic Engineer he took his wife and young family to New Zealand and completed his PhD at Auckland University. Relying on the Immigration Department’s website and staff for advice he filed his Expression of Interest (EOI).  He had points to burn without needing a job offer. His family were well settled. They added to their family with a New Zealand born child. The eldest two went to school and considered themselves little Kiwis.

His EOI was duly selected, the Department carried out their credibility check and then invited the family to apply for their Residence Visas. They were not warned that their application was doomed before they wrote out their application cheque for almost $2000 and that they were destined to be declined.

They ran around and gathered everything they required at considerable expense, excited that they had been invited to file their residence papers.

Having filed their application they were in the fullness of time interviewed by an immigration officer tasked with the decision of whether they were likely to settle well and contribute to the great nation that is New Zealand.

For those unfamiliar with what happens after interview there are three possible outcomes – the case can be declined, the applicant can be granted unconditional residence or the applicant can be given a Work to Residence Visa (WTR). The idea is that those that have demonstrated an ability to settle well should be granted a Residence Visa. But someone forgot to tell this family’s case officer.  This family had lived in New Zealand for three years and they were as integrated as it is possible to be. The principal applicant was getting job interviews but understandably with a few months to finish his PhD he wanted to get that out of the way first. That did not prevent the granting of a Resident Visa - it was the obvious outcome.

Bizarrely, the officer said she could not grant them a Resident Visa (goodness only knows why) and she was going to offer a Work Visa but the officer explained she couldn’t do that either because he was a student. To give him a Work to Residence Visa would mean he couldn’t study any longer. Of course if he was granted a Residence Visa he could……

So the application was withdrawn/declined and the couple, frustrated, dejected and disappointed left NZ and returned to Malaysia where two of their children, who only really knew New Zealand education, felt dislocated and were teased for their accent and inability to speak Malaysian.

They were confused on many levels.

A good friend of theirs, also from Malaysia, was also studying a PhD in New Zealand and filed their own EOI and had enough points to be granted a Residence Visa. Following interview they were.

Same points profile, both studying a PhD in Auckland, both still to complete it – the parallels between these two cases are stark and obvious.

One application was processed in Auckland Central Branch and the other in Henderson Branch (both about 20km apart).

Though both were in Auckland there were two entirely different and potentially life changing outcomes.

How can that be? Two almost identical cases with opposite outcomes? 

Is there more than one rulebook?

No. There is only one.

So how could it happen?

Simple.  If you have two immigration officers and one rule you will often have two different interpretations of that rule.

I always remind audiences at my seminars that I have four golden rules to help them survive this process with any of their mental faculties left intact:

  1. Assume nothing about your eligibility and the process;
  2. Suspend logic – this process is illogical;
  3. Just when you think you understand the rules your visa is processed by an immigration officer who does not know the rules; and
  4. Treat with great caution what you read on the Department’s website – it can be both misleading and dangerous.

One family safely settling in Auckland, the other stuck in Malaysia looking for a way back to the life they loved and the city they want to raise their children in.

What happened to this Malaysian family should not have happened. And if they had known about Immagine New Zealand it would not have happened. We would not have let it.

It is utterly unacceptable that the Department continues to employ and deploy officers who have limited English and little to no understanding of immigration rules.

This family had uprooted and come to New Zealand in good faith. They ticked every box to secure their Residence Visa, but they were let down by a system that employs people you’d never employ in your own business.

Immagine will get them back to New Zealand.  They are just what the policy was designed to attract but what a shame they have wasted time and money in a fruitless exercise that should have been successful.

While it is always somewhat sad to listen to these stories (especially when the guy you are talking to is sitting there in his All Black jersey!), knowing his children will get the chance to recommence their lives in New Zealand once we sort of this avoidable mess is the reason my team and I get up in the morning.

The skilled migrant system is not meant to be a lottery but so often appears to be. We have the power to take the randomness out of it.

Until next week

Iain MacLeod - Southern Man


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