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A Good News Bad News Story

Posted by Iain on Oct. 16, 2020, 2:51 p.m. in COVID-19

 

I am not sure if this is the good news or bad news story.

It looks like the government is finally starting to open up the border, inconsistently and somewhat illogically, step by step. Over the last two weeks they have announced that: 

1.       International students - 250 PhD students who were expected to study in New Zealand this year will now all be granted border exemptions to come and complete/start their study, depending on the courses they undertake and if they have support from their education institution in NZ

2.       Those who are offshore holding a work visa will, if they were previously in NZ before the lockdowns took effect, be able to apply to enter NZ with their family. No exemption to crossing the border required.

While that is good news, especially the second point, I am left scratching my head over why those people who hold jobs whilst currently overseas see their family getting priority over reuniting the hundreds of families stuck overseas when one partner is already in New Zealand working. Every week hundreds of border exemption applications, some filed by us, are being declined, for such split families.

While some of IMMagine’s applications are being approved for these exemptions, others have been declined and there is simply no consistency nor rhyme nor reason as to who gets the approval and who gets the decline. It appears to be a complete lottery.

Our team is spending inordinate amounts of time and energy trying to get straight answers out of INZ about those that have and those that haven’t been granted border exemptions to reunify these split families.

What is so frustrating is INZ has always tried to explain away their historically inconsistent decision making by hiding behind the ‘each case on its merits’ line. It’s garbage of course. That is nothing more than a cop out as two cases which are by and large the same should expect the same outcome. But so often that is anything but the case.

Never has this inconsistency been more apparent since we were told by a senior Manager a couple of weeks ago that where one partner was in NZ on a temporary visa and a partner and/or children were stuck on the other side of the border, they intended taking a more humanitarian approach, were dong a ‘wider piece of work’ (if I hear that phrase one more time I’ll scream) and were going to have a team meeting to ‘calibrate’ (seriously that’s this week’s INZ’s favourite and utterly meaningless term).  They were probably going to talk ‘around’ the issues' in the exemption ‘space’.

It transpires that meeting never took place.

Given concerns INZ managers have about the (intellectual) capacity of their own ‘counter level’ staff tasked with making these important decisions a directive was however given to them to escalate requests meeting the bullet point criteria below to a ‘senior experienced immigration officer’ (suggesting there are senior inexperienced officers? God help us) so someone who has been around a bit longer can cast their more ‘experienced’ eye over the 3000 characters which is all you get to state your case.

Six applications later which are all by and large the same, including: 

    One partner in NZ on a work Visa

    Other Partner stuck in the ‘home’ country

    One or more young children stuck in the home country with partner

    Child(ren) not seeing the NZ based parent for at least six months….

 …two were approved, four were declined.

If two were approved isn’t that the benchmark for the others to meet and if they do surely they too must be approved?

Apparently not.

These aren’t complex cases like residence visas. These are on the face of it simple cases with four criteria common to all applications and no differences beyond the names and dates of birth of the applicants. Hardly rocket science. Complex assessments do not need to be made. The only thing that differed in those six cases was the officer making the decision.

When we got copies of the files under the Official Information Act, bearing in mind it is a legal requirement for these decisions and the rationale that goes into them to be recorded, we learned….nothing. None the wiser why some were approved and some were declined.

Who assessed it determined what the outcome was. Pure and simple.

INZ cannot reasonably argue ‘each case on its merits’ was the reason for some being approved and some being declined when in substance they were all virtually identical.

The conclusion is these applications are nothing but a lottery.

This is the best example of the perils of dealing with INZ. They have for years hidden behind the ‘each case on its merits’ mantra rather than face the truth and do something about it. It’s nothing but a smokescreen for their inability to make consistent decisions.

What kind of system is it when who processes your visa is likely the strongest determining factor as to its outcome?

As we have pointed out before INZ has admitted its biggest ‘challenge’ (I’d say handicap) right now, more than ever, is they have so many officers that are still wet behind the ears and have no idea what they are doing.

This is simply not good enough. These decisions impact people lives. The emotional trauma being wrought upon families is, for those of us not trapped in this visa ‘no mans land’, difficult to comprehend. It seems some INZ Managers ‘get it’ but they are powerless it seems to get it through the skulls of the decision makers on the ‘counter’. The only alternative is they don’t care and I cannot believe that.

At some point someone is going to do something desperate born of the despair, frustration and hopelessness they are feeling given their family has been split for months with seemingly no end in sight - not for a few days, not even a few weeks, but for many it has now been over 8 months. Covid is often spoken of as a physical health emergency but to me it is increasingly becoming a mental health emergency and for no one more so than those migrants that the Government has encouraged to come here to be part of its residence programme, people who have brought us their skills, their energy and their commitment to building new lives in New Zealand, for whom ‘going home’ is not an option and who, to a child deserves so much more than this lottery.

We have two clients right now in New Zealand on work visas both of whom are thinking of throwing in the towel because they haven't seen partners and children now since Christmas. How do you make them understand that when another complete family is sitting overseas with one partner who gets a job in New Zealand now going to leapfrog them in the visa process? Are their needs subservient to the family that has never set foot in NZ?

If their employer gave them leave and they flew back to South Africa, we filed new work visas because they no longer need border exemptions, we must assume that they are going to be granted. It’s insane.

On the one hand it's great news that the border restrictions are starting to ease but it's so depressing that the Department seems incapable of prioritising those that can enter in a sensible and consistent way.

Until next week

 

 

Iain MacLeod

Southern Man

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INZ about to run out of excuses

Posted by Iain on Aug. 7, 2020, 1:21 p.m. in New Zealand Economy

 

New Zealand awoke to the most bizarre news this week - in the June quarter the unemployment rate fell. That’s right, it went down from 4.2% to 4%. Economists had been predicting it would increase to 8.3%.

It was I suspect a classic case of lies, damned lies and statistics.

Upon closer examination the picture, whilst still a heck of a lot better than the Economists were picking (why do we ever actually listen to those people?), was a little different to the headline number.

The number of people in the labour market fell from around 70% of those of working age (15 to 65) which was pre-Covid, at a record high, to around 69% suggesting several thousand people had fallen out of the labour market over the three months being measured. They were not looking for jobs. Anecdotally, a lot of older people who had been working have been selling up and heading out of Auckland.  They are no longer counted among the ‘unemployed’.

That makes the ‘real’ unemployment number around 5%. Still, not too shabby.

The next quarter and beyond will be the more telling. With the Government wage subsidy still supporting 460,000 jobs, some of those will surely be gone when the subsidy goes.

I can only offer anecdotal observations of our clientele who do seem to be more educated and skilled than the average migrant or the average New Zealander and how they are fairing in the early days of this recession.

I can literally count on one hand the number who have lost their jobs through this recession. While many had hours cut when the country returned to work after lockdown or had salary cuts, more and more are having their hours and original salaries returned to pre-Covid levels.

In the wider economy we are told however many are not, so while many people still have jobs, and far more than the readers of the economic tea leaves were predicting, it is true I think that many people are earning less now than they were at the start of the pandemic.

I note, with a degree of unabashed satisfaction, the articles in the Australian Financial Review, a national business paper to which I subscribe which had been for the past three months patting themselves on their national backs over their’ better handling’ of the economic response to the pandemic than New Zealand and having claimed NZ went too hard for too long on our lockdown our economy would be the worse for it. With the virus seemingly out of control in Victoria and in danger of getting more than a foothold in other states the Aussies have shut down Victoria, my colleagues are now in a NZ style lockdown for six weeks and the Victorian economy will be in tatters. Given Victoria represents around a quarter of the nation’s GDP; I’ve noticed a distinct lack of comparing themselves to NZ in recent weeks.

It isn’t all beer and skittles here. The mood among my contemporaries is of caution and a deep concern about the next year or two in business. While New Zealand continues to keep the virus at the border, most are starting to question just what our Government intends doing when or if there is no vaccine any time soon (as there almost certainly will not be).

The calls are increasing from high profile politicians and business people for the government to start opening up the border but in a managed and sensible way with the requisite 14 days of isolation and or quarantine for those returning. This week the former Prime Minister (and chief mentor to the current PM) joined the chorus. Helen Clark has called for public/private partnerships to massively expand and manage these facilities and free up inward travel in a carefully controlled way. If we do it right, and at the risk of sounding like a smug Aussie, we have done a lot right, we will be able to capitalise on all the opportunities both social and economic that being covid free offers New Zealand.

Six weeks out from the election the Government has seemingly closed its ears to these calls. Under the smokescreen of keeping New Zealanders ‘safe’, they are clearly scared witless of the political damage community transmission would do here to their electoral chances. It could cost them the election if this virus escapes the isolation centres so rather than move quickly to establish a secure border, with a greater number of isolation rooms available in what would be the single most important process that will minimise the economic damage to the country, they will wait.

While they have over the past four months scaled up isolation facilities to 32 hotels, it is a half or a quarter of what is required to deal with the numbers of New Zealanders returning (they must now join a queue to return), highly skilled migrants being stuck offshore when they have critical roles to fill, partners and children of New Zealanders or migrants being forced apart for months and months and we are losing all those potential business opportunities that a Covid free country presents (think film crews apparently screaming to get in here to make movies and TV shows because we don’t need to socially distance).

On the skilled migrant visa processing front as the Government shuts down all offshore visa processing for three months, there’s possible light at the end of that long dark tunnel for those sitting in the (mis)managed queue who do not meet the very limited criteria to get priority processing.

We learned this week following an Official Information Act request that there is around 499 ‘priority’ resident visas awaiting processing. There is around 70 officers to process them. That would suggest that queue will be largely dealt with by the end of this month. In the non-priority queue, the oldest case (meaning none receipted since then has been allocated to an officer) was receipted by INZ in December 2018 (not 2019).

Despite the Minister saying both priority and non-priority queues were moving, that is a lie at worst, a gross distortion at best. The only non-priority cases that have been allocated for processing are those that have been able to be ‘escalated’ through an opaque and anything but transparent system.  I am advised there has been approximately 325 of those and I presume it is them the Government was referring to when they lied about both queues moving.

The excuses trotted out by INZ and the Government for those of you that don’t warrant ‘escalation’ or are not ‘priority’ is about to end. I was told by a senior manager (who should know) last week that they ‘hope’ to start hitting that non-priority queue by ‘the end of September’. I can’t believe they say they ‘hope’ - they don’t know? How can they not know? They have 70 officers to process 499 priority cases. If it takes one working day to do one case (they should be able to do double that in 8 hours) and there are a handful of cases being ‘escalated’ a week, that priority queue should be gone within a week.

But they’ve given themselves two months in yet another example of backside covering.

Still no word on when selections from the skilled migrant pool will resume but my pick is nothing is going to happen this side of September’s election. If they do, the backlog will start to grow again. What I cannot understand is why Government is still allowing people to part with $530 to file an Expression of Interest when it has given no indication of when they will resume pool draws. Isn’t that fraud?

Another interesting week then here in New Zealand. Evidence the recession may well not be as bad as many had thought (but being Mr Glass Half Empty I’d caution it is very early days), the government is coming under increasing pressure from its own political elders to get the border opened to more people more quickly than it has been and INZ is about to run out of excuses on not processing non-priority skilled migrant visa cases.

Until next week

Iain MacLeod

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What is INZ afraid of?

Posted by Iain on July 24, 2020, 1:27 p.m. in Immigration New Zealand

The plot thickens.

Just what is going on with the processing of skilled migrant cases?

I received pushback this week from a senior Immigration Manager demonstrating one thing these people clearly do not appreciate is being questioned or held to account.

A problem I suggested in return might be easily solved if they publicised accurate and timely information on their website. They do not. Why?

We have learned under various applications made under the Official Information Act that:

1.      On July 2 INZ actually only had 427 skilled migrant resident (SMC) visa cases that met their priority processing criteria (high salary or occupational registration). I had been told there was 900 at the same time by a senior manager who should have known the number.

2.      INZ appears to have around 70 case officers assigned to process skilled migrant (points) cases and residence from work/talent visas.

3.      There is a priority queue within the priority queue (used for training up inexperienced officers and ‘efficiency improvements’ - translation -  meeting kpis and not looking completely useless)

4.      There is 14,000 SMC applications (covering around 28,000-30,000 people) sitting in the queue to be processed at the time of writing

5.      No Expressions of Interest are being selected - we were told during lockdown ‘no boots on the ground’ was the reason. The boots have been back on the ground now for around six weeks but still no pool draws. I am advised there’s around 3000 EOIs sitting in the pool currently. No invitations to apply for residence have been made for three months - so there’s little no new work adding to the queue.

6.      The Government has a target of around 25,000 resident visa approvals between Jan 2020 and June 2021.

7.      At IMMagine we have had four residence cases over the past week or so where we have been advised the case officer is happy with the evidence and arguments and moved to an internal INZ second person (quality and accuracy) check for sign off and the application has been sent back to the case officer because the more experienced officer has found fault with the first officer’s assessment. This is unprecedented in our experience. The officer training doesn’t seem to be going that well.

8.      The (now former) Minister of Immigration has as recently as ten days ago advised publicly that both priority and non priority queues are moving. The last non-priority case allocated for processing was receipted on 20 December 2018 (not 2019). Snails also technically move - doesn’t mean they will get anywhere any time soon…

What does all this mean to those waiting and wondering what is happening with their applications?

There is more people in the system than places available under the programme but only by the 10% variance allowed for. That hardly supports the notion that ‘demand’ for places is outstripping the ‘supply’ as the Minister and senior bureaucrats keep telling the world is the reason for the queue not getting shorter.

INZ Managers either do not know what is happening on their watch, how many cases representing priority and non-priroty are sitting in their queue or they are not telling the truth about it. I don’t think they are lying.

On the face of it when senior managers tasked with overseeing the ‘queue’ cannot advise us how many cases meet priority criteria and their Head Office Managers confirm that teachers and health care workers are being prioritised for training purposes, you know you’ve got a problem.

I don’t know how the number of officers is split between SMC processing and Residence from Work (I couldn’t get a straight answer) but given there’s probably 10 SMC cases for every one of the latter, that suggests there should be roughly 60 immigration officers processing the priority cases.

If there really was only 427 SMC priority cases sitting in the queue on 2 July as the Government advised under an OIA request, that means each officer would get roughly 7 cases. Seven! I also don’t know how long it would take an officer to process a case but let’s be generous and say, eight hours. That suggests the queue should be pretty much gone within a week.

So why, contrary to the Government’s statements that both queues are moving is there no evidence of it among the advising community which handle something like 40% - 50% of all cases in the system? The reports I am receiving are consistent - none of the corporate advising community is seeing any non priority cases being allocated for processing beyond a small number that have been ‘escalated’ through a strange process called EVE. I was told by a Visa Operations Manager these numbers are ‘very small’ and ‘rare’.

So what exactly are the case officers doing all day?

They can’t all be cutting their teeth on teacher applications.

Why can’t INZ (and the Government) just be honest with us all?

Are they hiding something because this maths and the experience of our industry just does not add up?

I am not suggesting there’s wholesale lying going on but the only other explanation is the government and the senior management of INZ do not know what is really happening in the branches and on the ground. I am not sure which is worse.

Senior managers can whine at those of us pushing for answers about what the numbers really are or they could get their act together and publish the real numbers. Don’t they want to know how they are performing?

I am calling on INZ to publish (accurately and I’d suggest weekly) in one place on their website:

1.       The number of SMC cases sitting in their yet to be allocated queue

2.       The number of residence from work cases sitting in the queue

3.       The number of priority cases within that number (1) above

4.       The number of priority SMC cases approved and declined weekly

5.       The number of non-priority SMC cases approved and declined weekly

How hard could that be? If we had those five simple metrics we could all stop firing off OIA requests tying up time of low level functionaries in Wellington who I know are often being asked the same question multiple times.

Wouldn’t it be in everyone’s interest, not least the Government's, to provide this snapshot each week when it is the government and INZ trying to convince the world, against all the evidence that the problem is demand for visas exceeding the supply of them?

What are they all so afraid of?

Until next week

Iain MacLeod

Southern Man

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Skilled Migrant Backlog Explained

Posted by Iain on July 3, 2020, 12:29 p.m. in Immigration New Zealand

What is really going on with the skilled migrant category and the ever growing backlog of cases? 

Never has a queue been the subject of so much speculation and intrigue. Calls are growing louder for the government to front. To tell the truth. Hardly a day goes by without one media (mainstream or social) or another speculating on the cause of the skilled/business stream processing delays and backlogs.

I place little stock in the opinions of those on Facebook, migrant chat groups, online forums, ‘ethnic’ radio stations and even less so the MSM to actually get the answers people are looking for.

I’ve been trying for weeks to try and get a straight answer on what is really happening. I think I’ve worked it out and it is, for the most part nothing to do with ‘rising demand’.

On the one hand we have the ‘Ghost’ Minister of Immigration, using the coronavirus and the lockdown as the reason for processing delays despite the backlog and processing times being the same for the 12 months pre - lockdown as we are being told they will be post. He is either lying or just doesn’t know what is going on.

I have been engaging with a senior official on this question, who I am not going to name, nor reveal the designation of, but this person should know exactly what is going on on the ground and more importantly, is what in the media world would be called a highly reliable source.

This week I was advised that there are 14,000 skilled and business stream applications sitting in the unallocated queue, awaiting subsequent processing. This includes skilled migrant category applications (points) and those applying under the Residence from work (talent) sub streams. It covers a handful (low hundreds) of business and entrepreneur resident visa cases.

Each resident visa application historically represented 2.1 people so it means, in rough figures, there’s about 30,000 people sitting in the queue waiting for their residence to be allocated and processed, that this Government invited and encouraged to file their application.

I was advised, that when the previous residence programme ended in December 2019, INZ put it to the Minister of Immigration that unless they were advised otherwise, they’d assume the targets/quotas would be rolled over for the next 18 months. The Minister apparently responded with ‘Noted’.

That means INZ has given itself a target of 30,000 skilled and business resident visas for the period January 2020 to June 2021 to approve and issue. That’s roughly 14,000 applications over the period - the same number as the people currently sitting in the queue.

The current two year backlog only started to grow when INZ stopped allocating cases in December 2018. Prior to that it sat around 6-8 months.

Of the 14,000 cases on hand this month, only 600 are currently identified as ‘priority’, defined as those that have the principle applicant earning $51 per hour or who work in an occupation in NZ requiring statutory registration.  Even these are now taking months to be allocated.

Virtually no ‘non-priority’ cases have been allocated for processing since December 2018 despite MSM reports. Occasionally some are but we have been advised by the Residence Visa Operations Manager that such exceptions are ‘rare’ and the numbers ‘small’. One assumes statistically insignificant in the scheme of things.

As recently as this week the Minister of Immigration publicly stated that the ‘non-priority’ queue is also moving. He is, once again, either uninformed or embellishing the facts.

The bit I cannot work out and even my source cannot (or will not) clearly explain is why, when the numbers of priority applications sitting in the queue is only 600 (representing around 1,400 people) we are constantly told (officially and very publicly) that no ‘non-priority’ cases are being allocated, processed or approved by INZ.

At the same time my source tells me they are ‘on track’ to issue and approve ‘up to 30,000 resident visas’ by June 2021, but the truth is that they have only been processing the priority cases since December 2018.

The math doesn’t add up.

That’s only 40 odd cases a month being allocated. If that’s all they allocate and they approved every single one they won’t hit 30,000 resident visa approvals, they’ll hit 1400 over 18 months. That’s hardly being ‘on target’.

Even more curiously, these priority cases are spread across something like 50 case officers. They should be able to get through 600 cases in a month! And will have to to get anywhere near the target they claim to be on target to deliver.

I suspect a significant part of the answer is it is not that demand is exceeding the supply of places, as the Government and INZ has been telling us for the thick end of two years, it is, incredibly, that the department lacks the intellectual capability to process most of the cases on hand. They don’t have the knowledge and experience.

I believe that is the real reason for the increasing backlogs. A significant percentage of the case officers are not ‘fit for purpose’. I have all but been told that by my source.

We were intrigued and alarmed to learn a few months ago that within the so-called priority queue there was also an unofficial sub-priority queue covering teachers and ‘health workers’.  We couldn’t understand why there needed to be a priority queue within a priority queue. After all, all those people were on long term work visas and were not in any meaningful way in need of urgent processing. Certainly no more urgent, than say, applicants sitting on fixed term 12 month contracts (fine for a resident visa and points) and whose resident visas are not going to be allocated, processed and approved before they lose their jobs and with it, residence.

When pressed on what the justification was for a queue within a queue, my source has suggested these are, in large part, being used for training purposes because, I imagine on any visa scale of complexity a Teacher, working in NZ, is a less complex type of application for someone fresh faced, inexperienced or out of their intellectual depth to process. That's an incredible suggestion.

I think, although the source will not absolutely confirm (because this reflects pretty poorly on management as well), the real reason this backlog is growing is primarily because the managers do not believe the skills exist across the processing teams to accurately and efficiently process the cases. So the ‘easier’ ones are taking precedence. Not because they are more ‘valuable to NZ’ as INZ has told us more than once, but because they are usually less complex.

It seems then your chances of residence is now based primarily how complicated your case might look to INZ.

Adding to all of this is the fact that the previous Government cut the numbers of visas they were prepared to issue (paradoxically as the economy boomed and skills shortages worsened) and the current Government cut them even further for political reasons (to the current unofficial 30,000 people every 18 months).

The pass mark to be selected from the skilled migrant pool did not increase when both governments cut numbers as it needed to in order to not invite more people to apply for residence than there were places available. That of course, in a booming economy would have created a whole different set of issues but that is for another day (and Government policy review on the folly of a points based system in a labour market driven policy). The point is, two years ago the pass mark should have increased, or the processing backlog would inevitably grow as there is a maximum number of resident visas that can be approved.

‘Demand’ is being used now as an excuse by officials and Ministers but it is a red herring. It’s a smokescreen that no one has been able to see through. Until now.

Even with the lower target put in place by the current government the ‘backlog’ was only 6-8 months to allocate cases, so the numbers flowing into the system has not increased to the point where cases should be taking four times longer even to be allocated.

The department’s own numbers prove that is a lie.

There is now 3000 EOIs sitting in the pool. My source has confirmed that number and acknowledged that the processing ‘can’ is simply being kicked down the road. INZ doesn’t want these EOIs selected because they don’t want more cases flowing into the system because with every one that is, it makes INZ look even more hapless. And exposes the Minister and Government to more accusations they are missing in action. They aren’t chasing (another) crisis.

With INZ back at work after having to sit at home twiddling their thumbs while the rest of us were left working during lockdown, pool draws have not resumed. We were told they were stopped during lockdown because INZ wasn’t able to work.

Why hasn’t the selection resumed given INZ has been back at work for a month?

My guess is, with the shine coming off this government over border and quarantine botch ups and 8 weeks out from the election, when their (commanding) lead in the polls is falling, they will not authorise the resumption of pool draws till the election is out of the way. They are desperate to make immigration a non-issue during the election. And INZ management is not about to make themselves look any more useless than they look now by backlogs getting even worse.

INZ is never going to admit that the truth behind the backlog is a failure to have enough immigration officers with the experience, knowledge and intellectual capability to do their job. Managers clearly lack the confidence to give more than a case or two a week to these officers because they apparently believe they will make poor decisions and need a whole lot of babysitting and training.

The tens of thousands of migrants (being real people, not economic ‘widgets’) sitting in that queue, living day to day, hoping they won’t lose their job, who gave up everything to be part of this Government’s (unofficially official) programme, who were selected and invited to apply for residence by demonstrating a prima facie claim they met the criteria for approval, who have been charged $3000 plus per family by Government for the chance, are being treated with contempt.

Victims of gross political and bureaucratic mismanagement.

This is a growing scandal that the government hopes desperately to keep the lid on till after the election.

They will if we all let it.

Until next week.

Iain MacLeod

 

Southern Man

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When you though it couldn't get any worse...

Posted by Iain on Feb. 28, 2020, 10:42 a.m. in Immigration New Zealand

A competitor (a former employee and friend) emailed me a few days ago and said ‘Please stop scaring my clients!’

I asked him how I was doing that. Apparently at least one of his clients reads my blogs and the client was concerned at what he was reading about increasingly delayed visa allocation times and significant processing delays.

My reply (book ended with a smiley face) was, ‘Then tell him the truth….’

As I wrote last week there is a fine line between telling it how it is and scaring and upsetting people. I don’t want to frighten anyone but if their Adviser is not going to tell them what is going on, then how do they make plans?

As Advisers, If we know in advance that residence visa processing will take 18 months to finalisation, we can manage the client’s expectations and the clients can make plans accordingly. If we know work visas will take 8-10 weeks to issue, we can manage both the employer and the migrant expectations. If we know visitor visas will take six weeks we can manage that as well. These constant shocks where no one can predict any sort of allocation and processing times right now makes it really hard to help clients plan anything and likewise their NZ employers, who have only offered the migrant the job because they cannot fill the vacancy locally.

I make no apology for informing the market (including other consultancies clients although I am sure my mate had told his client) on what is actually happening rather than how they or their legal representative would like things to be.

And this week, just when I thought the ineptness that is INZ couldn’t get any worse, it has.

This week we were advised that: 

1.       The INZ office in Beijing remains closed owing to the Covid-19 virus and I suspect will not reopen for some time. Over one hundred thirty immigration officials are presumably sitting at home doing nothing. Eight to ten thousand visitor visas continue to be filed each week - with Chinese nationals not being able to travel hopefully the numbers should be falling fairly rapidly.

2.       As a consequence, INZ has now announced they are reassigning officials that process Essential Skill Work Visas to process Visitor Visas, and we should now expect ‘delays’ (nothing new in that, what bothers me is the length of those delays).

3.       We are still without a residence programme in which targets and quotas of resident visas are set. We have in effect, no residence programme.

In what is a failure of leadership and planning inside the Department, the impact of the Coronavirus is now spiraling, and I would suggest, almost out of control.

All of this is an abject failure on the part of government as well to lead and the Immigration Department, to manage.

A few years ago some bright spark decided that it would be a good idea to have one office of the department (Beijing) process all visitor visas. Clearly there was never any contingency planning for an event such as the coronavirus outbreak, or war, or hostile cyber-attack - no Plan B. Whether such an event was likely or not, wouldn’t you think that the Management of INZ might have had some Plan B ready, in the event that something like this, however unlikely, might happen?

It is obvious now they didn’t.

And why, when the Department is not allocating and processing anything but a small number of skilled migrant resident (SMC) visa applications, did they not reassign a whole bunch of those officers instead of those processing work visas? There cannot be too many applications left in the SMC processing unit to be processed as they have not allocated any (other than the small number they deem ‘priority) since December 2018.

That rather suggests there are scores of officers sitting increasingly idle in the residence visa processing team. (Hopefully spending their days learning their own residence policy and rules).

I set up my business to allow my staff to work remotely and from anywhere with wifi. I wonder why the NZ Government never thought to do the same…

I guess that’s the difference between the public and private sectors. The public sector shrugs its shoulders and says it is what it is, just suck it up because it isn’t our fault.

Well actually, it is your fault, INZ. I would love to know what contingency planning was made for an event like this. I am pretty sure I know that the answer was none.

So how long are the work visa delays going to be? I wrote last week that in a bit of rare good news we were getting most through in around three to four weeks again. Well, that lasted about a two months. We are now being told to expect allocation times of around 6 weeks - then there is the processing time on top - likely another 2-3 weeks.

So, now we are back where we were a year ago - telling employers and clients that it might now take 2-3 months to get a work visa.

Why, oh why, would they now delay processing work visas for skilled migrants, many of whom plan on going ahead with residence? If they processed the work visas quickly that at least buys everyone, NZ employers desperate for the skills, migrants needing to start work and INZ alike, time. Now it seems we have no residence programme, work visas are going to be delayed and we have a backlog of SMC cases, sitting unallocated, numbering around 40,000 people and growing by about 1000 a week.

Nobody, perhaps, could have expected the coronavirus but what it has done is to expose the failure of leadership and planning inside the Department and Ministers who trumpet ‘Don’t look at me, I don’t get involved in operational matters’. The Minister of Immigration controls the residence programme and the Minister sets the numbers. He is missing in action and the folly of spending his first 18 months as Minister fretting over the (relatively minor) matter of dealing with ‘migrant exploitation’ is being exposed for the sideshow it was.

Serious questions need to be asked and at the risk of frightening my own and competitor’s clients, I only promise to tell my clients what they need to know and not what they want to hear so they can make a plan. We will continue to do that and for our clients, jobs will be secured, work visas will be granted and over time resident visas will be granted to our clients.

If other consultants and lawyers don’t also share these constantly shifting processing realities, that then just makes the situation worse - Facebook and online chat groups and forums get all panicky and frenzied and the truth risks getting lost in the noise.

It is time heads rolled inside INZ for the deepening crisis that is enveloping the department. I have no doubt however that none will because if there is one thing I learned about Government monopolies that can dish up whatever garbage service they wish - applicants have nowhere else to go. I have said it before - the Immigration Department likes to refer to migrants as ‘customers’. I prefer ‘prisoners’. What real business where customers have the choice of going down the road to get a better service, would put up with this?

Questions need to be asked and the politicians and bureaucrats running this circus must be held to account.

I am going to continue doing all I can to see that happens. If it frightens applicants I don’t mean to, but truth matters and the truth allows clients (and us) at least to plan.

 

Until next week

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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.


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