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Posted by Iain on Oct. 1, 2021, 10:29 a.m. in New Zealand Politics
In a blog a few weeks ago () I explained how I would solve the current crisis sinking the government’s skilled migrant programme caused by multi year processing backlogs. Working quite closely with the National Party spokeswoman on Immigration, Erica Stanford and one or two others from the immigration consulting community in recent weeks, I was rather hoping the policy released by the Nats would be stolen by the current government as a solution to the problem it created.
Earlier this week I seem to have got my wish.
The Government has announced a pathway to residency for people in New Zealand who are working as of 29 September with fairly generous terms. Although it's not going to cover everybody in the country it is going to cover the significant majority who have been stuck in, or who have stuck by, New Zealand during the Covid crisis.
The government clearly, if belatedly, appreciated that without radical surgery the patient was going to die. To nurse the system back to health and clear the backlogs would take years. They could not hope to roll out their so called ‘reset’ until they dealt with this problem. I think they also became tired of waking up every morning to new nightmarish migrant stories in the media and they wanted to get in front of an issue that has been starting to hurt them politically.
In what could be described as a ‘big bang’ solution they have announced a pathway to residency for all virtually everyone who was in New Zealand and employed on 29 September 2021. As always the devil is going to be in the detail but one thing is very clear to me – the government is expecting to grant around 165,000 resident visas over the next 12 months or so (by the end of 2022). That can only mean one thing – the application process is going to be what we are referring to as ‘tick and flick’.
So who is likely to qualify?
All of those who hold an Essential Skills Work Visa, work to residence (Talent or long-term skills shortage list), post study work visa and who:
• Has been in New Zealand for three years or
• Earns more than $27 per hour; or
• Who work in an occupation that meets the criteria for the long-term skills shortage list; or
• Who work in a health or education occupation in New Zealand that requires local statutory registration; or
• Personal care workers (I'm assuming this is referring to Nursing Assistants and Nurse Aids and similar) and ‘other critical workers’ or
• Workers in primary industries – clearly designed to cover all those working on farms that may not have jobs that are skilled enough to be granted residence in the normal way
It's basically everybody employed on 29 September. Those that might not qualify will likely have been the in the country for less than three years and earning less than $27 per hour. It is curious that criteria has been added. This smacks to me of a last minute addition to keep the ‘anti-immigrant, you’re flooding the country with cheap labour, Kiwis can fill these jobs’ brigade happy. They do exist despite the evidence the are wrong.
Only one family member needs to hold the Work Visa if there is a partner and children.
Government intends prioritising, from 1 December, those people who have filed a (new if necessary) residency application and who have "adult" but dependent children aged under 25 included in their application. This covers those who have children age 17 or older.
Everyone else waits it seems till March 2022.
Disappointingly but perhaps predictably the government has not at this point signaled any priority for the "split families" where the primary applicant is in New Zealand but their partner and children remain offshore. Given the demand for managed isolation and quarantine (MIQ) hotel rooms it was always likely the government was going to only be able to offer ‘certainty’ of residence to that family on the one hand but tell them they going to be separated for a long time yet on the other. I am hopeful MIQ won’t be necessary for many people by early 2022.
I think it's also clear that this signals government is expecting to open the border early in 2022. They need to clear the decks now so that Immigration New Zealand is positioned, certainly by the middle of 2022, to roll out whatever the new skilled immigration policy is going to look like. I also wrote a piece on that a few weeks ago on what the new policy might look like and you can read that I predict a higher pass mark of perhaps 180 (up from 160) and a change to the points system rewarding those people in New Zealand with more points if they work in occupations requiring statutory registration, work in an occupation on the long-term skills shortage list and, possibly, those earning one and a half times the median income around $84,000.
While this week’s announcement is great news for everybody seeking certainty I think this should be recognised for what it truly is – not a government being kind to migrants – but a government realising the immigration system is so utterly broken the only way forward is to basically burn it to the ground and start again. The good news is they didn't leave the migrants in the house after they lit the match and I will give them credit for that because they've gone further than I expected they would.
In doing so they've been able to take the great ideas of the National Party spokeswoman who has been ratcheting up the pressure on a fairly useless Minister and disinterested administration for over 12 months. A lot of the credit for the government’s announcement should ironically go to Erica Stanford, not the Prime Minister and not the Minister himself.
The government has confirmed that they will not be selecting any EOIs from the skilled migrant pool until July 2022. What is not yet clear is whether people can still file them in the meantime but hopefully will get more detail on that shortly.
By July 2022 I expect that the government should have been able to significantly eat into the current backlog.
Government has been quick to reassure the world that New Zealand is not closing its doors but the opposite. It will, for reasons of political expediency, burble on about ‘up skilling and training New Zealanders as a priority’ for the local political audience. The reality in the labour market is this decision does not in any way diminish the acute and worsening skill shortages in an economy that continues to perform strongly. All the people that are now going to be given a pathway to residency are already in New Zealand and filling jobs we cannot. We need people to fill the jobs being created today, tomorrow and next week - or which have been unfilled since we closed the border in March 2020.
All this action does is allow those people who have been in New Zealand and contributing to remain and to offer them certainty they not going to be thrown out of the country. With every month at the border remains closed the skill shortages get worse. That tells me the future for skilled migration to New Zealand remains positive and if you are wanting to join us, viable. Unless and until we produce the skills locally that we need to fill the tens of thousands of jobs we create every year, we simply must have a skilled migrant policy. We cannot magic up several thousand IT workers a year, nor engineers, architects, draftsmen, tradesmen, auditors, teachers, nurses, radiographers – the list is endless.
No one then who was planning on moving to New Zealand in 2022 who has consulted with us should in my opinion have anything to fear. If anything this week’s announcement clears your pathway and while change will come in 2022 I am confident in that general advice. My ear is close enough to the ground that I'll put my reputation on the line and say anyone that IMMagine currently represents or chooses to represent over the next few months is still going to have a viable pathway to residency even if they are currently overseas.
It has been wonderful to be able to tell several hundred families over the past few hours that they now have the certainty they have been missing since March 2020. Immigration Department managers are heaving a sigh of relief. For the politicians, they've managed now to lance a big nasty boil and relieve some of the pressure they were rightly feeling to fix the mess that they created. I fervently hope they better appreciate now that migrants are human beings and not simply reference numbers on a piece of departmental letterhead or political pawns. What we and our clients have experienced in recent years is shameful and I hope never allowed to repeat.
Now, I have to find a way to get me and my family home!
Until next week
Posted by Iain on Sept. 25, 2020, 10:01 a.m. in COVID-19
It’s our bottom line advice to those looking to move to New Zealand or Australia and who believe they have the skills or capital that the Australian and New Zealand Government’s traditionally have sought out. If you leave it too long till borders are fully reopen not only might you be waiting a long time but you might also be caught up with hundreds of thousands of people looking for the ‘arrivals’ door at airports across New Zealand and Australia.
I cannot believe over the past six months how many people are contacting us, now desperate to leave wherever they are and join us on one of our islands. For islands, even big ones like Australia, are currently viewed as the safest places to be during a global pandemic and beyond. Not hard to control the border when you can simply shut down flying. If Trump is re-elected in the US, Boris continues to stuff up Brexit, Europe continues to groan under the weight of illegal migrants and legal refugees, South Africa continues its inexorable economic decline, Hong Kongers realise the BNO passport might not be the answer to their China fears and Singapore battles with its economic recovery, we will continue to be busy as people’s priorities continue to shift. Countries like New Zealand and Australia with lower population densities, solid health systems and sensible Governments are simply going to become more and more popular.
The fact that the Australian Government has already signalled that it is not cutting permanent residence quotas this year and next is telling. Over the past quarter century a significant percentage of Australia’s GDP growth has come from the two ‘M’s - ‘mining’ and ‘migration’. The PM has already signalled it is his (wise) intention to let business, rather than Government, dig, literally it seems, Australia out of its recession. China is back buying up lots of ore. Migrants consume - all need houses, cars, flat screen TVs and lounge suites - and therefore spend money when they get off the plane which explains why Australia doesn’t want to cut and continues to process residence cases.
I am pleasantly surprised by this given Australian unions have enormous and disproportionate political power and in times of rising unemployment in Australia you’d think they’d be arguing for the labour market drawbridge to be pulled up. The unions might well be but the wind is blowing nicely at the back of the pro-business federal Government that has increased in popularity given its handling of the virus. Any calls for restricting migration are for the most part being drowned out.
In New Zealand and as I wrote last week, no political party has signalled what it is going to do with immigration policy settings or quotas if it makes it to the treasury benches next month. My guess is the Labour Party will be governing with the Green Party. If that happens you can expect no real change to immigration policy settings - strangely immigration simply doesn’t seem to be part of either parties social or economic policy mix despite the current economic downturn. The National Party seems to have no ideas on immigration and the changing needs of our labour market which signals status quo if by some miracle they form the next Government.
If and when international travel starts again the smart migrant will be prepared. They will have their papers in order and their bags packed. The competition for available and limited places is only going to heat up when (if) there is a vaccine even if that prospect is still 12-24 months away.
We are working hard with over 600 families many now who have heeded that advice, see the logic and are getting prepared.
Those that have options in Australia can still file their permanent or provisional residence visas and we are filing many. Preparation, lodging and processing times for Australia is still running around 15-18 months to approval with the thick end of a further year on top to get to Australia to activate the residence so those getting things underway now will be well placed when the Aussies allow those with PRVs to enter Australia (right now they are extending deadlines for those with them to travel, as is NZ).
The current NZ Government recently said that skills shortages would ‘primarily’ need to be addressed from within New Zealand. I thought it took four years to train an apprentice, to complete a Bachelor of Education degree, five years to complete an Engineering degree (if there is an intermediate year), ditto Veterinarians and at least six years to complete a medical or dental degree. What do they propose we do in the meantime if we need to see a Doctor or Dentist or we actually decide to start building some of the billions of dollars worth of infrastructure projects this lot keep harping on about? We don’t have the skills in the quantity we require.
The immediate challenge for the next Government in New Zealand is whether they are going to adapt to the new needs of the labour market - both skilled and less skilled - or they are going to stick with the current ‘get a skilled job and have enough ‘points’ and you are in’ strategy. In many respects the NZ system makes more sense in a non Covid world than the Australian one as ours is labour market driven. In NZ the system is self correcting - if there aren’t enough people to fill annual quotas because they cannot get jobs, the pass mark can fall. If however demand increases, as I can see happening when the border fully reopens, the opposite should happen and the pass mark should go up.
The big problem with this Covid world however is it is virtually impossible to manage that demand. This time last year the problem was too many jobs being created in NZ and not enough locals to fill them and therefore huge demand for migrants. Now, although unemployment is only 4% and that demand will have fallen as employers nervously try to map their future employment needs, skills shortages are not going away any time soon and to suggest, even in the heat of an election campaign that employers should fill jobs locally is wilfully ignorant of where the skills pressure points are in the labour market. If the Government is re-elected and continue that line, businesses will not expand - they won’t be able to. We rely too heavily on importing the skills we don’t produce enough of.
The reality is rising unemployment is not going to solve the bulk of our skills shortages. At IMMagine we are constantly being approached by recruiters asking if we can get border exemptions if a foreign candidate gets a job - particularly in the trades, Engineering, teaching and IT.
What our next government must look at in the short term is granting border exemptions to a far greater number of occupations than they do now. People are still being offered jobs here but for the most part rely on some low level state functionary to grant a border exemption to travel here to take up the job. And that process is dogged by inconsistent decision making.
As businesses in New Zealand learn to live with the virus (as clearly there is no alternative, eradicating is a pipe dream) employers are going to have to be able to bring in those skills we still don’t have, rising unemployment or not.
The smart migrant then will be ready and waiting. Prepared. Avoiding the ever growing pack queuing up behind them.
Until next week
Posted by Iain on Sept. 11, 2020, 11:51 a.m. in Immigration New Zealand
Last Friday something very strange happened.
At the same time as the Government released a press statement about an immigration matter, two lobby groups, unrelated to one another, released press statements applauding the Government for announcing an expansion of the occupations that would be granted border exemptions.
Except that’s not what the Government announced.
It had announced that those with Visitor Visas expiring shortly would automatically be granted five month extensions without fee or application form. The Government claimed no knowledge of any such plans on easing border restrictions for a wider group of occupations other than those ‘critical for the Covid-19 response’ however.
The press releases from Federated Farmers and a school Principals Association were hastily retracted. Embarrassment all round one expects but I’d have liked to have been a fly on the wall in the offices of those two lobby groups because they were clearly expecting an announcement that aligned with their press statements.
What was insightful was these unrelated entities, both lobbying hard for a more sensible approach to allowing managed entry to those whose skills New Zealand desperately needs, particularly Farm Managers and Teachers, were expecting their lobbying prayers to be answered. I suspect the Government denying knowledge of these groups understanding is simply spin, if not a downright lie, when someone higher up the political food chain put a stop to it. I have little doubt these groups, which have strong Government connections and access, had been told the Government was going to announce something quite different to what they actually did.
With community transmission in Auckland ongoing but seemingly well under control, any news the Government might be thinking of increasing levels of migration, however minor, a few weeks out from this ‘Covid election’ was possibly considered electorally ‘unhelpful’. So it wasn’t announced. I’d wager at the very last minute.
In the meantime, few border exemptions continue to be approved and despite rising unemployment, skills shortages continue to hamper the economic recovery with many sectors outside of farming and education crying out. Letting in those people with specialist or technical skills must surely be considered important by Government. Economic confidence is fragile across New Zealand as it is across many countries right now. While we haven’t (yet) been hit as hard by the coronavirus as many economies we have been hit hard. Denying scarce skills to employers is simply going to further undermine confidence. The pressure has been growing for weeks for the Government to get its border act and exemption policies sorted - we cannot remain closed to the world forever,
I have never understood why Governments fear putting forward the argument that there’s a distinction between allowing entry to those with specialist or technical skills we don’t have enough of and protecting local jobs. These objectives are not in conflict. Right now we certainly don’t need more retail managers but we do need more school teachers. We don’t need more marketing assistants but we do need Farm Managers. We don’t need more middle level managers but we do need, Plumbers, Veterinarians and Engineers.
And New Zealanders should be able to be reunited with their partners stuck offshore when the border abruptly closed back in March to all but a few.
Immigration and more latterly border policy needs to get smart. It isn’t rocket science to establish what the areas of critical skill shortages are but it has always been done piecemeal. The Long Term Skills Shortage List isn’t fit for purpose and never has been an accurate reflection of the extensive skills shortages that have existed here for decades. The public service seems ill equipped or unable to provide the data on what we really are short of (despite issuing tens of thousands of work visas every year that are labour market tested). Coupled with that I suspect is little interest at a political level. Lord only knows why given we keep hearing about a ‘whole of Government’ approach to the crisis brought about by this virus. Skills and labour shortages should play a greater role in border decision making in my view.
Highly skilled migrants only get work visas once the immigration department is satisfied no local should be able to fill the vacancy or be trained to fill it. If the politicians believe the public servants are good at implementing this policy, what is their electoral fear? Is admitting we can’t always precisely predict what our future skills needs might be and tweaking local education and training to ensure we produce enough of our own an admission of failure? I would hope not. The world changes quickly and so too labour markets and skills needs.
Having been waiting for many weeks for the Government to announce an expanded list of occupations that will be eligible for border exemptions reflecting the reality that we still have shortages - like 1500 teacher and 1000 Farm Manager vacancies - it seems last Fridays mis-step was indeed a portend of things to come. Late this week this week an extremely limited number of exemptions for longer term work visa holders who have filed resident visa applications who are stuck offshore will be allowed entry. The criteria to get one of these is so strict I doubt they’ll approve the 850 people they think might be eligible.
In addition partners and dependent children of New Zealanders stuck on the wrong side of the border along with those people granted resident visas but who haven’t been able to activate them will from early October be able to obtain exemptions to enter the country. Twelve month ‘extensions’ are being granted to those with certain visas stuck offshore owing to the pandemic.
Further easing on what defines ‘other critical workers’ who may be eligible for a have also been announced today.
Sometimes in this game it is about understanding subtle signalling. Reading between the lines proved accurate and last week’s non announcement suggested some announcement on the larger issues highlighted here was never going to be far away. Now we have had the release it is clearly a case of better let than never and it will be relief in particular to the many Kiwis who have not seen partners or children for many months and for a few exasperated employers increasing access to scarce skills.
Things are definitely starting to move in the right direction after months of uncertainty and chaos.
Until next week
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
Posted by Iain on June 12, 2020, 1:13 p.m. in New Zealand
New Zealand is now back to normal. No restrictions on what we do, where we do it or in what numbers. There are no active cases any longer in New Zealand. The virus will only arrive on planes (or boats) so the borders will remain closed, with few exceptions (except it seems movie makers and those with work visas for positions of regional or national importance, earning twice the median income for a time critical project,etc) and no end in sight.
Still the Government stays silent on its plans for the majority with visas who are stuck offshore.
What an interesting three months it has been.
I've learned so much these past few weeks as the lockdown forced upon us new ways of thinking about how we live our lives, how (much) we shop, how we get around, how we work and how we do business in a world where if you can't work remotely and don't have an online sales portal you are largely screwed. A world where, just as we get over this pandemic, experts are telling us a global pandemic is now expected every ten years as we continue to grow our population, further encroach on natural spaces and get in ever closer contact with the creatures that share the planet with us but which we want to run over with bulldozers and/or eat.
With NZ now free of coronavirus we've enjoyed, for the first time in over two months, the freedom to go where we want, however we want and in whatever numbers we want.
It is actually quite surreal.
I've learned that at IMMagine we can continue to deliver our service without all sitting in our downtown office. I've learned that there's no need for a Monday to Friday work regime. Even less for a 9 to 5 workday. No reason to spend hours sitting in traffic (cutting greenhouse gas emissions), being stuck on buses or trains or travelling to work at the same time as several hundred thousand others Aucklanders.
I've learned I don't miss Auckland. Sitting up here in Northland in early winter having lunch in the sun in shorts and tee shirt, is really quite nice. I realise I don't miss airports, planes and hotels.
And there's one other thing I've learned.
If you have a problem do not look to Goverment to solve it. Don't expect politicans to know the answers. Not to the big questions, nor the small.
Look even less to the public servants, those agents of Government.
This week we were asked by INZ's General Manager to complete a survey on the quality of their service over the past few weeks. I'm not sure what he expected us to say given they were not at work for 8 weeks because they are so useless they couldn't work remotely, but at the same time I am not sure he will enjoy the responses he got from my team.
What first caught our eye was this bold statement:
‘As trusted stewards of the immigration system, we continue to facilitate and protect New Zealand’s interests throughout this unprecedented time.’
For starters, nobody who deals with these clowns trusts the Immigration Department. Nobody who works with them every day like we do, anyway.
They aren’t ‘stewards’, they are state functionaries that get in the way more than they add much value to anything.
We don’t see too much evidence of facilitation either.
Even less protection of the interests of thousands of employers with staff stuck in visa limbo.
What we see is a deer trapped in the headlights not knowing which way to turn.
Infrequently we receive announcements that they are thinking about doing a 'piece of work' on this 'framework' or that 'joined up' cross agency approach....announcements that they are thinking about thinking about stuff. (They actually get paid to think about thinking).
There will be no new normal for INZ as there is for the rest of us. They have already slipped back into their distorted reality, one size fits all, unplug the brain cells approach to, well, almost everything it seems.
Exhibit A. As New Zealand went into lockdown we filed a work visa for a highly skilled client. He had been offered the position of a Lift Mechanic. He was in New Zealand, his family was in Zimbabwe, the company was looking to fill several such roles. They had advertised for months. He was the only one they found. We filed his work visa, fully documented and almost decision ready (it was when a case officer finally picked it up)
INZ sent out their now standard post lockdown patter, a robotic letter demanding the employer demonstrate that they could still not find anyone to fill the vacancy. Didn’t matter that they couldn’t when they offered the job to our client, all that is important to these ‘facilitators’, these ‘stewards’ was whether they could find someone on the day the visa application was finally assessed. No matter how long they sat on it without actioning anything.
The employer had not stopped advertising when our client was offered the job, as they were looking for several.
We were told by INZ they were not demanding the company advertise some more, but that was the clear inference (even though the employer had been until very recently).
We obtained a letter from an expert industry specific recruiter confirming that the lockdown and rising local unemployment had not seen any rise in the numbers of local applicants available or applying for this and similar highly specialised technical roles. In fact, the opposite is happening - as everyone is back at work and the construction sector is working in full catch up mode, demand for these skills had increased.
We pointed out to INZ that the labour market isn’t imploding across the board, it is selective and some sectors are seeing lots of advertising.
Advertising dropped by around 90% as we went into lockdown and through April (obviously and predictably) but jumped by 75% in May. Hardly an imploding labour market demanding any great change in the way INZ carries out local labour market testing. However, the instruction from on high was they should, so rather than breaking things down by sector or occupation, thinking about how each sector might be impacted (tourism decimated; hospitality lockdown hit but at level 1 now rebounding; ICT, Education and Construction - hardly affected at all) and rather than treating ‘each case on its merits’ we started seeing the same templated garbage being pumped out.
Prove you still can’t find a local they demanded. Okay. Easy, here is a reminder of the evidence we supplied previously and here is an updated snapshot of the market.
Here is the verbatim response (meaning the grammar and syntax is not mine) to that initial response from us:
‘To proceed further of the client’s application to process, we require the following information:
Income tax or bank statements from overseas over a period the client works between April 2012 to July 2019. We note that you have provided the work reference letters from South Africa, however we require this information for the verification purpose only. Also, employer is looking for the applicants to have at least five years length of experience to qualify for this role’
What the officer failed to realise, because she clearly doesn’t know even the most basic of rules is that a person can be qualified for the role they are seeking to fill in NZ if they have a particular qualification OR a certain number of years of work experience. This client has both and is qualified by either and his work experience is immaterial. No need to verify anything.
Further, this is not the first correspondence with this officer - we can but scratch our heads over why this issue wasn’t raised the first time around over two weeks ago (answer - because she hadn’t thought about it the first time she emailed us, she must have thought of this ‘concern’ later).
My colleague questioned why this work experience verification was only being raised now and pointed out that it wasn’t material to the decision.
The officer replied she’d go and speak to her Supervisor.
She replied a few minutes later advising not to worry about the work verification. No apology. No nothing.
Clearly, she didn’t know the rules. We called her out. Only then did she go and ask what the rule was. The Supervisor told her IMMagine is right.
The work visa was approved and issued today. But what a struggle!
Don’t you think, just maybe, if you have a trainee you’d do what I do when someone without much experience joins IMMagine and demand they draft their correspondence, show it to someone who knows the rules, ask them to justify their thinking, get it right and then send it to the client or their legal representative?
Generally, no new Adviser at IMMagine is allowed to send out unchecked correspondence for a year until we have absolute confidence they can do so accurately.
The General Manager of INZ claims he leads an organisation that sets out to ‘facilitate and protect’ during these ‘unprecedented times’. What he leads is actually a three ring circus without a ringmaster. They facilitate little. They obstruct much.
As I reflect on everything that has changed these past ten weeks, how our business has evolved rapidly and successfully to the point where reading this you have no idea where I am writing it, or where the Lead and Second Lead Consultants working on client files are working from, it occurs to me that one thing that will never change is INZ.
The politicians and bureaucrats won’t get us out of the economic hole we are in. It is our clients, their employers and all the other private sector businesses that face the rigours and discipline of a competitive marketplace who will do so.
INZ remains, sadly, a rigid and monopolistic government department that deludes itself as to its role and importance.
They seem to have learned no lessons as at all.
Until next week
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
Posted by Myer on Oct. 25, 2019, 1:41 p.m. in Immigration
With the announcement that the parent category in New Zealand is to be operational in May 2020 it’s perhaps opportune to compare the options available to parents wishing to be reunited with children in either Australia or New Zealand. Whilst both Australia and New Zealand are reluctant to accept parents because of the greater healthcare costs elderly parents will place upon the health systems of both countries, the immigration policies are quite different.
As far as residence visa options are concerned, New Zealand reopened the category for parents that they "temporarily" closed three years ago and have limited the annual quota of parents under this category to 1000 per year. Whilst parents don’t have to have any specific amount of capital to qualify under this category, their children in New Zealand would have to have a significant earning capacity with annual incomes of at least $106,080 to sponsor a single parent or $159,120 to sponsor two parents but up to as much as $212,000.
I’m not sure of the logic behind this, clearly income earning capacity on the part of children is used as a means to limit the number of parents who can qualify to those with children in the top 10% of income earners in New Zealand.
This doesn’t necessarily mean that these parents are less likely to require state funded healthcare, and given the fact that children don’t necessarily need to pay healthcare costs on the part of parents, I can’t quite follow the logic on the part of the government. It seems a relatively arbitrary (but very effective) way of culling the number of parents entitled to apply for permanent residence.
The sponsoring child in New Zealand needs to have been the holder of a resident visa for three years before they can act as sponsor but the parents don’t have to satisfy a “balance of family” test like they do in Australia. Having just one child in New Zealand to act as sponsor is sufficient.
There is, in addition, the parent retirement category which does place an asset test requirement on the part of the parent to prove NZ$1.5 million in cash or assets and be willing to invest at least NZ$1 million in income producing investments for a period of four years. They also need to demonstrate an annual income of at least NZ$60,000 in the 12 months preceding their resident visa filing. The majority of parents that contact us don’t meet these requirements - particularly the final one - but if they do this is a pathway which create a high degree of certainty. The NZ child acting as sponsor only needs to hold a resident visa but not for three years.
As far as Australia’s residence visa categories for parents are concerned, parents have to satisfy a balance of family test by proving that they have at least as many children lawfully and permanently residing in Australia as any other country. The Sponsoring child also needs to have lived in Australia for at least a period of two years and be a permanent resident visa holder. This can include periods of temporary residence prior to the child obtaining permanent residence.
Sponsors don’t have to have any particular level of income but the cost of a contributory parent visa application is quite steep. There is a rather large “contribution” payable by each parent of AU$43,600 which is aimed to recoup some of the healthcare costs the Australian government is likely to spend on elderly parents as their medical costs will escalate in their advancing years. There is also an Assurance of Support Bond that needs to be paid and is held for 10 years before it is returned to the sponsor of AU$14,000 for two parents and AU$10,000 for a single parent.
The quota or annual of contributory parent visa applications is 7175 and in addition there is another 1500 places for the non-contributory parent visa application.
Because processing times of contributory parent visa applications is lengthening (it’s approximately four years at present) the government has, in July of this year announced temporary visa options for parents that will allow them to spend either three years in Australia or five years in Australia at a cost of AU$5000 or AU$10,000. These temporary visas can be extended for up to a total of 10 years.
New Zealand also has temporary visas available for parents because of the time it’s going to take to process a residence visa, allowing parents to spend six months in New Zealand in each year of a maximum of three years but it remains to be seen when the category reopens if this will be sufficient time for the parents to remain in NZ while their residence is being processed.
So often I have consultations with applicants, particularly in South Africa where I’m told that skilled migrants want to immigrate with extended families including siblings and parents. Whilst it is possible for siblings younger than 45, in the case of Australia, and younger than 56 in the case of New Zealand, to apply on their own merits, it’s becoming harder to make plans to immigrate with parents included. We are fast approaching (if we haven’t already approached) the time when migrants need to focus on the reasons why they are thinking of immigrating, and if these reasons are primarily for the purposes of securing a better future for their children (as it is in most cases) it will be an added bonus if their parents can be accommodated at a future point in time.
I’m not unsympathetic to the plight of parents and they are clearly the migrants that Australian and New Zealand governments will grudgingly accept. Whilst the concept of family cohesion is a laudable one, it’s becoming harder to accommodate in terms of immigration policies for both Australia and New Zealand. Time, as my partner Iain is fond of saying, is your enemy when it comes to migration and parent residence categories are prime examples of this.
Posted by Myer on July 20, 2018, 8:16 p.m. in Australia
And the place where you belong, contrary to what the song would indicate, is not West Virginia, but Geelong, Adelaide, Hobart or any other part of Australia that is “regional”.
Recent changes to Australia’s skilled migration program is going to have the effect of placing more of you on country roads than ever before.
Figures just released evidence that Australia accepted approximately 162,000 permanent migrants in 2017/18, down from about 183,000 the year before, and well below the 190,000-a-year quota. Net migration was 240,000 but this includes those who are not only arriving as permanent residents but those on visas allowing a stay of 12 months or more, which is a fair number of people to accommodate in terms of accommodation, transportation, healthcare facilities and education facilities.
We also learned this week that Australia’s population is set to reach 25 million in August 2018 some 24 years earlier than predicted in 2002.
Australia’s larger cities such as Sydney and Melbourne are suffering from congestion, infrastructure that cannot support a growing population, rising property prices (although having said that, at time of writing property prices in Melbourne and Sydney are forecast to decrease by 1 – 2%) and in the context of these issues migration to the larger cities is said to be adding to the burden.
Yet on the other hand, Australia has a shortage of skilled people in regional areas. Regional areas would constitute some of the smaller cities in Australia such as Adelaide and Hobart as well as anywhere outside of the metropolitan areas of Melbourne, Sydney, Gold Coast, Brisbane, Perth to name a few.
Since late 2016, job vacancy growth in regional areas has outstripped vacancy growth in our largest cities. According to the latest Internet Vacancy Index released by the Australian Government, vacancies in regions have grown by 20 per cent since February 2016 compared to only a 10 per cent increase in our largest cities.
These growing vacancies are occurring across a range of job opportunities.
This is the context in which some of Australia’s recent policy changes have taken place aimed at reducing the number of migrants destined for Australia’s major cities and encouraging migration to smaller cities and towns. These changes include:
As most of these changes have occurred in the months April– July 2018 they are to soon to have caused the reduction in permanent migrants in 2017/18, from 183,000 to 162,000 and their effects both in terms of the annual quota of permanent migrants as well as the effects on diverging migrant flows from metropolitan to regional areas is yet to be felt.
In fact it may take some time before the true effects of these changes are felt because of transitional provisions available to those on work visas in Australia at the time these changes came into effect. Those on temporary 457 visas still have a greater number of occupations to transition to permanent residence and it could be as much as 4 years before the full effect of the changes take place.
It’s therefore ironic that we are having a debate about migration numbers in the context of some of the harshest changes to immigration policy that I have seen in the last nine years.
It is, however, overdue that we should have an informed debate about population size and whether the vision for Australia is a “big” Australia, or “sustainable” one as some of the terms that politicians have been bandying about and to then design in immigration policy designed to meet that target. Instead of what we have been doing the past is to come up with an arbitrary annual quota because in the absence of a formal population policy, Australia’s immigration policy is its de facto population policy.
For the foreseeable future I expect that there will be more Van der Merwes, Singhs and Lees found enjoying the country lifestyle of Australia.
- Myer Lipschitz, Managing Partner (Melbourne Office)
Posted by Iain on July 6, 2018, 9:52 p.m. in Immigration
One hundred people are queuing up to enter Eden Park to watch a test match between the All Blacks and France. Ninety nine are admitted entry without incident, but one is stopped, taken aside and questioned. When asked why that one person was stopped the official replied "We needed to check that the ticket was legitimate and not purchased off a scalper, because scalping is illegal". When the official was then asked "Okay, but tell me why did you stop and check that particular fan when you didn’t stop any of the others?" The official replied that "It was simply a random check".
Is it simply coincidence that the one person stopped was not white and the 99 allowed unchecked entry were ‘European’?
This is not a true story and this incident did not take place, but we see the parallels in our day jobs dealing with visas constantly.
I have long had an uncomfortable feeling that the Immigration Department does make decisions - or least scrutinises certain applicants - in a different way such as it is difficult to conclude that it is based on anything other than ethnicity and/or nationality. There is also increasing evidence of INZ targeting particular ethnicities and assessing their visas differently to others, or in the way they have historically done - former international students, primarily from India, for example.
That, I appreciate, is more than a very strong suggestion New Zealand may not be the country that it thinks it is – one which prides itself on being colour blind, tolerant and welcoming.
Let me offer a recent example and you tell me what conclusion you might reach. This is a true story.
We routinely apply for visitor visa ‘extensions’ for clients who have travelled to New Zealand on the so called ‘Look, See and Decide’ trips. These are trips essentially to find work. While the majority of our clients have secured work within the time given on arrival in the country and we file work visas, some don’t.
While nothing in this game could be described as routine, we recently had a client needing an extension so that he could continue his search for employment. He was highly educated (in the UK), an Accountant, had a history of overseas travel (for study and living), had never breached the conditions of his visa when overseas or while in NZ, had the funds required to extend his stay, was in an occupation where all clients before him had secured employment and in every respect was no different to the majority of our clients in terms of profile; except he was from Uganda.
We had discussed among ourselves in te office that INZ would likely give him a hard time over this ‘extension’ and so the application was watertight.
Our concern at the treatment we expected he'd receive was partly because Immigration New Zealand had given him a hard time when we applied for his first visa to come to New Zealand and they really put this client under the microscope. Therefore, we didn’t expect anything different for his ‘extension’. There was no reason for them to give him grief with the first application and even less reason to do the second, but as we said, he is from Uganda...
Almost on cue, we received a letter from the Department outlining their ‘concerns’ with the application – they did not question the evidence or the way the case was presented but expressed some doubts that he was employable.
The only factor we could see that made this applicant different to the hundreds of others we help each and every year go through this process was his ethnicity/nationality. Was it merely coincidence he was singled out and treated differently?
We pushed back, hard, and INZ eventually granted the visa but we were left with the very uncomfortable feeling that he was treated differently because of the fact he was African.
INZ, if challenged on this, would undoubtedly dismiss any suggestion of racism and their spokseperson would trot out their standard line of ‘INZ assesses each application on its merits and all applications aremeasured against a set of objective criteria’. That is garbage and everyone working in this industry knows it is simply not true.
There is increasing evidence that there is either a cultural problem inside INZ and officers are (sub)consciously biased or applicants are being profiled in a way that most New Zealanders would not feel happy about. I hesitate to say decisions are based on the race of applicants, but we know INZ do have what they call ‘risk assessment profiles’. They might suggest they have evidence that Africans are more prone to lying than non-Africans but in almost 30 years of practice I've seen little evidence of that.
I accept that there is evidence that some applicants with particular profiles from some countries do present a higher risk to the integrity of the border, but I cannot help wondering if Immigration Officers, given the culture they work in, start by assuming that if you are from a certain country or from a certain ethnic group, you must be dodgy and are as such obliged to try and keep you out.
Alternatively, if one was to be charitable, it could be as simple as officers do not know where to draw the line on what is reasonable questioning and what is not but every day they lay themselves wide open to accusations of racist decision making.
It is also difficult for any reasonable person to comprehend how, if rules do not change but outcomes do and 'like' cases end up with different results, that a different assessment process can not be in play. Of course it could just be INZ is not very good at what it does and these are just inconsistent outcomes (for which they are infamous). That would be bad enough, but I don't buy it.
I cannot escape the conclusion that there is not racism or some agenda at play. While it is another blog in itself, I have written previously of the terrible treatment being given in the past eighteen months to former international students seeking to follow a pathway to residency our Government dangled in front of them as reason to come to NZ and study rather than go somewhere else. When challenged on this INZ is on record as saying 'all cases are assessed objectively against a standard set of criteria'.
Hardly a week goes by when we don’t get phone calls from distraught young people (always Indian) who have completed their studies, have got a job but are being denied work visas because INZ claims that their ‘qualification is not relevant to their job offer’. A common example is the graduate with a Diploma in Business being denied the opportunity to take up a job as an Assistant Manager. Apparently because according to the bureaucats, a diploma in business isn’t related to working in...business. It always was historically, but these days suddenly isn't. There was no rule change that tightened the definition of what ‘relevant’ means, just the outcomes were different.
There might not be racist assessments going on and it could be as I have accused INZ of previously, of a hidden agenda to rid the country of these tens of thousands of students the Government now does not wish to stay. That would be no better but while we keep seeing Indian students being singled out it could be both a hidden agenda that just happens to be a racist one.
I think too often we scream ‘racist!’ without justification and it can be something of a catchall when things don’t go our way.
I can say, however, that I know the difference at least when it comes to visa applications. INZ is at best suffering from an subconscious bias they need to rid themselves of and at worst it does make assessments and decisions based less on the evidence in front of it than the ethnicity or nationality of clients.
There is, as I say, more and more evidence of INZ agendas at play and as that body of evidence grows, the pressure is going to mount on the Government to do something about it.
It is not a good look for a country that has long prided itself on treating everyone equally.
Iain MacLeod, Southern Man
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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