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Posts with tag: New Zealand skills shortage

Immigration Blog

Migrating is more than just filling in forms and submitting paperwork; its a complex process that will test even the most resilient of people. Understanding Australia & New Zealand at a grass-roots level is paramount to your immigration survival, and to give you a realistic view of both countries, its people and how we see the world, as well as updates about any current or imminent policy changes, subscribe to our regular blog posts by entering your details below.

A kind (of) fairytale

Posted by Iain on Nov. 27, 2020, 10:10 a.m. in Immigration New Zealand

Once upon a time in a land far far away, two young men who loved animals decided they wanted to train to be Veterinarians. They both studied at the same University, received the same training and were conferred the same degree. Both began long careers as small animal Vets. As time passed they watched with great sadness their beloved country crumble as it was being run by corrupt and useless politicians. Both had families and children to consider and so looked overseas for a safe and friendly country to move to. 

They heard of a mythical country, Neverland, a country full of animals, big and small, which had a terrible shortage of Animal Doctors but it was far away from everything they knew, loved and understood. The thought of moving there greatly troubled them. The Government of Neverland however spends vast sums of its people’s money advertising its permanent residence programme that said it welcomed people with skills like theirs and that attracted the attention of these two Animal Doctors.

Both sought the advice of wise immigration advisers on how a move across one very great ocean and a large pesky sandpit known as Australia, which also wanted their skills, might be made to happen. The wise immigration advisers reassured them both that if they found jobs in Neverland there was such a shortage of their wizardry they and their families would be welcomed to this wonderful land to build safe and prosperous lives.

After much deliberation both families decided to join the great trek to Neverland.

Both applied for jobs without leaving their country and such was the demand for their medical skills both were quickly offered positions. The money was good and they believed so much that they had heard about Neverland as a peaceful country with wonderful kind people, that they both slept well.

However, over the next few months they experienced trepidation and great excitement  in equal measure as the enormity of migrating sunk in.  Much work needed to be done and the wise immigration advisers helped them to prepare.  Practices needed to be sold, houses needed to go on the market at a time few people were buying, they both wished their child(ren) to finish their school year if it were possible to minimise the disruption, they needed to try and time the shipping of their personal effects to coincide with their arrival and of course visas had to be arranged for Neverland which jealously guarded the right of people to enter its main castle. It was complicated and tiring.

All was going well under the care of the immigration advisers when suddenly disaster struck.

A nasty virus descended upon both countries leading the Government of Neverland to pull up the drawbridge to its castle and slam its border shut. The virus affected normal people much like the flu but it affected politicians quite differently. It looked to many like they panicked for they didn’t really have any plan for what should happen when a global plague of virus or locust might descend upon their fair land. Alas, the virus affected Government immigration workers even worse than the politicians. It seems the threat of the virus caused at least half of their brain to melt.

The Government of Neverland promised its people that foreigners like Animal Doctors who possessed great and magical talents that were not readily available in their paradise would still be given visas if they promised to be good, paid for 14 days in isolation in a four or five star hotel and they agreed to be tested against the nasty virus.

The two Animal Doctors agreed.

Time passed and in Neverland the two employers who needed these animal wizards grew more desperate for them to get their visas. Their animals were suffering. Future planning was impossible. Across the land there was 220 Vet practices in the same position. Alarm spread. The kind leader of Neverland kept promising her people that her first and greatest priority was keeping her people safe from the nasty virus. She didn’t tell her people that for many months there was several thousand managed isolation four star hotel rooms free to keep the foreigners happy and locked up in while they showed they weren’t infected by the nasty virus.

All the kind leader had to do was smile, tilt her head and occasionally frown and the people cheered her. She continued to sprinkle fairy dust and they loved her for it.

The wise immigration advisers filed applications for border exemptions for both Animal Doctors because their skills were so rare it seemed to them impossible their kind leader would reject the applications. Neverland had never trained up enough Animal Doctors of its own and therefore there had always been a terrible shortage. 

The Animal Doctors themselves were hopeful after many nerve wracking months, they could fly to Neverland to join their patient but increasingly desperate new employers, one of whom was retiring from his practice shortly after Santa visited with bags of doggy biscuits and cat litter. Being himself very organized, this business owner had started planning for his retirement 18 months before he knew he would treat his last cat. Plenty of time he thought. What could go wrong?

Alas, a few days later the application for a border exemption for this first Vet was declined. A state functionary whose brain had clearly felt the impact of the virus explained that despite the national shortage and this occupation being on the Governments own long term skills shortage list, a list of occupations in ongoing and acute demand for many years, there was apparently Vets ‘readily available’ in Neverland to do this work.

‘We must keep the people safe’ they wrote.

This struck the wise immigration advisers as strange as the Veterinary Council of Neverland provided evidence it was in fact 220 Animal Doctors short across this fair land. The Advisers thought that the Animal Doctor would be in managed isolation for two weeks, just like the recently arrived Pakistan Men’s cricket team and the Animal Doctor wouldn’t have the nasty virus like some of the cricketers carried with them (or 200 Russian fishermen before them) and the Animal Doctor wouldn’t break the isolation rules as the naughty cricketers had been doing. Watching cricket for the people of Neverland, the kind leader decided, was seemingly of greater importance than treating her peoples’ pets. Still the people cheered even as their own pet dogs started to die. (‘Quickly, more fairy dust’ she whispered to her chief fairy helper.)

The employer was confused and distraught in equal measure. Everyone knew the kind leader of Neverland had around the same time granted her royal permission for 20 other Animal Doctors to cross the lowered drawbridge and enter Neverland. So why not his Vet?

The wise immigration advisers too were confused and angry and one of them, tasked with helping this family to join them in Neverland, with a big sigh explained to the Animal Doctor this is just the way Neverland is. A land of visa contradictions and inconsistencies where the kind leader employed state functionary fairies that operated with impunity and a great deal of inconsistency.

A land where what they said the rules were, wasn’t necessarily what, well, the rules seemed to be. 

The wise immigration adviser sadly explained to the second Vet they’d likely face the same strange outcome but it was worthwhile trying for a border exemption anyway. After all, the Advisers counselled the Vet, how can you win the lottery if you don’t buy a ticket?

‘It’s a lottery?’ the second Vet asked.

‘Oh yes, seemingly so’ replied the wise immigration adviser. ‘There are rules and there are criteria which on the face of it are quite easy to understand but in Neverland the border exemption decisions bear little to no relation to those rules. The conclusion, disappointingly, is that it is in fact little more than a lottery. Which functionary fairy gets your application determines the outcome.’

Sad and dejected that this country full of such kind people who had invited him and his family to come and settle in it, might now turn them away after investing so much of their time and energy, not to mention his hard earned cockle shells, for cockle shells was what they used for currency in this far away land, the second Vet said ‘Well let’s give it a go. I can’t stay in this land far far away much longer for I have no electricity and our leader, who smiles but is not kind, is stealing all our cockle shells!’

‘You also have a leader who smiles?’ asked the wise immigration adviser.

‘Yes we do, but crocodiles smile as well, don’t they?’ the Animal Doctor replied.

‘Oh’ the wise immigration adviser said, ‘we don’t have nasty creatures in Neverland so I wouldn’t know’.

The wise immigration adviser filed the border exemption application even though her spirits were by now also quite low.

Day turned into night. A full moon came and went.

A few days later the wise immigration adviser saw the kind leader’s fairy functionaries had sent her a message. She nervously opened it.

The wise immigration adviser’s jaw dropped.

‘It cannot be!’ she exclaimed to her equally wise colleagues. ‘My Animal Doctor...has been approved! Praise be, the Gods have been kind this fine summery day, let us rejoice!’ 

‘Our kind leader has lowered the drawbridge and let him and his family enter our castle in Neverland.’ she shared with her dumbstruck colleagues who had gathered to see what all the fuss was about.

The wise immigration adviser jumped up and did a small jig. 

The IMMagine team clapped and cheered. They joined in with the wise immigration adviser and they all danced and sang with gusto. A great merriment descended upon the assembled IMMagine team who read and re-read the message from Government, hardly believing their eyes and the client's good fortune. They read it many times. They knew they had to check to see if they were reading it correctly for it was well known that many of the immigration functionary fairies did not have a great command of the English language.

Yet it was true - the border exemption had been granted.

One by one they slipped out to buy a Lotto ticket as they realised luck and good fortune had been delivered that day.

Naturally the Animal Doctor, although surprised, was also filled with great joy and he danced around his Braai hugging his wife and children. ‘Quickly children, pack your suitcases before they change their minds’ he giggled. ‘We are off to Neverland!’.

The children scattered, running this way and that. They grabbed teddy bears and all their other favourite possessions and quickly stuffed them into their suitcases. 

Down the road the second Animal Doctor sat quietly with a pensive look on his face sharing a meal of maize gruel with his wife and children at their dinner table. The children were quiet. The mood was low as they had just been told by the very same wise immigration advisers of the good news for the other animal doctor.

‘What did we do wrong?’ he asked his wife, ‘I also have a job to go to in Neverland, we have also been invited to apply to live permanently in paradise by their kind leader, I have the same qualification from the same University and I do the same job as the other Vet’.

‘Ask the wise immigration adviser’ his dejected wife suggested.

And so he did.

The wise immigration adviser said in reply ‘Do you remember when we first met I explained that in the 14 centuries I have been looking after migrants and their Neverland employers, that the same visa evidence given to two different Neverland functionaries can result in two different outcomes despite there only being one rule book? Well, sadly this is the 3,768,963rd example of that’.

‘Can’t you speak to a Manager?’ the Animal Doctor asked.

‘Oh we do and we will’ the wise immigration adviser responded, 'but they don’t seem to care that their staff do pretty much whatever they want with little to no accountability. Although the fairies are meant to attend 'knowledge transfer circles' and 'calibration sessions' in Neverland an immigration manager is not allowed to instruct a subordinate fairy functionary on what decision to make on an application’.

‘How strange’ thought the Vet. ‘But you will fight this for us won’t you?’

‘Till my last breath, you bet I will’ replied the wise but tired immigration adviser.

And as the sun went down in Neverland the wise immigration adviser crawled into bed, having been tired out by all the dancing and jigging, determined that with the next sunrise she would take up the fight once again. Chasing shadows and fairies in her head she fell into an uneasy sleep.

To be continued….


Do you trust Jacinda Ardern?

Posted by Iain on May 6, 2020, 10:31 a.m. in Immigration New Zealand

If you do you won't be disturbed by a Bill amending the Immigration Act tabled in parliament this week allowing the government wide-ranging powers to change the way visas are, or are not, accepted and or processed. If you do trust the government, there is little to worry about.

Essentially, what the government is seeking to do is to be able to make decisions on groups of visa holders or applicants, en masse, rather than forcing people to file and then assess, individual applications. This means, as an example, they could say that everyone currently in New Zealand whose Visa will expire between ‘X’ date and ‘Y’ date, will not have to file an individual application, pay a fee or fill out an online form, they will be deemed to have a Visa until ‘Z’ date.

On the face of it, quite sensible.

However, as long as the Epidemic Pandemic Notice is in place, the existing legislation means that people whose visas expire, cannot become unlawful anyway. 

Perhaps the government is only thinking beyond the EPN and the protection that gives to Visa holders. Perhaps, they are thinking that when the EPN notice is lifted they will need to be able to give people a ‘free pass’ to leave the country without being unlawful when they do.

Perhaps they are only looking at stopping people overseas applying for visas for a while.

Perhaps.

On a more pragmatic and operational level, I suspect at least in part, they are only doing this because they have no plan to get the Department back to work any time soon. Those immigration officers at home who have been given laptop computers, and I understand they are still only being sent out now, almost seven weeks after lockdown started, have almost no capacity to process visas remotely. Over the past decade the Immigration Department has been trying to tack a new online Visa processing system onto an old software platform. I’m advised the cost so far has been $38 million and counting. (One assumes with the borders closed indefinitely they can stop spending $11 million a year ‘marketing’ NZ as a migrant destination and perhaps put that money toward building a proper IT system).

Covid-19 has exposed a dismal failure of planning and management. There has never been a Plan B in the Department, it seems, for anything, least of all a health emergency.

The Prime Minister continues to confirm, as excitement builds here about coming out of lockdown in a few more weeks and as talk of a "trans-Tasman Bubble" allowing quarantine-less travel between Australia and New Zealand grows, that the borders will remain closed for “a long time”. She is reluctant to put a date on it because of the obsession with ‘eliminating’ the virus from New Zealand shores. A ‘long time’ however is clearly not a short time.

Where I thought previously, based on her signaling, she might have been talking a few months, I'm more convinced than ever she is really talking about until a vaccine is created and made available not just to New Zealanders but the entire world. She just won’t come out and say it and our fawning media refuse to press her.

[STOP PRESS: Around the time we posted this, the PM all but confirmed this is her thinking - no vaccine, no open border - she has not ruled out all travel to NZ however so more questions....]

Our Prime Minister is fixated it seems on not budging from her one priority which is to keep New Zealanders “healthy”.

And that apparently means the borders must be closed for a ‘long time’ despite whatever other recession induced health issues that might create.

This Bill, which I understand will be given one select committee hearing before being passed into law and likely coming into effect in the middle of May, also then gives the government the ability to effectively shut down Visa applications from for example, people who are not in New Zealand. Again, that has some logic – if you have an Immigration Department sitting at home doing nothing, an ancient IT system that does not allow them to work remotely, no airlines flying and a closed border, then what is the point in accepting more temporary visa applications into the system?

The fear our clients have of course is that the bill also extends to suspending skilled migrant, parent and Investor pool draws and suspending "invitations to apply for a visa’.

The government has already suspended selecting expressions of interest from the skilled migrant pool. The reason given was they had no one to process applications because they're all sitting at home watching Netflix. I would take that at face value and not read anything more sinister into closing down the pool draws. They simply never had a Plan B that allows them to work remotely.

However I would be lying if I said I don't have some concerns about this. In February this year, before the lockdown and Immigration officials were sent home, there was around 11,000 skilled migrant resident visa applications that had been selected, invited to apply and which had been filed sitting in a queue waiting to be allocated for processing. That ‘waiting’ was two years for the majority back in February. Embarrassing for the Department, shrugged off by the Minister and disruptive for NZ employers and their migrant staff seeking certainty.

Could the government use this legislation to tell all those people that are sitting in that unallocated queue that their applications are going to be returned, along with a refund? Is this legislation a Trojan Horse allowing them to get rid of applications currently in the system?

The bill does not talk of declining or returning applications, including resident visas, that have already been filed. That would suggest there is no plan to deal with the backlog using this amendment. Therefore, those people, including several hundred of our own clients, should be able to rest easy, it appears that they are not about to be shafted by this legislation.

If you are less trusting, this legislation might be that Trojan Horse but if it was, we would strongly argue that it is not necessary.

Logic would suggest that the backlog of Residence cases for skilled migrants should organically fall because there’s going to be a lot of people sitting in that queue right now who had jobs when they filed their applications who now don’t, or soon won’t.  Numbers released by Treasury here suggest the unemployment rate has increased over the past six weeks from around 4% to 6%. And that is while there is still a relatively generous wage subsidy being paid out by the government to employers across the country. When that wage subsidy ends next month it is inconceivable that the numbers of people registering for unemployment will not jump significantly. Most Economists are talking about 9% or 10%. Some, even higher for the next two quarters.

It is interesting that in Australia where their wage subsidy has yet to be paid out, unemployment there is already estimated to be 10% with entire industries decimated. I can see no reason why New Zealand is going to be any different.

While most of our clients in New Zealand who are working have held on to their jobs, I suspect most employers are simply playing a waiting game and seeing what else the government might offer or how this economy is allowed to start coming back as the lockdown eases.

Logic suggests then the skilled migrant backlog will reduce significantly without government need to suspend or shut down the skilled migrant category. So maybe it’s as simple as that. They won’t need to use this amendment to deal with the backlog ‘problem’ they created.

At the back of my mind however is the prospect of the election coming up in September and given the Deputy Prime Minister holds a disproportionate amount of power despite his party only getting around 5-7% of the vote, it is not unreasonable to expect him and his colleagues to climb on their anti-immigration soapbox as they do every three years and demand more cuts. Could that extend to suspensions to programs like the skilled migrant category?

The fact that unemployment here is undoubtedly going to jump significantly does not mean skill shortages will evaporate. We are still 2000 teachers’ short for example. Our Universities still don't produce enough IT skills and engineers. We are still short of trade and technical people.

Might we see a suspension of the skilled migrant category completely? No more filing of EOIs? No more selections? No more invitations? I think that is possible.

The silence from government in regard to their plan for immigration is deafening.

You can thank the upcoming election for that I suspect.

Silent voids are always filled with chatter and speculation. Never more so than now. The Facebook gossip grapevine is working overtime. Online migrant chat groups and forums (the ultimate in the blind leading the blind) are exploding with ‘What are they going to do?’ questions. There are tens of thousands of people in New Zealand holding temporary visas who have filed residency applications desperate for certainty. The government is providing none.

Are they going to throw people out as soon as there are airlines to fly them and borders are open here and overseas?

Whether they would be so heartless is the big question.

If you trust Jacinda Ardern (I would like to count myself among those that do but that does not extend to her NZ First coalition bedfellows), then you have little to worry about.

If you don’t, then given the Prime Minister keeps telling us we are ‘all in this together’ and endlessly ‘to be kind to one another’, I presume that kindness equally extends to those her Government invited to the country and she then invited to file residence applications and they can stay, no matter what the recession has just thrown at them.

And who is to say she will still be the PM after September? - this law change will be lying there waiting for someone less 'kind'.

Until next week

Iain MacLeod

Southern Man

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When Is The Right Time To Book A Consultation?

Posted by Myer on March 13, 2020, 12:22 p.m. in Immigration

If you’re thinking of emigrating you might also be wondering when is the appropriate time to have a consultation regarding your visa options (and the smart migrants do seek out some good advice before they move).

I’m frequently told by those interested in immigrating to Australia or New Zealand that they will have a consultation with me but only after they obtain an offer of employment or for those I have met, they will engage in using our services once that job is in hand. In my opinion the consultation should have taken place long before the job search begins for both Australia and New Zealand and certainly if your mind is made up, then getting us on board ahead of time is absolutely crucial. The reasons differ slightly because the immigration policy for both countries is different even though the process of securing employment is largely the same.

I was prompted to write this blog by the experience of one of our clients, who was fed up with waiting for a general skilled migration visa (these visas don’t require offers of employment) and decided to travel to Australia for the purposes of securing employment in order for us to submit an employer sponsored visa.

He was qualified to be both an accountant as well as a finance manager. Much of our initial discussions were focused on an explanation that a job offer as an accountant in the non-regional areas of Australia, namely Melbourne, Sydney and Brisbane could potentially result in permanent residence under an employer nominated residence visa. However, an offer of employment as a finance manager in these cities would not, notwithstanding the fact that the occupation of finance manager is often more senior in nature and often would be managing a number of accountants, consequently earning more than the accountants working under him.

If this sounds weird, welcome to my world.

Australia’s immigration program can broadly be described as lists of different occupations for different visa types. Some of these occupations will be suitable for work visas, some suitable for general skilled migration visas, whilst others will require one to live in regional areas of Australia.

So there is no point in a sales and marketing manager obtaining an offer of employment in Melbourne for example, if he intends to become a permanent resident of Australia through an employer sponsored residence visa program. This is because the occupation of sales and marketing manager doesn’t appear on the relevant list that allows a company based in this area to nominate the position. This isn’t affected by the salary one earns or the nature of the employer, the simple fact is that the sales and marketing manager isn’t suitable for non-regional Australia but would be a great occupation for regional Australia (the whole of Australia excluding Melbourne, Sydney and Brisbane).

On the other hand a general manager would be suitable for non-regional Australia however the salary requirements for this particular occupation are that the applicant would have to have an offer of $180,001 salary per annum which is a reasonably high salary by Australian standards. The logic is fairly obvious, to avoid your smaller businesses employing a “general manager” as a means of obtaining permanent residence for the applicant.

There is even a list of occupations suitable for temporary work visas in Australia (known as a temporary skill shortages visa). Depending on the occupation that you are employed in, you can either be issued a longer term four-year visa that can be renewed thereafter, or a limited two-year work visa with an option of only gaining one more two-year term. There is no point in securing an offer of employment in Australia if you are not going to be in an occupation suitable for a work visa, and to potentially gain permanent residence in a few years time.

Some of these occupations that are suitable for work visas will require a skills assessment by one of the assessing authorities. At the moment it’s mostly trades that require skills assessments but they can take several months to obtain and no employer is going to wait this length of time for the assessment to be completed before applying for the work visa.

With so many variables and differing requirements, you need to have a consultation at least six months before you commence the job search to make sure you have an immigration plan. Just like you wouldn’t consider building a house without a building plan, so too do you need an immigration plan that has considered factors such as the requirements of each visa type (both temporary and permanent) the timeframes involved, the documentation required for each visa and an appreciation of the risks as well.

New Zealand has moved away from lists of occupations and instead focuses on skill levels and salary requirements for each occupation to determine if it meets the definition of ‘skilled’. There are different requirements for temporary work visas from permanent residence visas, with the former being focused on satisfying skill shortages and the latter focused on satisfying a points test.

It is as important in the New Zealand context (if not more so) to have a consultation well in advance of the job search and if we deem you eligible to start preparing yourself ahead of time, so that you are “document ready” when you commence your job search in New Zealand. Not only do you need to know the requirements of the different visa types but you need to know the documents required for both permanent and temporary visa applications because, while an employer will wait a period of time between offering you a position of employment and the date you are expected to commence work, they will want this period to be as short as possible and excessive delays can jeopardise the validity of your employment offer. Too many times we have seen applicant’s (not our clients necessarily) race ahead to secure a job, only to then discover that without the documentation they need, the Visa process becomes lengthy, complicated and more stressful than it needs to be. The worst case is the employer gets the “wobbles” because the application hasn’t been submitted quickly and the job is at risk. Why take that sort of chance, particularly when you consider the effort required to secure that job.

Contrary to the popular belief, it’s not all about obtaining a job in both Australia and New Zealand. With many having to quit jobs so they can spend enough time in Australia and New Zealand to secure employment, you need to be aware of the immigration requirements, documentation and strategy well in advance of your journey to a new life.

Being both employment and Visa ready are really important parts of the overall plan and can be the difference between success and failure.


Kia kaha

Posted by Iain on Feb. 14, 2020, 4:22 p.m. in Skilled Migrant Category

Kia kaha.

In Maori this means "stay strong”. It is one of those terms that has found its way into every day usage in New Zealand. I love it. It speaks to where I come from and the work that I do. People everywhere are freaking out over the skilled migrant resident visa allocation and processing times, frightened by what the government might do.

At my seminars I like to paint a picture that migration is like climbing Mount Everest. It takes a lot of good planning, careful execution, patience and courage. Mental toughness is rewarded. Migration is emotional, logistically complicated and generally expensive (as in, employ a cheap mountain guide, or no mountain guide at all and your chances of summiting Mount Everest are significantly lower — indeed that decision to do it on the cheap may cost you your future).

Migrants are always tested but never more so than today in New Zealand where allocation and processing times continue to get longer and longer. I have written recently something has to give in terms of what is going on with the skilled migrant category. Foolishly the government cut the number of resident visas they wanted to approve last year but left the points pass mark at 160.

Demand is not diminishing, nor increasing (as incorrectly claimed by the Minister of Immigration recently), but by cutting numbers while keeping the pass mark the same, has led directly to these processing backlogs - most skilled migrants are going to be waiting 18 to 24 months for their residence to be allocated, processed and approved unless they work in an occupation for which they have NZ registration or are earning at least $104,000.

Backlogs in and of themselves don’t necessarily suppress demand. Having dealt with the Australian system for some years the significant majority of resident Visa applications take 18 to 24 months to process. The big difference between Australia and New Zealand however, is none of those people wanting to move to Australia have sold their houses, given up their jobs, given the dog away to their neighbour, found employment in Australia and are now sitting waiting and worrying over their Resident Visa outcome. They are all still sitting at home getting on with their lives. All the people affected by the backlog in New Zealand, are in New Zealand on work visas. They have burned plenty of bridges to be part of the Government’s residence programme (that curiously they still spend millions of dollars marketing).

These NZ migrants cannot make any long-term decisions. Many have children finishing school and wanting to go to university during the waiting period and the majority simply cannot afford to pay international fees for university. Many are having to put on hold decisions to buy houses. Some might be stuck in jobs that are not ideal but serve the residence purpose.

I find we have two kinds of clients. Those that simply suck it up, and get on and enjoy life in New Zealand having faith we know what we are doing and residence is a matter of when and not if. They appreciate the delays are not of our making. As possibly the best Advisers in the game they appreciate that all we can do is to ensure that we file decision ready applications which is what we do.

Then there is the second kind. These are the people that take it out on us. Thankfully they are a minority but it isn’t very pleasant being blamed for changes in the rules half way through the game - when we don’t write the rules. There's nothing we can do to make the government go faster but we along with the entire industry has made it very clear to the government that the current situation is unsustainable and ignoring the problem will not make it go away.

Ultimately however it is the Minister that sets the pass mark to get out of the skilled migrant pool and it is the government that sets the criteria to qualify as a migrant. As I have written about recently I have no doubt some plan is being hatched in Wellington to deal with the situation. My major concern is the solution might be politically expedient rather than economically sensible.

Every single skilled migrant requires a highly skilled job to get into New Zealand. Employers the world over prefer to employ locally simply because of the perceived or real hassle getting visas. That means the government has in that backlog people who have been able to break into the labour market, secure a job for the most part against the odds, and that says one thing and one thing very clearly - their skills were desperately needed in New Zealand by that particular employer because no employer I’ve ever dealt with will play the visa game if they can avoid it. That reality seems lost on the politicians - or they choose to ignore it for political gain.

Obviously the simplest solution is for the government to increase the number of resident visas they will issue and clear the backlog. Sell it as a good economic news story, for that is what it is. Too many jobs, not enough Kiwis to fill them.

I was thinking the other day that another solution could be to return to the multi passmark system we used to have. The way things used to work was that applicants were ranked not just on raw points total as they are today, but according to what we deem more important and valuable e.g. claiming points for a job in an occupation on a national or regional skills shortage list, or having a partner with a skilled job offer, or higher salary - the criteria themselves could be ranked. Then, at least, it is transparent.

Or consider prioritising processing in terms of the points score that people claim. The more points you claim the faster your case could be allocated. The obvious problem with that of course is people would start claiming points they are not entitled to. I would then adopt the Australian approach – a bit of a scorched Earth - if you claim it and you can't prove it you’d be declined. That would force people into getting it right up front and first time but the flip-side of that is it would require immigration officers to understand their own rules completely — and we know how bad they are at that. It is however worth considering. It would certainly force migrants to make sure they have the evidence of their points claim before filing an Expression of Interest in residence. That alone should cut down on applications that are always doomed to fail under the current system.

A simple across-the-board increase in the pass mark would obviously decrease demand for the available places but equally it's going to deprive the labour market, particularly in Auckland, of skills desperately needed that we do not produce ourselves as a country.

And that makes the simplest solution, the best. Recognise that the skilled migrant category rewards those that are able to break into a labour market that is, owing to the disconnect between employers wanting people to have work visas, but the government not wanting to grant work visas without jobs, seldom easy. The annual target of resident visas allowed to be issued should simply be increased — at least while the Government comes up with a better idea that does not hurt the economy. The government backtracked on infrastructure spending recently, perhaps they should backtrack on cutting skilled migrant numbers as well - and take the heat they will rightly get for making silly, politically motivated decisions in the first place.

If they were to do that and the economy keeps growing, then of course it creates more jobs. So arguably the problem never goes away. It’s a valid point (unless and until we can create the skills we need locally). The government should recognise that with that would come an increased demand on infrastructure, schools, roads, housing and everything else that would come with a growing population.

Well, here’s a thought — how about a population policy?

What this situation shows is it is a complex issue and you can't solve the problem unless you have an idea about how many people we want to share this land with and that demands a population policy which New Zealand has never had.

And no New Zealand government wants to have a discussion about what our ideal population might be.

So we find ourselves in a situation where the government sits on its hands when it comes to this critical issue and I continue to fear they will do something really really dumb.

Some positive news to end, however. Visitor Visas now seem to be being issued once again and we have had at least one issued this week for a South African client that was filed in mid-January. 

That's a real relief for us and our clients looking to come over and find jobs.

Remember, migration is stressful and our jobs at IMMagine exist because the process is legally complex, logistically challenging and emotionally very tough. Don't start the process if you're not up for it because there's no point getting halfway up that mountain and turning around and going back down again.  And migration is as much political for any country as it is economic so you will always be at the whim of self-serving politicians (or well-meaning but simply stupid ones) until that precious resident Visa is in your passport.

For migrants to be one of Darwin’s ‘winners’ it takes the creation of a good strategy (usually incorporating a Plan B), a steady nerve and listening to the advice that you are paying for. In our case it's normally spot on and we continue to enjoy watching over 98% of our clients come to New Zealand and find skilled jobs and go on to secure their residency.

Even if now, it is going to be a two year process.

Kia kaha. 

Until next week

Iain MacLeod

Southern Man


Labour Shortages Vs Skills Shortages

Posted by Iain on June 17, 2016, 3:44 p.m. in Jobs in New Zealand

There have been some very interesting employment vacancy figures released this week that further illustrate the relative strength of the labour market in New Zealand.

According to the Ministry of Business, Innovation and Employment for May 2016:

  • Online vacancies increased by 2.4 per cent over all during the month.
  • Vacancies increased in all industry groups. The main contributors were hospitality and tourism (up 1.9 per cent) and education and training (up 1.7 per cent).
  • Vacancies increased in all occupation groups. The largest increases were for machinery drivers and operators (up 3.6 per cent), labourers (up 3.4 per cent), and technicians and trades (up 3.1 per cent).
  • Vacancies increased in all ten regions. The Bay of Plenty region saw the strongest growth (up 3.0 per cent). This on top of news that tourism has led to the country earning more money than it is spending, i.e. a trade surplus. That explains the ongoing growth in tourism and hospitality related jobs being created.

What is interesting from an immigration perspective is the disconnect between New Zealand’s labour market needs/labour shortages and ‘skilled’ migrant criteria for residence.

Simply having a job and filling a hole in the labour market is no guaranteed pathway to long term residence.

We are, for example, seriously short of Heavy Truck Drivers and it is possible to get a work visa to be one but not possible to qualify for residence under the skilled migrant ‘points system’ because Truck Drivers are not deemed to be skilled (yet ‘Dog Groomers’, inexplicably, are).

The dairy industry in Southland would collapse if it weren’t for hundreds of Filipino farm workers propping up the farms; yet they also do not qualify for residence because the (critical?) roles they fill are not skilled, despite paying taxes, being hard working and having long-term employment prospects. What they are filling are ‘labour’ shortages. No connection between that and a resident visa.

New Zealand has all sorts of low or semi-skilled occupational shortages and the roles are mostly filled by international students, many of whom have limited work rights of up to 20 hours per week and fulltime during academic holiday time, or are one of the tens of thousands of young Holiday Working Visa holders.

There are some policy (and political) tensions arising in relation to this.

On the one hand you cannot blame the transport companies, café owners, farmers or fruit growers for giving these jobs to ‘foreigners’ when there are no locals available or willing to do the work, but where are the locals?

We have in New Zealand an unemployment rate of 5.3%. As I explain at my seminars these people are largely young, unskilled or low skilled. I suspect also unmotivated.

The obvious question to ask is why are they not filling these roles?

It is a relatively complex situation but in my view the single largest contributor is an unwillingness to tell the unemployed who have low skills to get off their backsides and travel to areas where this work exists. It may not be close to home or family but the alternative is we, as tax payers, fund this choice so many are making.

There is little to no reason (beyond politics) for not giving these - particularly young and healthy people - a choice. Go where the work is or the tax payer will stop depositing an unemployment cheque in your bank account every week.

Too often we hear the whining of these people about the costs of going to some other part of the country for ‘low wages’.

Well, if it is okay for all those young Germans, Spanish, British, Singaporean, Malaysian, Brazilians and tens of thousands of other youngsters to do these jobs while travelling around the country, why do we expect any less of our own?

My own youngest son is now studying at the University of Otago in Dunedin. He trained as a Barista and worked all through last summer north of Auckland in a café to garner experience to bolster his employability once he got down to the South Island. He cannot find a job yet the cafes are full of Holiday Working Visa holders doing jobs he could be doing to support himself (and save me from footing the bill).

New Zealanders are starting to ask the question – should tens of thousands of young foreigners get these jobs ahead of young New Zealanders if the New Zealanders want them? Should Holiday Working Visa policy be a substitute for forcing the young and unemployed of New Zealand to get off their backsides and take up these jobs?

Given we require all those applying for ‘typical’ work visas on their pathway to a resident visa to prove they are not taking a job away from a New Zealander, are Holiday Working Visas a convenient excuse for employers locally to not be bothered trying to fill the vacancies with our own young job seekers?

I am all for young people coming into the country and having that local working experience while they travel around enjoying everything this wonderful country has to offer. We are all enriched by it culturally, if not economically, and these young people build bridges to the rest of the world. Some will use the Holiday Working Visa as a stepping stone to filling skilled roles and go on to secure residence. I often help skilled migrants return to New Zealand ten or more years after they spent a happy year on one of those Holiday Working Visas and we would never have been able to get the benefit of their skills had they not enjoyed their earlier trip.

I have some concerns however that successive Governments have lacked the political will to start forcing the more indolent among the local population to take up these jobs first.

Our own should be forced into these jobs or offered them before we offer them to foreigners. If they don’t want them don’t apply or lack the attitude and willingness to learn then by all means offer them to the travelling hordes of youngsters from overseas.

By not doing this, current policy opens the door to the politics of migrant bashing and we are not immune from a (tiny) minority of politicians who will exploit it. With an election next year those voices will get louder sure as the sun will rise on the morrow.

As I wrote last week immigration policy settings are under increasing pressure and the question has to be asked if it is delivering in the overall context of New Zealand’s social, cultural and economic developmental aims.

There is, at the very least, room for improvement.

Until next week...

Iain MacLeod, Southern Man


Skilled Migrant Time Bomb

Posted by Iain on June 11, 2016, 12:10 a.m. in Immigration

As a little boy I had an intense interest in politics.

My favourite Uncle who had himself run for Parliament was, I suspect, partly responsible for that interest and we had many a conversation where he pitted his mid-40 year old conservative wisdom with my ten year old love for communism.

I will never forget a piece of advice he gave me if I ever ran for elected office. "Remember Iain, there are two Governments. The elected Government and the permanent Government." Permanent Government being the bureaucracy.

I never imagined that I'd end up by making my living helping people to fight their way past this permanent Government. And observing up close the relationship between them and the elected Government.

To some extent he was quite right but in other respects he was wrong.

Right now a potential crisis is unfolding in New Zealand's Skilled Migrant Programme and the (elected) Government is refusing to listen to the permanent one.

Within two years this crisis is going to hit the Government hard, yet they refuse to acknowledge they have a looming issue despite the obvious staring them in the face in the form of research carried out by the immigration bureaucrats. To that you can now add Treasury.

I have read a number of papers released under the Official Information Act which clearly demonstrate that there is real concern within the bureaucracy that Government policies in the area of export education is dumbing down the skilled migrant category. This is because there is a massive marketing machine (both public and private sector) encouraging international students to invest tens of thousands of dollars in low level, low grade New Zealand qualifications because they have the promise of a work visa at the end and a pathway (in theory) to a Skilled Migrant Resident Visa.

There are several big problems with this.

The sorts of jobs many of these students are likely to get once they complete their very expensive qualifications are not skilled because they tend to be entry level, do not attract points toward residence and they have not been warned by either the Government, the tertiary Instructions peddling these products or their agents (unlicensed) representing them in markets such as India. They will only find out once they have completed these very expensive local courses and I suspect they will leave New Zealand justifiably bitter at having been sold a lemon.

Those that succeed are, most of the time, getting marginally skilled jobs of questionable value to New Zealand. The two occupations that top the list for the number of skilled migration approvals today are Retail Managers and Chefs. In both these areas the risk of fraudulent job offers grows and an entire industry where big money will change hands as desperate foreign graduates realise their predicament try and buy jobs will emerge. Anecdotally it already has.

There are literally tens of thousands of such students in New Zealand today. I understand more than 40,000 in Auckland alone.

Immigration statistics show that these students are consuming an ever greater percentage of the finite and capped skilled migrant places available each year.

What's the problem with that you might ask (I understand senior Ministers are asking the same thing)?

Right now policy settings demand the significant majority of skilled migrants possess skilled job offers.

Each year there are 27,000 resident visas (with a 10% variance) available to Principal Applicants, their partners and children. That translates into around 10,000 Principal Applicants and 10,000 skilled jobs up for grabs.

Right now if you have a skilled job you will be approved residence all other things being equal.

So what happens in two years when we might have 20,000 Expressions of Interest for people with job offers sitting in the pool? Right now they are all selectedl. 

Which ones do we  grant residence to? Right now it has to be all of them.

If we decide to only select half (so we don't double migrant numbers from current levels) should it be those that have got jobs as Retail Managers, the Chefs and the Secretaries or the experienced Engineers, IT workers, Trades people that New Zealand is so desperate for?

Right now there is no distinction - 100 points equal selection irresepctive of the job offered.

What about all those with false job offers?

The Government could turn around and double the annual intake and issue twice as many visas.

The Prime Minister said this week (as he always does) that current migrant numbers are about right. That suggests no appetite for doubling the numbers.

Auckland has a housing crisis. Too many people arriving and not enough houses being built. Much of this is being blamed on foreigners even though the cause is largely more New Zealanders staying put in NZ and more New Zealanders coming home, particularly from Australia. This has become a real political problem and there are politicians calling for a cut in migrant numbers (there are those that never let a few facts get in the way of a few votes).

This volume will be dialled up next year during the election cycle.

So Prime Minister, what is your plan when in two years the demand for the current number of places doubles or triples and many of those applying are Retail Managers and Chefs rather than Engineers and Builders and Software Developers with ten years of practical experience?

How do you choose between them all when you only have 27,000 places up for grabs?

Senior immigration industry leaders, including me, have been warning that changes have to be made now especially to what is being offered to international students. Export education is worth as much to NZ as an export each year as IT is in terms of exports at close to $3 billion a year. Clearly it is worth preserving and developing but not at the cost of either New Zealand's reputation or if it starts excluding better quality skilled migrants.

I have no issue with offering students a study to work to residence pathway but we need them to be studying the occupations we are critically short of in Engineering, IT and potentially, Trades.

Equally the question has to be answered which migrant adds more value to New Zealand; the 23 year old with a one year Diploma in Business who gets a job as the Manager of a Retail Outlet or the 35 year old Quantity Surveyor with ten years of industry experience?

When places are rationed the Government has to decide.

If that means we incentivise international students to study what New Zealand employers really need rather than what turns into a quick short term buck for NZ then for me there is no contest. The market will respond by offering students who want residence a course that offers the greatest chance of securing that outcome by offering such courses. Everyone wins.

It is a potential time bomb. When the Government has been warned it will explode within the next two years you'd you think they might sit up and listen to those of us who are right there looking at it and providing the evidence that it is real.

While in my experience of politicians and bureaucrats the bureaucrats often do get their own way there is scant evidence the current crop are.

It does not bode well for the Skilled Migrant Category.

Until next week

Iain MacLeod

Southern Man Letter from New Zealand


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