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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.

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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Alternative Pathways to Residence

Posted by Iain on Oct. 28, 2016, 4:46 p.m. in Immigration

Over the next few months - if not years - there will be some otherwise skilled migrants who won’t be able to achieve the 160 point pass mark even if they were to work for say 12 or 24 months in a job outside of Auckland.

What solutions can we offer them?

I am very conscious that the Skilled Migrant rules will likely change in the middle of 2017, but I am equally confident that here at IMMagine we have a good handle on the direction of those changes, even though we don’t yet know the detail and won’t till the rules are released.

We have a very small number of clients, principally aged over 50 and without any trade or academic qualifications who are still looking for a pathway up this visa ‘mountain’. Without wishing to digress for those tradesmen and artisans under 45 with no formal qualifications we should be able to get them all to NZ using the Australian residence visa process. Something we commonly do now.

One of the ‘NZ direct’ solutions is through a work to residence pathway and finding work and convincing a New Zealand employer to become ‘accredited’ with INZ.

Accreditation is a status given to an employer that allows them to effectively bring in anyone they wish on 30 month ‘Talent Visas' (Work Visas by any other name) without needing to prove they cannot find a local - so long as the salary is at least $55,000 gross per annum, or higher.

No need for it to be in an area of skill shortage, it doesn’t even need to be skilled, but rather INZ needs to be satisfied of a number of key points about the business before they will grant accreditation. The business must be (to quote the policy):

  • in a sound financial position; and
  • has human resource policies and processes which are of a high standard; and
  • has a demonstrable commitment to training and employing New Zealand citizens or residence class visa holders; and
  • has good workplace practices, including a history of compliance with all immigration and employment laws such as the Immigration Act 2009, the Accident Compensation Act 2001, the Minimum Wage Act 1983, the Health and Safety in Employment Act 1992, the Employment Relations Act 2000, Wages Protection Act 1983, Parental Leave and Employment Protection Act 1987 and the Holidays Act 2003.

On the face of it this looks quite straight forward but as always, the devil is not only in the detail but the attitude of INZ and the officer processing the accreditation application.

This category was really set up with the aim of assisting larger employers with an ongoing need to bring in talent, rather than for smaller businesses to keep 'one off' but very valuable staff. It does not however exclude the smaller employers like the three man automotive workshop, the bakery or the small IT company. The aim and objective is clear – to make global skills available to ‘trusted’ local businesses – and it is not for INZ to decide which business is ‘better’ than others if the above four criteria are met; nor which applicants or roles come with a greater economic need.

I suspect, however, as more employers now apply for accreditation owing to the tightening of criteria under the Skilled Migrant Category and a seemingly never ending tightening in the availability of local candidates for roles, INZ could try and make it difficult. So, yet again, strong and persuasive advocacy will no doubt be called for and we are well positioned to help companies to secure this status.

For the migrant, their Talent Visa will be granted for 30 months and after two years of working for 'an' (not necessarily ‘the’) accredited employer they can then apply for residence. It is not a points system and there are no quotas nor pass mark. They do, however, have to demonstrate they are still healthy (along with partners and children) and their character remains good. They will also have to prove they earned at least $55,000 by way of salary over the two years. Note: salary, not income.

With the ramping up of pass marks for skilled migrants two weeks ago coupled with the sort of changes we strongly suspect are coming next year, having an Immigration Adviser who is not only expert in the detail but creative in arguing some very vague sounding criteria is going to take on even more importance than it ever has.

From here on under the skilled migrant category, it is not only a case of the survival of the most employable but it might just also be the survival of those with the smartest Immigration Adviser.

Work to residence options are no different. I am expecting push back from INZ on these applications but the rules are the rules and whether the company is large or small or needs to bring in ten workers or one; it is not a value judgement for officials.

Finding alternative pathways up this seeming every higher and steep mountain is what we do very well with 26 plus years’ experience under our belts.

Work to residence on a Talent Visa is just one of those strategies that might be the difference between raising your children in New Zealand or somewhere else.

Until next week.

Iain MacLeod

Southern Man
Letters from New Zealand


Shake Up of the Skilled Migrant Category

Posted by Iain on Oct. 11, 2016, 12:38 p.m. in Immigration

A few minutes ago the Government announced (or shortly will) a number of changes to the Skilled Migrant Category which take place today.

On the face of it, it looks quite radical but upon closer reflection isn’t quite the ‘revolution’ the Government will paint it (and no doubt the media will swallow) and is little more than a rearrangement of the deck chairs. Unless you are an international student hoping to get a resident visa in which case your future in New Zealand is looking fairly bleak...the Government is about to do to them what the Australians did to their international students a few years ago.

Our Government will today announce ‘cuts’ to migrant numbers but it appears to me to be a case of smoke and mirrors more than anything else in order to:

  • Take the wind out of the anti-immigrant NZ First party’s sails; and
  • Be seen to be taking additional pressure off Auckland house prices (some skilled migrants will now have to find jobs outside of Auckland); and
  • Close the doors on tens of thousands of international students that were promised open work visas upon completion of their studies by this Government as a pathway to residence. For most of them door has just been slammed shut in their faces and their futures lie outside of New Zealand.

The cuts, such as they are, are coming principally from the Family Stream and the overall target of migrants per immigration year is remaining about the same (at 85,000 – 95,000 over the next 24 months). So there is really no overall cut in substance.

The only real cuts apply to the Parent Category which sees numbers reduces from 5200 per annum to 2000. This is going to have the result of pushing out waiting times, but not the overall outcome for parents wishing to join their children in NZ.

From Wednesday 11 October all ‘classes’ of Skilled Migrants will have a fixed pass mark of 160 points. That is up from 100 for those with job offers and effectively means everyone will need a job offer to qualify.

As I have been pushing for some time now English testing is becoming mandatory. There will be exemptions but only for those from the USA, UK and Canada or for those with recognised qualifications from (and presumably studied in) those countries.

While this appears to be a radical increase in what is required to gain entry it really only impacts on those that have cannot squeeze out additional points by working for a period of time in NZ, work in an occupation which affords them previously unrequired bonus points, have family in NZ or a partner who can also get skilled work.

Our initial analysis, albeit without an enormous amount of information to go on apart from what we have learned from INZ; suggests most of our clients will be able to make an plan.

Those with recognised degrees (or higher) and even many with lower level qualifications such as tradesmen and Technicians will almost certainly still qualify if they get employment outside of Auckland and if they are in a relationship, get the partners out to work as well.

Unless...there is a twist in this tail.

We are reliably advised the Government recognises the potential negative impact on very high value migrants but who might not have degrees who have jobs in Auckland and a labour market screaming out for their skills – think IT specialists who are industry experienced but with no degree, CEOs without MBAs, senior management who came up through the ranks and the like who will be based in Auckland and have very high salaries and much to offer...INZ has been told to carry out some additional work which we expect to become policy in the next few weeks.

I understand that might involve additional bonus points being awarded for salaries over a certain annual level to compensate for the new pass mark. Or something which provides a similar and certain outcome.

The number I have in my mind is $70,000. No word on how those changes might translate into points but mark my words: such a change is designed to keep the Auckland job market open to those with high enough salaries (thanks to their being highly skilled) to warrant acknowledgment of the value they bring to the economy and the need for them in Auckland. Given it is the engine room of the economy what the Government is clearly trying to do here is to make sure that the finite numbers of skilled migrant places are taken up by the highly skilled and highly valued migrants and not recent international graduates with lower level qualifications. A bummer if your parents mortgaged their future in a village in Gujarat to send you to NZ for a better life but that’s Governments for you. I have spoken publically about the ‘tsunami’ of Expressions of Interest that will result (already is) in thousands of lower skill level applicants swamping the ‘pool’ for some time and telling anyone that would listen that change will be forced upon the Government if they do not act.

Well, they have.

Perhaps, when the Minister of Immigration was publically quoted, in regards to the tens of thousands of international students looking for a resident visa, ‘they won’t get residence’ recently, he wasn’t joking. He knew the Government was about to pull the rug out from under their feet.

I hate to say it but I told you so. It was so obviously going to have to happen or the Skilled Migrant Category would collapse under the weight of these applicants.

My advice to those from the English speaking world all this change really suggests to me is:

  • You’ll need to get a job offer outside of Auckland unless you can pick up bonus points; and
  • Qualifications are back in vogue and will be more important than they have been in recent years;
  • Government will find a way within the next few weeks to provide a pathway to 160 points for those on higher salaries than ‘average’ with jobs in Auckland

For existing clients, we will be back in touch with you within the next few hours to explain how these changes affect you.

Until we can tell you more...

Iain MacLeod

Managing Partner, IMMagine Australia & New Zealand


Visitor Visa Changes

Posted by Iain on Oct. 3, 2016, 10:10 p.m. in South Africa

In this age of instant communication, word has spread fast of today’s announcement by the New Zealand Government that from 21 November, all South African passport holders will no longer be able to travel to New Zealand without first obtaining a Visitor Visa to do so.

Historically, South African passport holders could look to travel visa free and apply for a visa on arrival. Over the past two years, increasing but still very small numbers of you have been stopped at OR Tambo; in transit or on arrival in the country. It is still less than 10%. While this may be a case of babies and bathwater, it is going to shake up a few plans for those looking to join us more permanently.

This has major implications for anyone travelling to New Zealand for any reason on a South African passport but in particular those that wish to travel to find employment in order to be part of the Government’s Skilled Migrant Residence policy. Things just got a whole lot more complicated and potentially uncertain; particularly for those attempting to migrate without professional assistance. 

For the past 18 months or so, I have quietly but repeatedly warned audiences across South Africa that the visa waiver agreement with South Africa was under pressure and under review, owing principally, I am advised, to the risk caused by corruption within the South African Department of Home Affairs and the ability of people (from anywhere) to buy South African passports. I also understand (please do not shoot the messenger!) that the NZ Government has an opinion about what is happening in South Africa and that opinion is not all that positive. There is concern that without closer scrutiny placed on the documents people travel on and their reasons for travelling, New Zealand is potentially exposing itself to risks to the integrity of its border.

Whilst I have argued the ‘visa free’ corner with senior officials in INZ for some time, I accept the risks are real and the risks are increasing as South Africa continues its sad decline. In making this change New Zealand is doing nothing different to what Australia has always done along with the US, Canada and more recently the UK.

Given IMMagine’s standing in this market and with Immigration New Zealand, we were telephoned yesterday and reassured by a very senior official that the arrangement that IMMagine has had for some time now with INZ to facilitate the grant of Visitor Visas to those of our clients who represent 'low risk but high quality'; who demonstrate they are skilled and employable and who do not sever their ties with South Africa, can expect to continue to be granted Visitor Visas to travel to find work. Our clients...

The question then is what does everyone else do, given a Visitor Visa is a tourist visa? My concern is those that now apply without professional assistance and protection to come to New Zealand for a holiday but who are actually coming to find employment, who later apply to change their status to work visa if they secure skilled employment, might now run the real risk of being accused of a false declaration at Visitor Visa stage.

I have seen it happen before...

So is the Government closing the door on South Africans and suggesting they are no longer welcome? No chance – it is too valuable a source of highly skilled, culturally compatible migrants that New Zealand employers want.

That has to be balanced against the risk to the integrity of our border.

Clearly, the pigeons are somewhat coming home to roost in terms of corruption inside South Africa’s public services, and no one can blame the New Zealand Government for a cautious approach in this age of international terrorism and uncertainty. Being able to buy South African passports (as I have been reliably told has happened already with at least one arrival confirming he "bought" his South African passport off Home Affairs, pleading asylum on arrival) was all the reason the Government needed to tighten things up.

For any of our many clients who this affects, we will be in touch over the next day or two with personal advice as to how this may impact you and how we can assist solving the additional complexity it now adds to an already complex process.

I do not see it as a deal breaker for our clients.

I certainly would not wish to now be entertaining a move to New Zealand as a skilled migrant or investor, however, without a very well prepared Visitor Visa application understanding the entire visa process thereafter; particularly for those needing jobs to secure a resident visa.

Managing Director, Iain MacLeod

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For any questions or further information, please contact us on info@justimmagine.com. If you're interested in attending one of our upcoming South African seminars (where this change will no doubt be mentioned), please click here.


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