It's just a thought...
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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….
Posted by Myer on July 17, 2020, 11:13 a.m. in Hong Kong
It’s been an interesting week as far as immigration policy to Australia is concerned and whilst it is supposed to be a curse in China to wish someone an interesting life, I’d have to say on the balance of probability that the past week could be described as “good interesting” with announcements from the Federal Government on the size of the migration quota for the immigration year commencing 1 July 2020 and special visa arrangements for Hong Kong citizens.
They have confirmed that until further notice, the migration program will continue in its current form and the program quotas will stay the same (160,000 migrants annually).
In terms of visa quotas this can be further broken down into:
- 108,682 places for the Skilled stream
- 47,732 places for the Family stream
- 236 places for the Special Eligiblity stream
- 3350 places for Child visas
The Department has reiterated the role that migration will play in rebuilding the economy so we don’t see a big impact on the current skills lists and numbers over the next 12 months. However, they have also advised they are focusing on the health and unemployment of Australian workers when issuing invitations to potential skilled migrants whatever that may mean.
As many of our clients are dependent on obtaining state sponsorship it was encouraging to read that the State and Territory nominated visa programs will play an important part in Australia's economic recovery and continue to be a part of the MIgration Program.
In the past week the government also announced special visa arrangements pertaining to Hong Kong citizens particularly those on student visas and intending to apply applying for student visas and also those on temporary skilled visas but as per similar announcements of this type was short on detail.
Not much detail was provided on the pathways to permanent residence, for instance the Government hasn’t specified whether normal permanent residence requirements will have to be satisfied at the end of the five year period mentioned above or whether applicants will simply obtain permanent residence (subject to character and health requirements) at the end of the five year period.
The Government has in the past made special arrangements for certain visa holders (such as New Zealand citizens) living and working in Australia for a period of five years and earning a minimum threshold and perhaps it has a similar plan in mind for Hong Kong passport holders.
I suspect the pathway referred to is meeting normal visa requirements with the special arrangements consisting of nothing more than a five year window of opportunity to do so.
The Australian Government treads a fine line between wanting to show support for Hong Kong citizens as part of the Five Eyes Alliance but at the same time not seeming to want to be granting permanent residence to approximately 11,000 additional residents at a time when Australia is experiencing increasing unemployment due to the effects of Covid 19 on the economy.
As one can imagine China didn’t take the announcement well, further straining an already strained relationship. As a result of Australia’s call for an independent enquiry into China’s handling of the Covid 19 pandemic China reacted by discouraging Chinese students from studying in Australia because of Australia’s allegedly racist attitude to Chinese. Of course nothing could be further from the truth, Australia has a $40 billion tertiary education sector that largely depends upon Chinese students.
I don’t think that Australia suddenly developed a social conscience which prompted the announcement of the special visa arrangements mentioned above, I think Australia is using the opportunity to encourage Hong Kong students, business people and skilled migrants from Hong Kong at a time when it’s becoming increasingly difficult to attract foreign students and at the same time flexing a little bit of political muscle although in this economic matchup Australia would have to be the 98 pound weakling and China resembling the Charles Atlas type of guy who just kicked sand in our face.
We've seen other announcements on the part of Government Ministers in the past that have proven to be all talk and no action such as exoressions of support on the part of Peter Dutton, The Minster of Home Affairs for White Farmers in South Africa facing extremely high murder rates so until such time we see the small print associated with announcements of this type it's difficult to determine what actions on the part of the government amount to political posturing or ulterior motices in encouoraging Hong Kong migration to Australia from genuine visa options for Hong Kong citizens.
Posted by Myer on June 26, 2020, 1:51 p.m. in Australia
The silly season is fast approaching in Australia and I’m not referring to Christmas or New Year. I am referring to 1 July which is the beginning of our immigration year and demarcates the beginning of the “silly season” in which state governments produce lists of occupations that they intend to sponsor for the immigration year that commences on 1 July 2020 and ends 30 June 2021. We are all then consumed with furious energy trying to secure state sponsorship for our clients with the limited number of places that are available her occupation.
We never know in advance which occupations are going to appear on state sponsorship lists or how many of a particular occupation the eight states or territories will sponsor but before you can apply for state sponsorship you need to have the results of your skills assessment and English-language test.
To borrow from the Christmas analogy, there are many of you that will be reading this without having done your “shopping” (skills assessment and English-language test) early and will be waiting for your occupations to appear on state sponsorship lists before you commence your shopping but for anyone with insight into how the state sponsorship program works you can’t afford to wait until such time as your occupation appears on a state sponsorship list before you “shop” for your English-language test results and skills assessment.
Perhaps I should end the shopping analogy just in case anyone forms the incorrect impression that English-language test results and skills assessments can simply be bought online. They have to be earned by obtaining a positive skills assessment from the relevant skills assessing authority and English-language test results have to be acquired through sitting one of the five possible English-language tests. Some states sponsor such a limited number of places in a particular occupation that the occupation closes often within hours or days of the publication of the state sponsorship list, for other occupations they linger on state sponsorship lists for the better part of 12 months.
Covid 19 hasn’t changed Australia’s immigration quota, we still want approximately 160,000 migrants per year with a preference that a large percentage would want to immigrate to regional Australia (i.e. the whole of Australia excluding the metropolitan areas of Melbourne, Sydney and Brisbane).
Australia doesn’t have a population policy. Our population is at present 25 million but there is no forecast figure with what our population might look like in 10 or 20 years time we have instead used our annual migration quota (currently 160,000) plus domestic growth to be a de facto population policy but many have been calling for a national debate as to formulating a population policy with the Covid 19 pandemic seen as an opportune time to have that debate.
The majority of politicians in Australia have been lamenting the fact that because of Covid 19 net migration numbers are expected to fall by 85% next year and they understand that migration does add to the economy in so many ways and that it’s a popular misconception that migrants take jobs from Australians. I should hasten to add that this drastic reduction in net migration isn’t as a result of a cut in quotas on the part of the Australian Government, rather a result of border closures in the wake of Covid 19.
On the other hand state sponsorship lists are supposed to be a representation of the skills needed by a particular state for the forthcoming immigration year and in the current economic climate with unemployment in Australia at 7.1% (from the pre-Covid rate of 5.2%) we would expect to see shorter state sponsorship lists evidencing fewer occupations in demand than when the last state sponsorship lists were produced on 1 July 2019.
It’s hard to justify the inclusion of many hospitality related occupations such as chef, Cook, restaurant manager, hotel and motel manager, hospitality manager not elsewhere classified et cetera when many of these businesses haven’t been able to trade and we just don’t know how many of them will actually continue to be in operation once government stimulus package such as Jobkeeper ends.
On the other hand Australia has traditionally always needed many of these occupations and they have always had a good representation on state sponsorship lists so if the lists are to mirror current demand for occupations they would be very short. If on the other hand state governments are forecasting what demand might be like in 8 – 11 months time we might see more generous state sponsorship lists.
Those migrants obtaining state sponsorship would probably only be factoring in a move to Australia towards the end of 2021 given current processing times and it’s going to be interesting to see whether the state sponsorship lists focus on the current economic climate or the forecasted improved economic conditions for 2021 or simply use the lists to boost migration numbers to compensate for the lost economic benefit of certain temporary visa holders such as students, working holiday visa holders and temporary workers.
Net migration also includes long-term student visa holders and as many of them can’t return to Australia to complete their courses because of border closures we may see shorter lists of occupations but more opportunity to acquire state sponsorship by those overseas who haven’t studied in Australia.
The silly season usually involves close scrutiny of state sponsorship lists and their publication (not all appear on one July) followed by frantic lodgement of state sponsorship applications and supporting documentation but given the factors mentioned above it’s perhaps going to be sillier than usual this year. I for one will be wearing my silly hat and looking forward to seeing what occupations Santa has put into my Christmas stocking this year.
Posted by Iain on March 20, 2020, 8:54 a.m. in New Zealand
At every consultation I have I remind people that the strategy we offer is based on a snapshot of their future eligibility for NZ or Australia. This is because there are so many steps and applications to third parties, English exams, skills assessments, qualification assessments, finding jobs and so on before anyone can file a visa. I warn those looking to make the move that every day they delay executing the strategy we offer, is another day for the Government to change the visa rules or things to change. I am sure more than a few think this is cynical sales talk. It has never been so.
Well, this week is the best example of that very good, non ‘sales’ related advice, I can think of!
What a week.
Last night the NZ Government announced they were closing the border from midnight. This applies to everyone except NZ citizens or (permanent) resident visa holders and on a 'case by case basis' some temporary visa holders whose partner or parent (if the visa holder is a dependent child) is in NZ on a temporary work or student visa (note, not visitor visa) and whose partner or parent is currently in New Zealand. Although the situation is rapidly evolving, INZ's messaging and advice was predictably muddled and confusing.
I have to presume that this border closure for NZ and Australia will be in place for at least a month, but I am picking it is more likely to be 12 weeks at least, as it will take that long to work this virus out of our systems. That is pure speculation on my part based on watching China, Hong Kong and Singapore deal, pretty effectively, with the virus.
I expect more restrictions on movement and gatherings will be put in place locally in NZ (and I expect, Australia).
Last week ‘self isolation’, ‘social distancing’ and ‘flattening the curve’ were all new terms for me, now it is as if they have been part of my vocabulary forever!
My wife, Karina, son Tom and I arrived back in New Zealand on Monday night from South Africa to mandatory 14 day self isolation. I left my colleague Paul behind in South Africa to do a series of seminars starting Monday evening.
We are cutting short his trip and he is flying home today, while we have the chance to get him on a flight. I don't think it will be long before all airlines are grounded except for vital trade/cargo routes. And even then only with Government support.
On Sunday night the South African President decided, belatedly in my view, it was time to address his nation on the imminent threat of Covid-19 and the measures being put in place to deal with the coronavirus, including banning meetings of 100 people or more. I suspect the horse has already bolted.
I couldn’t believe how this time last week while I was in South Africa, Covid-19 seemed such a non issue while it was rapidly spreading around the world and had already arrived in SA. Given our seminars see between 300-400 people attending we scrambled to secure multiple nights at the venues we'd booked to present two or three seminars to smaller audiences.
Unfortunately, all the hotels and venues have decided to either close for the next 6 weeks or so or are limiting meetings to no more than 10 people. No use to us, that's a knitting circle not an immigration seminar.
So Paul is heading home into self isolation.
Our Government has warned New Zealanders if they want to get home they need to leave wherever they are without any delay. As more and more airlines ground their fleets, it is definitely going to get harder to get to Australia or New Zealand over the next few weeks.
We have made a few key decisions this week:
1. All staff in Melbourne and Auckland will largely be working from home for the foreseeable future so we can minimise contact and ensure ‘social distancing’. We will have minimal and purely essential staff in the offices. The decision to spend big a few years ago on our own bespoke CRM allowing us to work from anywhere with wifi now looks like a very sensible business investment. I don’t expect clients will notice any difference to the way they interact with us.
2. Seminars - having had seminars cancelled in South Africa and made difficult in Hong Kong owing to their recent decision for almost everyone landing in Hong Kong to self isolate for 14 days, we are shortly going to offer our first online seminar to audiences in Singapore and Hong Kong. Once we iron out any wrinkles we will start offering them to our South African clients in a few weeks. In some ways I'm quite excited because the technology now exists for us to do this in a way that even a few years ago, we couldn't. Adversity sometimes forces change and those changes can be very positive. The end of my seeming never ending jetlag?
I have been very reassured by the reaction of our clients, virtually all of whom are carrying on with the process of migration and looking beyond the border closures.
For those, particularly in South Africa, who might be worried about their employment prospects, particularly in New Zealand given you need jobs to get enough ‘points’ to get visas, can I add some words of relative comfort. I have been through a few financial crises now - the 1998 Asian Financial Crisis, the fallout from the New York terrorist attacks in 2001 and the GFC of 2009/2010. None were pleasant, yet almost all clients coming to the country were still able to secure jobs. Over the past two years the majority of clients have been taking between two and eight weeks to find employment, I imagine we will be looking at three to four months or so, as clients were back in the GFC of 2008 - 2011.
I don’t want to sugar coat what is happening however. This virus is going to tip New Zealand and Australia into instant recessions. Economists here believe that the fiscal stimulus should limit it to around a 1% contraction.
Governments of both countries have cut interest rates to virtually zero and significant fiscal stimulus packages have been announced. Earlier this week the NZ government announced $5 billion of wage subsidies and health spending to prepare for the inevitable uptick in patients needing hospitalisation, equipment and if they can find them, personnel. Wage subsidies are being put in place for 12 weeks to assist employers keep staff (if you take the subsidy you cannot lay anyone off).
The Minister of Finance advised the package, amounting to 4% of GDP, is ‘just the beginning’.
The advantage NZ has is we have very low levels of public debt which currently runs around 19.5% of GDP (Italy by comparison has debt levels of 134% of GDP, the US in the order of 105% and South Africa around 65%). Our government therefore has a lot of room to borrow big and borrow cheap to get us through the next 12-24 months.
I couldn’t find a single economist finding fault with their announcements on keeping the money flowing. The sharemarket has been pretty stable this week while carnage has been the order of the day on most international sharemarkets.
On Thursday the NZ Government also announced a $54 billion infrastructure spending package covering projects over the next ten years. I suspect they were going to wait for the May budget to announce this (we are in an election year) but they wanted to give certainty to the construction companies and others that big money will be flowing as we build roads, freeways, light and heavy rail and public transport.
I expect other ‘war time’ measures to be announced over the next couple of weeks.
The Australian Government is busy announcing similar policies.
If you are sitting wondering if you are about to jump out of a frying pan into a fire (particularly those of you in South Africa) allow me to offer you some perspective on the risks. South Africa, before the outbreak of Covid-19 a couple of weeks ago, had 30% unemployment, was in a recession, had an insecure energy supply leading to power black outs virtually every day of 2-4 hours, had an insolvent national airline, bankrupt municipalities and affirmative action policies meaning the first people to lose their jobs as the recession deepens, as it will, will likely be you.…
However bad South Africa has got in recent years, it is about to get worse by degrees.
How will South Africa be able to respond when, not if, the virus gets into the overcrowded and unsanitary townships when you already have a health system that in the best of times cannot provide care for the majority of South African citizens?
New Zealand has been creating thousands more jobs every month for two years than we have had pepole to fill them. We continue to not produce enough teachers, engineers, IT workers and many more. Demand will take a hit but we come off a base of such accute skills shortages, the demand will not dry up.
If you lose your job or fear losing your job in South Africa you will still be far more employable in New Zealand than in South Africa no matter what happens here. I have long liked the frying pan and fires analogy when it comes to leaving South Africa (understandably worried about job prospects) and many South Africans and other potential migrants have asked themselves if in search of a better future they are jumping out of a frying pan into a fire by considering migration at any time. My view on South Africa has long been, that you are actually already sitting in the fire, upon which fuel is about to be poured. Migration is always hard and it is about to get a lot harder. It won’t be comfortable for a while but you won’t burn in the fire either.
I was in Hong Kong a little over a month ago. The economy is tanking there the strict border control and isolation measures, including shutting down schools, but they have shown the world how to get on top of this virus. Singapore has achieved it slightly differently but no less effectively.
I am absolutely confident NZ will cope with this. And the border closure is part of that. Shutting down the economy for three months works. It's incredibly painful and that pain awaits New Zealanders and Australians, but shutting down the border is really the only way of stopping more cases of those with the virus entering our countries.
In NZ, Australia, Hong Kong and Singapore these measures are by and large understood and accepted by almost everyone.
I am less confident about South Africa and if I had the chance to leave I’d be looking to do so, no matter how long our borders remain closed.
For those clients headed for Australia, short of any change in Government policy you are in a very good position. The process to get the visa is taking around a year to 15 months at the moment, you have the thick end of 12 months to get to Australia to activate the family’s visas once approved and you have at least another 12 months, if you headed home, to go back to Australia and settle - that’s a very enviable four year window which allows Australia plenty of time to right the economic ship which will be listing for a year or two like the rest of us.
Make no mistake, as someone who has seen a few recessions, the next few months will be brutal on all of us to a greater or lesser extent.
NZ has taken the first step in closing ourselves off from the world and although it is not good for the economy, it is the only thing to do. The US, Europe and every other nation on this planet need to do the same thing or this virus will linger and fester and destroy economies, and kill thousands more people. If we can take the hit, bear the pain and then rebuild, we will get through this.
I’d far rather take that hit in a first world, law abiding land of plentiful energy and food like New Zealand than anywhere else on this planet.
Until next week,
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.
Posted by Iain on Feb. 21, 2020, 1:26 p.m. in Skilled Migrant Category
Writing these weekly blogs is a delicate balancing act between informing over matters relating to visas and migration, hopefully with a bit of explanation into the whys and wherefores, and frightening people who might start to wonder if they are moving from or to a disorganised third world county.
I can assure you New Zealand is overwhelmingly ‘first’ world but right now the Immigration Department is operating like something from the DRC (which might be an insult to the Democratic Republic of the Congo). It isn’t corrupt but it is not functioning well. Much of that is self-inflicted but some of the blame must be directed squarely at the Minister of Immigration and his parliamentary colleagues.
On the positive side visitor visas are once again slowly being processed which is great news and we seem to be seeing more of these taking around 4-5 weeks to get through the system.
Work Visas are largely back to historical processing time norms and for most of our clients coming through in around a month for clients without health issues or any other complications.
ARTICLE UPDATED Saturday 22 February - INZ has just released advice confirming they are moving officers who process Essential skills Work Visas to process visitor visas - they are warning now of significant delays processing work visas. Allocation times on these which have been ten days to 6 weeks.
The problem continues to be resident visa processing. With every passing week the visa allocation queue gets longer and longer and longer. The greater issue now is the Government’s delay in publishing its residence programme (quotas) that was meant to be published at the latest in December last year with a start in January 2020.
All the while the Government continues to spend millions (around $11 million a year to be precise) every year marketing and encouraging skilled migrants to join that queue. Say what? You encourage them to come and find jobs, you invite them to file and pay thousands of dollars for a resident visa application and you don’t have any residence programme in place? If I did anything like that I’d lose my license, my business and I imagine I’d be facing fraud charges. It is more than a little disturbing that in all their glossy advertising they don’t warn their ‘customers’ what is happening (or more to the point, not happening). More than a little dishonest, actually.
I am not saying that those that have applied will be declined, only that we cannot tell them when they are going to be approved.
All the while, INZ continues its 30% staff churn every year, meaning as fast as they develop some institutional knowledge of policy, which should lead to higher productivity, faster and better decisions…people leave. The department continues to be undermined by the good people leaving and the deadwood hanging around.
My senior colleague Paul was bemoaning the fact that on Wednesday this week he was having five pretty inane yet critical conversations with five different immigration officers about visa rules that are plain and simple to understand if you’ve been doing this as long as he has, but which the officers not only did not understand, but when it was explained how they were misinterpreting or misunderstanding the rule in question, they ran off to their line supervisors who circled the wagons around them and defended them (God knows how) and the line managers above both, then joined the defensive lines.
I’m all for a united front when it is justified, but when the rules clearly require a particular type of evidence and these officers insist on something different, despite history and precedent (if not common sense) supporting our interpretation, it is embarrassing for the department and by extension, the country. Yet no one ever blushes. Managers generally won’t intervene in applications (they probably call it ‘empowerment’, I call it abdication of professional responsibility) and they let the junior and inexperienced staff get on with ruining lives.
The Department might be staffed and managed by people that as a colleague snidely suggested after this weeks antics, ‘I wouldn’t let manage my Big Mac Order’ but they are not entirely to blame.
While the Department in my experience has weak leadership, the Minister of Immigration and the current Government has an awful lot to answer for. With every passing month they continue to demonstrate they are clueless.
The Government was supposed to announce their residence programme last year for the 18 months from January 2020. That programme confirms how many resident visas they intend dishing out over the following 18 months. The target was 60,000 in the 18 months ending December 2019 under all categories. Previous Governments released their programme before the end of the current programme. The current one is now two months overdue.
Without a programme INZ cannot approve too many resident visas. The Government will at some point soon get around to releasing the programme quota or targets but in the meantime, they are keeping everyone, including INZ, guessing.
Therefore INZ is restricting themselves to only giving priority processing to those skilled migrants earning a high salary ($104,000, about to become $106,000) or those with NZ occupational registration. I still cannot fathom why they believe those applicants are better ‘value’ for New Zealand and more worthy of priority than the rest of the applicants who paid the same fee. Everyone who is non priority as I have previously written about is being told to suck it up and wait, no matter the uncertainty, inconvenience, cost and frustration that is causing them.
One presumes the Government will come up with a number but in the meantime no ‘non priority’ resident visa application receipted after 11 December 2018 has or will be allocated until INZ knows what their target/quota is.
I am certain that the upcoming election in September is dictating the thinking inside the halls of power. Having promised to cut skilled migrant numbers and doing it when they took power in 2017; having abandoned the promise to build us 100,000 houses over their first ten years in power (not least because of skills shortages), recently over turning their own 2017 cancellation of over $8 billion worth of much needed infrastructure projects of road, rail, hospitals and schools, they now find themselves in a visa numbers pickle.
To deliver on these new infrastructure projects, to keep Auckland employers happy and the country growing, they need more, not fewer, skilled migrants. But they promised the cut and I cannot see them backing down on it. There’s only so many back downs and u-turns you get away with before the voters realise they voted in a bunch of wallies.
So things continue in processing limbo for the vast majority of skilled migrants.
I am increasingly recommending Australia over New Zealand (those that know me know how much that hurts!). The problem with Australia these days is not so much processing delays (they too cut their numbers which has led to faster processing times) but they are increasingly only issuing five year ‘work to resident visas’. That doesn’t suit a lot of people looking for certainty in troubled times particularly in South Africa and Hong Kong.
I just wish politicians might appreciate immigration isn’t ideological, it is driven by labour market reality. If employers cannot secure the skills they need on a long term basis they will not grow - in fact with an ageing population, businesses will shrink. Surely it a non-partisan issue? We either need Teachers, Engineers, Solutions Architects, Nurses, Carpenters and Welders among others or we do not.
If we continue to not encourage (force if they want subsidised tertiary study?) our own young people into courses the labour market wants (enough lawyers, already!), we will continue to need to supplement our work force with foreign talent. If we restrict those foreigners with the skills we desperately need because we are creating so many jobs, to a few years on a work visas, most won’t come.
These delays for those applicants in the system already has more than an emotional impact. Even if no one in Government gives a toss about the migrants, I am hoping they give a damn about the employers of New Zealand, the tax take and all the New Zealand jobs at risk if businesses have to start thinking about downsizing or not taking on that additional export order because they cannot offer certainty to the migrant they need to complete their labour force planning.
This numbers question will pass (the fools inside INZ will remain) and a degree of certainty will return, but right now it has never been as bad as it is currently trying to help people make decisions and plans.
I can just imagine the Government announcing an unchanged quota or even a reduced one and with a straight face tell us all that the decision was not based on internal squabbling between the Labour Party and the tiny but powerful anti immigrant NZ First party (to whom the Labour Party must daily grovel to stay in power) but something like ‘the economic fundamentals of New Zealand remain strong but the external economic environment is becoming less certain, creating short term challenges for local businesses caused by the coronavirus and head winds in our export markets, suggesting to the coalition government that it is appropriate to take a cautious approach to the numbers of visas we approve.’
And the Minister or the Prime Minister will say, ‘We think on balance we have the numbers about right’.
Bullshit we do.
Until next week
Posted by Iain on Feb. 14, 2020, 4:22 p.m. in Skilled Migrant Category
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.
Until next week
Posted by Iain on Jan. 31, 2020, 5:09 p.m. in Skilled Migrant Category
Two weeks ago I wrote a blog which explained how the immigration department is allocating Skilled Migrant Category (SMC) Resident Visa applications and how they are choosing to prioritise.
I did that in part because we have received a small number of emails from clients in recent months along the lines of "Why is my application going to take one year to be allocated when my friends were allocated more quickly and they lodged their application after we did?”
I contacted the Regional Manager and the Resident Visa Operations Manager for the Manukau branch where all SMC migrant cases are now processed and put this question to them.
They replied, very emphatically, that unless an application meets the criteria for priority processing, which is either the principal applicant has a high salary ($104,000 per annum) or they work in an occupation for which registration in New Zealand is a statutory requirement and they hold that registration, they would not be afforded priority. All those applications are going to be allocated in ‘strict chronological order of receipt’. I have no doubt that once allocated, our cases will be processed very quickly because they are "decision ready" when they are submitted. Those going it alone I imagine will take many months even once allocated so most people are probably looking at 18-24 months more or less from the time the file their application.
These Managers went on to confirm that the only cases being bumped up the queue are those that are already in the priority queue.
That is to say they are now prioritising some of the prioritised cases! One example I was offered was a surgeon living in a regional area i.e. outside of Auckland. I have no idea why that person is more important than the local electrician (registration) or the Accountant earning $104,000 but there you are. A priority system within a priority system - how very INZ.
What we tend to find is when clients give us their “But my friend…” stories and we get more information about those friends, we usually find that the applicant meets one of the criteria for prioritisation.
I don't believe that the senior managers are lying and I do stand by the piece I wrote two weeks ago in which I explained that the backlogs are growing because the government is now holding INZ to what appears to be an annual quota of SMC resident visas they can issue, rather than the "target" they previously described the annual visa numbers as.
There is no doubt in my mind that it’s politics at play and the fact that we have an election coming up in September, the country is groaning under an infrastructure deficit and the last thing the government wants going into a new election is even more population pressure and the house price inflation that has been created in recent years. Especially when all three parties to the current government campaigned in 2017 on cutting immigration numbers and set out to do so.
I am going to be intrigued to see what the biggest party making up government, the Labour Party, announces its immigration policy to be this time round. Given that they rule at the pleasure of the very small New Zealand First party, a small anti-immigration party (at least whilst not in Government), I am not sure they will have the courage of their historical convictions that migration is a positive force not a negative one. Things change when you want to get your hands on the levers of power.
I outlined three possible options two weeks ago that the government might adopt to deal with the backlog that is rapidly growing:
1. Increase the pass mark significantly but that has downside economic risks particularly in Auckland as we need every single skilled migrant that is finding work in New Zealand or live with the economic contraction keeping them out will almost certainly cause; or
2. Let the visa allocation times get longer and longer and effectively kick the can down the road at least till after the election. I suspect this is what they will do until the election is out of the way. All bets are off once a new government is in place.
3. Nuclear option - shut down the policy temporarily. They did it with the parent category but I don't believe they would be stupid enough to do it with the skilled migrant category. There is simply too much at stake economically.
The smartest move would be to recognise that every skilled migrant who jumps through the hoops to find a job whilst on a Visitor Visa is obviously in acute demand in New Zealand. No New Zealand employer employs migrants and deals with the Visa process if they can find locals. A simple truth, always ignored by all those who complain about "mass migration" and filling up New Zealand with "cheap foreign labour” (and you would be quite surprised how many people think that!). We have neither mass migration, nor is New Zealand being flooded by cheap foreign labour. Foreigners actually have to earn around 20% more than locals or they don't get work visas.
The government should have the courage of their economic convictions and revert to describing the annual number of resident visas they are prepared to issue as a ‘target’ and not a quota. Funny how when they weren't filling the annual numbers two years ago we were told the ‘magic number’ wasn't a quota but a ‘target’ and it was about ‘quality not quantity’. Now however it seems to be a quota and it is about quantity and not quality.
Back to the ‘My friend’ stories however. If you know of anybody that has filed a resident Visa application under the SMC policy who is not earning $104,000 a year or does not hold registration in New Zealand in their occupation, but has been given priority, I would very much like to hear about it. Email me at
I do believe the senior departmental managers when they tell me they are not prioritising anybody else and not allowing people to queue jump but at the same time I know the immigration department is consistently inconsistent and its management doesn't always know what is going on at counter level.
I don't rule out INZ management believing people are not jumping the queue, but that doesn’t mean queue jumping is not taking place nonetheless.
I'd like to find out.
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 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)
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