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Immigration Blog

REGULAR POSTS FROM NEW ZEALAND & AUSTRALIA

Posts with tag: visas

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.

Stay ahead of the pack

Posted by Iain on Sept. 25, 2020, 10:01 a.m. in COVID-19

It’s our bottom line advice to those looking to move to New Zealand or Australia and who believe they have the skills or capital that the Australian and New Zealand Government’s traditionally have sought out. If you leave it too long till borders are fully reopen not only might you be waiting a long time but you might also be caught up with hundreds of thousands of people looking for the ‘arrivals’ door at airports across New Zealand and Australia.

I cannot believe over the past six months how many people are contacting us, now desperate to leave wherever they are and join us on one of our islands. For islands, even big ones like Australia, are currently viewed as the safest places to be during a global pandemic and beyond. Not hard to control the border when you can simply shut down flying. If Trump is re-elected in the US, Boris continues to stuff up Brexit, Europe continues to groan under the weight of illegal migrants and legal refugees, South Africa continues its inexorable economic decline, Hong Kongers realise the BNO passport might not be the answer to their China fears and Singapore battles with its economic recovery, we will continue to be busy as people’s priorities continue to shift. Countries like New Zealand and Australia with lower population densities, solid health systems and sensible Governments are simply going to become more and more popular.

The fact that the Australian Government has already signalled that it is not cutting permanent residence quotas this year and next is telling. Over the past quarter century a significant percentage of Australia’s GDP growth has come from the two ‘M’s - ‘mining’ and ‘migration’. The PM has already signalled it is his (wise) intention to let business, rather than Government, dig, literally it seems, Australia out of its recession. China is back buying up lots of ore. Migrants consume - all need houses, cars, flat screen TVs and lounge suites - and therefore spend money when they get off the plane which explains why Australia doesn’t want to cut and continues to process residence cases.

I am pleasantly surprised by this given Australian unions have enormous and disproportionate political power and in times of rising unemployment in Australia you’d think they’d be arguing for the labour market drawbridge to be pulled up. The unions might well be but the wind is blowing nicely at the back of the pro-business federal Government that has increased in popularity given its handling of the virus. Any calls for restricting migration are for the most part being drowned out.

In New Zealand and as I wrote last week, no political party has signalled what it is going to do with immigration policy settings or quotas if it makes it to the treasury benches next month. My guess is the Labour Party will be governing with the Green Party. If that happens you can expect no real change to immigration policy settings - strangely immigration simply doesn’t seem to be part of either parties social or economic policy mix despite the current economic downturn. The National Party seems to have no ideas on immigration and the changing needs of our labour market which signals status quo if by some miracle they form the next Government.

If and when international travel starts again the smart migrant will be prepared. They will have their papers in order and their bags packed. The competition for available and limited places is only going to heat up when (if) there is a vaccine even if that prospect is still 12-24 months away.

We are working hard with over 600 families many now who have heeded that advice, see the logic and are getting prepared.

Those that have options in Australia can still file their permanent or provisional residence visas and we are filing many. Preparation, lodging and processing times for Australia is still running around 15-18 months to approval with the thick end of a further year on top to get to Australia to activate the residence so those getting things underway now will be well placed when the Aussies allow those with PRVs to enter Australia (right now they are extending deadlines for those with them to travel, as is NZ).

The current NZ Government recently said that skills shortages would ‘primarily’ need to be addressed from within New Zealand. I thought it took four years to train an apprentice, to complete a Bachelor of Education degree, five years to complete an Engineering degree (if there is an intermediate year), ditto Veterinarians and at least six years to complete a medical or dental degree. What do they propose we do in the meantime if we need to see a Doctor or Dentist or we actually decide to start building some of the billions of dollars worth of infrastructure projects this lot keep harping on about? We don’t have the skills in the quantity we require.

The immediate challenge for the next Government in New Zealand is whether they are going to adapt to the new needs of the labour market - both skilled and less skilled - or they are going to stick with the current ‘get a skilled job and have enough ‘points’ and you are in’ strategy.  In many respects the NZ system makes more sense in a non Covid world than the Australian one as ours is labour market driven. In NZ the system is self correcting - if there aren’t enough people to fill annual quotas because they cannot get jobs, the pass mark can fall. If however demand increases, as I can see happening when the border fully reopens, the opposite should happen and the pass mark should go up. 

The big problem with this Covid world however is it is virtually impossible to manage that demand. This time last year the problem was too many jobs being created in NZ and not enough locals to fill them and therefore huge demand for migrants. Now, although unemployment is only 4% and that demand will have fallen as employers nervously try to map their future employment needs, skills shortages are not going away any time soon and to suggest, even in the heat of an election campaign that employers should fill jobs locally is wilfully ignorant of where the skills pressure points are in the labour market. If the Government is re-elected and continue that line, businesses will not expand - they won’t be able to. We rely too heavily on importing the skills we don’t produce enough of.

The reality is rising unemployment is not going to solve the bulk of our skills shortages. At IMMagine we are constantly being approached by recruiters asking if we can get border exemptions if a foreign candidate gets a job - particularly in the trades, Engineering, teaching and IT.

What our next government must look at in the short term is granting border exemptions to a far greater number of occupations than they do now. People are still being offered jobs here but for the most part rely on some low level state functionary to grant a border exemption to travel here to take up the job. And that process is dogged by inconsistent decision making.

As businesses in New Zealand learn to live with the virus (as clearly there is no alternative, eradicating is a pipe dream) employers are going to have to be able to bring in those skills we still don’t have, rising unemployment or not.

The smart migrant then will be ready and waiting. Prepared. Avoiding the ever growing pack queuing up behind them.

Until next week

Iain MacLeod

Southern Man

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Is the border about to reopen

Posted by Iain on May 29, 2020, 2:47 p.m. in Immigration New Zealand

This week the Director General of Health, clearly our de facto Health Minister during the Covid-19 crisis given the ongoing absence of the elected one, made an interesting and telling comment - virus testing was moving from the community to the border. The obvious conclusion is that with there being only one person left in the country with the Coronavirus this week and no new cases being reported and community transmission halted, this was the clearest signal yet the government is looking to start to gradually re-open the border.

So who might stand to benefit and who might be allowed in?

Seems to start with being a movie mogul with the Minister responsible for ‘exceptions’ to the border closure announcing this week that the crew required to complete the ongoing filming and production of the Avatar sequel are to be allowed in. Apparently they have special skills we do not have here which is doubtful given the size of the local movie, television and commercial production industry.

What of the thousands of other highly skilled workers we still need on the farms, in IT, education, biotech, trades and Engineering - many of whom still have jobs but are either trapped offshore or are in New Zealand with work visas in process?

I can imagine that the next cabs off the rank will be the hundreds of current work visa holders who still have jobs here, had been working here, but who were overseas when the border shut down. Strangely they are still not allowed to re-enter the country despite many of those quarantine hotel rooms now sitting empty.

At the same time those with valid work visas (but who hadn't taken up the job in NZ when the border was closed) should in my view be allowed to enter along with their families. We represent many - IT Security Specialists and Vets to name two - who work in areas of absolute skills shortage who are marooned offshore, leaving local employers tearing their hair out. All our clients have been invited to apply for residence but are unable to take up their respective jobs. All are resigned to 14 days quarantine if that’s what it takes.

Joining them should be partners and children of international student and work visa holders where the student or work visa holder is already in the country. This group was listed among those who could apply for exceptions to be allowed to enter the country when it went into lockdown in March but who were quietly dropped off that list within a fortnight. This has meant hundreds, if not a few thousand, people have had their families torn apart with no end in sight. If the primary applicant is in New Zealand and is still on a valid work or student visa, and in the case of those on work visas, has a job, it is only right (can I say ‘kind’ one more time?) their family should be able to join them.

Then, everyone else.

Tourists I imagine need not apply till there is a vaccine or they are prepared for two weeks of staring at the four walls of a hotel room in quarantine (potentially at their expense) if they are tested on arrival and found to be positive.

I am not saying this will be the order or when it might happen. I do not know and apart from that one telling statement from the Director General, the government has, typically, been silent. I expect however that they will make some announcements over the next couple of weeks.

In a demonstration of how low on the Government’s priority ‘to do’ list immigration really features, what did send a chill down my spine was when, finally, at a press conference this week the PM was asked how a person who seeks to enter the country while the borders are closed should be expected to demonstrate ‘compelling and exceptional humanitarian circumstances’ to get a precious exemption when the form they have to fill provides them 60 words to do so (that’s less than the length of the sentence you just read), she scrunched up her face in quizzical fashion, as she tends to do, and said she wasn’t aware of that but would ask her (ghost) Minister of Immigration why this is the case. Nice deflection Jacinda, but here we are, several days later, and the form hasn’t changed. Did all those Avatar movie makers have to explain in 60 words or less why they should be allowed in?

On the home front we are starting to see the immigration department get back to work and back to their bizarre assessment ways with some new tricks.

I have written previously, that the department was about to ‘go hard and then go even harder’ on new Essential Skill Work Visa applications. They haven’t let me down and have come up, it seems, with some inventive but typically illogical and stupid methods to ensure as few work visas are issued as possible.

For any typical work visa applicant it has always been a requirement that the employer demonstrate a genuine effort to recruit locals for a position and to prove why they cannot train someone for the role. Fair enough - with local unemployment looking to spike to 8-9% by the end of June before starting to fall depending on whose thumb suck predictions you run with — it should be New Zealanders first. Every Government, everywhere, thinks likes that.

Trouble is when you ask a bureaucrat to start applying an otherwise reasonable thought, requiring some exercise in discretion, they tend to go to extremes while their ‘managers’ sit back and watch them do it (Managers inside this department can’t tell anyone what to do you see. Fact).

Already this week we have seen two clients, both highly skilled and specialised receive ‘letters of concern’ (identical to one another it should be noted confirming already this isn’t an ‘each case on its merits’ process) in which the case officer wants to know what current advertising the employer is doing to fill the role.

Say what?

What employer follows a recruitment process of advertising, evaluating CVs, creating a short list of potentially suitable candidates, conducts interviews, selects one, formally offers a position and then continues to advertise the role? In which part of the universe does that ever happen?

Unfortunately some well-intentioned fool in Wellington sent out the following message in a recent guidance and as usual this has been taken, twisted, misinterpreted and then, like a virus, infected all case officers:

'Immigration officers should not specifically request that employers re-advertise a role (as this is not a request for information) though employers may choose to do this if an immigration officer is not satisfied that there are no New Zealanders available and that immigration instructions are not met'

Breaking that down it is clear that immigration officers are under no obligation to request, nor even suggest, that employers re-advertise a role... yet that is precisely what, in the only two cases we have received letters from INZ over work visas this week, they demand.

'Please send the following:

Updated advertising information to show there are no New Zealand citizens or residents available to do the work on offer and genuine attempts to attract and recruit suitable New Zealand citizens or residence class visa holders for the role have been made'

Identical letters. Neither officer bothered to explain why they are not satisfied that there are no New Zealanders available, just cut and pasted an identical templated letter that burbled on about the Coronavirus, local labour market softening, times are a changin' and then, as they tend to do, taken a one size fits all approach and demanded evidence of updated advertising.

Which begs any number of questions.

Why were they not satisifed with the genuine efforts made by the employer?

What evidence does the department have of current vacancies in that particular field? Are they up, down, sideways? What is the short, medium and long term labour market outlook for, say Veternarians in NZ or IT Security Specialists?

Given the employer had done all that immigration rules demand, in an often lengthy and comprehensive process leading to their decision to offer a migrant a job, if they do now run another advertisement online for a week or two, start the process over again but reach the same conclusion and (re)offer the job to the same non-resident, is the case officer going to accuse them of not making 'genuine efforts' the second time around and still not being 'satisifed' no New Zealander should be available?

I believe they are stupid enough to do it because they have clearly got it in their heads that they should be demanding new advertising to make sure a Kiwi steps forward. All in an effort to find a way, any way, to decline the work visa.

Honestly, I despair. If the advertising programme run by the employer finished, say, less than two-three weeks before the work visa application was assessed by an officer, why would INZ demand new advertising? Is the labour market going to shift seismically in 14-21 days?

If the advertising was completed before the country went into lockdown and jobs starting being shed locally I can better understand the employer being encouraged to have another crack at advertising OR INZ doing its own labour market research.

And if they are going to demand real time labour market testing, isn't the onus on the immigration department to receipt an application and assess it the day the application was filed? These applications can sit around for weeks in the best of times before case officers bother to look at them. They are seriously expecting employers to wait weeks until it is assessed, before getting this 'please advertise again' letter, then advertise again (which to do properly will take weeks), only to have some immmigration officer tell them that 'at the time of assessment' (not lodgement) 'I am not satisfied there may not be a local available'? Probably... because that's how they think. And it clearly what they have been told to do.

Is this a covert way of shutting down the skilled migrant residence programme without publicly announcing it?

I seriously doubt it - work visa rules exist in isolation from skilled migrant residence rules and I haven't ever come across a senior manager inside INZ who sees any connection (despite both visa outcomes relying on the same job offer, one which is labour market tested and one which is not), it seems to me to simply be another glaring example of a bureaucracy that makes decisions in a reality vacuum with no real understanding of how the real world operates and real businesses operate within that world.

The border might be about to open up a smidge but I fear the visa madness is only just the beginning.

Post script: Last week I wondered if those sitting in the Skilled Migrant Residence Visa processing queue, whose visa INZ hadn't got round to processing or approving when the lockdown started, might be treated with kindness and as part of the 'team of 5 million' if they lost their job, the conditions of that job (such as hours or effective hourly rate) changed such that they are no longer entitled to 50 or 80 points.  INZ had this to say today:

'The conditions in a work-to-residence work visa or a job offer associated with a skilled migrant category visa application must be met for the applicant to be eligible for residence.

'Must be met'. Meaning if you have lost your job, do lose your job, have your hours and or have your pay cut then you are screwed. 

My question of last week appears to have been answered and so much for all being in this together. Migrants might well be out in the cold and are not considered part of the 'team of 5 million' and are deemed expendable.

Until next week

Iain MacLeod

Southern Man

 

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What Does Level 3 Hold For Visa Processing

Posted by Iain on April 24, 2020, 11:46 a.m. in New Zealand

Global media reports this week that Australia and New Zealand have just leapt to the top of the preferred countries to migrate to globally as people contemplate what the future might look like in a world that has not eliminated the coronavirus and for which there may not be a vaccine for quite some time, if ever. We were always popular destinations but very flattering to become number one and number two. But who got the gold medal? On this occasion let me just say it doesn't really matter. First among equals and all that.

This might have something to do with the fact that in New Zealand we are on track to eradicate the virus (virtually insignificant numbers of infections per day) and Australia has done a mighty fine job of containing things there. Internationally New Zealand is getting great praise for the way it is handling the epidemic. On a personal level I think Australia has done a better job as they didn't shut down the economy to the extent that we did and on a per capita basis their infection rate and death rate is broadly similar to our own.

As a business, we’ve already started to get more inquiries from people with lots of money interested in one, or both countries. For some time New Zealand has been viewed as something of a bolthole for wealthy Europeans and Americans, and more than a few Chinese. The fact that New Zealand has borders easy to protect, an abundance of food and sustainable energy makes it a very attractive country to live.

Reports here that shortly before the lockdown Learjets and Gulfstreams were practically falling out of the skies as, in particular, wealthy Americans, headed for their holiday homes, farms and bunkers primarily in Te Wai Pounamu/South Island of New Zealand. Yes, that's right, bunkers. There are apparently scores of these that have been built underground in recent years and some equipped with gyms, home theatres, squash courts and one imagines, several thousand cans of baked beans (or caviar). The cheap ones come in around $1 million and the expensive ones far more. Word was out many years ago in Silicon Valley that if the world looked like it was going to come to an end, New Zealand was a mighty fine place to watch it happen (at least until your caviar ran out).

I do not wish to rain on anyone's parade but I don't have any doubt that there will be zero appetite with this government to give preference to people with lots of money. In fact to be fair on this government, no government of any persuasion in New Zealand has really gone out and chased the super wealthy. It has always been politically a non-starter given New Zealanders egalitarian and socialist beliefs and in my experience the limited value that very rich people bring to the country anyway. I can't speak for Australia but I have little doubt politically it would be a nonstarter there as well. Both countries set aside, relative to their entire residency programs, very small numbers of visas for the wealthy.

With the Immigration Department in NZ announcing yesterday they will not be returning to work when New Zealand moves to Level 3 at midnight on Monday, it is clear that Visa processing is going to continue to be delayed and chaotic for the foreseeable future. Level 3 is expected to last at least two weeks. I can live with this virus but I struggle to live with an immigration department that has been thoroughly exposed during this time for being even more inept and ill prepared than even I thought possible. And that is saying something.

The fact they seem to have had no contingency planning in the event that its staff might need to work from home is as shocking as it is, in hindsight, unsurprising.

It is interesting that when the major earthquake events occurred in Christchurch in 2011 we got a picture of how disruptive it was to the entire global operation of the immigration department when one physical branch, of around fifteen, was knocked out of action. The flow on effect of that was incredibly disruptive for months. Nine years later(!) when the country goes into lockdown it is scarcely believable that since the Christchurch event the department had still not developed its IT systems to the point where staff could effectively work remotely.

In my view the Auditor General should be doing a thorough audit of the department and without doubt heads should be rolling. This did not need to happen.

In Australia, the immigration department was deemed to be an essential service (only those immigration officers at the border were in NZ) and have continued to function from their offices. None have died. Processing of visa has slowed but not stopped.

I fail to understand how it has been possible for the immigration department here to never plan for disruption.

In a further bizarre announcement, late Wednesday this week, we were told that with their "limited capacity" priority is going to be given to Visa applicants seeking protection from "domestic violence" and, more sensibly, partners and children of New Zealand citizens and residents. The fact is domestic violence applications have always been tiny in number and even the police announced yesterday that while levels of domestic violence did increase in the first week or so of lockdown it quickly returned to historic levels. Hard to understand then why those Visa applicants are going to get priority over all those people that need to change jobs, change their hours, are being made redundant, might need Visa extensions because they can't leave the country and so on. It is an interesting set of priorities.

We are warning our clients that processing queues are about to get even longer.

Now, nearly five weeks into the lockdown communications coming out of the department continue to be sporadic, vague and what is posted on their website usually contradicts the actual rulebook that is being amended with each new announcement. Getting straight answers is virtually impossible right now and we are continually told ‘The questions are sitting on the Minister’s desk awaiting his action’. The deafening silence and lack of direction is leading to a lot of very frustrated and angry clients unable to make decisions although thankfully the significant majority appreciate we cannot control what the Minister and what visas the department choses to prioritise.

Although the immigration department in Australia is open for business my colleagues in Melbourne have confirmed that decisions are very few and far between over there as well. At least however they haven’t ground to a complete standstill as their equivalents have in NZ.

On a brighter note, as we all have to contemplate new ways of doing business I delivered my first online seminar on Saturday last week to people in Hong Kong, Singapore and Malaysia. The psychology of looking at a green light on a computer screen rather than a sea of faces in a ball room in a hotel in Singapore or Hong Kong was quite something. It seems to have gone fairly well, following a few early technical glitches and we will be repeating the exercise shortly. If you, friends or family would like to register their interest and they live in one of those three countries, they can do so here.

My colleague Paul presented a seminar on Thursday morning to 200 or so people in South Africa. That too seems to have gone very well and we do intend offering another seminar in a fortnight’s time. If you have friends or family that might wish to express their interest, they can register here

The Immigration Department might not be able to process too many visas right now but for the rest of us, we are still hard at work trying to make it happen.

Until next week

Iain MacLeod

Southern Man

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Tags: visas

A Bird in the Hand is Worth Two in the Bush

Posted by Myer on Jan. 24, 2020, 9:31 a.m. in Australia

These days those wanting to immigrate to Australia are increasingly having to compromise on the type of visa they apply for and having to “settle” for a visa that affords lesser rights than those that they would ideally prefer to have. This has prompted me to use the expression mentioned in the title of this blog more and more these days in consultation with those wanting to immigrate to Australia.

So many people express a preference for the points tested skilled independent visa (189 PR visa), perhaps because a friend or family member had used this visa to immigrate to Australia in the past. Or because they like the thought of a visa that doesn’t require ‘sponsorship’ of any kind, is valid for five years and enables one to immigrate to any part of Australia. When put like that, what’s not to like?

These days however obtaining a 189 visa is a bit like attending a Mexican party, having too many tequilas and trying to hit the piñata with a blindfold. In other words, very difficult to predict the required points score, and even more difficult to obtain.

The points for the 189 PR visa sit around 95, which is almost impossible for most people. It has almost been designed for those that have studied in Australia. Australia has provided incentives to international students to study in Australia by giving them certain bonus points for study towards an Australian degree, points for study in regional Australia, completion of a professional work year, and points for one year of work experience in Australia.

 It’s very difficult for anyone else based overseas who hasn’t studied in Australia to compete with the point scores that these onshore international students could potentially obtain. As a result highly qualified and experienced skilled migrants with maximum points for age, english, and work experiences simply cannot get the points required.

Part of the problem is that 42% percent of the annual quota of 189 visas has been allocated to regional state-sponsored visas, and because the 189 visa is a function of limited supply and high demand passmarks have reached impossibly high levels. Four years ago we were successfully processing significant numbers of clients for 189 visas at 60 points, today one needs a minimum of 95 points.

I don’t think that anyone should be contemplating a move to Australia expecting a subclass 189 visa and should always rely on our “backup plan”. That plan is a state-sponsored visa as it is the most likely option as these visas have a fixed pass mark of 65 points (although some states will insist upon higher point scores for certain occupations before they agree to sponsor).

There are essentially two state-sponsored visas the subclass 190 visa and the subclass 491 visa. The first is a permanent resident visa (just like the 189) and the second is what we call ‘work to residence or temporary residence).

The 190 visa allows one to live and work anywhere in Australia although an undertaking is made to the sponsoring state to live and work in that state for a period of two years.

The 491 visa is a regionally sponsored visa with conditions. These include the requirement to live and work in regional Australia (any part of Australia excluding metropolitan Sydney, Melbourne and Brisbane) and work for a period of three years earning a minimum gross income of AU$53,900 for each of those three years before one can then apply for permanent residence. The permanent residence process is not overly complicated nor prolonged.

State sponsorship of the 491 visa is worth more points and perhaps more significantly, increasingly many more states will sponsor occupations for the 491 visa than the 190 visa. It’s generally therefore an “easier” visa to obtain.

Given the fact that the 189 visa is off the table for most applicants and given a choice of state-sponsored visas, most applicants would of course prefer the 190 visa rather than the more restrictive 491 visa. The question arises how long is one prepared to wait for either a 189 or 190 visa when the 491 visa is the one that is more readily available because it’s the easier one to obtain.

At what point do you decide to take the bird in the hand (the 491 visa) as opposed to hoping, for hope is what you are signing up for, for one of the other two types of general skilled migration visa?

The 491 visa allows you to live and work anywhere in Australia that is regarded as regional (and regional should not be confused with rural). Each member of the family unit is covered for state funded healthcare (Medicare), children can attend primary and secondary schools at the same rates that Australian citizens can and both spouses have full work rights. There is no requirement for the main applicant to work at all, let alone work in their ‘nominated occupation.

I think the 491 visa should be seriously considered, if only because for many people in 2020, it is the only credible option. The reality is many of our clients don’t want to live in the larger cities of Melbourne, Sydney and Brisbane. One reason is property prices are considerably higher in these cities (the median house price in Melbourne is AU$850,000 and in Sydney the median house costs 11 times the median salary). Both Melbourne and Sydeny are groaning under the pressure of too many people so the smaller capital cities (with between 1 million and two million people - we aren’t talking villages here) offer a superior work/life balance. Adelaide, Canberra, Gold Coast, Perth and Hobart (to mention a few) are regarded as ‘regional’ under the policy.

In fact the 491 shouldn’t be called a ‘regional’ visa, it should be called a ‘stay from the Big 3’ visa.

Many Australians are opting to move out of the ‘big 3’ cities to take advantage of all that regional Australia has to offer, so we suggest our clients do likewise - if the priority is to secure a future in Australia.

At the end of the day the visa that you apply for has to meet your objectives and if it is your intention to settle in Melbourne, Sydney or Brisbane, the 491 visa is not for you. Equally the possibilities of being allowed to settle in one of the big three cities is being increasingly restricted by design.

If you want a visa that provides a definitive pathway to permanent residence and gets you to Australia in the shortest possible time the 491 certainly is our 'go to' option these days as it very much represents little and to us is 'the bird in your hand'.


Work Visa Change Proposals

Posted by Iain on Jan. 25, 2019, 3:04 p.m. in Work Visa

This week I’ve been part of a group of Advisers pulling together a submission to take to government on the proposed changes to work visa policy.

I am never quite sure whether it is worthwhile making submissions to an ideologically driven government that has certain ideas in its political head not supported by any real evidence but I've decided to chip in anyway given the importance of this issue.

What is really disturbing about the proposals is they seem to be predicated on the misguided belief that there is rampant exploitation of migrants in the labour market and therefore employers look likely to be forced to apply for accreditation with the government before any work visas can be filed. In essence, prove you are a good employer. Accreditation effectively means the government trusts that employer to do what is right by New Zealand, New Zealanders and any migrants they might be allowed to employ. On paper it's not a bad idea but in 30 years of dealing with immigration matters a good idea given to a bunch of bureaucrats to operationalise normally ends in tears.

I would make two very strong points to government.

Show us the evidence that migrant exploitation in the local labour market is so rampant it requires an overhaul of rules that seem to have served New Zealand's interests without leading to exploitation of migrants pretty well for 30 years. Show us the evidence!

I am not suggesting there aren't isolated issues but my advice to the government would be to focus on those industries including hospitality, farming, tourism and aged care. Do not make it harder for the vast majority of employers to fill vacancies in a labour market where we are creating thousands of jobs a month more than we can fill locally.

One of my suggestions as part of the submission process is that the government knows full well which industries and what sorts of businesses see isolated issues with ripping off of migrants. Surely, rather than taking the sledgehammer to the walnut and imposing an onerous process on the 95% of employers who act with honour and integrity, government should come down hard on, or perhaps create a separate work visa process for those industries where some credible independent evidence of exploitation might be proven.

The reality is any employer looking to support a work visa application today is required to present a lot of information about their workplace practices, employment history, financial viability and sustainability. Compliance checks I would argue are already rigorous enough to act as a disincentive to those employers who might be inclined to either rip off the system or a migrant.

Although it is lost on governments of our current persuasion, adding a disincentive to the significant majority of good employers who appreciate that the only real asset any of them have is their staff, is insane and an absolute overreaction.

The second point is that the immigration department is great on overpromising and under delivering. No doubt they will sweet talk the government on their ability to process all of this in a timely manner which will keep employers happy, protect vulnerable migrants and deliver on the government’s misplaced obsession about protecting migrants from exploitation. B-S they will.

Most branches of Immigration New Zealand today are quoting eight weeks before a work visa is even allocated for processing and another 6 to 8 weeks to process the actual visa. Before any of IMMagine's clients freak out the overwhelming majority are processed far more quickly than that because we know which phone numbers to call.

There is no way if these processing times become entrenched, or added to, because employers will have to file separate accreditation applications before a work Visa can be filed, that employers are going to employ migrants in the numbers they are today.

New Zealand's unemployment rate today is 3.8%. One of the discussion points that came out of this week’s meeting of Advisers, is that of the 110,000 odd people who are seeking work (apparently) the majority are basically unemployable. Interestingly this is not just because they lack the skills to fill the jobs being created but primarily because of mental health or substance abuse issues.  

What is clear is that skilled unemployment in New Zealand is effectively zero if not negative. We are still 40,000 construction industry workers short if you can believe the government. We are still several thousand Teachers short.

Why does the government want to make it harder for Schools to employ teachers or small construction companies to employ carpenters, plumbers and electricians?

The proposals start to look a lot like what Australia does which has led to a very rapid decrease in the number of employers being willing to play the work visa game and which impacts directly on the economic growth and future prosperity of Australia. Like New Zealand, Australia has a low unemployment rate and this was trending down even when work visas were trending up. There is almost no link between the two. We should not make the same mistake.

In the discussion paper the Minister, without quoting or providing any evidence to back it up is of the belief that there is "some evidence" that migrants displace local workers. It is worth noting the same discussion paper also quoted international studies which state the exact opposite but why let a few facts get in the way of ideology?

Again, to the Minister if he might be reading this, show us the evidence. I have never in 30 years of practicing as an immigration adviser come across a single employer who does not want to employ a New Zealander first. There is also no evidence I am aware of, given our rigorous and wide ranging legal and other protections, that migrants are pushing down local salaries or incomes.

The current Government cabinet is full of Ministers who are either ex union officials or people who have never run their own business. They are well-intentioned people who do not understand the realities of making sure that there is one dollar more in the bank account at the end of the week than there was the beginning. They seem to be people who believe that all employers see their staff as chattels to be used and abused without understanding that without those workers the boss doesn't have a business.

I know I am going to receive a flood of emails now from current and potential clients asking me if New Zealand is closing the door to skilled workers. To them I would like to say no, that is not the intention, however as they say the road to hell is paved with good intentions.

The immigration system is full of moving parts. Every time you tinker with or change wholesale one part of immigration policy it affects some other part of the system in a way most of the bureaucrats and politicians simply don't understand or cannot predict. Typically, in this discussion paper, there is no acknowledgement of that. Further illustration to me, if any was required of an obvious lack of understanding, on the predictable impacts these proposals will almost certainly have on the skilled migrant category if they go through. If we now create further disincentives for employers to employ migrant workers then the government will continue to undershoot its skilled migrant residency targets which are already 30% below what the government claims they want.

The government is already, rightly, coming under severe political and polling pressure for promising to build 100,000 "affordable" houses in its first 10 years in office. Anyone with three brain cells knew it was either a lie or they were on drugs when they came up with the policy. They said they would build 1000 in the first year. So far they haven't delivered a third of that. Although there are a number of reasons why it's not possible, one of the most significant is that employers simply cannot find enough skilled workers locally to fill these roles. They rely on migrants. If the government is going to make it harder by creating disincentives to those employers to recruit and employ migrants there'll be even less houses built than the government promised. And they might just end up with one term and power.

The fact that we need skilled migrants and we let employers effectively determine who gets in by making the migrant find skilled work, making the process more complex, onerous and time-consuming for the employer when the overwhelming majority of them demonstrably value all their staff equally, whether migrant or local, seems to be lost on these politicians and shows how out of touch they really are.

Until Next Week


Medical Issue Visa Bombshell

Posted by Iain on Oct. 19, 2018, 4:14 p.m. in Immigration

Last week I wrote a piece titled ‘Time is your enemy’ and it was meant to convey the simple but important message that Governments don’t wait for you when it comes to residence and visas.

When you consult with us we give you a snapshot of what your visa points or residence eligibility will be at some future point in time. No one that comes to see us is able to avoid waiting at least a few months from the time they decide to migrate to actually filing their visa applications and locking themselves into a set of known rules on the day the Government receipts their visa application. Given those rules can and often do change, particularly in Australia, the risk all migrants take increases with every day that passes without any visa being filed.

It usually takes months while all the various elements of a family’s migration are pulled together allowing you to file that precious resident visa application.

So much can go wrong if you dally. So much you cannot control.

If, like me, when you read articles or watch the news about people accidentally drowning, being killed in car accidents, getting cancer, being on the plane that crashes, you never imagine it will happen to you right?

So too with visas - I don’t expect if you read last weeks article you’d be thinking that the time it takes you to get into the position to file your visa application, would stop you achieving your goal of settling in New Zealand or Australia.

If you do think that you can take your time before you file a visa, here’s a real life example of ow It can go horribly wrong.

I am currently representing a South African family of four comprising mum, dad and two children. They have been in New Zealand on temporary work and student visas for almost three years. When they came to see us a few months ago they made clear that they always intended filing residence papers, they just hadn’t get round to it for various reasons (affording the Government fees of many thousands of dollars being one of the key factors). They also thought that time was on their side. In their minds there was no going back to South Africa because there was nothing to go back to. They were building new lives in New Zealand and everything was going well. Husband and wife had good jobs and they had work visas granted for a few years. The children were doing well in school.

My assessment indicated that they had had the ‘points’ required for residence since the wife secured skilled employment over two and a half years ago. Nothing was filed. What was the hurry anyway? They believed they qualified for residence. And they could wait.

Then the bombshell.

Around eight months ago the wife was diagnosed with breast cancer. In her early 40s it was the last thing they probably thought would happen to them, despite the medical reality that around one in eight women will develop breast cancer in their lifetime.

Surgery, chemotherapy and radiation treatment followed. Their work and student visas were due to expire around now.

We agreed to represent them to try and get ‘extensions’ as exceptions to the rules.

We advised them that given the cancer diagnosis, the treatment and the medical rules that go with deciding who, with such ‘conditions’ will and will not be granted visas, that they were not on the face of it, eligible for further temporary visas when they expired. And residence would be out as well unless we could argue a medical waiver for her (never easy).

We gathered all the evidence we could that indicated what her survival probabilities are now and her Specialists came up with 82-84%. Not bad you might think. Not high enough for the Immigration Departments own Doctors, however who wanted a 90% certainty.

The Immigration Department declined their applications this week. The client’s visas had already expired by this point.

Not only did they decline the application, INZ only agreed to issue visitor (tourist) visas to all four family members which meant from the minute the ink dried on their rejection letter, INZ, had in effect now barred husband and wife to quit their jobs without giving notice to their employers and their children to stop attending school immediately and they had three months to leave the country. Initially they were going to be given 6 weeks to leave but INZ felt a twinge of compassion and gave them 12 weeks….  I suspect the reason for this was mainly because if they had granted our client another work visa the taxpayer would be continuing to pay for her final round of radiotherapy or any other health costs in their final 12 weeks in the country which she is in the middle of.

Harsh?

One settlement dream shattered.

As I pointed out to a senior manager at INZ, it is one thing to tell these people they had to leave but to rip them out of employment without being able to work out any notice not only cuts off their cashflow but their children, who represented no risk to NZ were also supposed to stop their education? What about the two companies left without two key staff?

How about issuing the husband a work visa as an exception and the children student visas?

No, I was told.

Undeterred I continued to engage with this senior manager who I know reasonably well and I know is not without compassion and I continued to argue at the very least for work and student visas for the husband and children. They have no health issues.

The manager agreed and granted, as an exception, work visas for both the husband and wife and student visas for the children valid until the end of the year. At least the executioner’s axe was now stilled,  poised to fall, but not actually striking, if only temporarily.

Crucially the manager also agreed on the back of our representations to re-visit the decision to decline the original visas we had applied for, I think because an 82-84% chance of surviving this cancer, when the family was here, well settled, paying taxes and contributing is all pretty compelling evidence that an exception could be made.

If these visas are granted we have advised the clients to file the residence application and that at least affords us the opportunity to argue that she should be granted residence through a medical waiver (a mechanism by which if INZ can be convinced the country gains more than it gives). There’s never any guarantees with those but they’d have a good shot at it given her cancer is unlikely now to kill her.

When people ask what we do all day, what we charge the ‘big money’ for and think that immigration advisers fill out application forms, I tell them we actually spend our days fighting for every visa we get against a system that is at times stupid, cruel, inhumane and very subjective. It is never easy and it takes its toll, on us as well. This is not about me or my team but it has been a hell of an emotional week for us all as well, given we know these people and don’t think of them as reference numbers on a piece of immigration department paper, or ‘risk probabilities’ or ‘potential costs on the health system’. We very much think of them as people who gave up a lot to realise a dream of settling in New Zealand and they had done everything they needed to, to make it happen and make a contribution to this economy and their community, all of which they are doing.

Their mistake was to leave it too long to file their residence papers. Had they done so when the skilled job offer was landed they’d almost certainly have secured their residence (if we were project managing the process for them,) a long time before the cancer appeared and then they would not be in this situation.

In no way am I having a go at them, they never imagined they’d be in this position and money is tight as it is for so many migrants and none more so than South Africans with their plunging currency.

The message though is clear - if the residence door is open, don’t just peek through it, barge through it with your shoulder - you never know when it is going to be locked and you left stranded on the wrong side with no key to open it.

Until next week

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Tags: visas

No Racism Here?

Posted by Iain on July 6, 2018, 9:52 p.m. in Immigration

One hundred people are queuing up to enter Eden Park to watch a test match between the All Blacks and France. Ninety nine are admitted entry without incident, but one is stopped, taken aside and questioned. When asked why that one person was stopped the official replied "We needed to check that the ticket was legitimate and not purchased off a scalper, because scalping is illegal". When the official was then asked "Okay, but tell me why did you stop and check that particular fan when you didn’t stop any of the others?" The official replied that "It was simply a random check".

Is it simply coincidence that the one person stopped was not white and the 99 allowed unchecked entry were ‘European’?

This is not a true story and this incident did not take place, but we see the parallels in our day jobs dealing with visas constantly.

I have long had an uncomfortable feeling that the Immigration Department does make decisions - or least scrutinises certain applicants - in a different way such as it is difficult to conclude that it is based on anything other than ethnicity and/or nationality. There is also increasing evidence of INZ targeting particular ethnicities and assessing their visas differently to others, or in the way they have historically done - former international students, primarily from India, for example.

That, I appreciate, is more than a very strong suggestion New Zealand may not be the country that it thinks it is – one which prides itself on being colour blind, tolerant and welcoming.

Let me offer a recent example and you tell me what conclusion you might reach. This is a true story.

We routinely apply for visitor visa ‘extensions’ for clients who have travelled to New Zealand on the so called ‘Look, See and Decide’ trips. These are trips essentially to find work. While the majority of our clients have secured work within the time given on arrival in the country and we file work visas, some don’t.

While nothing in this game could be described as routine, we recently had a client needing an extension so that he could continue his search for employment. He was highly educated (in the UK), an Accountant, had a history of overseas travel (for study and living), had never breached the conditions of his visa when overseas or while in NZ, had the funds required to extend his stay, was in an occupation where all clients before him had secured employment and in every respect was no different to the majority of our clients in terms of profile; except he was from Uganda.

We had discussed among ourselves in te office that INZ would likely give him a hard time over this ‘extension’ and so the application was watertight.

Our concern at the treatment we expected he'd receive was partly because Immigration New Zealand had given him a hard time when we applied for his first visa to come to New Zealand and they really put this client under the microscope. Therefore, we didn’t expect anything different for his ‘extension’. There was no reason for them to give him grief with the first application and even less reason to do the second, but as we said, he is from Uganda...

Almost on cue, we received a letter from the Department outlining their ‘concerns’ with the application – they did not question the evidence or the way the case was presented but expressed some doubts that he was employable.

The only factor we could see that made this applicant different to the hundreds of others we help each and every year go through this process was his ethnicity/nationality. Was it merely coincidence he was singled out and treated differently?

We pushed back, hard, and INZ eventually granted the visa but we were left with the very uncomfortable feeling that he was treated differently because of the fact he was African.

INZ, if challenged on this, would undoubtedly dismiss any suggestion of racism and their spokseperson would trot out their standard line of ‘INZ assesses each application on its merits and all applications aremeasured against a set of objective criteria’. That is garbage and everyone working in this industry knows it is simply not true.

There is increasing evidence that there is either a cultural problem inside INZ and officers are (sub)consciously biased or applicants are being profiled in a way that most New Zealanders would not feel happy about. I hesitate to say decisions are based on the race of applicants, but we know INZ do have what they call ‘risk assessment profiles’. They might suggest they have evidence that Africans are more prone to lying than non-Africans but in almost 30 years of practice I've seen little evidence of that.

I accept that there is evidence that some applicants with particular profiles from some countries do present a higher risk to the integrity of the border, but I cannot help wondering if Immigration Officers, given the culture they work in, start by assuming that if you are from a certain country or from a certain ethnic group, you must be dodgy and are as such obliged to try and keep you out. 

Alternatively, if one was to be charitable, it could be as simple as officers do not know where to draw the line on what is reasonable questioning and what is not but every day they lay themselves wide open to accusations of racist decision making.

It is also difficult for any reasonable person to comprehend how, if rules do not change but outcomes do and 'like' cases end up with different results, that a different assessment process  can not be in play. Of course it could just be INZ is not very good at what it does and these are just inconsistent outcomes (for which they are infamous). That would be bad enough, but I don't buy it.

I cannot escape the conclusion that there is not racism or some agenda at play. While it is another blog in itself, I have written previously of the terrible treatment being given in the past eighteen months to former international students seeking to follow a pathway to residency our Government dangled in front of them as reason to come to NZ and study rather than go somewhere else. When challenged on this INZ is on record as saying 'all cases are assessed objectively against a standard set of criteria'.

Hardly a week goes by when we don’t get phone calls from distraught young people (always Indian) who have completed their studies, have got a job but are being denied work visas because INZ claims that their ‘qualification is not relevant to their job offer’. A common example is the graduate with a Diploma in Business being denied the opportunity to take up a job as an Assistant Manager. Apparently because according to the bureaucats, a diploma in business isn’t related to working in...business. It always was historically, but these days suddenly isn't. There was no rule change that tightened the definition of what ‘relevant’ means, just the outcomes were different. 

There might not be racist assessments going on and it could be as I have accused INZ of previously, of a hidden agenda to rid the country of these tens of thousands of students the Government now does not wish to stay. That would be no better but while we keep seeing Indian students being singled out it could be both a hidden agenda that just happens to be a racist one.

I think too often we scream ‘racist!’ without justification and it can be something of a catchall when things don’t go our way.

I can say, however, that I know the difference at least when it comes to visa applications. INZ is at best suffering from an subconscious bias they need to rid themselves of and at worst it does make assessments and decisions based less on the evidence in front of it than the ethnicity or nationality of clients.

There is, as I say, more and more evidence of INZ agendas at play and as that body of evidence grows, the pressure is going to mount on the Government to do something about it.

It is not a good look for a country that has long prided itself on treating everyone equally.

Until next week...

Iain MacLeod, Southern Man

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When is the right time to apply?

Posted by Myer on Feb. 26, 2017, 4:30 p.m. in Australia lifestyle

I had a recent consultation with someone in Singapore who wanted to immigrate to Australia for the purposes of educating his children at University but didn’t necessarily want to immigrate during the initial five-year period that an independent visa would allow (the children were quite young).

It’s not always not up to you to choose the time when you can apply for permanent residence because of the amount of change that occurs in the immigration process. It’s more likely that the time chooses you.

I’m never able to “time-the-market” when I buy a house or buy or sell equities but I can tell you that the perfect time to apply for permanent residence is the time at which you meet the eligibility requirements and if that time is now then as inconvenient is the time may be, you need to act. Often the only difference between eligibility and and missing the opportunity completely is timing.

Most applicants aren’t aware of the amount of change that occurs in the course of a relatively short period of time. Not only do applicants get older (and one’s chances of securing a visa never improves with age) but there is also a significant amount of change occurring within immigration policy.

Perhaps one of the most significant changes - certainly in terms of general skilled migration visas - is the publication of the Skilled Occupations List which occurs on 1 July of each year. This list determines which occupations will be eligible for obtaining independent permanent residence without requiring state sponsorship and represent those skills that are in medium to long-term demand in Australia.

Certain occupations have been “flagged” for possible removal in the future. Generally, occupations are flagged when there is emerging evidence of excess supply in the labour market.

The list of flagged occupations for the list to be published on one July 2017 is as follows:

  • Production Manager (Mining)
  • Accountant (General)
  • Management Accountant
  • Taxation Accountant
  • Actuary
  • Land Economist
  • Valuer
  • Ship’s Engineer
  • Ship’s Master
  • Ship’s Officer
  • Surveyor
  • Cartographer
  • Other Spatial Scientist
  • Chemical Engineer
  • Civil Engineer
  • Geotechnical Engineer
  • Quantity Surveyor
  • Structural Engineer
  • Transport Engineer
  • Electronics Engineer
  • Industrial Engineer
  • Mechanical Engineer
  • Production or Plant Engineer
  • Aeronautical Engineer
  • Agricultural Engineer
  • Biomedical Engineer
  • Engineering Technologist
  • Environmental Engineer
  • Naval Architect
  • Medical Laboratory Scientist
  • Veterinarian
  • Medical Diagnostic Radiographer
  • Medical Radiation Therapist
  • Occupational Therapist
  • Podiatrist
  • Speech Pathologist
  • General Practitioner
  • Anaesthetist
  • Cardiologist
  • Endocrinologist
  • Gastroenterologist
  • Intensive Care Specialist
  • Paediatrician
  • Obstetrician and Gynaecologist
  • Medical Practitioners nec
  • Barrister
  • Solicitor
  • Psychotherapist
  • Psychologists nec
  • Chef*
  • Boat Builder and Repairer
  • Shipwright

Not only does the Skilled Occupations List change, but so do the quotas of each particular occupation sought by the Australian Government under its skilled migration visas.

These quotas are also announced on 1 July and determine the pass marks of independent visas. Several years ago it was possible to obtain permanent residence for an Accountant scoring 60 points with no previous work experience as an accountant, however a cut in the quota of accountants have meant that these days accountants need to score 70 points. 

Some applicants might need State sponsorship if their occupation appears on the Consolidated Skilled Occupations List and whilst these state sponsorship lists are reflective of the skills needed by the 8 states or Territory’s in Australia, they too change depending upon the quota of a particular occupation required in a State or Territory.

Australia is, however, quite generous as to when applicants have to commence residing in Australia.

After the visa is granted, as long as you visit within 12 months specified by the Department, you have 5 years in which to immigrate. If you cannot immigrate within the first 5 years, as long as you visit Australia once every 5 year period you can always apply for a Resident Return Visa.

So whilst one has less choice about when to apply for permanent residence one has a greater degree of choice about the date that you ultimately choose to settle in Australia.


Visitor Visa Lottery

Posted by Iain on Sept. 25, 2015, 2:01 p.m. in Visitor Visa

Before a game of rugby at the World Cup it is common for the two coaches to sit with the referee and ask how various rules might be interpreted and enforced given there is always a degree of interpretation of many rules.

All parties to the game leave with an understanding so they can prepare in order to play within the rules once the whistle is blown for kick off.

Getting a Visa can, depressingly, often seem like a game without rules let alone interpretations at times.

As advisers to hundreds of families each year making life changing decisions, we need to know exactly how each immigration rule will be interpreted before kick off. 

What an exercise in frustration it has been in getting straight answers about who will and who will not be given ‘General’ Visitor Visas for the purpose of coming to New Zealand to test themselves against the labour market. Which, if successful, leads them to score enough ‘points’ to ensure they will able to be part of the NZ Government’s much marketed Resident Visa Programme.

I have blogged about this before. The issue is there is no such thing as an ‘I-want-to-come-NZ-to-look-for-skilled-employment-so-I-can-then apply-for-Residence’ visa.

Unfortunately no one in the halls of power seem very interested in acknowledging how migrants and the labour market go together - not helped by dysfunctional and contradictory rules undermining ‘big picture’ residence outcomes.

If you are seeking to enter New Zealand because NZ employers demand to meet you in order to know that you are serious and available to take up any job you apply for, you need a Visitor Visa - either issued before you travel or issued on arrival if you are able to travel visa free.

Unfortunately only ‘tourists’ can get Visitor Visas, so if your purpose is to (among other things) look for work, you are clearly not on vacation and you are not a Tourist.

So what are you? You are a square peg looking for a round hole is what you are...

You can lie and say you are entering for a vacation but the problem with that is you can later be accused of a false declaration once you have a job and are applying for a work visa (I have seen it).

You can tell the truth and risk being denied entry or the visa to travel to NZ by an officer who doesn’t wish to apply a flexible risk assessment.

As recently written I have had a number of meetings with senior officials in Wellington and the Branch Manager of INZ in Pretoria (as it seems to be South Africans that have the biggest problem with this). The Branch Manager, to his credit, was most supportive and because he understood that the specific ‘risk profile’ of the clients of IMMagine (low risk because about 118 out of 120 who come to NZ each year get jobs and go on to get residence) was such that they should be treated fairly and based on the facts of their application - or in INZ-speak - ‘each case on its merits’.

One basic ‘rule’ interpretation was agreed to. If the applicant intended, before flying to NZ, to sever all their ties to their homeland (resigned job, sold house, etc) then it was envisaged such Visitor Visa applicants could expect to get what are known as ‘Limited Visas’ i.e. allowing travel and/or entry but which could not be changed to say a work visa when the job hunt was successful. The applicant would have to return home and apply for a work visa - an expensive waste of everyone’s time and money.

It was however a line in the sand that we were resigned to working to.

So we filed three applications for Visitor Visas through INZ in Pretoria - two families both of which said one partner would travel over to NZ while the other remained behind but the family home would be sold and the main applicant’s job resigned by the time the main applicant landed. The other one young single male who had no house to sell and who INZ knew would be resigning his job.

All, based on our understanding, should have been given Limited Visas.

All were granted ‘General’ (they can change their status once they got their jobs in NZ) visas. While this was great news it went against what we thought the ‘rules’ were. And left us confused. if the line in the sand was over there but is now over here - can we expect that it will remain there?

Maybe...but the Branch Manager left and he passed the ball to his incoming replacement.

Knowing that in this game it is the referee that counts and not the rule book we asked the new guy what he thought.

He ‘thought’ that the three visas were issued in error and he would review the decisions (but honour them - which legally he had to do as they were not granted in error at all) as he thought they were incorrect.

He said he’d sit down and speak with his staff as he believed all should have been given Limited Visas.

When pressed on why and where the line in his sand was he ducked for cover and suggested the discussion was above his pay grade and passed the ball to his bosses in Wellington.

This has left Team IMMagine half way through the game once again wondering what the rules are we are playing to.

It gets better.

One of the clients that we secured the Visitor Visa for was a South African who travels on a British passport. While British Citizens can apply on arrival for ‘entry permission’ (a Visitor Visa), it is not guaranteed so we advised this client to get the Visitor Visa through Pretoria before travelling to make sure they’d not be stopped and questioned as to the purpose of the Visa at the border if stopped.

On arrival the person was stopped and was questioned because they had a Visitor Visa in a British passport! The officer was suspicious. Wanted to know why it was issued. How much they paid for it (the clear implication being that we had created some extra work for an extra fee - for the record we charged nothing extra to do this). The client was granted ‘general’ entry.

It really is quite unbelievable. And ludicrous.

Even when you try to do the right thing and tell the truth it is still not enough for some officers at the airport and inside INZ. They are programmed to be suspicious of everyone and anything they say.

INZ have a problem - they now seem to have (finally) recognised that when the majority of skilled migrants require jobs to gain entry to the country it is NZ employers who will determine whether as a nation we get the skilled migrants we want or not. They call the shots. 

The temporary entry rules are at odds with the way employers work.

Employers won’t change and frankly nor should they have to.

Government won’t change the visa rules even when the visitor visa rules demonstrably undermine the intended outcomes of the resident visa rules.

So our solution?

We are now advising all our South African clients and others who can travel visa free when they come over to look for work to simply travel visa free. We know 90% of our clients are not stopped and questioned but given ‘general’ visitor visas on arrival, meaning they can change their status to work visa once they get their job without leaving the country.

Perhaps 10% will be stopped and they are being told to tell the truth about the visit  - about half of them will be given general visas if they do. The other half will be given Limited Visas in the great NZ border lottery.

I am meeting again with the senior officials on 2 October in Wellington and the issue again features on the agenda. However this time I am simply going to tell them that as they seem incapable of explaining to their own ‘referees’ how to interpret their own (simple) rules, or coming up with some new sensible ones we are simply going to advise the ‘players’ to follow the rules as we understand them.

Given there is nothing illegal about coming to New Zealand with the primary purpose of ‘vacation’ and the secondary purpose of testing yourself against the local labour market it seems the obvious way forward. Just get on the plane.

If the Government wants to seriously work with us to find a solution to a problem they know they have but seem incapable of solving, we are, as always, standing by to render assistance.

Until next week.

Iain MacLeod

Southern Man

Tags: visas

The Truth, The Whole Truth & Nothing But The Truth

Posted by Iain on Aug. 8, 2015, 8:22 a.m. in Visitor Visa

I am sure that you were always told by your parents to tell the truth. As the old line goes, if you have nothing to hide you have nothing to fear by being honest and truthful. Right?

What happens however when one rule contradicts a second that you must comply with later in order to win the game – and you have to comply with both to get what you need?

Should you lie to achieve the aim of the second if the first stops you achieving the outcome the second rule requires?

What am I talking about?

Most skilled migrants need jobs to achieve the stated aims of the Government residence programme. To get jobs, employers demand that a candidate be in New Zealand. That means getting permission to enter New Zealand either before you travel or at the border.

Only trouble with that is Visitor Visa rules are not compatible with Residence Visa rules.

Many people are being stopped at the airport on arrival and if they say they are on holiday but also intend looking for work (because they are interested in the skilled migrant residence programme and with the job have enough points, they now risk being turned around, given a visa that does not allow them to change their status or they get a normal visa.

My team and I have been wrestling for some weeks now over what to advise those clients who need job offers to secure their skilled migrant visa points who can travel to New Zealand without a visa, but to enter the country must get a visa at the border. Although this is not exclusively a South African issue we are in particular concerned about South Africans...

This condundrum has arisen because about 10% of our South African clients are now being stopped at Auckland airport on arrival and questioned on the purpose of their visit.

If they tell the truth – that they are in the country both on holiday and to check the place out as a possible settlement destination (all of our clients - if they can secure skilled employment - meet the points threshold for a resident visa) then recent history tells us telling the truth can get some into trouble.

It all depends which officer stops them and questions them at the airport - not the rule, but how the rule is applied and by whom.

Most are given ‘normal’ visas which allow them to change their status to a work visa once the job is secured. Others are given limited visas which allow them entry but if they get the job they then have to leave the country and return home to apply for their work visa offshore. I am even hearing of people (not our clients; thank goodness) being turned around at the airport and denied entry.

The only thing they all have in common are their South African passports. Thereafter, it is random – no pattern to who is stopped, who gets a normal visa and who gets the limited visa. The outcomes are consistently inconsistent. The outcome is determined by an immigration officer and how they feel.

Therein lies the dilemma.

If 90% of South Africans entering New Zealand are granted ‘normal’ visas that allow a change of status, why are we seriously considering advising all to apply for Visitor Visas before they travel? If 90% don’t have a problem and 10% do, isn’t this creating an additional cost and bureaucratic burden for all when only 10% have a problem?

I guess it depends on whether you turn out to be one of the 10%.

For the record it is perfectly legal to enter New Zealand as a ‘tourist’ and if you decide you wish to stay longer or even permanently or had even entered wanting to stay subject to finding a skilled job and you find a skilled employment, you are allowed to change your status. Given the significant majority of work visas are issued within New Zealand this clearly happens a lot.

I have met with everyone from Immigration New Zealand’s head of global border security in recent weeks to try and come to some agreement on resolving this issue and eliminate the risk for those 10% highly skilled ‘wannabe’ migrants who are hassled at the airport or to get some agreement that all of our clients coming over will be granted ‘normal’ visitor visas subject to demonstrating that they are not a risk to the country.

You might think that is easy when you can demonstrate that the number of our South African clients who have overstayed their visas is as far as we know – zero.

So if our clients tell the truth at the border about their intentions, some officials at the airport hold it against them. Some don’t. These officials are the same ones employed by the Government that is encouraging skilled migration and demanding that the majority secure work.

In trying to meet the Governments permanent residence rules, the client can be damned if they tell the truth and damned if they don’t at the border.

After three weeks of discussions the outcome I always expected happened a few days ago.

The Government suggested all of our clients should apply for these Visitor Visas offshore before they travel BUT they would not guarantee the client that on arrival at the border in New Zealand they would be granted a visa that would allow them to apply for a work visa onshore. That of course completely defeats the purpose of applying for the visitor visa offshore in the first place because once such applicants find jobs (and in the case of our clients about 98% do) they have to leave the country, apply for a work visa and return a few weeks later.

In the end this refusal to come up with a solution that is geared toward my low risk clients and to manage them as a subset of some greater perceived risk is incredibly disappointing but hardly surprising. If there is one thing Immigration New Zealand is not very good at it is holding the system to account and demanding consistency of outcomes whereby similar applicants with very similar circumstances be treated the same and should be able to reasonably expect the same outcome.

It leaves me concluding that it is not always smart to tell the whole truth. Applying for visas before a South African travels isn’t going to solve any problems. 

Forcing visa applicants to be less than completely truthful in order to give the Government what they want in terms of the Residence Programme is a nonsensical and stupid way of dealing with risk.

However for the time being it seems to be just what Immigration New Zealand is demanding.

The discussions continue.

Until next week.


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