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Immigration Blog


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.

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.


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 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.

P.S. There's still time to enter our competition which runs until the 23rd of August - submit your photo and you could win $1500 in cash and 2 luxury nights for two at the Azur Lodge in Queenstown. To enter, click here:

Skilled Migrant Point Changes

Posted by Iain on July 31, 2015, 5:58 p.m. in Jobs in New Zealand

The New Zealand Government announced a few days ago that it was increasing the bonus points that can be claimed for a skilled and relevant job offer outside of Auckland from 10 to 30 points. The internet is abuzz!

Not sure why. I suggest everyone stay calm. Much ado about very little.

Government announced they were doing it in order to encourage more migrants to settle outside of Auckland. This was clearly a response to the overheated Auckland property market and rising disaffection by Aucklanders that migrants are contributing to an overheated property market.

As usual when the press get hold of a very modest tweak in an existing policy they get confused on the consequence, don’t seem to bother asking an expert and the misinformation spreads like wildfire.

My inbox is full of enquiries from people asking me if they ‘must’ now get a job outside of Auckland and if this means it is easier to get into the country? One even telling me he read that if you have a job ‘offer’ outside of Auckland you don’t even have to live there but it is now easier to get in if you say you are ‘planning’ on settling outside of Auckland but you don’t actually have to live there.

Oh a dollar for every false rumour!

Sorry folks but this change is modest and if you get a job outside of Auckland you must take it up.

In fact not only must you take up the job you must work outside of Auckland for 12 months. Those with jobs in Auckland ‘only’ have to stay employed for three months for their resident visa to become unconditional.

So how effective will it be? Does it really change anything?

No is the short answer. This is a case of politics trying to trump labour market reality.

The pass mark for those with a job is 100 and so far I am not seeing anything that suggests that pass mark will increase. This policy will only make any significant difference if it does.

This is because a 30, 37, 41, 45 and 54 year old (and everyone in between) will still qualify for residence with a skilled job in Auckland if they have between 8 and 10 years of relevant and related work experience (all other things being equal). Even a 54 year old will still be able to get a job in Auckland, work for a while and accrue the points necessary to get to 100 point passmark.

The only people we have identified that will benefit from this policy would be a 55 year old with no qualifications and at least ten years of work experience related to the job offer he or she gets outside of Auckland. When you hit 56 you cannot apply no matter how many points you might claim or where your job is.

So the winners here? Unqualified 55 year olds. Absolutely neutral for everyone else.

I am in South Africa and have over the past week consulted with 44 families who are looking to gain entry under the skilled migrant category. Only one would benefit from this policy change. One. That individual will now qualify with a job outside of Auckland because he is 55.

More than that it is all very well rewarding people to head out to the regions to spread the skilled migrant love and their skills sets but the reason about 70% of migrants already get jobs in Auckland is largely because that’s where the jobs are. Not all of course and we have clients spread all around New Zealand but around 70% in Auckland.

So might the Government increase the pass mark for those with jobs to 100 or even 120?

They could and that would force greater numbers to look outside of Auckland. Is this on the table? Not as far as I am aware.

I would hope that behind closed doors Government will have been warned against it.

Given Auckland is the engine room of the economy and has the critical economic and cultural mass for many migrant communities (which feeds through into good settlement outcomes) a higher pass mark would prevent many otherwise excellent skilled migrants from coming. 

So the Government has found a nice way of appearing to be doing something without in reality doing anything at all. They did get the headlines they needed however...

Good politics is all folks. So stay calm. You won’t be moving to the sticks – unless you want to.

Our photo competition is going along great guns and we are getting some fantastic photos coming in. I would like to see a whole lot more from those who live in New Zealand and illustrating what it is about every day life in New Zealand that they love.

I am thinking about photos of your house and street (no burglar bars or security walls you South Africans), your children climbing a tree (you Singaporeans), morning coffee at a sidewalk café (you French), walking along the street with your baby in a stroller without a protector, children riding their bikes, your office colleagues, and so on.

I am loving what we are getting but let’s see some of the real life stuff that you love about this wonderful country of ours. If you have missed the competition we are giving away a weekend in Queenstown at the five star Azur Hotel plus $1500 spending money. For further details if you have missed it click here to submit your photo entry - you can enter as many times as you like for more chances to win.

Until next week

Iain MacLeod



Southern Man

Eternal Sunshine of an Immigrant’s Mind

Posted by danni on July 10, 2015, 12:41 p.m. in Immigration

This week I am handing over the keyboard to Danni Balsaras. Danni is an ex-pat South African who has lived in Auckand for a few years now with her husband. She is employed by IMMagine as our Social Media and Marketing Co-ordinator. We have some very interesting disussions together about Advisers, migrants, their expectations (exceeded, met or dashed) and she wanted to provide an insight into how she, and she hopes many other, migrants, view the process of moving from one country to another. In her case, from South Africa to New Zealand.

Take it away Danni...

There’s something to be said about leaving one’s paths behind: the roads you grew up on or where you went to school, the corner shop you loitered around with your friends in your (perhaps) misspent youth, the mall you frequented for your grocery shopping, the place you were married, the hospital you first held your newborn child. These experiences, places and stories are ingrained in our minds and do, as clichéd as it may sound, help form the person that you are. These are the things that you imagine letting go of when you leave your country of birth; these are the chapters in the history of you.

The longing for a sense of “history” in your new country is confronting. A migrant is the epitome of being without roots and even if just subconsciously; you grapple for the comfort of familiarity. You miss it when it is not there. 

But at the same time...don’t we all love the opportunity for a fresh start? After moving I found that my family and I committed to positivity and promised ourselves things like eating healthier, walking more, not taking things for granted, loving each other more obviously. It became clear that we’d orchestrated a massive life change and that changing the details we’ve “always overlooked” would be easy. We had an insatiable sense of doing things better “this time around”.

And the point of this blog post was to say that I’m not sure when that changes, or indeed if it ever does or should.

Of course, it’s not unique to we immigrants to want a fresh start, but the psychology of a great big move tends to prolong this state of mind. In my experience that’s been a good thing - every new adventure has significantly more meaning. Driving down a road we’ve never seen before is thrilling and the 50th time we drive down it we’re acutely aware of it becoming part of our new stories.

The staples never get old: you’re safe; paying tax will benefit you as a member of your new society; lawlessness barely exists in your everyday life; the education system is remarkable and so on. But it’s the everyday living of life stuff that really excites you as an immigrant because over time you begin to get a sense of your own history again, just in a new location, and that’s been one of the most important aspects of integration for me.

 If you’re familiar with the film Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind (or the 18th century poem by Alexander Pope on which the concept for the film was based) you’d know that it involves the idea of erasing portions of one’s memory entirely in an attempt to always be happy.

I’ve often thought about whether doing so would benefit me, and more so as a migrant always comparing my “here” with my “there”.

After 5 years I think I’ve learned that the answer lies in knowing that your book doesn’t end when you leave your country, your memories and your histories aren’t cast aside. The new joy is in taking pleasure out of the everyday opportunities to start afresh. You’re not floundering without roots; you’re trail-blazing with the eternal sunshine of an immigrant’s mind.

Until next week when the Southern Man resumes...

The Facebook Trap

Posted by Iain on April 10, 2015, 8:14 p.m. in Border Patrol

For some time New Zealanders have been debating Government surveillance, both of locals and our Pacific neighbours.

Our Government constantly reassures us with that old line that if you have nothing to hide you have nothing to fear. And it’s okay because everyone is spying on everyone else.

I am all for national security and co-operation among countries if it leads to a safer world but what happens when you realise that the Immigration Department is also now trawling through your personal postings on Facebook and chat groups?

And what if you have done nothing wrong and they are still spying on you?

I recently wrote a blog about a young South African client who, following our advice, itself based on Immigration New Zealand advice (obtained through publicly available memos), was detained at Auckland airport on arrival last November. He was ‘interviewed’ about the purpose of his visit. He told the truth - he was here for two purposes - vacation and to see New Zealand because he was interested in the possibility of a move here. That included testing his skills against the local labour market - he never hid this fact. He was allowed entry but was given a type of visa that did not allow him to change his status if he decided to stay and found employment and so, having secured a job within 5 weeks and deciding to stay, he had to return to South Africa for us to obtain a work visa for him. It was stressful, added additional expense and in the ultimate irony was a few weeks ago granted a resident visa based on that job (that he could never have got if he was not in the country).

During his interview he was surprised to learn that the officer questioning him quoted comments he had made on Facebook, chat groups and forums and that he had sold one of his cars in South Africa (a sure sign you plan on emigrating it seems!).

While I had no reason to disbelieve the client I found it hard to believe that Immigration Officers were now trawling through online forums, chat groups and Facebook to check on what comments had apparently been made by people at our borders in the recent past.

Until it happened again a couple of weeks ago. The same thing. This time the officer was at Christchurch Airport and he too quoted Facebook comments posted by our client.

This raises some deeply troubling questions.

Should anyone remotely considering a move to New Zealand now fear posting anything on Facebook, migrant forums and chat groups given it can clearly be used against them when these paranoid border guards decide to question them on arrival?

Are decisions on whether to let people into the country being based on historical public comments made about possible future intentions? Intentions can change.  As by law they are able to.

It is 100% lawful for a visit to be made to New Zealand for the purposes of ‘Look, See and Decide’ and is enshrined in not just one internal memo (the first being issued by Immigration New Zealand in 2011) but two more - the most recent in June 2014. 

These memos make clear that if the traveller tells the truth about their intentions, their ‘primary’ purpose is vacation and the ‘secondary’ purpose something else (including testing themselves against the labour market) and there is no reason to believe they will breach the conditions of a Visitor Visa (tourist) they should be granted entry on a visa that allows them the option of changing their status later.

Despite our clients often arriving carrying a letter we provided (and showing it to these officers) confirming they are our client, the truthful purpose of the visit and their intention to explore their employability (and in the most recent case even carrying a copy of the June 2014 memo which was shown to the officer) they are being granted these limited purpose visas.

Even more troubling is in the most recent case we obtained a copy of the airport interview transcript. 

We asked the client if it reflected accurately the conversation. He said it did not in many respects.

This is a client who had been to New Zealand on several occasions, had never overstayed his visa and had never breached the conditions of any of them. No mention is made in the official record of the client showing the officer his own internal department memo, despite the client being adamant he showed it to him.

Basically someone is lying and we see no reason to believe that is the client.

We have now escalated the matter to the head of the Immigration Department to try and get this client’s status changed to a ‘normal’ visitor visa.

We have also considered a formal complaint against this officer who appears to have selectively recorded and edited the client’s statements and completely ignored the memo shown to him explaining why the client should have been granted a normal visitor visa - he had not told any lies and the officer had no reasonable grounds to conclude that he would likely breach the conditions of the visa.

I suspect this is another case of an immigration officer on a power trip at 1am in the morning. it must have felt really nice separating a husband and wife, grilling them in separate rooms when they had been in the air and likely largely sleepless for 24 hours.

This is not the New Zealand the Immigration Department markets to potential skilled migrants around the world and I want to believe these are the exception and not the rule. I can say they are — most clients never have this issue but the ones that are singled out seem to really get the ‘Border Security’ TV show treatment.

No potential skilled migrant should be treated like this and we have once again warned the head of the department that this sort of action, suspicion and paranoia will undermine the same department’s mandate for filling 27,000 skilled migrant places each year.

New Zealand employers are the ones demanding migrants be here for interviews and to prove they are committed and serious.

Immigration New Zealand has issued not one but three memos to these state functionaries on how to treat such applicants at the border and they continue to disregard or misinterpret the simple instruction.That old culture of paranoia and suspicion trumps common sense and decency.

To now find out that INZ seems to be regularly trawling public postings on Facebook, chat groups and forums and even (apparently) are able to access information about migrants selling cars before they leave home starts to all seem more and more sinister.

So be aware those of you looking to come to New Zealand - spilling your guts on Facebook and posting any sort of comment which might suggest your primary purpose in coming here is to settle permanently might now be read by these officious bureaucrats who could choose to use it against you.

As Government gathers more and more ‘big data’ despite you having nothing to hide with these  public postings, you do all now have something to fear.

I’d be really interested to hear if anyone else has had a similar experience, especially having Facebook comments being raised during airport interrogations, er, interviews…

Until next week

Iain MacLeod - Southern Man

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