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Immigration Blog

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Immigration Blog

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

My plan to solve the residence backlog crisis

Posted by Iain on Aug. 6, 2021, 3:34 p.m. in Immigration

If you see someone drowning do you offer them hearty cheer and words of encouragement to keep swimming or do you throw them a large floaty thing with a rope and pull them to safety?

 This week the opposition National Party decided to throw a safety line to the immigration department which is rapidly going under.

I’m fully supportive of the policy released by the opposition which is a not so subtle throwing down of the ‘kindness gauntlet’ to our ‘kind’ government to finally do the right thing, clear the immigration decks, reward all those migrants in NZ who have stuck with us since the pandemic began and provide certainty to their employers.

I was asked by Erica Stanford, the party’s spokesperson for my input and naturally I wasn’t short of advice.

I confess I was very pleasantly surprised in the lead up to their announcement that they wanted to extend sorting out the mess to everyone in the country when the border closed and who hold Essential Skill Work Visas, irrespective of skill level.

I made two suggestions on the proposal to pull into the plan those that don’t currently have any long term residence pathway: 

1. Provide a three year extension to their work visa and a guarantee they will be granted residence if they remain out of trouble and work for at least an aggregate two of the three years (bearing in mind there’s many reasons - child birth for example - that might cause someone to briefly stop paid work). 

2. Uncouple essential skills work visas from specific employers. One of the clear risks these processing backlogs has created is tying work visas to specific employers. It is heightened especially for those at the lower end of the (allowed) income spectrum increasing the chances migrants will be exploited by a small number of bad faith employers because the employer knows the work visa holder is often effectively beholden to them. 

I’m pleased to see the Nats have run with these two recommendations. 

I was also asked how INZ might expedite those highly skilled applicants who have been invited to apply for residence and/or have filed applications and eliminate the backlog within a few months.

My recommendations were:

1. All those sitting in the so called ‘managed queue’ have their current employment against relevant rules verified. That would mean IRD summary of earnings for the past three months, checking of applicant bank statements and a phone call to the employer confirming the applicant is still working. Would take all of thirty minutes per application. 

2. A local police check to ensure the applicant has not committed any serious crimes since arriving in the country. Bearing in mind to hold a 24 plus month work visa the government must have been satisfied the applicant was already of good character. This would take a few months given the Police would be required to do a lot more in less time than usual. 

I was heartened to see those two key recommendations made it into the proposed policy. 

What of the 4,000 to 5,000 Talent and Long Term Skills Shortage (LTSSL) visa holders (representing perhaps 10,000 peole once partners and children are included) who are queuing up to file their resident visa applications toward the end of this year and early next or who have already filed their residence applications and are waiting (for the majority) over two years to be processed? 

For those who have already filed their residence application and are sitting the processing backlog the same as above - proof of work and local police check. To secure the Talent or LTSSL work visas the health standard they get for their temporary visa was the residence visa standard. 

For those who will file after October when there’s several thousand eligible to file: 

1. Application form, fee, passport 

2. Local police check for the same reason as above

3. Verification they’ve worked the required 24 months so that would include checking employment against relevant/current rules.  IRD summary of earnings for the past two years, checking of applicant bank statements and a phone call to the employer confirming the applicant is still working. 

And finally, what of the 10,000 Expressions of Interest languishing in the ‘pool’ since selections were suspended in March 2020? These are the people I worry about most. These people rightly fear the current government could simply cut them all loose. 

I recommended immediately selecting all those who claimed 160 points and if that claim upon examination looks credible they be invited to apply for residence. Normal, as in current, rules would apply. We know from history roughly 90% of EOI claimants are found to have a credible claim following selection which means roughly 9,000 applications would hit the processing stage within a few months. Not all will be approved because ultimately their points claim, while genuine, is not supported by the evidence they can produce. 

By the time this group entered the processing system INZ should have cleared the backlog of 10,000 or so applications covered by the first group and be well advanced expediting the second.

Priority through the end of 2021 and early part of 2022 would go to the second group, those applying for residence from work. The rest of 2022 would be focused on those currently sitting in the pool.

I would close the category to any new applications for 6 months, It would be temporary (really temporary not  ‘I am waiting on advice from officials before restarting selections’ temporary) and a cast iron commitment  to not prolonging it. 

This would truly be an immigration reset.

It would buy any government precious time to develop new policies for our new Covid based, border restricted world (and here at IMMagine we’ve got some really good ideas how that might look).

It allows the bureaucrats to clear their decks over the next 18 months so that when we see greater international travel through 2022 and beyond they are ready.

The one fly in the ointment, apart from the fact the National Party is not the government(!) is the intellectual capability of INZ to deliver this. At the end of June, the latest period we have been given staff numbers for, there were 83 officers employed to work on the residence backlog. In the past two weeks only 191 residence applications were allocated for processing. INZ management simply can’t give them more cases, not because they have high caseloads (the average as best I can tell is between 25 and 30 which is a third of what my crew have) but because there’s not enough experience or institutional knowledge to deal with more. And staff continue to leave in worrying numbers. 

My plan if adopted would allow these officers to cut through the work, not endlessly repeat checks (like health and work history) that is a box ticked at previous work visa stage for example and get on and clear the residence backlog. 

What Erica Stanford has come up with is big, bold, pragmatic and above all, kind. It represents no threat to the integrity of the immigration system, the security or health of New Zealanders. 

There’s no risk to New Zealand, there’s no greater pressure on housing or infrastructure that doesn’t exist today because those who would be approved are already here. We take on no more cost or risk than exists presently. 

It is going to be interesting to see how the real Government responds to National’s politically brave proposal. To date they’ve simply announced a reset (by a stand in Minister) devoid of any actual policy or delivery timeline. 

 

I am confident my plan works and benefits everyone - the processing headache goes away for the bureaucrats, we reward all those migrants in the country filling jobs we could not and who did not abandon us when the borders closed and arguably most importantly thousands of local employers have the certainty they need to get through this Covid crisis and can focus on creating even more jobs and wealth for the country.


Minister of Immigration's speech tonight

Posted by Iain on May 17, 2021, 12:11 p.m. in Immigration

The rumour mill has been working overtime since Friday on what announcements might be made by the Minister of Immigration’s in his 6pm (tonight NZT) ‘invitation only’ speech.

Normally I wouldn’t buy into the social media prattle or press releases by some who should know better than to fuel the speculation by issuing press statements but here is what we know at IMMagine (from reliable sources) and what we think we can reasonably expect tonight: 

1. EOI pool is not going to be drained tonight. Those that are in it, will remain in and are not about to be 'lapsed'. Unaswered question at this point is when will they resume the pool draws. I stand by my prediction earlier this year that it won't be until the application backlog (those who have filed resident visas) is under control. September possible, December more likely but I wouldn't bet the beach house on it.

2. The same so called 'managed queue' of skilled resident visa applicants is not going to be touched, torched, applications thrown out, money refunded, no one thrown under a bus.

3. What got everyone atwitter on Friday was the rumour of 30,000 ‘visas’ being cancelled but that seems most likely to be reference to those who have filed temporary visas e.g. visitor and student offshore since the border was largely closed which are just sitting there gathering electronic dust. That seems logical to me – government confirmed a week or two ago there’ll be no offshore visa processing until at least 6 August, so why keep those applications in the system? Refunding those people and cleaning out that part of the system makes sense. Media decided ‘visas’ were being cancelled – ‘temporary visa applications in the system not yet decided’ seems more likely.

4. On the Skilled Migrant Category more than a few industry advisers have speculated if the Minister might announce an increase to the minimum salary for jobs to be skilled to possibly has high as twice the median wage - the magical $106,080. We understand INZ has confirmed today that in the SMC paper that they have ready to go to the Minister that is off the table and not being recommended. It might mean they will stick with their $27 per hour plan which was tabled a long time ago however and meant to be in force in April. Not a train smash for our clients.

My feeling is the Government is attracting so much heat over the immigration mess they seem unwilling or incapable of sorting out that they need to say something, and the days of blaming capacity constraints within MIQ is probably over with the travel bubble with Australia freeing up hundreds of rooms every week, so perhaps expect some talk (maybe even a plan!) about freeing up borders to more 'cohorts' of critical workers over the coming months.

Not armegeddon.

Some time later...630pm - Minister unwell. Stand in Minister announced... nothing. Simply affirmed a 'direction of travel', 'pieces of work are underway' and as usual signals and this appeared to be nothing more than announcement about announcements. No wonder the immigration system is such a mess.

Regards,

Iain MacLeod

Tags: visas | politics | migrants

Second Time Round

Posted by Myer on May 7, 2021, 10:20 a.m. in Immigration

It’s always easier the second time round.

It was words to that effect made casually over a barbecue (that’s braaivleis to our South African readers) by a good friend of mine that was the catalyst for today’s blog. He said to me that he found migrating to Australia a “breeze” compared to his previous experience regarding migration to the United States and, whilst I do think that Australia is an easier cultural fit for many of our clients than the United States, he said that a lot had to do with the fact that he had a much better mindset and attitude for his second migration.

I think that many of our clients who have immigrated previously to Singapore, Hong Kong or the Middle East will confirm that it is often easier the second time round.

Barbecuing duties and the distraction of too much good Aussie red wine prevented me from questioning him further over this casual comment but he elaborated subsequently.

When I look back on my migration to New Zealand as a twentysomething year old South African lawyer I recognise that I too made similar mistakes and found my migration to Australia (20 years later) substantially easier.

So what are the lessons learnt of prior migrations that can be passed on to new migrants?

1.      Your new country, whether it be New Zealand or Australia is not perfect so don’t migrate expecting paradise. My partner Iain and I often tell migrants that we don’t live in paradise, we live in Melbourne and Auckland respectively. We have our problems as well but when you consider the lifestyle that we enjoy in both Australia and New Zealand and the type of issues that our clients have to deal with whether it be crime and violence in South Africa, lack of work life balance in Singapore or political instability in Hong Kong, we thank God for our lives in New Zealand and Australia. The point is however it’s not all good and it’s not all bad.

2.       You need to create a life for yourself whichever country you immigrate to before you can make comparisons with the life that you have left. It’s unfair to make judgements about your new life until such time as you have lived in your new country for at least a year and can make a fair comparison between the sacrifices you have made to the gains you have achieved. I don’t suggest that anyone travels back home until such time as you have been living in the new country for at least a year.

3.       My more motivated clients often tell me that they are prepared to “start at the bottom” if needs be but in actual fact one never starts at the bottom. Unless you are the managing director of Woolworths or some other “big wig” you will invariably start in the middle but be prepared to take up a position of employment that isn’t necessarily a step up the corporate ladder but might be commensurate with the type of position you occupied prior to migration.

4.       Do as much research as you can prior to migration. Having family and friends can often be invaluable and listen to the settlement advice they give as they have often gained this advice from making mistakes themselves. Just don’t take visa advice from them. It’s far better to learn from the errors of others if possible.

5.       Choose a good migration agent that can help you not only with the visa application process but also provide input into post visa grant issues.

6.       It’s a team approach and if you have a spouse or partner they have to be completely on board with the decision to migrate. We find migration tends to make relationships stronger or breaks already weakened ones.

7.       Children are more resilient than parents. So often parents tell me that they would like to immigrate within a particular timeframe to coincide with the commencement of the school year in order to reduce trauma for children. Young children are far more adaptable than we give them credit for. They will make new friends and adapt to a new environment far more easily than you, their parents will.

8.       Be flexible about your destination. Whilst you might have a preference in terms of migrating to areas where you have friends or family often the visa process will select the migrant. For example it might be easier to obtain permanent residence in either Australia or New Zealand, not necessarily both and you may have to make compromises as to which state in Australia or city in New Zealand you migrate to because of issues relating to state sponsorship in Australia or perhaps points for migration out of Auckland in New Zealand.

9.      When you first migrate realise that you are on a honeymoon. The honeymoon period tends to last three months, thereafter it’s almost as if the in-laws have moved in when reality sets in.

10.   Remember the reasons why you migrated and have a big picture attitude to coping with minor irritations after the honeymoon period passes. I had a South African client of mine tell me that he wrote the reasons why he migrated on the back of a matchbox (in the days when smoking was far more popular and people used pens ) to help him stay motivated on the days that he felt despondent.

11.   You cannot expect the same recognition that you enjoyed in your home country when you first immigrate. The fact that you may have owned a company that employs 30 people or your former station in life will have little bearing on the amount of recognition that you receive when emigrating. My friend told me that it was difficult to obtain his first credit card because of lack of credit history but as soon as he had one credit card he had 100.

12.   I don’t think that the expression “blood is thicker than water” necessarily is true to migrants. Often the friends that you make whether they be fellow migrants or New Zealanders or Australians are far stronger than friendships that you had in your home country because they are forged in a cauldron of stress and upheaval. The fact that you might be going through similar difficult conditions and able to draw upon each other’s strengths tends to forge friendships that are as deep if not deeper than family ties. Some of my most enduring relationships were formed in the early days of my migration.

13.   Be kind to yourself. I know that this sounds like an Ellen DeGeneres line but don’t have unrealistic expectations as to what can be achieved within a short period of time. I remember expressing admiration to a client of mine who managed to buy a house within his first year of migration only to have to listen to how much he had sacrificed in South Africa. It’s difficult to be happy when you are beating yourself on your back as opposed to patting yourself on the back for a milestone that should be a joyous occasion.

14.   It’s not all about the job. We do understand that jobs are important but many have the misguided impression that if one secures employment one qualifies for residence. I recently consulted with someone who said that she was scared “shitless” about the prospect of immigrating without finding employment and that’s usually the aspect that concerns me least. Australia and New Zealand have very low rates of unemployment and nearly all of our clients find employment within three months. It’s far more important however to be concentrating on what are the steps to qualify for appropriate visas than focus on employment.

We have been working in the migration industry for more than 30 years and assisted thousands of migrants from all sorts of countries and backgrounds and can identify those that have the “right stuff” from those with what would be described as having a “sucky attitude” in Australia and New Zealand who may have to make some attitude adjustments in order to make a successful migration and are happy to share our wealth of knowledge with those thinking of making the move.


Crystal Ball Border Gazing

Posted by Iain on Jan. 15, 2021, 9:58 a.m. in Immigration

Happy new Year everyone.

Naturally our inboxes at IMMagine are full of the same question from clients as the new year starts - when do we think the Australian and New Zealand borders will re-open?

The short answer is your guess is as good as ours as the NZ Government in particular has been all but silent on any plan. Australia only slightly less so. But here is what might be termed a very good educated guess based on public statements by the political leadership.

The New Zealand Government has made clear that it only plans to begin vaccinating border facing and front line health workers in March. The rest of us will have to wait till they start to roll out a national vaccination programme in July. The Australian administration has set the same timeline, I imagine for precisely the same reasons, but has recently advised they are pushing ahead with vaccinating front line health and border workers starting in February.

Why the delay when other countries are rushing to vaccinate?

The short answer is the Governments in our corner of the world have basically kept the virus at the border. Good management and a deal of good luck along being surrounded by a lot of water helps both countries in that regard. Australia has seen recent outbreaks but they seem to be doing a great job keeping them contained without risking lengthy national, state or city wide lockdowns (Brisbane for three days last week the exception but it seems to have worked).

Prime Ministers in both countries have said they want to watch and see what happens in the rest of the world for a while. Sit back and watch. Are the vaccines safe? Are they effective? Let’s not rush to inoculate our people until we know - that seems to be the plan.

Both Australia and NZ have more than enough doses on order (not sure if they are all in the countries yet) to roll out national vaccination programmes.

If both roll out programmes I imagine it’d take until the end of the year to get to that ‘magical’ 70% mark which we are told is the minimum expected to provide some sort of ‘herd immunity’.

On the other side of the ledger I cannot see either Government opening up their borders to general travel till those wishing to come can prove they are vaccinated and that the vaccination is effective and safe.

The two Governments can obviously control the rollout of their own programmes but they cannot control the roll out that might or might not happen overseas.

So two things need to happen in my view - we need to get a majority of Kiwis and Aussies vaccinated and people overseas need to get vaccinated (certifiably and verifiably which of course is yet another risk).

That suggests to me that the borders will remain closed to general travel for the most part or all of this year. Before you panic… I don’t know this - I am, like most of you, pulling together the public statements and whatever titbits of information I am reading about.

Both countries will continue to allow border exemptions for humanitarian cases and for some critical workers.

In the case of New Zealand we were effectively advised by a national manager in INZ right on Christmas that they had been granting humanitarian exemptions in error for much of 2020. After months of us, and others in the industry, challenging the bureaucracy on why two cases, so similar in circumstance saw one being approved and one being declined, INZ finally put it in writing - they should not have said yes to most of the humanitarian cases that they had. And that includes split families where, say, one partner is in NZ on a work visa but partner and/or children are stuck offshore. One thing is for certain this year - expect far fewer such humanitarian exemptions to be granted. Quite an admission but par for the course.

This will be shocking to many in this position as the NZ Government allows sheep shearers, film makers, fishermen (another bunch just arrived from Russia and at least 14 brought the virus with them), fruit pickers, sports teams and individuals, musicians (NZ had its annual raft of multi day musical festivals across the country full of international acts over the festive season) into the country.

It makes no sense not to reunite what is in effect a small number of families and is especially cruel on those split families with children and even more difficult to understand when INZ has resident visa applications in process for many of them but refuses to prioritise them (which would provide an elegant solution to the clamp down on granting humanitarian exemptions to reunite these families as those with resident visas can come to NZ without an exemption).

I do believe that the number of critical worker visas that will be granted border exemptions will increase in NZ at least. Job adverts on seek.co.nz, NZ’s largest online job site, showed job vacancies surge 19% in December and get this - it means there are more jobs being advertised in NZ today than there was before the pandemic reached these shores! This reinforces another statistic released just before Christmas - in those businesses employing 20 people or less, the number of people employed was actually 1.3% higher than pre-pandemic.

Therein lies the Government’s dilemma. The economy has not just rebounded from the lockdowns of last year, it has grown. Skills shortages for the most part have not gone away. Unemployment at 5.3% has probably peaked (the biggest losers were young and the low skilled, so not those the Government wants to be part of the residence programme).

Pressure will mount for the list of critical workers to grow. After much lobbying and pressure from people like us, Vets were added to the list of critical workers (but what a s*** show getting that across the line) just before Christmas.

In Australia, personal savings rates are up over 11% on this time last year. The printing of billions of dollars and its dispersal has meant that demand there is pent up. I cannot believe how much money the Australian Government is giving away. They continue to send us money as well which we are very grateful for but here in NZ we’ve been standing on our own two feet since September last year. 

The elephant in the room of course is balancing the pressure to increase numbers crossing our respective borders with the increased risk of the new South African and UK variants, both, as you’ll be aware, far more transmissible than the original varieties.

This has led to the Australian Government halving the number of people they are allowing to go to or return to Australia. They announced last week all travellers will have to have a negative test before boarding flights to Australia.

The NZ Government has also announced all travellers will also now need to test negative before boarding flights - including Kiwis.

A number of prominent local epidemiologists have spoken out strongly that the NZ Government is not going far enough. They are encouraging the Government to ban all flights that originate in places where this virus is out of control - UK, US, India, South Africa - to name four. That would be a big step but our border is currently under assault as is Australia’s. I would be surprised if the Australian PM isn’t wrestling with the same question.

Anecdotally, including in my own personal circles, plenty of New Zealanders are now saying that if as a Kiwi you didn’t take the opportunity of getting home last year, don’t whine now that you might not be able to now. That’s a little harsh perhaps as they seem to forget some perhaps couldn’t come home for all sorts of reasons. It would be a big step for the Government to effectively ban thousands of Kiwis that might want to return home but there’s some merit in the argument - many had their chance but chose to stay put - especially in the UK and the US where you’d hardly be able to argue Governments there have covered themselves in pandemic glory.

I wouldn’t bet the farm on flights being banned from certain countries because I am not sure either how effective it would be. You can’t fly direct to NZ from the UK (you can fly London to Perth) and most international travellers coming here have to have at least one stop over. That stop over complicates everything. You might pick the virus up at an airport en route.

I’m also not sure how the Government here could stop someone who lives in the UK, catching the Eurostar to Paris, boarding an Emirates flight to Dubai and then flying non stop to NZ. I am sure this is the reason why banning flights would be a last resort. Any of you sitting in South Africa quietly freaking out at that prospect you too cannot fly here directly and every flight involves at least one stop - so that would be a last gasp effort in my view by Government.

As more and more epidemiologists around the world are lamenting, many Governments particularly in the US and the UK are treating this virus as a short term problem and no one seems to be doing much planning for the next few years. When you add to that countries won’t be able to afford to vaccinate everyone (South Africa is one such country) it begs the question - what does 2021, 2022 and beyond look like? You could add the NZ and Australian Governments to that list - particularly the Aussies where the political leadership is all talk about recovery and good times ahead. It might take longer than they are publicly willing to admit and I’m not sure anyone really has a longer term plan.

My final thought is that all of this is going to increase the pressure on the Government here to throw caution to the wind, if indeed that’s what these vaccines represent, and start the roll out, at the very least to those MIQ, border and front line health workers sooner rather than later. Maybe they are worried some will refuse to take it and they’ll no doubt be having talkfests ‘around’ personal and human rights. Whatever the safety and efficacy risks are, the vaccines perhaps represent the lesser of a number of evils.

Hold onto your hats!

Until next week

 

Iain MacLeod

Southern Man

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Light at the end of the Australian Tunnel

Posted by Myer on Nov. 6, 2020, 4:38 p.m. in Immigration

Melbourne is about to be released from the constraints of the longest lockdown in any city in the world having just completed 111 days of lockdown. With much of Europe initiating a second wave of lockdowns perhaps this unenviable record will be broken but Melburnians emerge from this nightmare to find an Australia very different from when we went into second lockdown.

At the time of writing we have just had our seventh successive day with zero new infections in Victoria and just eight new infections today in the whole of Australia. We still have restrictions in terms of how we socialise and the distance we can travel but these are largely expected to be relaxed by the end of November to the extent that its forecast that we will be allowing a crowd of approximately 25,000 to the Boxing Day cricket test at the Melbourne Cricket Ground in December so life is worth living again.

Interstate travel is also expected to be relaxed by Christmas to allow families to be reunited for the Festive season, even by hardnosed State Governments like Queensland and Western Australia that have doggedly refused to relax border restrictions and jealously guarded their Covid free status.

On the Economic front the news appears to be better than earlier predictions anticipated. The Reserve Bank of Australia is expecting a more robust economic rebound and stated:

"In Australia, the economic recovery is under way and positive GDP growth is now expected in the September quarter, despite the restrictions in Victoria," the bank said. "It will, however, take some time to reach the pre-pandemic level of output."

The Bank is expecting GDP growth to be around 6 per cent in the year to June 2021 and 4 per cent in 2022.

The unemployment rate is expected to peak at 8 per cent, below the 15-20 per cent it had been previously expecting. These were unemployment figures last seen in the great depression (1929 – 1933). By the end of 2022, the unemployment rate is expected to be around 6 per cent which is just marginally above the pre-Covid rate of 5.4%.

The present rate of unemployment is masked by the fact that employers with a 30% decline in revenue are still entitled to Jobkeeper payments aimed at assisting employers to retain staff and this will continue until end of March 2021. Only then will the true nature of the rate of unemployment become apparent however if we look across the Tasman to New Zealand, they phased out their wage subsidy in September and the number of New Zealanders in work today is 34,000 higher than this time last year.

Inflation is negligible in Australia, to the extent that the Reserve Bank was comfortable about cutting interest rates to just 0.1% and we are anticipating that this translates to home mortgage rates of between 1.79 – 2% .The Reserve Bank also announced it would buy AU$100 billion of longer dated government bonds to support the economy and with all this cash available the Australian government is under real pressure to spend the money to stimulate the economy.

Melbourne will soon be accepting more Australians stranded overseas into quarantine facilities (at present there are something like 23,000 Australians still stranded overseas) and one hopes that this time round more stringent quarantine controls will be put into place as this was the cause of the second wave of infections in Melbourne.

We have a judicial enquiry considering the factors that led to the virus escaping from two quarantine hotels in May and June, rapidly spreading around Melbourne, forcing the city back into lockdown.

Some 800 people lost their lives and 1,200 jobs per day were shed as businesses were forced to close their doors.  

The government has faced criticism for using private security guards - instead of police or ADF troops - to man the quarantine hotels. 

The inquiry has struggled to work out who made that decision as the program was set up on March 27 as most state government officials seem to have developed a collective case of amnesia.

Perhaps it’s a cumulative effect of all of this positive news that has prompted the Department of Home Affairs to start processing visa applications for those overseas in non-critical occupations and after a long delay we have started to receive some positive responses from the Department.

Hopefully the sense of “opening up” (or to use Gorbachev’s term of Glasnost) of Australia albeit in baby steps will extend to the list of occupations in demand (state sponsorship lists) to be released by State Governments towards the end of this year. With growth rates of 6% next year, I think there will be a rapid redeployment of unemployed Australians in the workforce and also the creation of a number of skill shortages in occupations. I’m expecting Australia to suffer stretchmarks at the rapid rate of expansion and hopefully the government will be quick to recognise and respond to that.

With tertiary academic institutions in Australia badly affected by the lack of international students the government cannot afford to ignore this important economic sector which traditionally accounts for a boost of $40 billion to the national economy and is largely used to prop up the tertiary education sector in Australia.

Clearly we have a long way to go and “Covid normal” is not the same as “normal normal” but it’s nice to see some positive indications on the not too distant horizon. We are in the stages of an opening up of the national economy both in terms of allowing domestic travel and a travel bubble with New Zealand that is already in existence but will be adopted by more state governments as Covid infection rates continue to fall in Australia. It’s not going to be too long before other countries with relatively low infection rates such as Singapore will be added to the bubble.

It’s too premature to say that good times are just around the corner, but perhaps it is accurate to say that the worst times are behind us and it’s very clear that Australia has dodged an economic bullet.

Tags: lockdown

When Is The Right Time To Book A Consultation?

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

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

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

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

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

If this sounds weird, welcome to my world.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


I Want My Mum

Posted by Myer on Oct. 25, 2019, 1:41 p.m. in Immigration

 

With the announcement that the parent category in New Zealand is to be operational in May 2020 it’s perhaps opportune to compare the options available to parents wishing to be reunited with children in either Australia or New Zealand. Whilst both Australia and New Zealand are reluctant to accept parents because of the greater healthcare costs elderly parents will place upon the health systems of both countries, the immigration policies are quite different.

New Zealand 

As far as residence visa options are concerned, New Zealand reopened the category for parents that they "temporarily" closed three years ago and have limited the annual quota of parents under this category to 1000 per year. Whilst parents don’t have to have any specific amount of capital to qualify under this category, their children in New Zealand would have to have a significant earning capacity with annual incomes of at least $106,080 to sponsor a single parent or $159,120 to sponsor two parents but up to as much as $212,000.    

I’m not sure of the logic behind this, clearly income earning capacity on the part of children is used as a means to limit the number of parents who can qualify to those with children in the top 10% of income earners in New Zealand.

This doesn’t necessarily mean that these parents are less likely to require state funded healthcare, and given the fact that children don’t necessarily need to pay healthcare costs on the part of parents, I can’t quite follow the logic on the part of the government. It seems a relatively arbitrary (but very effective) way of culling the number of parents entitled to apply for permanent residence.

The sponsoring child in New Zealand needs to have been the holder of a resident visa for three years before they can act as sponsor but the parents don’t have to satisfy a “balance of family” test like they do in Australia. Having just one child in New Zealand to act as sponsor is sufficient.

There is, in addition, the parent retirement category which does place an asset test requirement on the part of the parent to prove NZ$1.5 million in cash or assets and be willing to invest at least NZ$1 million in income producing investments for a period of four years. They also need to demonstrate an annual income of at least NZ$60,000 in the 12 months preceding their resident visa filing. The majority of parents that contact us don’t meet these requirements - particularly the final one - but if they do this is a pathway which create a high degree of certainty. The NZ child acting as sponsor only needs to hold a resident visa but not for three years.

Australia

As far as Australia’s residence visa categories for parents are concerned, parents have to satisfy a balance of family test by proving that they have at least as many children lawfully and permanently residing in Australia as any other country. The Sponsoring child also needs to have lived in Australia for at least a period of two years and be a permanent resident visa holder. This can include periods of temporary residence prior to the child obtaining permanent residence.

Sponsors don’t have to have any particular level of income but the cost of a contributory parent visa application is quite steep. There is a rather large “contribution” payable by each parent of AU$43,600 which is aimed to recoup some of the healthcare costs the Australian government is likely to spend on elderly parents as their medical costs will escalate in their advancing years. There is also an Assurance of Support Bond that needs to be paid and is held for 10 years before it is returned to the sponsor of AU$14,000 for two parents and AU$10,000 for a single parent.

The quota or annual of contributory parent visa applications is 7175 and in addition there is another 1500 places for the non-contributory parent visa application.

Temporary Visas

Because processing times of contributory parent visa applications is lengthening (it’s approximately four years at present) the government has, in July of this year announced temporary visa options for parents that will allow them to spend either three years in Australia or five years in Australia at a cost of AU$5000 or AU$10,000. These temporary visas can be extended for up to a total of 10 years.

New Zealand also has temporary visas available for parents because of the time it’s going to take to process a residence visa, allowing parents to spend six months in New Zealand in each year of a maximum of three years but it remains to be seen when the category reopens if this will be sufficient time for the parents to remain in NZ while their residence is being processed.

So often I have consultations with applicants, particularly in South Africa where I’m told that skilled migrants want to immigrate with extended families including siblings and parents. Whilst it is possible for siblings younger than 45, in the case of Australia, and younger than 56 in the case of New Zealand, to apply on their own merits, it’s becoming harder to make plans to immigrate with parents included. We are fast approaching (if we haven’t already approached) the time when migrants need to focus on the reasons why they are thinking of immigrating, and if these reasons are primarily for the purposes of securing a better future for their children (as it is in most cases) it will be an added bonus if their parents can be accommodated at a future point in time.

I’m not unsympathetic to the plight of parents and they are clearly the migrants that Australian and New Zealand governments will grudgingly accept. Whilst the concept of family cohesion is a laudable one, it’s becoming harder to accommodate in terms of immigration policies for both Australia and New Zealand. Time, as my partner Iain is fond of saying, is your enemy when it comes to migration and parent residence categories are prime examples of this.


When an A Grade Means Fail

Posted by Iain on June 7, 2019, 8:23 p.m. in Immigration

I wrote a few weeks ago about the critical importance of filing ‘decision ready’ work visa applications in order to minimise the risk of the application being deemed ‘high touch’ (in English, requiring closer scrutiny) and being placed in an allocation queue which can mean four months simply to allocate to an officer for processing.

One of the four criteria that will see a work visa allocated to the slow queue is a medical certificate and tests that are not able to be immediately ‘auto cleared’ as indicating an acceptable standard of health.

A few years ago INZ introduced a grading system whereby all medicals receive an ‘A’ or ‘B’ grade by the Government appointed, and presumably trusted and trained, Doctor. An ‘A’ means ‘no significant findings’. We’ve always interpreted that to mean the applicant is of an acceptable standard of health.

After recent discussions with senior INZ managers we believed that a medical that receives an A grading, indicating no serious conditions, would be allocated to the ‘low touch’ queue because less scrutiny is required. We couldn’t work out then why a number of clients with an A grading were being referred to INZs in house Doctors for a recommendation on the clients fitness for entry.

From the ‘assume nothing’ and ‘suspend logic’ file when dealing with INZ, we nearly fell off our chairs last week (we seem to spend more and more time on the floor these days) when we were advised that just because an applicant receives an A grading and the Doctor declares ‘no significant findings’, this does not guarantee the medical will be cleared on lodgement. 

When I asked why this is the case I was told it is because someone deemed to be healthy by INZ’s trusted overseas Doctor might not meet INZ’s own health standards. I thought, clearly stupidly, that the Doctors tasked with testing migrants health and reporting on it, were trained in the standard NZ requires migrants meet. When they confirm there’s nothing of any concern, it meant something.

It got even more bizarre when a few days ago a client who is in NZ, had her medical done here, who received an A grading, failed to be ‘auto’ cleared upon receipt of the visa application.

That suggests, perhaps, that even NZ trained and trusted Doctors also don’t understand, or haven’t been trained, on the standard of health, costs of treatment and so on.

Hardly credible and hardly believable.

It also begs the question that if the trusted Doctor declares there’s nothing of any significance and stamps the medical with an A grading, yet it ends up needing to be looked at my a second Doctor inside INZ, what is the purpose of the grading system?

As we go to press I’m still waiting for an answer.

INZ did proudly tell me that 70% of the 3000 medicals looked at every week are ‘auto cleared’ and gave themselves a pat on the back. That still leaves 900 a week that are not.

I wonder how many of those get an A grading and could/should be ‘auto cleared’ up front, thus streamlining and speeding up the remainder of the work visa process.

So be warned, an A grading and a Doctor trusted by the NZ Government to test and interpret medical information for them, who says there are ‘no significant findings’, might still mean excessive and avoidable delays on work and other temporary visas.


NZ Skill List Changes Explained

Posted by Iain on May 10, 2019, 1:37 p.m. in Immigration

Every government likes to put their own stamp on things when they come into power to demonstrate that they are ‘doing things’. I remember being told this many years ago by a new Minister of Immigration over a coffee who changed the name (but nothing else) of the Appeal Authority. When I asked her why it was done given the cost involved to the tax payer (think how much it must cost a government department to simply change stationary letterhead for example), she looked at me and smiled and said "We all do it, it's called stamping our name on things’. The taxpayer be damned, obviously.

Unfortunately, this can lead to rank confusion in the marketplace such as is happening this week as my inbox is filling up with people, registered on INZ’s website (who are bombarded with marketing and pronouncements telling them how much we want them in New Zealand) proudly noting their occupation is now on one of the ‘new’ skill shortage lists and asking how that changes our strategy to secure residence.

As it seems with all things immigration, not everything is what it might first appear.

New Zealand operates a number of ‘skills shortage’ lists and their importance is by and large limited purely to whether or not employers need to prove a labour market shortage when wishing to employ migrants who require work visas. 

Only one impacts on residence eligibility or strategy, the others have no import whatsoever, either directly or indirectly on residency policy or eligibility for residence.

The first was until this week known as the ‘Immediate skills shortage list’ and this was a list of occupations, deemed to be in acute shortage in some regions of New Zealand. It has been renamed as the "Regional skill shortage list" and virtually the only change has been to increase the number of regions from 6 to 15. The occupations of Pre-primary, Primary and High school teacher has been added. The reality however is that the Immigration Department has been, for at least the past 12 months not expecting employers to demonstrate a labour market shortage because everyone knows there's a desperate need for teachers in New Zealand. 

Effective change? None.

The second is known as the ‘Construction and Infrastructure shortage list’ which is in effect exactly the same as the regional skills shortage list only it focuses on, as the name suggests, construction and infrastructure related occupations by region. 

Effective change? Nothing to not very much.

The third is known as the ‘Long-term skill shortage list’ (LTSSL) and this serves a double purpose. 

If a migrant has been offered a job in NZ in an occupation that is on that list and, crucially, has the New Zealand equivalent qualifications and/or minimum years of work experience that deems them qualified to be on that list, then it is accepted there is a shortage of those skills and no labour market test is carried out before a work can be granted. 

If a migrant has a job in one of these occupations, it also creates a pathway to residency. The applicant will receive a 30-month work Visa, and once they have worked for 24 months, they can then apply for residency from work, all other things being equal. This is not a ‘points’ based process and is in no way related to the Skilled Migrant Category. 

It is very rare however anyone with a job offer on the Long-term skills shortage list would ever need to wait for 24 months before having to file a residency Visa. The reason for this is simply because in all probability they have enough "points" to qualify under the Skilled Migrant Pathway. I don't think I've ever had to advise the client to wait 24 months to apply for residency from work if their occupation is on this list. It's a list we could probably get rid of or incorporate into the regional shortage list.

It's worth pointing out here that all of these lists are in effect not occupation lists but qualification lists because having a job in New Zealand with a job title that appears on one of these lists, but not having the required New Zealand equivalent qualification and/or work experience means any application will be treated as if you are not on the list and that therefore requires the employer to demonstrate to the immigration department a national shortage of those skills. You might want to read that again! It is one of those bizarre paradoxes that confuses everybody.

The point is, it is effectively a qualification test.

Take Software Developer for example. To be considered to be on a regional skills shortage list and for the employer not to have to demonstrate a labour market shortage, an applicant must hold a qualification comparable to the learning outcome of a New Zealand Bachelor Degree in IT or similar. Of course there are many Software Developers who do not hold bachelor degrees but do exactly the same job as those who hold them. 

For assessment purposes the one that holds the degree is not required to demonstrate they are not taking a job away from a New Zealander but the one who does not have a degree is required to demonstrate the not denying a New Zealander and opportunity.

My advice is no one should get too excited about these pronouncements this week. And effect they changed little to nothing but 99.9% of those looking to work temporarily or migrate to New Zealand.

Until next week...

>> Southern Man on Instagram (New Zealand)
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How Do You Prove a Negative?

Posted by Iain on May 3, 2019, 3:32 p.m. in Immigration

I have no intention of this blog becoming a weekly whine about dealing with the Immigration Department. I do appreciate that their inefficiency, inconsistency and often downright stupidity creates a lot of very rewarding work for my team and me.

Many in my industry live by the mantra that ‘change is good and chaos is better’, but I can only take so much of it.

Take the recent workshops put on by the Immigration Department to try and teach the private sector how to prepare "decision ready" visa applications. Against my better judgement, I sent a few of my team along to get an insight not only into how the immigration department thinks but also how the knowledge of my team compares with a lot of the ‘competition’. 

There was also the chance, of course, they might learn a thing or two but by and large they all said it was a complete waste of time; an out of control ‘circus’ where the Department officials were unable to answer anything more than very rudimentary questions and it descended into chaos and the inevitable arguments about individual cases which all attendees had been warned by INZ management not to bring to the meeting. 

Handouts were given which detailed what documents the department expected to see for, among other things, work visas to be "decision ready” at the time of lodgement. All that this confirmed was everything that is submitted by my company, barring medical abnormalities, are cases which subject to verification can be allocated for processing and approved very quickly.

This is increasingly critical because the department is quoting 15 working days to allocate "decision ready" applications and 60 days for those that are not. There is clearly a very strong incentive to get it right first time.

Being able to file decision ready applications then is increasingly important and something my company has a proud track record of presenting. 

Being able to hold the department to their own expected service standards is critical so they can be held to account themselves.

There is one very interesting criteria which is demanded of the employer of work Visa applicants that I'm still awaiting clarification on. 

That is that the employer must be able to demonstrate a "history of compliance with employment and immigration law" and that they are not on the Immigration Department’s "Non-Compliant Employer List."

The second of those criteria is very easy for the department to check as they keep the list. This is a list of those employers that have been found to have transgressed immigration and/or employment law and are in effect blacklisted for a period of time from offering jobs to immigrants. 

The first however requires most employers to prove a negative.

How can you prove that you are compliant with the law when there will only be a public record if you have not been? There is no such thing in New Zealand as a "Compliant Employer List”. The only records that are kept will be against companies or businesses found to have transgressed the law - with, for example, the Employment Tribunal. There is therefore no way of demonstrating at the time of work visa is filed the employer has complied and has a history of compliance.

My fear until this is explained and resolved is that the immigration department officers could use that criteria as an excuse to flick work visas from the 15 day allocation queue to the 60 day allocation queue and believe me they will if they can get away with it.

All onshore work visas are now being processed by Immigration New Zealand Christchurch Branch and under their watch we have gone, between December 2018 and January 2019, from processing times of around 3 to 4 weeks, to 3 to 4 months. 

Initially they blamed Christmas for the blowout which is curious because for my 54 years on the planet, Christmas seems to arrive at the same time every year. Most of us that run businesses know it is coming and make plans.

By February they were blaming the fact that they needed to train a lot of their new staff - one presumes when the handover of processing to this branch took place, they were aware they needed to engage in training. It seems not.

By March they were, seriously, blaming the Christchurch mosque massacres for their inability to get on top of their work. They justified this as the government offered priority processing of offshore visitor visas to family members who needed to travel urgently to New Zealand which is fair enough. However, it's hard to believe there could more than perhaps 150 families needing these which are pretty simple applications. Given the branch was moaning they had too much work was no consideration given to a very small team of officers in another branch processing these?

With the visitor visas out of the way, April’s excuse was the Government's decision announced last week to create a new residency pathway for families of the victims already in New Zealand on valid visas. 

Given the very small numbers of these applications, coupled with the fact that these people are already in New Zealand on various temporary visas, what’s the rush? How does this decision increase the workload to such an extent most employers of highly skilled migrants are now being relegated to waiting four months or even longer for work visas?

Surely, given the victim's families are already safely on temporary visas, there is no desperate rush to process their residency. Given the numbers of applications are relatively small by the government's own admission, it is incomprehensible to me that Immigration New Zealand in Christchurch should be quoting 60 days to allocate Essential Skills work Visa - and those work visas are deemed less important than residency cases which would ordinarily be processed over many months anyway. 

And let's not forget the priority being given elsewhere to all those tourists around New Zealand who can go and get variations of conditions to their holiday plans to go and pick Kiwifruit in the Bay of Plenty.

Lame excuse after lame excuse from a 'business' that rakes in $300 million in fees. I tell you, it is a circus.

This is why understanding the criteria for applications to be deemed "decision ready” is absolutely critical whether you are filing your own Visa, filing one on behalf of an employee or if you are an Immigration Advisor or lawyer.

Assuming I get a straight answer on this question of how businesses can demonstrate a history of compliance with the law, it should enable all our work visas to get what is currently "priority" allocation without the department having the excuse of kicking it into the three-month allocation queue.

Until next week...

>> Southern Man on Instagram (New Zealand)
>> IMMagine Australia & New Zealand on Instagram
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