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Posts with tag: covid-19

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How COVID Changed My World

Posted by Iain on Feb. 12, 2021, 1:21 p.m. in New Zealand

Is it unseemly or inappropriate to say I am somewhat thankful for Covid?

Or should that be I am grateful for the changes that Covid has thrust upon me, the crew and our business?

This time last year I was two weeks into an eight week slog overseas on a business trip to Singapore, Hong Kong and South Africa. No breaks, no days off, same airports, same train stations, taxis, same hotels, same room service menus. I expected that 2020 would likely be like almost every other year in my life during the past three decades - spending almost as much time out of the country as in New Zealand. Don’t get me wrong, I really enjoy it but the irony never escapes me - the guy helping people build a new life in New Zealand and more recently Australia, spends less time in his home country than most of his clients do.

As the coronavirus edged ever closer to me in South Africa through early March, I feared being unable to return to NZ as the obvious first step was for the border to be closed. Luckily, with the latest road show over I got back to New Zealand on 15 March, began the 14 day ‘self-isolation’ period but before that was over we were plunged into a seven week national lockdown.

Like most people I was nervous - not of the virus - but of whether or not I’d have a business and what New Zealand might look like 3, 6 and 12 months later. The border was closed here and in Australia. My eldest son was ‘stuck’ in Brisbane. When would we ever see him again? Give him a hug and sit around the fire pit enjoying a quiet beer before sharing an evening in front of the dart board? Was the economy about to collapse as so many thought?

Were all those years of hard toil and grinding overseas trips going to come unstuck?

My wife and I decamped to our beach house north of Auckland to self-isolate before we were forced to all lock down and I’ve pretty much stayed here ever since.

The summer of 2020 burned its way through March and April. The ground dried out as what seems these days to be annual drought in these parts sucked the moisture from the soil. I was glued every day to media reports on how Covid was impacting on us and those overseas. That and the long range weather forecasts.

Apart from desperately needing some rain, unexpectedly life here turned out to be extremely pleasant. Blissfully quiet - for weeks. Almost no traffic. No one mowing lawns. No loud tractors heading to the beach to launch boats (we weren’t allowed to go fishing). No planes flying overhead or helicopters buzzing across the skies. Birdsong dominated the mornings and evenings as did the sound of waves breaking on the shore below the house.

We would go for a 7km walk every day. Swam in the afternoons on the way home.

I was candid with the IMMagine crew - as managers (and I’d like to think, friends) we’d do our very best to keep the team together. I crunched the numbers - we had enough cash on hand to get us through the next few months and we later took the Government up on the offer of providing wages subsidies. This bought us time to see how the country faired when it came out of lockdown. Across the ditch the Australian Government was even more generous with their wage subsidies and business support (still are) and the time that the wage subsidies bought us meant no knee jerk decisions needed to be made.

The upside of it all was that we were forced to change the way we delivered our service and that change has been far more successful than I could ever have imagined. Obviously, the days of getting on planes and flying to various countries, delivering seminars to packed ballrooms and then hanging around and consulting for a week or so in each centre was no longer possible. At least in the short term (which I expected would likely be 18 months) the service would need to be delivered very differently.

So we tried something we’d often talked about doing but were frankly too timid to try - presenting online seminars. We’d been doing Skype based consultations for years with those who were living in the countries we weren't visiting or ho couldn't make it to see us. That part of things I was comfortable with.

Would the business survive however without physically going to Malaysia, Hong Kong, Singapore and South Africa? How would people respond to a virtual presentation?

On a personal level the prospect was tantalising because if we no longer had to kiss our loved ones goodbye and tell them we’d see them in 3-6 weeks several times a year that was a clear plus. Saying goodbye was always hard for those of us travelling so regularly especially when our children were (or are) young. Hard on us, hard on them and hard on their mothers.

From my own perspective I got to spend time at home at the beach house with my family (most of them) and friends as the year rolled on - I suddenly had time in the garden creating raised beds, areas for propagating native plants and growing vegetables, getting serious about the pest and predator control in our piece of rainforest (and more latterly Department of Conservation land adjacent to us that the Government does nothing to conserve).

Perhaps most importantly I soon realised that I couldn’t control what was going to happen tomorrow and I had this zen like peace of mind. I slept like a baby and better than I had in years. I cannot tell you what that means for a control freak like me. My greatest concern was the lack of rain. Week after week and then month after month.

No jet lag for the first time in decades was an incredible bonus only frequent flyers might appreciate. Flying a couple of hundred thousand kilometres every year always sounds so glamorous but trust me it isn’t. Don’t get me wrong, I thoroughly enjoyed the travel for the most part - meeting new people all the time and spending time in countries I’d not choose to live in but love visiting. I had long felt guilty about carbon emissions and what I was doing to the planet - even though I was probably ‘carbon negative’ given we have 22 hectares of rainforest that is now free to grow without being munched to pieces by grazing herbivore pests (as an aside we estimate there’s over 1000kg of vegetation not being eaten every week – that’s a lot of carbon being turned into botanical tissue). I also bought a Tesla for some guilt free driving given 85% of our electricity in NZ is generated through renewable energy - hydro mainly with. A pinch of solar, wind and geothermal.

The team was given the option of continuing to work from home even though lockdowns are a fading memory for two days week which the majority have taken me up on. I don’t expect any clients are any the wiser where the staff are delivering our service from because there is no reason for them to. The staff now spend less time in cars, stuck in traffic adding to Auckland’s terrible congestion, productivity is up and I am sure as a group we have probably cut our greenhouse emissions by around 20%. A small but important step for us as a business and individuals given the NZ Government recently declared a ‘climate emergency’. At the same time achieving a far healthier work life balance. All because of a nasty little virus.

Historically our time as traveling consultants was so restricted we limited ourselves to a small number of markets and while they still dominate our client ‘pool’ it is fantastic now to assist many others from markets we haven’t traditionally operated in like Lebanon, Indonesia, the US and Bulgaria.

These days I can fall out of bed, grab a coffee, put on a nice shirt and present a seminar to audience thousands of kilometers away. I am always very tempted, as I often do when I do one on one online consultations, to turn my computer camera around so the clients can see the view from my office (lounge) - a sparkling Pacific Ocean, big sky and a smattering of lazy clouds. The start of another 28 degree summer’s day.

After the seminar I can wander down to the beach and throw myself in the Pacific Ocean instead of returning to a hotel room. Fresh air in abundance. Sunshine on the back. Just me, the beach, a few seabirds and the ocean. Bliss.

While Covid has brought much misery around the world and we are a long way off it all being over, here in New Zealand we have been relatively untouched by it all through some good management and some good luck including our being surrounded by a lot of water, like Australia. Life has taken on a refreshingly slower pace. I’m not feeling smug about it but equally I am in no hurry to return full-time to the congestion and noise of Auckland nor to climb aboard planes again… not yet anyway, maybe never.

So thank you, you horrible little virus for forcing on me and the team a new way of thinking about how we do this business and thank you to the team for having faith in the company leadership to give it a go. It has been, as I say, far more successful than I might ever have imagined. Plenty of challenges lie ahead with the border likely closed for the remainder of this year but in the meantime I fully intend enjoying the benefits of living in Aotearoa New Zealand full-time and my colleagues in Melbourne get to enjoy the best of their home as well (albeit for the next five days in lock down that was announced this afternoon).

The biggest question playing on my mind now is once the world is vaccinated and I am vaccinated will I ever need (or want) to return to the old model of international travel?

I suspect the answer is yes, some of the time but not because I have to but because I want to.

Until next week

Iain MacLeod

Southern Man

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Tags: covid-19

First Day Back

Posted by Myer on Jan. 22, 2021, 10:34 a.m. in Australia

In summer I enjoy one of the benefits of living in Melbourne and cycle to the office along the waterfront. That’s why “summer Myer” is considerably thinner than “winter Myer”. Because Melbourne spent most of 2020 in lockdown my only exercise consisted of walking to and from the refrigerator and summer Myer is yet to emerge, but as I cycled to my office for the first time in a year I couldn’t help but notice how empty the city is and wondered whether it would ever return to pre-Covid levels of activity.

The Australian Government has been trying to encourage immigrants to move to regional Australia (regional Australia is anywhere outside metropolitan Melbourne, Sydney and Brisbane) to alleviate increasing pressure on infrastructure, services, and congestion in the major cities. In previous immigration years, approximately 60 – 70% of migrants have immigrated to Melbourne, Sydney and Brisbane resulting in inflated property prices, increased traffic on roads and in the city, and putting pressure on the education and healthcare sectors within those cities. The government has always had a regional visa program that had some concessions that encouraged new residents to move to regional areas, with new changes implemented in November 2019 further promoting the regional scheme.

Some of our clients initially expressed resistance to the idea of embracing the concept of regional Australia even though there are several large cities considered to be regional most notably Perth (population approximately 2 million), Adelaide (population approximately 1.4 million), Canberra (population approximately 500,000), Hobart (population approximately 300,000) to name just a few. However, with more Australians migrating out of Melbourne, Sydney and Brisbane to more regional locations I think that there will be a boost in economic activity in regional Australia as a result of both the greater number of migrants relocating to the cities, as well as Australians embracing regional Australia in greater numbers.

We were told by social commentators at various points during the lockdown, following the 2 waves of corona virus infections Melbourne endured, that the pandemic would change the world in many different ways, one of them being the way we work and live.

With many embracing the ability to work from home, the demand for bigger homes has translated to increases in property prices in regional Australia. After all, why work in a cramped apartment in Melbourne when you could buy a three bedroom home with land in regional Australia for a similar price.

With the rollout of high-speed broadband in regional Australia, one doesn't need to sacrifice productivuty by working in regional Australia and whilst I choose to cycle to work in summer, many commyters don't that that ability and face long trips to the city in cars or public transport.

It's not difficult to see the appeal of regional Australia and this has translated to increases in property prices.

Regional house prices in Australia have risen at a higher annual rate than in capital cities for the first time in more than 15 years, as COVID-19 increases people's desire to live outside the bigger cities of Melbourne, Sydney and Brisbane.

Regional prices grew almost 7 per cent compared to 2 per cent growth for capital cities during 2020. It’s been 17 years since regional property prices outperformed property prices in Melbourne, Sydney and Brisbane (Metropolitan Australia).

The regional areas that received most attention from buyers with those that were only a few hours’ drive from major capital cities, such as the Gold Coast, Sunshine Coast, Geelong, Daylesford, Ballarat, Wollongong, and Newcastle.

By living in places located a few hours from the major cities people can almost have the best of both worlds by enjoying the lifestyle benefits and lower prices of regional Australia, as well is the ability to commute back to the office if they need to.

The challenge to regional cities past has been creating enough employment opportunities and quite unexpectedly the trend generated by Covid to more remote working may have presented a solution.

Suddenly, the potential of digital technology for working remotely is being embraced. Many people could live in regional cities while working remotely for employers elsewhere.

Increased house prices are just the first portent of increased economic activity in regional Australia. With greater demand for housing comes increased construction and all of the follow-on economic activity pertaining to hospitality, tourism (albeit domestic) education, healthcare et cetera all of which are creating increased employment opportunities for a far greater and more diverse skill set for migrants in regional Australia.

I would be suggesting to anyone considering migrating to Australia to strongly consider regional visa options which are generally easier than the visas aimed at metropolitan Australia. Generally more occupations are suitable for regional migration, and regional state sponsorship is worth more points.

In the unlikely event that you don’t enjoy life in regional Australia and want to move to Metropolitan Australia, the level of commitment to living in regional Australia is relatively short. Only three years of residence and work in regional Australia is required for you to be able to apply for a permanent resident visa which would allow you to live and work in Metropolitan Australia.

As many Australians have discovered there is much more to Australia than Melbourne, Sydney and Brisbane and there is growing trend on the part of Australians to embrace regional life. Perhaps you should too.


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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A fullstop on 2020

Posted by Iain on Dec. 22, 2020, 9:10 p.m. in New Zealand

Tis the season in which everyone will want to share the lows of 2020 and their hopes for 2021, vaccines, freedom of movement and normality.

Not me! Well, not the bad stuff because at least here in Aotearoa we have an awful lot to be thankful for and we end the year pretty much normal anyway. 

It has been a challenging year for sure and tested our company’s leadership, processes and systems. IMMagine came through it in great shape and I couldn’t be more proud of the team. If you’d said to me in March we’d finish the year in such strong shape I’d have asked you what drugs you were taking.

On a national level, here in Aotearoa New Zealand the economy roared back and grew by 14% in the September quarter having fallen a similar amount in the second quarter. Australia has also seen a strong return to economic ‘form’.

Unemployment in NZ is sitting around the 5.5% mark - not far off its 25 year median. A percentage point higher across the ditch but still better than many had anticipated a few months ago.

Aotearoa New Zealand is a little war-weary and battle scarred to be sure. New Zealanders are now reaping the reward of the disciplined and collective approach that as a people we accepted back in late March to keep this virus at the border. I never realised what a compliant bunch New Zealanders were and whether you think this is a blessing or a curse, I can tell you it served us well on this occasion. Mistakes have been made along the way and once again I’m reminded that big Government has its weaknesses but also its strengths. The Government kept secret a fairly damning report on its handling of the virus written by a Labour (current Government) friendly apparatchik until Friday, the last day of the Parliamentary year so it couldn’t be challenged on its performance. The authors pulled no punches and suggested there was an element of good luck as much as good management that we’ve not suffered from Covid as a great many other nations have. But I’ll take it.


I get the feeling we are one tired Government official working at the border away from more community transmission (as seems to have happened the past few days in Sydney). Hopefully the nationwide vaccine roll out slated to begin in March 2021 will prevent any long lasting damage to either country and we can look to an easing of the border restrictions.

INZ has, in its handling of border exemptions, proven itself once again to be a government department that behaves like a headless chicken and is extraordinarily inept. Extraordinary circumstances demanded extraordinary leadership. They failed big time. At least we end 2020 with opposition lawmakers and the media now starting to question what exactly goes on inside INZ. I continue to hope 2021 might bring some action and the Auditor General investigating the circus that is INZ.

However we got to this point, thanks to or in spite of the Government we end 2020 living for the most part in a country not totally dissimilar to this time last year. For that I’m sure we are all grateful. And I hope we don’t get complacent.

I’ve no intention of ending 2020 on a downbeat note.

I’ve just spent a wonderful three days walking the Routeburn Track in Te Wai Pounamu (South Island) with my wife and some close friends. It’s almost become something of a tradition - in our view no matter what the year has thrown at us having the chance to escape to a place so beautiful words (and for the most part photographs) cannot do justice, is for us a real decompress. No wifi for three days!

This part of the country is a land of epic geological proportions, a landscape formed by active tectonics and water - both liquid and frozen. The mountains continue to rise by around 17mm a year - might not sound much but in geological time it’s a sprint. The highest are perpetually covered in snow and the tallest Aoraki (‘cloud piercer’) is 3720m. We climbed as high as 1500m on our hike.

At this time of year only the highest peaks are snow covered thankfully.  In winter the snow fills the valleys as well so the great walk we did last week is restricted to around five months a year. Successive ice ages have ground deep U-shaped valleys from the sky to the sea. Between 3000 and 9000mm of rain feeds not hundreds but thousands of waterfalls, streams and rivers and drenches the forests. These waterfalls are as high as 580m (Sutherland Falls – and that heigh is no typo). These waterfalls tumble over near vertical cliff faces and feed rivers that surge their way to the sea. The sweetest purest water you’ll ever drink. 


Day one, following an early start and a three hour bus ride we began the hike deep in the Fiordland National Park. A 90 minute climb through dripping beech forest to the top of the tree line certainly got the heart rate up. The view from the top did the rest. Everything below the snowline was draped in moss. Moss hanging off the branches, blanketing every bough, carpeting massive boulders the size of cars. All around us every conceivable shade of green.

Above the tree line you enter what looks like the biggest Japanese garden in the world. Stunted trees, bonsai thanks to the cold and wind, stretch as far as the eye can see. Mountain bogs surrounded by rocks and mosses. The far off screech of our endemic mountain parrot, the Kea, echoed across the valley.

Day two saw us above the tree line and traversing the Harris Saddle. A grey brooding sky shrouded many of the tallest mountain peaks that surrounded us.  A track cut into rock that snaked high above mountain lakes was not for the vertiginous.

What amazed me almost as much as the ‘to die for’ grand vistas was what was at our feet. Given I spent a lot of time looking down so I didn’t rip over some rock and disappear over a cliff I was so often transfixed by the tiny forms of plant life much of it quite alien – lichens, sundews only 1mm across but made up of up to a dozen sticky flowers, the orange and purple fruiting bodies of mosses and worts, delicate white bell shaped flowers, native orchids, and beds of orange berries lying in a blanket of 1mm high ground covers. I am not a good enough wordsmith to describe such beauty literally everywhere you looked.Day three saw us wending our way down through more beech forest to the Routeburn Valley below. Our first experience of the legendary rain, it built in intensity through the morning. Thankfully it wasn’t cold rain. Arriving at our finishing point some 33km from where we’d begun I stood in awe as I watched a distant waterfall, hundreds of metres above me, grow before my eyes. I can’t begin to describe it but I questioned my own eyes. What started as a spectacular but restrained waterfall, doubled and tripled in size in a matter of minutes. That’s what several metres of rain does for ya! Within 30 minutes I was thankful to be out of there.Back to a Queenstown I barely recognised from last year. No international tourists and it was probably one third as busy as it was this time last year. It might sound selfish but I have to say sharing it only with New Zealanders, many of whom judging by the multitude of languages they were speaking haven’t lived here for long and were very possibly visiting Queenstown for the first time, was the New Zealand of my childhood only with ten times the number of restaurants and adventure infrastructure. Every second food outlet had a ‘Help wanted’ sign in the window – often advertising multiple vacancies.Heading home with 5kg of central Otago cherries tucked under my arm I remembered the words of Oprah Winfrey who once described this part of Aotearoa thus, ‘God was just showing off’. She wasn’t wrong.

If you want to check out some of my photos and videos you can see them on my Instagram feed - Southern_mannz

A most wonderful way to end a year that started off so full of uncertainty and fear but looks likely to finish with the country once again back on its feet.

I’d like to finish by thanking the team at IMMagine for so professionally getting through the most trying of years and of course wishing all our clients, many of whom are still in the middle of a visa nightmare caused by the border being closed, all the best for 2021.

 I’m more convinced than ever that what you are going through will be worth it. I expect with the vaccines being rolled out from March 2021 here we should be pretty much back to normal in terms of the border by this time next year (although I am sure there’ll be set backs along the way). I am sure we are more than half way through climbing this ‘mountain’.

 Whatever else you do put Queenstown and Central Otago on your bucket list. You might not get to see it quickly as you’d have liked with all the disruption but get yourself there. If you don’t fancy long hikes through the mountains and days without hordes of people or wifi like we do there’s still so much to do down there - summer or winter this is a most wonderful playground for young, old and everyone in between.

 Something to look forward to.

Until next year (we close 23 December and reopen 11 January)

Iain MacLeod
Southern Man


A Roll Of The Dice

Posted by Paul on Dec. 17, 2020, 11:05 a.m. in Immigration New Zealand

Avid readers of our blog will be familiar with some of our recent posts, comparing the inner functions (or dysfunctions) of INZ with a mystical land where you spend most of your time chasing a white rabbit with a pocket watch down a deep dark hole.

While those posts of the two Veterinarians applying to enter the country resulting in one being approved and the other declined whilst INZ split the finest of hairs over the differences between them, lurking in the background was another border lottery with potentially even greater consequences.

When New Zealand closed its borders as part of the ‘go hard and go early’ approach, it threw many migrants’ plans into disarray. People who had been working here but had left the country briefly found themselves stuck offshore. People with Work Visas who had not yet arrived were also stranded, unable to take up their new lives and new jobs. Then there were those who had made it here before the gates were closed but whose partners and dependent children were expecting to follow later, caught out and unable to travel.

For many of those families, split apart, the future looked increasingly uncertain.  They had to deal not only with the impacts of the pandemic that were widespread (job security, public health risks and learning to live at arm’s length from one another) but they had to do so in two different time-zones.

Shortly after we shut up shop in New Zealand, the Government acknowledged that certain people had to be allowed to enter. New Zealanders coming home were given permission and certain critical workers were allowed to apply. Over time that has extend to cricketers, Netflix film crews and even badminton players, all of which we have been told are vital to the recovery of our economy.

As New Zealand managed to contain and control the virus, further gaps in the border were opened up and some of those people who had valid Work Visas and had been in NZ prior to the lockdowns were able to enter, provided their jobs still existed.

During all of this, the split families remained in limbo. With no signals from the Government there was only really one last bastion of hope and that was to apply under the “humanitarian” border exemption process. A last resort of sorts, if you didn’t fit in anywhere else but you believed your situation was worthy of being allowed to cross the border.

Just like the Visa Neverland we described in our previous posts, the process to secure one of these exemptions under the humanitarian category was an absolute lottery. We filed many of these and for most clients, there was more than one (in fact many more).  Most were declined but occasionally one got through. Despite nothing really changing that much, those occasional approvals, whether through us, other advisers or those attempting it on their own, created hope. It might be the number of times you apply, the specific words you used or which officer looks at the request, all factors which might give you the winning ticket. Every time the one out of ten (which is the approximate success rate of these requests) was approved, it sparked that hope for everyone else.

Surely however if people are all in the same situation, then they should all receive the same outcome and it shouldn’t be a lottery?

That was the question we asked and asked multiple times of INZ and its senior management. Why do we have similar cases with such varying outcomes? Surely if one family, split across countries with young children, meets the humanitarian threshold, then everyone else should.

INZ replied with a myriad of processes and procedures that were being developed to achieve some degree of consistency. Officers were being calibrated, quality circles were being formed, entire teams of quality assurance bodies were analysing outcomes and pieces of work were flying all about the halls of INZ.

When all of this “busy work” had supposedly been completed, we asked what the outcome was. The answer, not surprisingly, was that each case is assessed on its merits. That’s code for we don’t really have an answer. In fact, one of the very senior people involved in this lengthy and often heated email exchange, was waiting for her quality assurance team to tell her whether the quality could be assured. Surely as the manager of this very delicate and often complex process you would have that information in front of you at all times?

So when the Government is still selling lottery tickets you would of course be mad not to buy them. There is still hope and for a family split apart for the better part of a year (in some cases longer than a year), you take any chance you can get. People carried on filing requests, spending the $45.00 in the hope that they might be as lucky as those folks on Facebook last week or the family that just arrived down the road the week before. You take your chances, you roll the dice and you hold out for any hope on offer.

Yesterday, we received a final response to a formal complaint we submitted to INZ concerning this process. That response contains what I believe is an admission that should have been provided months ago.

...there has been some inconsistency in decision-making, I believe there may have been some offshore family cases approved under the humanitarian criteria which perhaps did not meet the bar for a humanitarian exception (which is detailed above). I can advise that this feedback has been acknowledged and acted on...

What does that mean? Well INZ will suggest it means they are improving process, calibrating officers, transferring knowledge and moving forward. My reading of that is they got it wrong, realised their mistake and won’t do it again.

For many people out there this will be a sobering thought because it potentially means that the lottery has ended, although I will add to this that there is nothing stopping anyone, caught in this situation from buying another ticket. What it signals to us as people working within the inner mechanics of this process however, is that INZ having got it wrong have decided to correct that mistake. I would suggest the chances of an approval are slim unless your situation really is exceptional (and that bar is now potentially very high). Those who secured these exemptions are incredibly lucky to have them and should in fact be buying a ticket for the actual lottery.

For those still waiting to bring family across, whilst it might be a bitter pill to swallow, at least you know where you stand and ultimately that has to be better than the potential false hope that was being dished out previously.

Frustratingly the Government has failed to signal this to those affected in any meaningful way. In fact, very recently, having unsuccessfully challenged one such situation with the Associate Minister, the response was that this was all about the “absolutely critical” nature of protecting the health of New Zealanders – yet everyone allowed in to NZ, be it family members or Netflix crew are forced in to quarantine for 14 days, there is no health risk. Perhaps the Minister needs a little more calibrating.

Sometimes to be kind, you need to be cruel and for anyone stuck in this limbo situation, to be fair to them and to allow them to make informed decisions, the tough answer, as difficult as it might be is always the best one. Why the Government has failed to offer that and instead would rather string out the hope (hardly being kind) remains a source of ongoing frustration for myself and my colleagues but more importantly for the families this impacts on.

However, if there is some light at the end of the tunnel and whilst it is still speculation, the potential move to a travel bubble with Australia next year will mean more managed isolation spaces become available. That capacity could (and in my view should) lead to consideration being given to families split apart for what will then be well over 12 months. Pressure is mounting not only from the families themselves but from employers (scared of losing good skilled staff who may decide to leave) our industry and many others. All of which we hope will catch the attention of the Minister in early 2021.

To those families caught up in all of this, don’t lose hope. It may not be best placed in INZ’s lottery border exemption process but rather in the fact that all of this has to change at some point and to have held out this long under these circumstances is nothing short of miraculous. It is the bravest of things you do and we are approaching the toughest of times to be doing it in but there are plenty of us out there fighting your corner.

Till next week…


Where has the year gone to?

Posted by Myer on Dec. 4, 2020, 11:05 a.m. in Australia

“It’s December already, where has the year gone to?” is a common comment at this time of year but this particular year we know where we spent much of our time – isolated in our homes. It’s a year demarcated by isolation and stagnation from an economic and social perspective and next year can only be better. This is also true in terms of immigration policy which left very little to cheer about in 2020 but the outlook for 2021 has to be brighter.

In terms of the year that’s been, things turned sour fairly early on with Australia calling Covid 19 a pandemic prior to the announcement by the World Trade Organisation and essentially closed its borders on 20 March 2020 with exemptions for only Australian citizens, permanent residence and their immediate family.

In May we would normally receive the Federal Government’s budget announcement including details relating to the annual migration quota however this decision was postponed until October. This delay is why state sponsorship lists, which are normally produced in July were postponed until such time as the government finalised the migration quota so that they could decide on the number of migrants each state could sponsor.

Many of our clients overseas applying for general skilled migration visas are dependent upon the production of state sponsorship lists but as I write this these state allocations have yet to be finalised. All indications are that it should happen soon and we expect state sponsorship list to be produced later this month.

Delays associated with state sponsorship lists have meant that many of our clients who had obtained English-language tests and positive skills assessment have had to essentially tread water for much of this year. Even those offshore applicants who had filed general skilled migration visa applications have had to wait as priority was given to those already in Australia. With 36,000 Australians stranded overseas the government hardly wanted to add to the number of permanent residents overseas wanting to gain access to Australia by approving offshore cases hence the focus on processing applications made while the candidate was in Australia.

I’m sure that 2021 will however be a brighter year in terms of migration to Australia. There are several Covid 19 vaccines in production and Australia has entered into five separate agreements for the supply of Covid 19 vaccines if they are proven to be safe and effective.

Our interstate borders have been relaxed and it is now possible to travel anywhere in Australia except Western Australia and that’s set to change next week. In terms of our national border Australia already has quarantine-free travel arrangements with New Zealand and is working towards establishing similar arrangements with other low-risk countries such as Japan, Singapore and South Korea.

Towards the middle of next year, we should see a gradual return of some of the 120,000 international students who remain stranded overseas and of course July of next year demarcates the beginning of another immigration year with the publication of more state sponsorship lists.

The number and variety of occupations appearing on state sponsorship lists usually mirror economic activity in a particular state and relevantly the federal government is providing $257 billion in direct economic support to cushion the blow and strengthen the recovery. The 2020 – 21 budget commits a further $98 billion including $25 billion in direct Covid 19 response measures and $74 billion in new measures to create jobs bringing the government’s overall support to $507 billion. Other stimulatory measures such as tax reform, quantitative easing, and record low interest rates will no doubt have the desired effect of stimulating the Australian economy and, as the economy grows, so too do skill shortages and the need to import skills from overseas.

Of course there is also the stimulatory measures of state governments to be added to Federal expenditure with Victoria alone spending $13 billion to combat the coronavirus crisis with more than $7.6 billion in direct economic support for business in Victoria.

It’s probably going to be several years before we see the high level of tourists, students and migrants returning to Australia and it is conceivable that those allowed to enter might have to have a health passport (no jab no entry) in addition to a national passport to gain entry to Australia but there is a general feeling of optimism in Australia that the worst is behind us.

Our message to those who feel that they have been treading water as far as migration to Australia is concerned is to hang in there. To those that have already filed applications that are as yet undecided we should see more decisions being made next year and to those who have completed English-language and skills assessments and are waiting on the state sponsorship lists, progress cannot be too far off with state sponsorship lists due to open up shortly as well as more updates in July of next year.

If 1992 was an “annus horribilis” according to Queen Elizabeth II, I wonder how she would describe 2020? Whilst I’m not going to predict 2021 to be annus mirabilis (wonderful year) it has to be an improvement on 2020 from a health, social, economic and migration perspective.


Stay ahead of the pack

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Until next week

Iain MacLeod

Southern Man

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NZ Abandons Covid Elimination Strategy

Posted by Iain on Sept. 4, 2020, 12:42 p.m. in COVID-19

The battle lines seemingly are now drawn. The national economy or the health of the nation. Is it naive to think you can have both?

After 102 days of no community transmission what appears to be a border lapse saw the re-emergence of Covid-19 in the community a few weeks ago in New Zealand. Limited to Auckland and the Waikato city of Tokoroa, Auckland was put into level three lockdown around three weeks ago once again restricting work and movement. For the first time we had road blocks in and out of Auckland (a nightmare for workers and probably just as bad for the police and army – suffice it to say it didn’t work very well). That basically meant working from home where possible and restaurants, cafes and schools were closed.

That changed at midnight on Monday this week when Auckland joined the rest of the country in level two which basically meant everything was open but social distancing, regular hand washing and mandatory facemasks on public transport (and recommended when leaving home), saw some relaxation and return to “normality".

New Zealanders, and most Aucklanders, are a stoic and now it seems clear, a fairly compliant lot. Earlier in the year the entire country was locked down for seven long (and for a time, relaxing) weeks. It was pleasantly surprising how few transgressions there were.

The Government claimed it could, through its ‘kind’ management and oversight keep New Zealanders safe from community transmission if we just followed its directives.

Well we did, we took the economic hit Covid is back among us…

The economic damage has been serious and although unemployment continues to be a pleasing 4% (unofficially 5%), underpinned largely by the Government’s wage subsidy and the printing of billions upon billions of dollars, there’s no doubt in my mind that keeping Auckland locked down for any longer than two and half weeks, was always going to be the biggest political challenge facing the Government, only seven weeks out from the election (moved from September to October). And costly – another billion dollars in lost economic activity every two weeks Auckland is closed.

Although most epidemiologists called for another week or two in lockdown given we still have small cases popping up regularly in Auckland I don’t think the government, until now hellbent on some heroic cause to eliminate the virus from the community, could risk the political fallout of continuing to choke economic activity in Auckland, the nation’s engine room.

I think in some respects that while they’ll never admit it, they have got ‘real’ and realised virtually no country apart from Taiwan and Thailand has successfully suppressed the virus and prevented its re-emergence after widespread lockdowns.

So now we get to see what happens.

Each day anything from two to five new cases appear, thankfully and so far all linked to one another (making them somewhat easier to trace and isolate). The pleasing aspect is the Government rolled out an effective testing programme with over 100,000 tests being completed in the past three weeks.

They say the disease is ‘contained’.

Epidemiologists are not so sure.

With everyone back at work and moving around already the signs of social distancing is being largely ignored. Schools are back. Movie theatres, cafes, bars and restaurants are open but limited in the numbers allowed in. Large gatherings (apart from funerals) have been banned in Auckland but Aucklanders are now free to travel around the country. This concerns many outside of the region.

I suspect we will see a small spike in cases but this will be the true test of how well the Government, caught short back in March, has learned and prepared over the past five months. Like many people, I always thought elimination or eradicating the virus would be next to impossible long term - too many people are arriving here from overseas with it. I really do question why we continue to let people in from countries awash with this disease like India - surely a negative test within a few days of travelling should be a prerequisite for travelling (and yes I realise people can still pick it up along the way especially whilst in transit).

The question now is can we learn to live with it and contain it sufficiently so that there’s never more than a few hundred people self isolating or in managed quarantine (those found to be positive are shipped off into quarantine hotels) and keep the rest of the economy moving?

Having spent $36 billion in four months on fiscal stimulus the economic wheels are definitely still turning. Many exporters, particularly of primary products and wine(!) are doing really well. Among the service and manufacturing sectors the nervousness is palpable. The economy sprung back after the first lockdown ended and while the Government is at pains to reassure us that we won’t ‘need’ to lockdown to level 3 again, because they have systems in place, I can’t help thinking that is wishful thinking. I am starting to think that economics now has its nose ahead of health.

I think it is also fair to say patience has run out with the legions of bureaucrats across multiple Ministries, who let’s face it, at the best of times couldn’t organise a good knees up in a brewery. A group of highly regarded and talented business and IT professionals have designed a blue tooth ‘CovidCard’ that would be warn like a lanyard around the neck. The idea being no need to scan QRC codes and no need for a cellphone when you enter any premises. The CovidCard would record (privately) which other cards you came within a few metres of, allowing for quick and easy tracing in the event someone you came into contact with so if someone you’d had a close contact with turned out to be positive you could scuttle off and get yourself a test. The Government has been trying to get us all to use their Covid phone app and to scan QR codes. They haven’t been successful overseas and are only being used some of the time by some people here.

These bright things from the private sector have walked away this past week citing ‘useless’ bureaucrats with their own agendas operating inside the Ministry of health (among others).

I look with some envy across the Tasman where the Australian government is talking about tax cuts to stimulate a private sector led recovery. Here it seems the left wingers in Government think they have all the answers and their thousands of bureaucrats will lead us back to where we were pre-Covid. It seems to me the Labour Party want us to marry them, to honour and obey till the polls do us part.

Looks to me like we will be more like Queensland or New South Wales in future - inevitable outbreaks given no border that has any overseas travelers crossing it today is going to be 100% secure - but dealing with the outbreaks quickly and effectively, allowing the significant majority of wealth generators to keep doing what they do so well. While the bureaucrats bungle away behind the scenes but with their hands on the tiller.

Our smug complacency having reached that 102 day ‘no community transmission’ milestone has been well and truly shattered but for now anyway Aucklanders have done the right thing and got this beast under control again. The cost of $500 million a week though is simply too high to be ignored.

Now we face the next chapter of this battle and the true test of the Government’s strategy to contain, suppress and try and eliminate the virus.

So far, a guarded, so good. We cannot and I am sure will not tolerate any more lockdowns.

Until next week.

 

Iain MacLeod

Southern Man

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Tags: Health | Economy | covid-19

Community Coronavirus Returns

Posted by Iain on Aug. 14, 2020, 3:32 p.m. in Coronavirus

 

I guess it couldn’t last, as much as we all had planned and hoped it would.

After 102 days of no community transmission 30 (and counting) cases of the coronavirus have been identified, all linked to one family. All those positively tested have been moved into mandatory quarantine. That’s new. Clearly the government feels that it only takes one person not following isolation rules to set this virus off again. So anyone that is found to be positive is being bundled off into mandatory quarantine.

Consequently, Auckland is in level 3 lockdown for the next 12 days which basically means everyone must work from home (unless they can’t), restaurants and bars are closed apart from for takeaways, etc. No one can enter orleave Auckland - but that seems all a bit random as well with roadblocks in operation but a system of trust determining whether the police let you in or out.

Although the situation is fast moving the Minister of Health has said there’s no plan to go to full level 4 lockdown as we endured for 51 days earlier in the year. Cold comfort for the thousands of businesses that now cannot trade.

The rest of the country is at level 2 which basically means they must keep away from one another as best they can but get on with life. Luckily I am not in Auckland and where we are things continue to be pretty normal. A visit this morning to the local grocery store, pharmacy and butcher saw no restrictions (and interestingly no one asked me to use my Covid QR Code tracing app on my phone having entered their shop).

Now we will see how well the Government’s systems have been prepared for what many of us increasingly felt was an inevitability. If breakouts had taken place in Vietnam, Hong Kong and Australia when all of those countries had initially brought things under control, why did we think we could keep this thing out of our communities?

Now we will see whether ‘elimination’ rather than ‘suppression’ works and if eliminating the virus when it pops up every few weeks or months might bring the country to its economic knees.

If we go for elimination what will it take?  And when the virus pops up again will we be yo-yoing in and out of lockdowns until (and if) there is an effective vaccine?

I have to say it is pretty depressing when so many other countries have said living with the virus is the way to go. If the border could be made 100% secure and the systems were in place to ensure the virus stays at the border I am all in. But this seems to be proof it’s all but impossible.

Clearly and probably predictably the virus seems to have entered the community through some failure of the quarantine or border processes.

Disbelief and incredulity from health professionals are two words being heard across New Zealand the past 24 hours after it was revealed only around one-third of all front line border staff (immigration, customs, biosecurity, airline ground staff, baggage handlers, etc) have ever been tested for the virus. Ever.

It seems hardly believable. A scramble today to get them tested.

We were equally surprised last week when it was revealed that the bus drivers taking people arriving at the airport to isolation hotels were only being tested every three weeks.

I know I sound like a stuck record but if you want a job done properly don’t give it to a bureaucrat. Harsh? Well, when you have a Government that backs the civil servants over the private sector (including for the most part public private partnerships) the responsibility lies with them to do the job properly. The people of this country gave up a hell of a lot for those 102 days of relative freedom and if as seems likely it turns out there was a failure in the Government’s systems they need to be held to account. With an election around a month away, perhaps they will be.

I accept unequivocally that this virus is a slippery customer but this Government, virtually alone among global governments, decided to pursue an elimination and eradication strategy when others sought to suppress it as best as possible and are learning to live with it.  Will New Zealand now pay an even higher economic price for it?

I hope the government was right and the sceptics like me are proven wrong.

In terms of how this impacts on visa processing more chaos inside INZ.  With Auckland being the centre of all skilled migrant and other residence visa application processing you’d have thought the comms people and senior managers would have had a plan in place to deal with outbreaks in any given city with INZ branches in it.

It took almost two full working days for the first communications to be released from Wellington. It claimed that INZ in Auckland was still at work, yet we had received numerous out of office auto replies from case officers telling us the office was closed. I first raised the ‘what happens now?’ question with the ranking national manager on Wednesday morning given we were already being told that the biggest office in Auckland was closed yet according to the Government at level 3 only those who could work from home, had to. We know from the first lockdown INZ has limited to zero capacity to work remotely as it lacks the IT systems that allow it, so why were we getting messages INZ was closed?

The comms people either don’t know what INZ in Auckland was telling its customers or INZ Auckland wasn’t listening to head office.

INZ did not work through the last lockdown level 3 period.

A shambles as usual.

We can but hope INZ stays at work and keeps dealing with that backlog of cases.

For those of you following recent blogs the Skilled Migrant Category non-priority queue which represents around 90% of all cases sitting in the system, still has the most recent case to be allocated for processing receipted by INZ on 21 December 2018. Despite the claim both priority and non-priority queues are moving this for the most part is a lie. Overwhelmingly it is the priority queue (and the priorities that exist within that priority queue) that continue to take precedence.

However, we continue to get credible reports that small numbers of non-priority cases are being assigned to officers, processed and approved. A $25.50 per hour chef for example who went public on Facebook. INZ refused to answer questions why such a case was given priority for privacy reasons even though the guy put his name to his post. A 27 year old British national had her case allocated and processed when it met none of the priority criteria. I imagine that is quite simply because as she was British she was tagged with a ‘lower risk’ profile. A training case or just one that helped the kpis got to jump the queue while more deserving cases languish because they are perceived as being ‘harder’.

As I have written about recently we have been advised by the ranking national manager that a good number of those allocated that are non-priority are being allocated simply for the sake of expediency - for training (they have a lot of officers who have no idea what they are doing so need less complex cases to cut their teeth on) and for ‘improved efficiency’ (meaning they have kpis to meet).

The consequences of course are that far more deserving and urgent cases are being left in the pile and with every lockdown the risk some of those people losing their job increases.

Finally and no less importantly, 25 September is D-Day for tens of thousands of people in the country on visitor visas. They are now being advised to apply for a new visa (if they believe that they qualify) or to make plans to leave the country. We have at least one client trying to make a plan to return to South Africa if she cannot find a job but she has been told by multiple airlines it is impossible to book flights all the way through. Given getting ‘home’ involves multiple stops and often two or three airlines, it might be possible to book particular legs (which are prone to last minute cancellations and changes) but it is almost impossible to guarantee flights all the way home.

I assume the government will grant such people visa extensions as ‘exceptions’ if they present credible evidence they cannot get home. If they don’t it raises an interesting legal question - if the Government is the reason someone becomes unlawful can the same Government penalise the migrant for being unlawful?

As always more questions than answers.

Until next week

Iain MacLeod

Southern Man

Tags: lockdown | covid-19 | auckland

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