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Immigration Blog

REGULAR POSTS FROM NEW ZEALAND & AUSTRALIA

Posts with tag: Expression of Interest

Immigration Blog

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The pool is overflowing

Posted by Iain on June 11, 2021, 12:42 p.m. in Expression of Interest

If you use water to generate electricity you build a dam. You release enough water into the turbines so that you create enough energy to power your economy. Not too much water, not too little. 

The New Zealand skilled migrant programme adopts a similar process - expressions of interest in, residence visas out and labour market shortages filled. Not too many immigrants that might overwhelm the ability of the country to absorb them (think infrastructure overload, not enough houses, classrooms or hospital beds) and not too few (think Engineers to build the infrastructure, teachers to work in those classrooms and nurses to tend those in the beds).

In New Zealand we have created a ‘pool’ of those who wish to be part of our residency program by filing electronic forms called expressions of interest (EOI). Government created criteria and assigns points so that those interested can be ‘ranked’ based on some (economic) value proposition.  The primary weighting goes to three criteria - qualifications, work experience and having a skilled job in New Zealand.

The idea is to ensure that INZ only selects enough EOIs that their downstream processing capacity is not overwhelmed (the turbines don't spin out of control, crack and break) and at the same time ensure that they will not run out of work (don’t run out of electricity).

So what happens when it keeps raining, but you've reduced the water flowing out of the dam into the turbines to a mere trickle and the water piles up behnd the dam?  The risk is it will overflow or, worse, collapse under its own weight.

It is my opinion the skilled migrant 'dam' is close to collapse.

The New Zealand government must surely be wrestling right now with what to do with the ever increasing pessure of numbers in the skilled mirant pool. The number of EOIs in the  pool is now around 10,000 (it was 7,000 in March 2020). That represents somewhere between 21,000 and 23,000 people. 

In November this year another deluge will hit that dam when 3000-4000 resident visa applications begin flowing into the system from those currently on Talent (Work) visas who rushed to beat the minimum salary threshold increase of November 2019 from $55,000 to $79,560. Those 3000-4000 applications represent something like 6,000 - 10,000 people (and will form part of the annual quota/target of skilled migrants of 25,000).

It means by Christmas there will be roughly 25,000 'points' based applicants sitting in the pool or who will file their 'residence from work' applications expecting their residence to be processed.

At the same time those that were seleted and invited to file their resident visa applications before March 2020 wait for 24 months to be allocated and processed.

Government is staring at the prospect then of people they invited to be part of their residence programme waiting three plus years to have their skilled migrant case processed. INZ used to defend slow processing times by pointing out it was 'still faster' than Canada or Australia. Not so much of late.

Clearly the dam is dangerously close to overflowing and there’s a huge rainstorm on the horizon.

What to do?

We are asked on a daily basis when we think the government might resume selecting EOIs. Short answer is they haven’t told me or anyone else and if they have a plan, and I am willing to bet my house they don’t, this government isn’t sharing anything that offers any sort of guidance, let alone certainty, to the market.

I’d have thought given so few people can file resident visas (no invitations have been issued since March 2020) that INZ would have started to run out of ‘points’ based resident visa applications around now. What none of us expected a few months ago was that INZ would start allocating roughly one new case per officer per week. It used to be around five…. Why? Intellectual capacity - I have been told by those who should know it is because that’s all these new officers can cope with such is their inexperience and lack of knowledge. Chilling, but it rings true - the quality of the decision making we see on a daily basis goes from bad to worse. They can’t cope with higher caseloads. The difficulty facing INZ in recruiting suitable case officers mirrors the difficulty facing many employers in New Zealand in finding skilled staff.

I am pretty certain not selecting EOIs now isn’t because the Government has told INZ to ‘go slow’ as some in the marketplace are suggesting. It’s more shocking than that. This is as fast as they are capable of working. That isn’t going to change any time soon.

As I see it the Government has fewer and fewer options.

Government deflects from their own inaction by saying ‘demand is driving up the pool numbers' and they can’t stop it. Actually they can protect the dam from more rain. Demand is not greater today, it has been falling since the miute they closed the border.

They could, at the stoke of a pen, prevent further EOI lodgements and if they do not plan on selecting any for a few more months yet, morally they should. How can they justify since March 2020 encouraging people to file EOIs and taking millions of dollars in the process, if they have no intention of resuming selections any time soon?

If I did that I’d lose my license. For fraud.

To be fair I imagine government expected INZ to have cleared their processing backlog by now but they didn’t factor in the inability of INZ to throw a good party in a brewery.

If Government did move to temporarily stop letting anyone file an EOI the market will interpret that as NZ being closed to migrants. A dangerous game to play in a world competing for the same skills sets.

 At the same time skills shortages continue to worsen. Employers and businesses are screaming for talent. Hospitals need Nurses. Infrastructure projects need Engineers. Schools need teachers. Software companies need programmers. Accounting firms need Auditors.

I think the real proof that the government has no idea of what they are doing with immigration and has no plan is that three weeks after announcing a so called ‘immigration reset’, an announcement widely criticised as providing no detail, beyond making it ‘harder’ for those at the lower skilled end of the spectrum to secure work visas, the government’s first action following that announcement was to offer a six month blanket extension to all those here on holiday working visas and short term seasonal work visas - these are the very waiters, the housekeepers in hotels, the fruit pickers - the so called ’low skilled’ people they said they don’t want any more!

There is no way the Government does not need the skilled migrants sitting in that pool and they know it. With closed borders virtually all of those in that pool are already in New Zealand, working and contributing their skills to the economy.

As I see it the government has few options:

1. Honor the process, select all of those on 160 points and drip feed their invitations to apply for residency across maybe one year. Give them all work visas without application or cost until the government makes a decision on their residence. Consider putting the pass mark up temporarily after all those currently in the pool have been selected to discourage applications for a while and to manage the capacity of this inefficient bureaucracy.  It would be the honourable thing to do. Dare I say the kind thing to do?

2. Push the pass mark up to say 180 and you would probably find 20-30% of those would not be selected. It would send a signal to the market that the standard is higher at least for a while and fewer people would file EOIs and in time that should enable the pass mark to fall back to some sort of equilirium. Push the pass mark up to say 220 and would probably flush out 80%-90% of those in the pool. I think this is less likely - there'd be blood in the streets if they tried and rightly so.

3. Set the pass mark at 250 and drain the pool completely but they'd spark a riot. Technically they could do it because an expression of interest is simply that, it's not a gaurantee of an invitation and those in the pool have no legal nor appeal rights. I do not imagine for milli-second the government would act in such an underhand and dishonorable manner. But there's nothing stopping them legally. Government would have to accept it'd be the end of the line for New Zealand as a migrant destination of the highly skilled. We'd be out of the global market.

What you have read online about migrants feeling unwelcome might be what the Government wants them to think but behind closed doors the politicians recognise we need every single one of those people sitting in the pool and those waiting patiently for two years thereafter for their residence cases to be processed.

Whatever their motivation they have a decision to make on that pool and every week that passes the problem gets worse. 

 The water is now lapping at the top of the dam. The cracks are widening. The pressure on that dam wall is mounting.

Ignoring it will not solve the problem.

 

Until next week

Iain MacLeod


The value of a good adviser

Posted by Iain on June 4, 2021, 12:52 p.m. in Immigration New Zealand

 

In these trying times of economic uncertainty deciding whether or not to use a competent immigration consultancy can be a difficult choice. Given there’s so much information available online on government websites and on social media the question is constantly asked ‘Are agents worth it?’

To which I would reply that given the majority of those that file Expressions of Interest in Residence of NZ or Australia themselves are declined, the answer is pretty obvious.

You might think of course he’d say that.

Let me give you an example of ‘value add’ and how having strong advocacy often makes a tremendous difference.

An Indian national came to NZ as an international student to do a Master’s programme with her partner. This was done knowing the Government encouraged international study as a pathway to residence by offering a two (now three) year open work visa once study was complete and a residence if they scored enough points. An added bonus was international students doing Master degrees have full-time work rights. The family was not our clients at that stage but did that all themselves.

When we met the client she had her NZ Masters degree, an ongoing and full-time job and had worked her way from managing one Auckland Subway store to managing two. This was at the time the government of the day was trying to purge the immigration system of tens of thousands of International students looking for residence. My advice to the client when she and her husband sought our advice was she ticked all the wrong boxes - on paper she looked to be a very good candidate for residence but she had a number of the ‘unspoken’ traits INZ would undoubtedly try and use against her - a former international student, a graduate job search visa, in a retail management role and working for a ‘fast food’ operation. It couldn’t be worse.

INZ likes to tell the world that the system is objective and every case is assessed on its merits. We have long known this to be untrue and there are plenty of unwritten rules. This was going to be a classic and I saw it coming so had the arguments ready.

Having carefully read her job description (for which INZ had granted a labour market tested work visa for ‘skilled employment’), grilling her on her tasks and daily responsibilities and then discussing all of this with her employer, we were satisfied the job she had was genuine (she’d been working there for around 18 months), was sustainable (the employer paid her salary on time and as per her employment contract) and the role was skilled (managerial expertise is the requirement).

In time INZ did exactly as I expected they would. They tried to argue the role was not skilled and was a ‘supervisor’ role. They were dead wrong.  Endless arguments based on the reality of the role fell on deaf ears and was all the proof I ever needed that their mantra of ‘each case on its merits’ is to put it bluntly, a lie. They pre-determined the outcome and tried to make the facts fit that conclusion.

Ultimately, the client was declined.

However, around that time the Government changed the definition of what constituted ‘skilled employment in NZ’ from one based on an assessment of tasks to one based on the ‘effective hourly rate’ the applicant was paid. I saw an opening. This client was earning less than that effective hourly rate when we filed the resident visa. I explained to her boss that if he gave her a pay rise to the minimum effective hourly rate this satisfied a clearly ‘black and white’ criteria and INZ would have to deem it skilled. The employer agreed and we presented a new application with this new salary meeting INZ’s new definition of skilled.

To my surprise INZ accused the applicant of being a ‘risk to the integrity of the immigration system’. Once I picked myself up off the floor, I asked them to explain the logic. They said the client was only given the new salary to meet the criteria of skilled employment.  That is correct I advised INZ, the employer does not want to lose her but this is your rule INZ and the employer is simply structuring his employment relationship so his employee met that rule. Simple, moral, logical and above all, legal.

INZ continued to argue, disingenuously, that the job offer could not have been ‘genuine’ because of the ‘sudden’ pay rise (is there any other sort of pay rise?). I rebutted that the client had by then been working for the employer for two years so how could the job not be genuine? And yes, the ‘sudden’ pay rise was designed so this employer could keep this highly skilled and educated migrant. The employer was simply playing by INZ’s rules.

I argued with INZ that when the pass mark was raised to 160 points in October 2016 I told any number of clients working in Auckland they needed to change jobs and move outside of Auckland to get the additional 30 points available; others that their partner needed to get a job to add 20 points to their overall claim, others to up-skill and get higher qualifications while in NZ to ensure they had a higher points score. I advised clients to reduce their hours to increase their effective hourly rate. I have told plenty more to give back the company car and get paid a higher salary in lieu and to provide their own vehicle and to forgo commissions and get salary instead. To do so is not dodgy and is certainly perfectly legal representing very good immigration advice. We don’t make the rules I tell everyone but we will tell people how to structure their lives and their visa applications to make sure they meet them.

I had never had INZ argue that any of those clients who had structured their lives to benefit from immigration criteria were a ‘risk to the integrity of the immigration system’. I pointed out to those higher up the food chain inside INZ that it is a bit like tax law - tax evasion is illegal; tax avoidance is not.

Surely an immigrant is entitled to structure their lives so as to maximise the points they can claim to ensure they secure residence? And if they can’t, against which criteria can’t they?

Eventually INZ backed off and approved the client’s residence but what a battle.

A rational person might think INZ would learn from this sort of thing but they don’t. You can imagine our surprise when a few weeks ago another client was also accused of being a threat to the integrity of the immigration system for precisely the same reason - a ‘sudden’ pay rise which made his job skilled by definition. This client had also been working for the company for a long time. As we had done previously we advised INZ that any employer can pay anything they like so long as it is over a statutory minimum and represents ‘market rates’. All designed to protect migrants from exploitation and being paid too little - we weren’t aware the government was concerned about migrants being paid too much.

They fought and fought. They called the client. They called the employer, clearly hoping one or the other would say something which confirmed in their stilted, poisoned world view that there was something dodgy with what had been done. The employer simply pointed out the obvious.

We won that case as well.

Two years after I thought we had helped INZ management understand that if you define skilled employment by what people are paid there will be many who will get pay rises to ensure they stay in the country, that migrants will change jobs or their circumstances to improve their chances of staying and in doing so they do not commit a federal crime. To try and frame this as some sort of ‘risk to the integrity of the system’ is aberrant nonsense and shows the system up for what it really is.

With the right Adviser controlling the flow of information to the bureaucracy and keeping these officers applying the rules as they should be applied, is the essence of how we add so much value, every day.

In a wonderful ending to this story I am over the moon to advise that our ‘pin up family’ for families split by the border and an uncaring Government, who I wrote an article for stuff.co.nz recently, was last night approved residence. The client’s husband and ten-year-old daughter (not hugged for over 420 days by her mum) will be flying to NZ Sunday to start their two weeks of managed isolation and their new lives. At last for them the nightmare ends, not because of INZ or the Government or iNZ but in spite of them. The client had some very nice words for the team at IMMagine.

Until next week

Iain MacLeod

Southern Man 

 


Will INZ Pool Selections Resume In March?

Posted by Iain on Feb. 19, 2021, 9:17 a.m. in Skilled Migrant Category

It is coming up 12 months since the NZ Government quietly suspended selections of ‘Expressions of Interest in residence’ from those people wanting to be part of the Government’s much marketed skilled Residency program. Six months ago when the suspension was confirmed officially, the Government announced they would "review" the decision in March this year.

So what might the Government do next month?

In trying to understand what might happen it is important to first understand what really did happen this time last year to cause selections to cease. Suspension of the category had nothing to do with Covid-19 which is the line trotted out daily inside the Department’s call centre and by Government Ministers but the virus was, as I wrote at the time, a convenient smokescreen. It had everything to do with the fact that three years ago the Labour Party led Government cut the numbers of Skilled Migrant Visas available which built upon cuts by the previous Government 18 months before that.

When you operate a points based system the whole idea is to use the selection point (a floating pass mark which can go up or down) to control the flow of applicants into the system to try and ensure the Government neither undershoots its target nor overshoots it. When Visa numbers were cut three years ago the pass mark should have increased but it did not. That decision ultimately lay with the Minister and for reasons that escape me INZ was allowed to continue inviting significantly more people to apply for residency than they had Visas to give away. Given how much power the Department has and Ministers has ceded, it seems that the obvious consequences escaped all those involved in making the decision.

This cutting of available residence visas but not cutting the numbers of people being Invited to Apply for Residence, resulted in the creation of the processing backlog that we still live with today.  Currently, those Skilled Migrants who do not meet the priority processing criteria, arbitrarily set by the Immigration Department 18 months ago, can expect to wait between 18 - 20 months before their applications are even assigned to an officer to be processed. They take another few months to process the application thereafter. Those deemed to be ‘priority’ are allocated within a fortnight of being submitted. Priority case numbers are small and we were advised this week it is roughly 25 applications on average a week. 

Strangely, processing times on non-priority cases have not got quicker despite numbers of Skilled Migrant Category (SMC) Residence applications being entered into the system falling off a cliff, particularly in the last 6 months. Logic says that if you cease ‘selection’ you have no supply of applications so this drying up of applications is no surprise.

So why is it still taking 18 plus months to allocate SMC applications to an officer to process?

The Department explains this as demand for places exceeding the supply which was partially true through 2019 and the early part of 2020 but the numbers in the system today tell a different story. Significantly, in my opinion, the backlog now can in large part be explained by an institutional inability of the Department to process what can be complicated cases but often are not, in a timely fashion. By institutional inability what I mean there is an awful lot of inexperienced Immigration Officers who have little training or understanding of the rules operating within a chaotic management structure with managers (proudly) abrogating any responsibility for understanding Visa rules. It means there are a lot of very inexperienced immigration officers trying to negotiate often complex legal questions. The knowledge pool is ‘shallow’ would be the polite way of putting it. Immigration managers have adopted a 'trust us we are the government' approach refusing to explain or intervene in clearly cruel or inconsistent decisions.

The situation would be a little like the All Black forwards and backs coaching staff telling the team members at practice sessions to read the playing manual and then do whatever they think is right. And still expect to win matches.

Figures recently released publicly show there is currently around 5000 ‘Expressions of Interest’ sitting in the Skilled Migrant pool. That would suggest roughly 12,000 people awaiting selection because each Resident Visa application covers just over two people if all were selected and all were approved.

Numbers have obviously been falling over recent months with the closed borders preventing new ‘blood’ getting job offers in NZ.

We know, because we’ve checked, that the majority of those sitting in that pool have claimed 160 points or more. 160 points was the last magic number to be selected for consideration for Invitation to Apply for Residency. It is reasonable to expect then that the bulk of those sitting in the pool would be selected if the pass mark remained at 160.

We do know that the number of people who do subsequently file Resident Visa applications which are declined is reasonably significant because they incorrectly claimed their points, they over claimed their points, they don't have independently verifiable evidence to prove their points or they get an Immigration Officer who is relatively clueless on the rules.

That would suggest based on historical norms that if all those people were to be selected in March this year probably 10,000 Resident Visas more or less would be issued. The annual target (or quota depending on what the politicians want to get out of the program) is 25,000 people. Given the numbers sitting in the queue awaiting allocation today that suggests roughly 25,000 approvals if selections were to resume next month.

Figures we recently obtained under the Official Information Act paint an interesting picture of what is going on right now in the lead up to the decision that needs to be made.

The Skilled Migrant program covers those applying under the "points" system and those who are working for Accredited Employers and seek residency following two years of work.

Although there is only one official “stream”, called Skilled Migrant, there is effectively three subgroups created by the Department:

1.       Residence from Work (Talent Visa holders working for an Accredited Employer); or

2.       Skilled Migrant Category priority cases - those earning $106,000 per annum or who work in an occupation in New Zealand that requires statutory registration; or

3.       Skilled Migrant Category non-priority cases – those who don't have a salary as above or do not work in an occupation requiring statutory registration.

Over the past few months, as I predicted in a blog last year, the numbers of Skilled Migrant (points based) applications awaiting allocation and processing is trending towards zero. It wasn't rocket science to predict this, when you have a closed border and you operate a labour market driven policy, it is impossible for most people to find work for the simple reason that employers demand that candidates are in New Zealand. For the statistically minded of you around 94% of all Work Visas granted to those who find jobs and who go on to secure residency, have those Work Visas granted while they are in New Zealand. Proving the point that if you want a job you need to be here but as long as the border is closed that isn't going to happen. So numbers are starting to fall off that cliff.

In the past few months the balance in the “don’t call us we will call you” allocation queue has seen the ratio of those applying under the Skilled Migrant Category to those seeking Residence from Work reverse. There’s now a significant majority in that queue seeking Residence from Work.

Again, there is an historical reason for this. In late 2019 the Government increased the minimum salary required to get Residency from Work for those on Talent Visas and working for an "Accredited" Employer, from $55,000 to $79,560. The market had expected such an increase for some time (we predicted it roughly a year before it happened and got the salary number almost right) and therefore many people who might not have applied for residency, rushed to file under this pathway because they knew they’d never be paid the higher salary.

In the six months to June 2020 there was an inflow of roughly 600 to 650 SMC (points) Residence applications per month that needed to be processed. Over the same period there was roughly 40 Residence from Work each month. By January 2021 the numbers of non-priority SMC applications being accepted into the system plummeted to around 30 a month. Residence from Work numbers however had ballooned to the low hundreds each month. A complete reversal from the year before.

In terms of Resident Visas being issued the numbers have effectively cancelled each other out even though the ‘Resident Visas issued’ trend is, down.

Which can mean only one thing. The Government needs to start selecting those Skilled Migrant Category Expressions of Interest sitting in the pool next month.

They will be cognisant of the two-year time lag however between the rush of Residence from Work applicants who filed applications before the salary level increased at the end of 2019 which should start to show up in the processing system now (I’d speculate that the increase in numbers awaiting allocation is a reflection of that already). I don't think then there will be a tsunami of applications toward the end of the year because people like us had worked out a long time before that salary increase in October 2019 that it was coming. We advised all those who could file their Residency applications to do so.

Regardless, we were advised by a Senior Immigration Official back in October 2019 that in the month or so before the new salary threshold of $79,560 was put in place the Immigration Department received between "3000 and 4000” ‘Resident from Work’ Visa applications.

This I think will result in an increase in ‘Resident from Work Visa’ approvals this year and early next. That ‘blip’ however will not compensate for the fall off in Skilled Migrant ‘points' applicants if selections do not resume soon. The Government won’t reach its annual target/quota of 25,000 people.

The Immigration Department is going to start to run out of work by early 2022 if they don't reopen the selection process next month. They should, based on their own advice, have allocated all the non-priority Skilled Migrant points case systems within a few months. By the end of this year the number of Skilled Migrant cases awaiting allocation in their system will be virtually zero if selections don't resume soon.

Which makes the decision the Government has to make about whether to resume pool selections a very interesting one. If it is a mathematical decision, as the points system is because it's an annual numerical quota/target of 25,000 visas to be issues for economic reasons, the decision is easy. Selection must resume with a pass mark of 160 or even less (but in my view there is no way I'll drop the pass mark even with skill shortages and unemployment locally falling).

This Government has shown itself to be increasingly anti-migrant and Covid was the smokescreen used by the Immigration Department to try and solve their backlog issues and the politicians went along with it, I suspect for reasons of convenience (I shudder to think it could be ignorance of their own immigration policies and processes).  Because OF the popular narrative, stoked by Labour Party politicians, that laid the blame for skyrocketing house prices on the rate of inward migration means they can hardly be seen to be 'opening up' now. (Which is ironic because since the border closed and nobody can be granted a permanent stay in the country if they aren’t already here, property values are up by 20%).

The numbers make this a political decision, not a mathematical one. Political decisions are often divorced from economic reality but if the selections do not resume you'll now know why.

Until next week

Iain MacLeod

Southern Man

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