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Posted by Iain on May 21, 2021, 11:16 a.m. in Healthcare
In 2018 we agreed to represent a couple in their early fifties from South Africa. Let’s call them Joe and Lucy (not their real names obviously). With to be under 56 years old to file a resident visa as skilled migrants, the clock was ticking. We had moved this couple’s daughter and grandchildren to New Zealand a few years earlier. All three adult children were by then living in New Zealand. Among all the advisers they could have chosen, this couple chose us on the back of their New Zealand based family’s advice.
Quick background. Client arrived in NZ, did all the usual stuff of trying to find skilled employment, suffering rejection along the way - no work visa, no interview, disinterest by recruiters because of visa status, HR Managers not wanting to involve themselves in visa processes, employer wariness, blah blah blah. The usual story. After a few months Lucy found a great job, well suited to her history in technical sales management. We secured her a job specific work visa. We secured Joe a partnership based work visa. He arrived and used that job to secure work with the NZ Government.
Around the time she secured her role, we filed their Expression of Interest given the clients had a prima facie claim to 160 plus points. As expected it was selected quickly and they were invited to file their resident visa application. We did so in March 2020.
Into the so called ‘managed queue’ (backlog) the application went. Then it was likely to take two years to secure residence. Our advice was unless Lucy could find a higher paying job and we could get her case transferred into the ‘priority processing queue’ she could do nothing but put her life on hold and be patient. Like so many trying to escape the 30 month wait for residence these days, Lucy went and found that better paying job. We got her a variation of conditions to her work visa to take up the new job.
So far so good. So far so normal… 18 months since we met for the first time.
In July 2020 a bombshell. Joe was diagnosed with possible colo-rectal cancer. The couple realised immediately the implications for their future in New Zealand.
Migrants are expected to have a very high standard of health to secure residence at the time the decision on their residence is made (unfairly, not when the government takes their money). The rules are pretty clear when it comes to cancer - an applicant will not be deemed to be of an ‘acceptable standard’, if the chances of them being alive 5 years after diagnosis and treatment isn’t at least 90%. Following treatment, involving pre-surgery chemo, Joe provided us with advice from his Oncologist that his odds of survival to 5 years was only between 50% and 70%. A bitter blow. I tried to delay INZ making a decision for as long as possible to allow the maximum time for Joe to start his recovery and for us to get feedback on the success of the operation. I asked them to put someone else in that queue ahead of Joe and Lucy - it would make no difference to INZ but potentially be a game changer for Joe. Any way we sliced it Joe was not, on the face of it, going to be eligible any longer. INZ would have none of it (even though they don’t mind operating a 24-month processing queue and we only filed residence in July 2020).
Immigration policy allows someone applying for residence to seek what is called a medical waiver. This basically allows an applicant to put forward the best possible evidence for allowing them to stay. As part of the medical waiver all parties recognise the health of that person is not up to scratch. It is not a box ticking exercise and is highly subjective. The arguments must be carefully presented and the evidence of a high standard.
In this case we essentially argued:
• All of Lucy’s adult family and her grandchildren live in New Zealand - she is close by in the event the family needed help and support and not 16,000km away
• Lucy has no immediate family left in South Africa
• One of Lucy’s adult children in NZ has, since he was granted residence, developed a degenerative disease - forcing his mother to leave when she can offer support to him, his partner and his children would be unreasonable and inhumane
• Lucy had a well-paying job at least twice the median average - well paying enough to get her priority processing of her residence based on (the spurious in my view) ‘value’ (according to INZ management) she represents to the economy
• Lucy and Joe were increasingly well settled and contributing to the economy
• Lucy had a level of specialist skill that INZ had recognised through the grant of her work visa which could not have been granted if INZ felt a local was being denied a job
• Over her and Joe’s remaining guaranteed working lives they’d contribute at least $450,000 in personal taxes (with Lucy the bulk of that) far outstripping any possible cost for any potential future treatment for Joe i.e. they would likely be net contributors to NZ’s tax base even if Joe needs further treatment
• The inability of the Health Ministry to quantify the cost of any future treatment that ‘may’ (according to the immigration rule book) be required. On these criteria he might need nothing or he might need a lot - such is the nature of cancer diagnosis and treatment.
That final point was the real eye opener for me and shows how asking the right questions can have such a huge impact on outcomes - his Specialist who did the operation, like so many specialists in NZ is a self employed private practitioner who works in the public system. Obviously he has his charges that the tax payers front but it was incredible to me to learn that the heath system itself could not tell him, and therefore us, what the cost of this future treatment might be. Or what the tax payers had paid for the treatment to date. A stunning and very useful revelation and any Immigration Advisers reading this should take note! In my view if INZ could not quantify the future cost that ‘might’ be required and given while Joe is on his current work visa (valid like everyone thanks to Covid, till December 2020) he is covered by the public health system anyway (that’s why if you plan on staying 12 months or more you have to do a full medical to get a work visa), then the ‘cost’ was impossible for INZ to pin down. It would not be fair in our view to deny someone residence citing possible cost if the Government itself cannot tell us what that cost was or might be.
I confess quietly I wasn’t quite so confident but in my mind I thought if the residence was declined there was a very good argument for humanitarian approval under appeal given the facts above. What bothered me was having a client with a known probability of survival in five years as low as 50% was not a great hand to play. However, given at IMMagine we had argued many medical waivers including a number of clients who had been diagnosed and treated for cancer for far less than 5 years I was not without a strong sense of conviction it was a medical waiver, that when all other factors were taken into account, should be approved.
But this is INZ we are talking about…
We were therefore excited and proud beyond words when the case was approved on 20 May. INZ accepted our arguments.
This is the part of this job I love. To present that precious resident visa to a couple we have collectively worked our butts off for three years to deliver a future in NZ to. It is these complex cases that get me out of bed in the morning and which will likely be the death of me. To deal with the curveballs so many cases throw at us and to hit them out of the ballpark is immensely satisfying. The cases where emotions run high. Lucy’s employer pressured her to take the case off us and to a big law firm when the cancer was diagnosed. She refused. Lucy wanted to stay the course with IMMagine given the faith she had in our team.
They made it. Standing atop the mountain enjoying the view. Exhausted. Relieved. Elated.
I wish them and their extended family many happy years together.
Until next week
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.
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