It's just a thought...
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Posted by Iain on May 17, 2021, 12:11 p.m. in Immigration
The rumour mill has been working overtime since Friday on what announcements might be made by the Minister of Immigration’s in his 6pm (tonight NZT) ‘invitation only’ speech.
Normally I wouldn’t buy into the social media prattle or press releases by some who should know better than to fuel the speculation by issuing press statements but here is what we know at IMMagine (from reliable sources) and what we think we can reasonably expect tonight:
1. EOI pool is not going to be drained tonight. Those that are in it, will remain in and are not about to be 'lapsed'. Unaswered question at this point is when will they resume the pool draws. I stand by my prediction earlier this year that it won't be until the application backlog (those who have filed resident visas) is under control. September possible, December more likely but I wouldn't bet the beach house on it.
2. The same so called 'managed queue' of skilled resident visa applicants is not going to be touched, torched, applications thrown out, money refunded, no one thrown under a bus.
3. What got everyone atwitter on Friday was the rumour of 30,000 ‘visas’ being cancelled but that seems most likely to be reference to those who have filed temporary visas e.g. visitor and student offshore since the border was largely closed which are just sitting there gathering electronic dust. That seems logical to me – government confirmed a week or two ago there’ll be no offshore visa processing until at least 6 August, so why keep those applications in the system? Refunding those people and cleaning out that part of the system makes sense. Media decided ‘visas’ were being cancelled – ‘temporary visa applications in the system not yet decided’ seems more likely.
4. On the Skilled Migrant Category more than a few industry advisers have speculated if the Minister might announce an increase to the minimum salary for jobs to be skilled to possibly has high as twice the median wage - the magical $106,080. We understand INZ has confirmed today that in the SMC paper that they have ready to go to the Minister that is off the table and not being recommended. It might mean they will stick with their $27 per hour plan which was tabled a long time ago however and meant to be in force in April. Not a train smash for our clients.
My feeling is the Government is attracting so much heat over the immigration mess they seem unwilling or incapable of sorting out that they need to say something, and the days of blaming capacity constraints within MIQ is probably over with the travel bubble with Australia freeing up hundreds of rooms every week, so perhaps expect some talk (maybe even a plan!) about freeing up borders to more 'cohorts' of critical workers over the coming months.
Some time later...630pm - Minister unwell. Stand in Minister announced... nothing. Simply affirmed a 'direction of travel', 'pieces of work are underway' and as usual signals and this appeared to be nothing more than announcement about announcements. No wonder the immigration system is such a mess.
Posted by Iain on March 12, 2021, 11:18 a.m. in New Zealand Economy
A few years ago I got the most intelligent question ever from a potential client. He asked me what I believed was the greatest challenge NZ faced twenty years in the future. I had to think about it for a few minutes and after thinking about the many possibilities I said ‘Wrinkles’.
If you ever watched the movie Blade Runner, it speaks of a time on an over populated home planet where once humans get to a certain age, they are ‘dispatched’, permanently, to cut down on those needing to be looked after. Humans have a ‘use by’ date, strictly enforced.
A work of fiction but it raised a very interesting question - in a world of finite resources and ever increasing demands upon them, a deteriorating natural environment and an inability of natural systems to support ever increasing national and global populations, might it be an idea that people need to consider, however unpalatable?
Viruses as we have seen can only do so much of that work (but potentially a lot more of it in future).
I was pondering New Zealand’s ageing population dilemma following the New Zealand Government’s announcement its Skilled Migrant Category review is ‘priority’ and my business partner Myer’s thoughtful piece last week on the reliance by Australia on more and more young(ish) people going to Australia to keep the demographic triangle from ‘inverting’. That is to say more young people and a wider tax base funding the care of all, but not least, the elderly.
At the same time statistics revealed that in New Zealand our birth rate has fallen to 1.6 children per woman. It’s the lowest in 20 years (clearly not as much pandemic lockdown cuddling as many expected) and reflects a long term trend of fewer children. I understand 2.1 children per woman is the minimum ‘replacement’ value of a population.
This means New Zealand’s future now looks more like Japan and parts of Europe.
And that future is rapidly approaching - I’d suggest in 5 years we won’t need as many Primary school teachers as we do today, in 13 years fewer High school teachers, in 20 years, fewer University lecturers. Fewer IT workers. Fewer Accountants in 50 years. Fewer sales and marketing people in the middle as older people spend less and consume far less than younger people do.
At the same time we will need more aged care workers, qualified nurses, Doctors and mental health specialists (dementia and other aged related conditions will be numerically greater) and dare I say it Funeral Directors.
I wonder what, if any, planning for this ‘older’ future is in the minds of our immigration policy wonks and politicians. Will a rapidly ageing population play any role in the thinking going into this year’s Skilled Migrant Category review? Does any Government anywhere outside of China, let alone ours, really ever look that far into the future?
We are heading for an aged population and we cannot ignore the fact that planning for it needs to start now.
I look across the Tasman Sea for an example of how Australia is(n’t) dealing with it.
Australia has for the past 50 years adopted an economic policy largely centred around the two ‘Ms’ of mining and migration.
Immigrants consume so they are great for economies. Houses, cars, flat screen TVs, lounge suites, services - all add to GDP and employment of locals.
At the same time however the wealthy west is facing the very real dilemma of ever reducing resources, living with greater environmental damage and I’d suggest at some point ever diminishing economic returns while trying to support ever larger populations (and yes none of us know what might be invented or created in 5, 10 or 20 years time that might allow greater human carrying capacities but I’d suggest we might just have quality of life issues regardless).
Australia has an ongoing and critical shortage of water for example. Not because it doesn’t rain but it doesn’t rain enough where people live. Sure, you can desalinate salt water at incredible cost or build a pipeline from Darwin to Adelaide. But you need the energy and money to doit. Right now Australia is the world’s largest exporter of coal and is heavily reliant on fossil fuels for its local energy needs. They believe they must export coal to support local jobs and keep the dollars flowing into the country. And by doing so they are contributing to their, and the world’s, demise through climate change, pollution and environmental degradation - all in large part to employ and meet the demands of an increasing population - many of whom they ‘imported’. Doesn’t make a lot of sense.
I have always thought any strategy that brings in more and more younger people to offset those that are ageing has one serious flaw. Young people have a bad habit of becoming old people. At some point the day of reckoning will arrive.
In New Zealand the Government announced the week before last the 12 month overdue Skilled Migrant Category ‘first principles’ review is now priority (not I imagine for any reason other than it should have been done last year but the Government didn’t get around to doing it and some Mandarin from the public service has been in the ear of the Minister).
The Minister of Immigration, in what is possibly not accidental additional commentary, did what all politicians do around here - made noises that future migrant numbers will be lower than they have been and New Zealand employers need to get used to employing locals. Which is requisite political posturing - they all say that every time the word immigration comes up.
All well and good if you think immigration is bad, but what numbers and what occupations might you cut when you currently operate a labour market driven residence programme where for the most part migrants are highly qualified and highly skilled and are not taking jobs away from locals? To get a resident visa migrants must convince often sceptical local employers to play the visa game, a game in my three decades helping migrants negotiate this process 90% simply will not play. ‘Go and get a work visa and come back and see me’ they say. But you can’t get the work visa without a job…all that means migrants don’t take a job when a Kiwi can fill it.
As a nation we do not train and educate the numbers that we need to fill the vacancies being created. Every year we create tens of thousands of low, semi and highly skilled jobs that we simply cannot fill for all sorts of reasons. Our Universities produce half the number of Engineers and ICT workers we need to fill existing vacancies. Currently 45% of employers are telling the Government - we’d love to employ Kiwis but we cannot attract any to apply for the jobs we are advertising. Fruit growers are still begging for locals to come and help pick fruit.
Unless and until we train up those we need to fill the more skilled vacancies we are always going to require a skilled migration programme (and until we make the young, fit and healthy move to fill the less skilled roles) so we have a few stark choices:
• Import the skills until we produce what we need - and if those people are not given the opportunity of staying permanently many will decide to vote with their feet and go to a country where they can e.g. Canada. Migration is competitive.
• Reform welfare to force those able to get into training or study, to study. The Government keeps raising the minimum wage (closing in on $20 an hour) which is actually a disincentive to hire young people and train them (how about the first $18,000 of cinome being tax free instead?)
• Stop subsidising the education of those skills we are never short of (law and marketing and the like…) and provide greater subsidies for those we believe we will always need - nurses, teachers, software developers and engineers
Of course who is to say with any precision what skills the country will need in 5, 10 or 20 years? Or 50….?
One thing is for certain, like all developed countries (the US is the one possible exception) we have a rapidly ageing population. If the Government doesn’t start making wiping bums and showering old people in retirement villages popular and affordable for locals we will be forced to import the skills to do it.
No politician wants to have to try and sell an immigration policy that says we are letting in 50,000 Filipino aged care workers over twenty years to work with our dementia patients and the elderly but that is exactly where New Zealand is headed. And in time, Australia. Japan is already there.
I had an interesting discussion last year with David Seymour who leads the third largest party in the current Parliament. He’s a nice guy, very intelligent and my local MP and I voted for him. He is implacably opposed to any sort of population policy because, as he rightly points out, who can know for sure what skills we will need in one, two or three decades time? On that score I believe him to be right. But on a national level one thing is certain - if we do not want to follow Australia’s model (and I don’t think it’s smart in a world of finite resources where we need to cut our personal rates of consumption) and we do nothing to even think about our future workforce needs, we are going to become a nation where the tax base shrinks and the number of older people needing to be supported by younger people will increase.
The population ‘triangle’ is going to invert. Australia is heading down a blind alley in terms of its population. New Zealand doesn’t use immigration as a consumptive tool even though most smart politicians recognise immigrants do add to economic activity. In my view though that should not be the reason to let someone join us. It should be based on what skills we need. If they buy a flat screen TV along the way, huzzah!
Do we face a Blade Runner type decision some time in the not too distant future or will the politicians ‘de-politicise' immigration, start thinking about what skills and labour we need to cater for this ageing population and put in place a bi-partisan 20, 30 and 50 year plan to deal with an ageing population encompassing immigration settings, education, aged care and health funding?
Given my age I don’t much fancy the Blade Runner option so I’d like to think the politicians start choosing their words when it comes to immigration policy reviews a little more carefully.
And intelligently. Stop thinking about next year and start thinking about next three decades.
Until next week
Posted by Iain on Nov. 27, 2020, 10:10 a.m. in Immigration New Zealand
Once upon a time in a land far far away, two young men who loved animals decided they wanted to train to be Veterinarians. They both studied at the same University, received the same training and were conferred the same degree. Both began long careers as small animal Vets. As time passed they watched with great sadness their beloved country crumble as it was being run by corrupt and useless politicians. Both had families and children to consider and so looked overseas for a safe and friendly country to move to.
They heard of a mythical country, Neverland, a country full of animals, big and small, which had a terrible shortage of Animal Doctors but it was far away from everything they knew, loved and understood. The thought of moving there greatly troubled them. The Government of Neverland however spends vast sums of its people’s money advertising its permanent residence programme that said it welcomed people with skills like theirs and that attracted the attention of these two Animal Doctors.
Both sought the advice of wise immigration advisers on how a move across one very great ocean and a large pesky sandpit known as Australia, which also wanted their skills, might be made to happen. The wise immigration advisers reassured them both that if they found jobs in Neverland there was such a shortage of their wizardry they and their families would be welcomed to this wonderful land to build safe and prosperous lives.
After much deliberation both families decided to join the great trek to Neverland.
Both applied for jobs without leaving their country and such was the demand for their medical skills both were quickly offered positions. The money was good and they believed so much that they had heard about Neverland as a peaceful country with wonderful kind people, that they both slept well.
However, over the next few months they experienced trepidation and great excitement in equal measure as the enormity of migrating sunk in. Much work needed to be done and the wise immigration advisers helped them to prepare. Practices needed to be sold, houses needed to go on the market at a time few people were buying, they both wished their child(ren) to finish their school year if it were possible to minimise the disruption, they needed to try and time the shipping of their personal effects to coincide with their arrival and of course visas had to be arranged for Neverland which jealously guarded the right of people to enter its main castle. It was complicated and tiring.
All was going well under the care of the immigration advisers when suddenly disaster struck.
A nasty virus descended upon both countries leading the Government of Neverland to pull up the drawbridge to its castle and slam its border shut. The virus affected normal people much like the flu but it affected politicians quite differently. It looked to many like they panicked for they didn’t really have any plan for what should happen when a global plague of virus or locust might descend upon their fair land. Alas, the virus affected Government immigration workers even worse than the politicians. It seems the threat of the virus caused at least half of their brain to melt.
The Government of Neverland promised its people that foreigners like Animal Doctors who possessed great and magical talents that were not readily available in their paradise would still be given visas if they promised to be good, paid for 14 days in isolation in a four or five star hotel and they agreed to be tested against the nasty virus.
The two Animal Doctors agreed.
Time passed and in Neverland the two employers who needed these animal wizards grew more desperate for them to get their visas. Their animals were suffering. Future planning was impossible. Across the land there was 220 Vet practices in the same position. Alarm spread. The kind leader of Neverland kept promising her people that her first and greatest priority was keeping her people safe from the nasty virus. She didn’t tell her people that for many months there was several thousand managed isolation four star hotel rooms free to keep the foreigners happy and locked up in while they showed they weren’t infected by the nasty virus.
All the kind leader had to do was smile, tilt her head and occasionally frown and the people cheered her. She continued to sprinkle fairy dust and they loved her for it.
The wise immigration advisers filed applications for border exemptions for both Animal Doctors because their skills were so rare it seemed to them impossible their kind leader would reject the applications. Neverland had never trained up enough Animal Doctors of its own and therefore there had always been a terrible shortage.
The Animal Doctors themselves were hopeful after many nerve wracking months, they could fly to Neverland to join their patient but increasingly desperate new employers, one of whom was retiring from his practice shortly after Santa visited with bags of doggy biscuits and cat litter. Being himself very organized, this business owner had started planning for his retirement 18 months before he knew he would treat his last cat. Plenty of time he thought. What could go wrong?
Alas, a few days later the application for a border exemption for this first Vet was declined. A state functionary whose brain had clearly felt the impact of the virus explained that despite the national shortage and this occupation being on the Governments own long term skills shortage list, a list of occupations in ongoing and acute demand for many years, there was apparently Vets ‘readily available’ in Neverland to do this work.
‘We must keep the people safe’ they wrote.
This struck the wise immigration advisers as strange as the Veterinary Council of Neverland provided evidence it was in fact 220 Animal Doctors short across this fair land. The Advisers thought that the Animal Doctor would be in managed isolation for two weeks, just like the recently arrived Pakistan Men’s cricket team and the Animal Doctor wouldn’t have the nasty virus like some of the cricketers carried with them (or 200 Russian fishermen before them) and the Animal Doctor wouldn’t break the isolation rules as the naughty cricketers had been doing. Watching cricket for the people of Neverland, the kind leader decided, was seemingly of greater importance than treating her peoples’ pets. Still the people cheered even as their own pet dogs started to die. (‘Quickly, more fairy dust’ she whispered to her chief fairy helper.)
The employer was confused and distraught in equal measure. Everyone knew the kind leader of Neverland had around the same time granted her royal permission for 20 other Animal Doctors to cross the lowered drawbridge and enter Neverland. So why not his Vet?
The wise immigration advisers too were confused and angry and one of them, tasked with helping this family to join them in Neverland, with a big sigh explained to the Animal Doctor this is just the way Neverland is. A land of visa contradictions and inconsistencies where the kind leader employed state functionary fairies that operated with impunity and a great deal of inconsistency.
A land where what they said the rules were, wasn’t necessarily what, well, the rules seemed to be.
The wise immigration adviser sadly explained to the second Vet they’d likely face the same strange outcome but it was worthwhile trying for a border exemption anyway. After all, the Advisers counselled the Vet, how can you win the lottery if you don’t buy a ticket?
‘It’s a lottery?’ the second Vet asked.
‘Oh yes, seemingly so’ replied the wise immigration adviser. ‘There are rules and there are criteria which on the face of it are quite easy to understand but in Neverland the border exemption decisions bear little to no relation to those rules. The conclusion, disappointingly, is that it is in fact little more than a lottery. Which functionary fairy gets your application determines the outcome.’
Sad and dejected that this country full of such kind people who had invited him and his family to come and settle in it, might now turn them away after investing so much of their time and energy, not to mention his hard earned cockle shells, for cockle shells was what they used for currency in this far away land, the second Vet said ‘Well let’s give it a go. I can’t stay in this land far far away much longer for I have no electricity and our leader, who smiles but is not kind, is stealing all our cockle shells!’
‘You also have a leader who smiles?’ asked the wise immigration adviser.
‘Yes we do, but crocodiles smile as well, don’t they?’ the Animal Doctor replied.
‘Oh’ the wise immigration adviser said, ‘we don’t have nasty creatures in Neverland so I wouldn’t know’.
The wise immigration adviser filed the border exemption application even though her spirits were by now also quite low.
Day turned into night. A full moon came and went.
A few days later the wise immigration adviser saw the kind leader’s fairy functionaries had sent her a message. She nervously opened it.
The wise immigration adviser’s jaw dropped.
‘It cannot be!’ she exclaimed to her equally wise colleagues. ‘My Animal Doctor...has been approved! Praise be, the Gods have been kind this fine summery day, let us rejoice!’
‘Our kind leader has lowered the drawbridge and let him and his family enter our castle in Neverland.’ she shared with her dumbstruck colleagues who had gathered to see what all the fuss was about.
The wise immigration adviser jumped up and did a small jig.
The IMMagine team clapped and cheered. They joined in with the wise immigration adviser and they all danced and sang with gusto. A great merriment descended upon the assembled IMMagine team who read and re-read the message from Government, hardly believing their eyes and the client's good fortune. They read it many times. They knew they had to check to see if they were reading it correctly for it was well known that many of the immigration functionary fairies did not have a great command of the English language.
Yet it was true - the border exemption had been granted.
One by one they slipped out to buy a Lotto ticket as they realised luck and good fortune had been delivered that day.
Naturally the Animal Doctor, although surprised, was also filled with great joy and he danced around his Braai hugging his wife and children. ‘Quickly children, pack your suitcases before they change their minds’ he giggled. ‘We are off to Neverland!’.
The children scattered, running this way and that. They grabbed teddy bears and all their other favourite possessions and quickly stuffed them into their suitcases.
Down the road the second Animal Doctor sat quietly with a pensive look on his face sharing a meal of maize gruel with his wife and children at their dinner table. The children were quiet. The mood was low as they had just been told by the very same wise immigration advisers of the good news for the other animal doctor.
‘What did we do wrong?’ he asked his wife, ‘I also have a job to go to in Neverland, we have also been invited to apply to live permanently in paradise by their kind leader, I have the same qualification from the same University and I do the same job as the other Vet’.
‘Ask the wise immigration adviser’ his dejected wife suggested.
And so he did.
The wise immigration adviser said in reply ‘Do you remember when we first met I explained that in the 14 centuries I have been looking after migrants and their Neverland employers, that the same visa evidence given to two different Neverland functionaries can result in two different outcomes despite there only being one rule book? Well, sadly this is the 3,768,963rd example of that’.
‘Can’t you speak to a Manager?’ the Animal Doctor asked.
‘Oh we do and we will’ the wise immigration adviser responded, 'but they don’t seem to care that their staff do pretty much whatever they want with little to no accountability. Although the fairies are meant to attend 'knowledge transfer circles' and 'calibration sessions' in Neverland an immigration manager is not allowed to instruct a subordinate fairy functionary on what decision to make on an application’.
‘How strange’ thought the Vet. ‘But you will fight this for us won’t you?’
‘Till my last breath, you bet I will’ replied the wise but tired immigration adviser.
And as the sun went down in Neverland the wise immigration adviser crawled into bed, having been tired out by all the dancing and jigging, determined that with the next sunrise she would take up the fight once again. Chasing shadows and fairies in her head she fell into an uneasy sleep.
To be continued….
Posted by Iain on Oct. 2, 2020, 1:20 p.m. in Elections
Two weeks out from our general election we continue to see pressure being brought to bear on our political leadership to acknowledge and perhaps do something about immigration policy settings and what skills should be allowed to enter the country. Too late me thinks. The silence of the major parties in addressing our skills shortages and what we want out of immigration over the next few years is deafening.
Only this week the head of NZTech echoed my recent thoughts - (slowly) rising unemployment and a commitment to spend more on tertiary education is not a short term fix to the chronic and worsening shortage of IT skills. Labour market shortages and skills shortages can be quite different beasts. Unemployment might still be 4% (and potentially slowly rising) but that does not fill vacancies for software developers, systems analysts, testers, architects and the like. In the short term there’ll be some ‘musical chairs’ as locals lose one opportunity and take up another. Overall however we are not adding to the skills pool.
Thanks to the border closure around 5000 fewer highly skilled IT workers will not be coming to NZ this year. There was, earlier this year around twice that many IT jobs being advertised each month across the country. Already medium to large employers in this sector are struggling to fill vacancies. Our Universities only produce half the graduates needed to fill the thousands of jobs being created in this sector every year. Even if a few thousand 2020 school leavers decided they’d like to enter this field and went to University in 2021 we won’t see them graduate for three years and possibly four. Even then they are going to need a few years in the real world developing and hiring their skills because employers are not looking for truckloads of junior developers, they need the six or seven years of experience most skilled migrants bring with them.
To the IT sector you could equally add Construction with calls this week from employers struggling to fill construction and project management roles - all paying six figures. Then there’s the education sector with the country still 1500 teachers short across pre, primary and secondary schools. To that we can add agriculture with over 1000 manager jobs available and unable to be filled. Companies are still screaming for tradesmen/artisans - another workforce rapidly ageing and moving toward retirement.
If we don’t import the skills, how will these sectors thrive?
When every mid leveled IT job supports 4.5 other jobs what’s the downside?
The Government recently announced a $1.6 billion increase in spending on free apprenticeships. The only problem is they are about four years too late - the critical shortage in this area has been around for 30 years. Why did it take Covid to spur the Government into action? Even if young and not so young people take up the call (and history suggests they won’t with 74% of subsidised apprentices not completing their trade certificate) the labour market is still around four years away from them being qualified.
With a very a recent and widely unreported survey showing that New Zealanders support for immigration as a positive influence on the country running at a historical high it still perplexes me why no political party has published any sort of detailed immigration policy for the Covid world in which we now live. Plenty of promises about virtually everything else but nothing about what each party’s immigration policy might look like given the upheaval of recent months.
Every three years Government undertakes a ‘first principles’ review of our major immigration policies. Parents one year. Business Investors the next. This year the turn was to be for the Skilled Migrant Policy. As far as I am aware that has not taken place. No doubt the functionaries will tell us its because of Covid disruption, a very convenient excuse for no action. This Government wasted its first two years making a song and dance about the relatively insignificant issue of ‘migrant exploitation’. There was never any real evidence it was a significant issue, yet it tied up whatever Ministerial interest there was in this portfolio until the Minister resigned.
There could not be a better time, nor a greater need for that first principles review of the skilled migrant policy.
We should be asking ourselves if the policy is working. How it could be improved? How we might better integrate work and visitor policy with the labour market driven skills migrant policy in which getting a job is critical to success? How does international ‘export’ education feed into the migrant flows? Should we be dishing out graduate work visas to International students? Where do the lower skilled but no less valuable occupations like aged care or teacher aids fit into our long terms needs with an ageing population?
Is the policy even working?
I’d argue that the skilled migrant pathway is net positive for New Zealand but very hard on migrants. I often describe the process as ‘Darwinian’ and the survival of the fittest - those that are successful have the linguistic skills, the cultural capital, personal resilience, the financial wherewithal and skills to pass the ‘test’. Even for them the process takes its toll and migrants get precious little credit for bringing us their skills, energy and enthusiasm. Lord knows we make it hard enough to get the best. The country gets people that not only really want to build a future here but are wanted by the labour market. On paper it works for us.
That is not to say it couldn’t be improved in terms of a process as I have written about before.
Immigration policies this election, perhaps more than any other, demanded a rethink about who we let in, why we let them in and in what quantity we let them in. So much flows from that - think about housing, how many new schools we might need to build, infrastructure planning and build, health needs, hospitals and so on. Every decision any government must make flow from the number of people it is elected to serve.
I cannot fathom a country where immigration is viewed as a positive force for good by the significant majority, a country that so overwhelmingly welcomes new migrants, but that keeps squandering the opportunity by planning an active immigration policy rather than one that is reactive.
This is yet another missed opportunity by all the major and not so major parties to articulate a long term vision of what New Zealand might look like, literally and figuratively, in 10, 20 or 30 years from today. And to then plan for it and deliver it.
Alas we continue to be caught in this three-year electoral cycle where change is incremental and at snails pace.
All the while skills shortages will grow worse and that will hold us back as we grow our way out of this Covid induced recession.
Until next week
Posted by Iain on Sept. 18, 2020, 1:29 p.m. in Elections
A month out from possibly the most important election in decades I decided to have a look at the immigration policies of the major political parties just in case any of them might have one.
You may laugh but the reality is no major, or even minor political party for that matter, views immigration as anything more than an adjunct to everything else they want to see happening in the country. For a country with an ageing population and a rapidly changing labour market for some silly reason I keep expecting every three years that at least one party might actually not just adopt the status quo. I wouldn’t say our immigration policy settings are broken but that is not say they aren’t in need of some fine tuning.
I am doing this exercise for you because for many of you this will be your first time voting in New Zealand. Here, anyone with a resident visa aged 18 or over and who has lived here for 12 months is eligible to vote in both local and national elections. Note, there is no requirement to hold permanent residence or even citizenship to vote (how cool is that?). Nor is voting compulsory as it is in countries like Australia.
The exercise exploring what the parties were promising was complete within about five minutes.
None have anything new for this new covid world, a closed border with limited exceptions nor changing skills needs given we are now in a recession with the rest of the world….. I am not making that up. None have published any policy that suggests any change they might make beyond throw away lines and platitudes.
You might think with unemployment expected to rise to 7.5% by early next year, Government debt ballooning with the printing of billions of dollars of new money and skills shortages in large part not being alleviated by rising unemployment, that the major parties might be asking themselves if immigration might need to go in a different direction.
On Labour’s website, of 18 policy categories immigration does not feature. On current polling if they aren’t governing alone they will likely be doing so with the Green Party.
Only the Green Party comes close to any sort of proposed change to the status quo - they want more refugees settled here. Fewer economic migrants and more ‘humanitarian’. At least they seem to have a direction they want to take things. Trouble for them if they get back into Parliament is they have no real power so we won’t be getting more refugees.
As Parliament’s biggest party (currently) National offers a bland statement about the importance of immigration but no detail on what it’s policies might look like. That suggest it plans no change if it leads the next Government. Unfortunately for them, they won’t be the biggest party for much longer. Their policies, immigration or otherwise, look pretty much the same as Labour’s, but Labour has a leader with a nicer smile (and that’s all it is going to take for people to vote for her party it seems).
New Zealand First - the traditional anti-immigration party has simply confirmed they want to cut skilled migration (and always make a big deal of it every three years). This time round they want 15,000 skilled migrants per year. That represents a cut of around 10% on the existing target so hardly newsworthy or I’d suggest worth voting for if you think immigration is a bad idea.
ACT - continues the vacuous statements about immigration being ‘valuable’ (I guess that is something) and New Zealand being a nation of immigrants, but nothing in the way of policy.
The Opportunities Party - expresses the view migrants must be able to add economic value - in essence fewer lower skilled people and more skilled people (which is what we do now). They are however silent on the numbers and the mechanism for achieving it.
What is so interesting about all of this is what it says about political attitudes to migration.
Despite being a ‘nation of immigrants’ and most companies and businesses relying on imported skills and labour to some extent, political parties view immigration as a vote loser. So they don’t talk about it except NZ First. No party seems to think our policy settings need to change.
I’ve got a few suggestions (funnily enough) for them.
Operationally I’d be a little more hands on - these days it is vogue for Ministers to not get involved in operational matters but they can set the expectations.
Whichever party governs come next month should start with sorting out INZ’s IT systems if nothing else. So far $38 million has been spent over ten years but come lockdown in March, INZ ground to a halt because staff couldn’t work remotely or visas couldn’t be filed electronically. The Government has printed $50 billion of fresh money over the past four months, so I’d be directing some of this to INZ with an instruction - start again - don’t try and build an online residence processing software platform on top of your old and antiquated existing temporary visa system.
We learned recently that one of the reasons INZ couldn’t work remotely during lockdown is many of their computers still use Windows 7. I think I was 22 years old when Windows 7 was released (I am now 56). The General Manager was quoted as saying a few days ago they are going to buy a few more laptops….riiiiight, good ‘plan’….
INZ needs to abandon their stupid model of having one set of officers in one branch process one type of visa and not have knowledge of any other visa types (like we do at IMMagine). We saw the folly of that when China and India operations shut down earlier this year. All of a sudden INZ couldn’t process visitor visas any more because all of them were being processed in our Embassy in Beijing. Those officers were all sent home and were all sitting doing nothing on full pay. Still are.
I’d also suggest that the Government continue with a labour market driven ‘skilled migrant’ policy because it works in terms of only allowing in those that prove they are employable and there is little doubt being employable leads to better settlement outcomes. It makes sense to allow those who can break into the labour market stay. However I’d reverse the order of the skilled migrant process. It has always seemed daft to me to make the very people we are looking to attract, resign jobs, jump on planes, force them to tell lies about the purpose of their visit on arrival and then make them deal with the Work Visa/Job offer ‘chicken and egg’ - you usually can’t get one without the other - then start processing a resident visa (many of which are declined). I’d be allowing applicants to file their Expression of Interest, selecting them if they are within the job offer ‘points’ of the pass mark, then invite them to apply, get them to file their decision ready resident visa application and at the end of the process give them a work visa and six months to find a job and another three to work in it - then I’d grant them and their family a resident visa. If they are successful in that job search they stay, if they aren’t, then they weren’t really needed in the labour market.
I’d also be creating a pathway to residence for people who may not be highly skilled but who are still valuable to the country. I am particularly thinking about healthcare workers like nurse aids and those that work in geriatric care but who aren’t ‘qualified’ or ‘skilled’ enough to be granted residence as skilled migrants. They might not be highly skilled but we have a shortage of these sorts of skills sets and ever increasing demand. We need an immigration policy that starts to recognise New Zealanders just do not want to do that sort of work so if we don’t import the skills and offer those people some pathway to a future here, they’ll go to another country with an equally rapidly ageing population.
In respect of the Covid response and pulling the economy out of recession as quickly as we can, I’d be opening up managed isolation to private education providers in particular Polytechnics and Universities - if they want to pay for it, fill your boots. The export education and international students are worth $5 billion to this country - or was before we shut the sector down when the border was closed. It employed around 35,000 people most of whom will be hanging on by the tips of their fingernails right now waiting for some action from Government. Universities want the responsibility and I cannot see any reason why they cannot make it a success. Government was running our border and isolation process and we ended up with community transmission…
Alas, none of these things are likely to happen because no political party is willing to publish any detailed policy on how immigration fits into their broader economic and social planning.
If you are in New Zealand or hoping to get here, don’t worry too much about the outcome of the election on immigration policy settings.
Until next week
Posted by Iain on July 3, 2020, 12:29 p.m. in Immigration New Zealand
What is really going on with the skilled migrant category and the ever growing backlog of cases?
Never has a queue been the subject of so much speculation and intrigue. Calls are growing louder for the government to front. To tell the truth. Hardly a day goes by without one media (mainstream or social) or another speculating on the cause of the skilled/business stream processing delays and backlogs.
I place little stock in the opinions of those on Facebook, migrant chat groups, online forums, ‘ethnic’ radio stations and even less so the MSM to actually get the answers people are looking for.
I’ve been trying for weeks to try and get a straight answer on what is really happening. I think I’ve worked it out and it is, for the most part nothing to do with ‘rising demand’.
On the one hand we have the ‘Ghost’ Minister of Immigration, using the coronavirus and the lockdown as the reason for processing delays despite the backlog and processing times being the same for the 12 months pre - lockdown as we are being told they will be post. He is either lying or just doesn’t know what is going on.
I have been engaging with a senior official on this question, who I am not going to name, nor reveal the designation of, but this person should know exactly what is going on on the ground and more importantly, is what in the media world would be called a highly reliable source.
This week I was advised that there are 14,000 skilled and business stream applications sitting in the unallocated queue, awaiting subsequent processing. This includes skilled migrant category applications (points) and those applying under the Residence from work (talent) sub streams. It covers a handful (low hundreds) of business and entrepreneur resident visa cases.
Each resident visa application historically represented 2.1 people so it means, in rough figures, there’s about 30,000 people sitting in the queue waiting for their residence to be allocated and processed, that this Government invited and encouraged to file their application.
I was advised, that when the previous residence programme ended in December 2019, INZ put it to the Minister of Immigration that unless they were advised otherwise, they’d assume the targets/quotas would be rolled over for the next 18 months. The Minister apparently responded with ‘Noted’.
That means INZ has given itself a target of 30,000 skilled and business resident visas for the period January 2020 to June 2021 to approve and issue. That’s roughly 14,000 applications over the period - the same number as the people currently sitting in the queue.
The current two year backlog only started to grow when INZ stopped allocating cases in December 2018. Prior to that it sat around 6-8 months.
Of the 14,000 cases on hand this month, only 600 are currently identified as ‘priority’, defined as those that have the principle applicant earning $51 per hour or who work in an occupation in NZ requiring statutory registration. Even these are now taking months to be allocated.
Virtually no ‘non-priority’ cases have been allocated for processing since December 2018 despite MSM reports. Occasionally some are but we have been advised by the Residence Visa Operations Manager that such exceptions are ‘rare’ and the numbers ‘small’. One assumes statistically insignificant in the scheme of things.
As recently as this week the Minister of Immigration publicly stated that the ‘non-priority’ queue is also moving. He is, once again, either uninformed or embellishing the facts.
The bit I cannot work out and even my source cannot (or will not) clearly explain is why, when the numbers of priority applications sitting in the queue is only 600 (representing around 1,400 people) we are constantly told (officially and very publicly) that no ‘non-priority’ cases are being allocated, processed or approved by INZ.
At the same time my source tells me they are ‘on track’ to issue and approve ‘up to 30,000 resident visas’ by June 2021, but the truth is that they have only been processing the priority cases since December 2018.
The math doesn’t add up.
That’s only 40 odd cases a month being allocated. If that’s all they allocate and they approved every single one they won’t hit 30,000 resident visa approvals, they’ll hit 1400 over 18 months. That’s hardly being ‘on target’.
Even more curiously, these priority cases are spread across something like 50 case officers. They should be able to get through 600 cases in a month! And will have to to get anywhere near the target they claim to be on target to deliver.
I suspect a significant part of the answer is it is not that demand is exceeding the supply of places, as the Government and INZ has been telling us for the thick end of two years, it is, incredibly, that the department lacks the intellectual capability to process most of the cases on hand. They don’t have the knowledge and experience.
I believe that is the real reason for the increasing backlogs. A significant percentage of the case officers are not ‘fit for purpose’. I have all but been told that by my source.
We were intrigued and alarmed to learn a few months ago that within the so-called priority queue there was also an unofficial sub-priority queue covering teachers and ‘health workers’. We couldn’t understand why there needed to be a priority queue within a priority queue. After all, all those people were on long term work visas and were not in any meaningful way in need of urgent processing. Certainly no more urgent, than say, applicants sitting on fixed term 12 month contracts (fine for a resident visa and points) and whose resident visas are not going to be allocated, processed and approved before they lose their jobs and with it, residence.
When pressed on what the justification was for a queue within a queue, my source has suggested these are, in large part, being used for training purposes because, I imagine on any visa scale of complexity a Teacher, working in NZ, is a less complex type of application for someone fresh faced, inexperienced or out of their intellectual depth to process. That's an incredible suggestion.
I think, although the source will not absolutely confirm (because this reflects pretty poorly on management as well), the real reason this backlog is growing is primarily because the managers do not believe the skills exist across the processing teams to accurately and efficiently process the cases. So the ‘easier’ ones are taking precedence. Not because they are more ‘valuable to NZ’ as INZ has told us more than once, but because they are usually less complex.
It seems then your chances of residence is now based primarily how complicated your case might look to INZ.
Adding to all of this is the fact that the previous Government cut the numbers of visas they were prepared to issue (paradoxically as the economy boomed and skills shortages worsened) and the current Government cut them even further for political reasons (to the current unofficial 30,000 people every 18 months).
The pass mark to be selected from the skilled migrant pool did not increase when both governments cut numbers as it needed to in order to not invite more people to apply for residence than there were places available. That of course, in a booming economy would have created a whole different set of issues but that is for another day (and Government policy review on the folly of a points based system in a labour market driven policy). The point is, two years ago the pass mark should have increased, or the processing backlog would inevitably grow as there is a maximum number of resident visas that can be approved.
‘Demand’ is being used now as an excuse by officials and Ministers but it is a red herring. It’s a smokescreen that no one has been able to see through. Until now.
Even with the lower target put in place by the current government the ‘backlog’ was only 6-8 months to allocate cases, so the numbers flowing into the system has not increased to the point where cases should be taking four times longer even to be allocated.
The department’s own numbers prove that is a lie.
There is now 3000 EOIs sitting in the pool. My source has confirmed that number and acknowledged that the processing ‘can’ is simply being kicked down the road. INZ doesn’t want these EOIs selected because they don’t want more cases flowing into the system because with every one that is, it makes INZ look even more hapless. And exposes the Minister and Government to more accusations they are missing in action. They aren’t chasing (another) crisis.
With INZ back at work after having to sit at home twiddling their thumbs while the rest of us were left working during lockdown, pool draws have not resumed. We were told they were stopped during lockdown because INZ wasn’t able to work.
Why hasn’t the selection resumed given INZ has been back at work for a month?
My guess is, with the shine coming off this government over border and quarantine botch ups and 8 weeks out from the election, when their (commanding) lead in the polls is falling, they will not authorise the resumption of pool draws till the election is out of the way. They are desperate to make immigration a non-issue during the election. And INZ management is not about to make themselves look any more useless than they look now by backlogs getting even worse.
INZ is never going to admit that the truth behind the backlog is a failure to have enough immigration officers with the experience, knowledge and intellectual capability to do their job. Managers clearly lack the confidence to give more than a case or two a week to these officers because they apparently believe they will make poor decisions and need a whole lot of babysitting and training.
The tens of thousands of migrants (being real people, not economic ‘widgets’) sitting in that queue, living day to day, hoping they won’t lose their job, who gave up everything to be part of this Government’s (unofficially official) programme, who were selected and invited to apply for residence by demonstrating a prima facie claim they met the criteria for approval, who have been charged $3000 plus per family by Government for the chance, are being treated with contempt.
Victims of gross political and bureaucratic mismanagement.
This is a growing scandal that the government hopes desperately to keep the lid on till after the election.
They will if we all let it.
Until next week.
Posted by Iain on Feb. 14, 2020, 4:22 p.m. in Skilled Migrant Category
In Maori this means "stay strong”. It is one of those terms that has found its way into every day usage in New Zealand. I love it. It speaks to where I come from and the work that I do. People everywhere are freaking out over the skilled migrant resident visa allocation and processing times, frightened by what the government might do.
At my seminars I like to paint a picture that migration is like climbing Mount Everest. It takes a lot of good planning, careful execution, patience and courage. Mental toughness is rewarded. Migration is emotional, logistically complicated and generally expensive (as in, employ a cheap mountain guide, or no mountain guide at all and your chances of summiting Mount Everest are significantly lower — indeed that decision to do it on the cheap may cost you your future).
Migrants are always tested but never more so than today in New Zealand where allocation and processing times continue to get longer and longer. I have written recently something has to give in terms of what is going on with the skilled migrant category. Foolishly the government cut the number of resident visas they wanted to approve last year but left the points pass mark at 160.
Demand is not diminishing, nor increasing (as incorrectly claimed by the Minister of Immigration recently), but by cutting numbers while keeping the pass mark the same, has led directly to these processing backlogs - most skilled migrants are going to be waiting 18 to 24 months for their residence to be allocated, processed and approved unless they work in an occupation for which they have NZ registration or are earning at least $104,000.
Backlogs in and of themselves don’t necessarily suppress demand. Having dealt with the Australian system for some years the significant majority of resident Visa applications take 18 to 24 months to process. The big difference between Australia and New Zealand however, is none of those people wanting to move to Australia have sold their houses, given up their jobs, given the dog away to their neighbour, found employment in Australia and are now sitting waiting and worrying over their Resident Visa outcome. They are all still sitting at home getting on with their lives. All the people affected by the backlog in New Zealand, are in New Zealand on work visas. They have burned plenty of bridges to be part of the Government’s residence programme (that curiously they still spend millions of dollars marketing).
These NZ migrants cannot make any long-term decisions. Many have children finishing school and wanting to go to university during the waiting period and the majority simply cannot afford to pay international fees for university. Many are having to put on hold decisions to buy houses. Some might be stuck in jobs that are not ideal but serve the residence purpose.
I find we have two kinds of clients. Those that simply suck it up, and get on and enjoy life in New Zealand having faith we know what we are doing and residence is a matter of when and not if. They appreciate the delays are not of our making. As possibly the best Advisers in the game they appreciate that all we can do is to ensure that we file decision ready applications which is what we do.
Then there is the second kind. These are the people that take it out on us. Thankfully they are a minority but it isn’t very pleasant being blamed for changes in the rules half way through the game - when we don’t write the rules. There's nothing we can do to make the government go faster but we along with the entire industry has made it very clear to the government that the current situation is unsustainable and ignoring the problem will not make it go away.
Ultimately however it is the Minister that sets the pass mark to get out of the skilled migrant pool and it is the government that sets the criteria to qualify as a migrant. As I have written about recently I have no doubt some plan is being hatched in Wellington to deal with the situation. My major concern is the solution might be politically expedient rather than economically sensible.
Every single skilled migrant requires a highly skilled job to get into New Zealand. Employers the world over prefer to employ locally simply because of the perceived or real hassle getting visas. That means the government has in that backlog people who have been able to break into the labour market, secure a job for the most part against the odds, and that says one thing and one thing very clearly - their skills were desperately needed in New Zealand by that particular employer because no employer I’ve ever dealt with will play the visa game if they can avoid it. That reality seems lost on the politicians - or they choose to ignore it for political gain.
Obviously the simplest solution is for the government to increase the number of resident visas they will issue and clear the backlog. Sell it as a good economic news story, for that is what it is. Too many jobs, not enough Kiwis to fill them.
I was thinking the other day that another solution could be to return to the multi passmark system we used to have. The way things used to work was that applicants were ranked not just on raw points total as they are today, but according to what we deem more important and valuable e.g. claiming points for a job in an occupation on a national or regional skills shortage list, or having a partner with a skilled job offer, or higher salary - the criteria themselves could be ranked. Then, at least, it is transparent.
Or consider prioritising processing in terms of the points score that people claim. The more points you claim the faster your case could be allocated. The obvious problem with that of course is people would start claiming points they are not entitled to. I would then adopt the Australian approach – a bit of a scorched Earth - if you claim it and you can't prove it you’d be declined. That would force people into getting it right up front and first time but the flip-side of that is it would require immigration officers to understand their own rules completely — and we know how bad they are at that. It is however worth considering. It would certainly force migrants to make sure they have the evidence of their points claim before filing an Expression of Interest in residence. That alone should cut down on applications that are always doomed to fail under the current system.
A simple across-the-board increase in the pass mark would obviously decrease demand for the available places but equally it's going to deprive the labour market, particularly in Auckland, of skills desperately needed that we do not produce ourselves as a country.
And that makes the simplest solution, the best. Recognise that the skilled migrant category rewards those that are able to break into a labour market that is, owing to the disconnect between employers wanting people to have work visas, but the government not wanting to grant work visas without jobs, seldom easy. The annual target of resident visas allowed to be issued should simply be increased — at least while the Government comes up with a better idea that does not hurt the economy. The government backtracked on infrastructure spending recently, perhaps they should backtrack on cutting skilled migrant numbers as well - and take the heat they will rightly get for making silly, politically motivated decisions in the first place.
If they were to do that and the economy keeps growing, then of course it creates more jobs. So arguably the problem never goes away. It’s a valid point (unless and until we can create the skills we need locally). The government should recognise that with that would come an increased demand on infrastructure, schools, roads, housing and everything else that would come with a growing population.
Well, here’s a thought — how about a population policy?
What this situation shows is it is a complex issue and you can't solve the problem unless you have an idea about how many people we want to share this land with and that demands a population policy which New Zealand has never had.
And no New Zealand government wants to have a discussion about what our ideal population might be.
So we find ourselves in a situation where the government sits on its hands when it comes to this critical issue and I continue to fear they will do something really really dumb.
Some positive news to end, however. Visitor Visas now seem to be being issued once again and we have had at least one issued this week for a South African client that was filed in mid-January.
That's a real relief for us and our clients looking to come over and find jobs.
Remember, migration is stressful and our jobs at IMMagine exist because the process is legally complex, logistically challenging and emotionally very tough. Don't start the process if you're not up for it because there's no point getting halfway up that mountain and turning around and going back down again. And migration is as much political for any country as it is economic so you will always be at the whim of self-serving politicians (or well-meaning but simply stupid ones) until that precious resident Visa is in your passport.
For migrants to be one of Darwin’s ‘winners’ it takes the creation of a good strategy (usually incorporating a Plan B), a steady nerve and listening to the advice that you are paying for. In our case it's normally spot on and we continue to enjoy watching over 98% of our clients come to New Zealand and find skilled jobs and go on to secure their residency.
Even if now, it is going to be a two year process.
Until next week
Posted by Iain on Sept. 30, 2016, 11:18 a.m. in South Africa
I wish I could draw. As they say, a picture tells a thousand words.
If you can, picture a man floating without a life vest in the middle of a vast and empty ocean reaching out for a passing twig and saying to himself ‘I am saved!’
That’s how (as a frequent visitor and keen observer of South African society) I view the recent local Council elections in which the ruling ANC lost control of a number of major City administrations.
I think back to February this year when over 2500 people registered to attend our Johannesburg seminars on moving to New Zealand or Australia. As a result, we had to lay on four additional presentations and present six where we planned on just two in Johannesburg alone.
That interest reflected the turmoil over the firing, replacement, firing, replacement and rehiring of a former Finance Minister in three tumultuous days causing the rand to plummet as international investors bailed out of the currency over a terrifying degree of political and economic mismanagement. That rightly put the wind up most thinking South Africans.
The DA dislodging the ANC from absolute power on a few City Councils is it seems the 'twig' tossed to the drowning man...I guess you cannot blame people for hoping for salvation when their future looks decidedly shaky.
Since I arrived here on Sunday, this is snapshot of the news stories that make it into the mainstream press:
This depressing list could go on.
This is a country where 60% of the young people have no jobs, little prospects and less hope. Where crime is rampant, corruption is deeply rooted at all levels of Government. Unemployment sits around 25% (although many people think it is much higher). The national airline, South African Airways, is flying only thanks to credit being extended by taxpayers – it cannot pay its bills out of its own income.
This is a nation of inquiries, investigations, Constitutional enquiries and rulings where getting little done but at great expense to a long suffering tax base is a national sport.
While I learned a long time ago that most people will never choose to migrate until it is too late, I remain somewhat astounded that those that can leave now, hang in. I just don’t know what they expect the future will hold.
While as human beings we naturally all prefer the security of the familiar to the insecurity of the unknown, I wonder just what it takes to shake most educated South Africans out of this lethargy.
Yesterday I met with a highly educated Zimbabwean living in South Africa. We are seeing more and more ex-Zimbabweans who were effectively forced to leave their homeland coming to see us. When we ask them why they look at us as if we are simple, their usual response is ‘we have seen it all before, this place is Zimbabwe Mark II’.
There will be many a South African who will bristle at that comparison but the parallels are stark and only a man refusing to see what is clearly in front of his face could conclude that economic salvation or rescue by a passing ship awaits.
Until next week
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