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Immigration Blog

REGULAR POSTS FROM NEW ZEALAND & AUSTRALIA

Posts with tag: work to residence

Immigration Blog

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

Winds of Change

Posted by Paul on May 14, 2021, 2:22 p.m. in Immigration New Zealand

INZ recently released more detail in regard to the upcoming Work Visa changes (which we posted a newsflash about late last week) and like clockwork, social media was set ablaze with rumour, conjecture and panic.

To help demystify some of the online fog and settle a few nerves we have added some detail to that explanation and a few things for applicants and employers to consider as these winds of Visa change blow across the land.

First of all, and to give a few of you out there fewer sleepless nights – anyone who is on a Work to Residence (Accredited Employer) Visa now and has either lodged their Residence application or has yet to do so, will still be able to secure Residence. Although INZ were a little lost on this point during their recent webinar, the Minister has subsequently confirmed that the pathway for these folks remains in place.

This ties in with the fact that the current rules allow for anyone on a Work to Residence Visa to still apply for Residence even if their employer has not renewed or even lost their Accreditation status. This seems to be a point of significant debate out there in the online migrant world, but the simple and confirmed (by INZ) fact is that if you hold this Visa and during the two years you need to work in NZ, your employer doesn’t renew their Accreditation or it is rescinded, then your ability to apply for Residence remains intact. As long as your job continues to meet the same conditions that applied when your Work to Residence Visa was initially issued.

That rule then would apply when the current Accredited employer scheme ends in June and the existing Work to Residence policies are wound up in November.

In addition, there has been discussion on many a social media thread that refers to having to secure a Variation of Conditions to your Visa if your employer’s Accreditation ends mid-Visa – again also a bit of a myth, perpetuated by some poor template letter writing on the part of INZ.

Lastly, anyone who holds one of the six Visas that are being mothballed in November, which includes two of the Work to Residence streams (Accredited Employer and LTSSL), two Silver Fern streams and two Essential Skills streams – your Visas remain valid and don’t suddenly expire. Also anyone that holds a Visa that doesn’t fall within the six earmarked for extermination, nothing changes (these are predominantly Visas that don’t require a form of employer support).

Panic over (for some of you at least).

However, if we step back a little and look at what INZ is undertaking and the timelines being proposed for it to be rolled out, it is either very ambitious or somewhat unrealistic. I suspect the latter.

In summary, the changes will be phased in over three separate timelines:

·         June 2021 – Employer based schemes for Accreditation, Labour Hire and Approval in Principles will end. These are the employer based applications, not the Visa applications.

·         Late September 2021 – Employers will be able to start applying under the new Accredited Employer Work Visa scheme.

·         November 2021 – From the beginning of the month, six Work Visa categories will be retired and be replaced with the one Accredited Employer Work Visa policy.

In a perfect world, INZ’s plan might make a lot of sense. The world however is far from perfect. What I suspect the good folks within INZ policy have dreamed up is a picture where all employers who have ever or might ever hire a migrant worker, line up in September and apply for the new Accreditation scheme, having studied the literature and with the correct documents in hand.

Unlikely.

There will be plenty of larger employers with HR teams, pouncing all over this and who will be ready to go when the gates are lifted, however for many employers this will be something they will get to later. Often employers don’t realise they need to hire a migrant until they need to hire a migrant (realising that the labour market isn’t going to deliver a local). For them, the process to secure that migrant is now going to appear (not necessarily be) more logistically complicated.

Add to this the fact that INZ are about to roll out an entirely new set of rules, where officers will be grappling with commercial concepts in assessing businesses, not just the usual paperwork associated with a Visa applicant – expect delays.

It also creates an unusual situation for the last-minute Visa crowd – those who tend to leave their Visa applications until just before their current Visas expire. If you suddenly discover you have two weeks left on your Work Visa and need to reapply but your employer isn’t Accredited, that process has just become a lot more challenging.

As sure as the temperature has dropped a few degrees of late, you can be certain that this period of change will bring some complications.

So naturally we have some advice to offer and we would encourage anyone reading this to share it with their migrant colleagues, friends and their own managers.

Firstly, for any employer who currently has migrant staff on board, or expects to be making some migrant focussed recruitment decisions in the next 12 months (and with low unemployment that is likely), we would suggest you line up in September and apply. Whilst there will be a cost (yet to be confirmed by INZ) and some admin involved, the downstream savings in time, money and stress will be substantial. Once you are Accredited, this will initially last for 12 months and then on renewal becomes valid for two years. The renewal process is likely to be a lot simpler than the upfront Accreditation and even that doesn’t look onerous.

This means that rather than scrambling to complete the Accreditation step first, when you find that ideal applicant, you will be sorted and ready to go.

For any migrants out there on temporary Visas that may be expiring within the next 12 months, speak to your manager or HR, ask them if they are aware of these changes and if they aren’t, recommend they find out. Forewarned is forearmed and no employer wants to be saddled with this process at the eleventh hour before a Visa is due to expire.

Overall we see these changes as positive because anything that removes one step in the already convoluted assessment process for a Work Visa should be welcomed by the industry, employers and applicants alike.

However, if history is anything to go by, change is not something that Governments do well, despite their extraordinary ability to talk a lot about it. These changes were initially tabled in 2019 and whilst we have had Covid in the mix, the fact that the actual rules haven’t yet been finalised or released speaks volumes as to how well this transition is likely to be managed.

So getting in front of this process as quickly as you can will remove a significant amount of stress and provide a measure of that all important factor for all migrants and employers – certainty.

We are certainly going to be raising this with the employer we have engaged with and also with our clients and of course navigating this process for employers is going to be a somewhat foreign concept because up until now, supporting a migrant has been a pretty simple process (in terms of paperwork).

If you want to know more about how this might all work, be informed as to what the rules will look like in detail (when INZ have finalised them) then get in touch and we can make sure that the winds of change are little more than a breeze, rather than a raging cyclone.


NZ - work visa process change

Posted by Iain on May 7, 2021, 9:44 a.m. in Work Visa

 

INZ is starting to drip feed the details of the new work visa processes upon which work began back in late 2019. I say drip feed because in the recent announcements and webinars they have held they said ‘We are still doing work on that’ or ‘We are waiting on the Minister to tell us what he thinks’ (good luck with that then).

I really don’t understand why they go public with half the detail.

What we do know is there will be more bureaucracy involved but to those that have ever filed a work visa, there is nothing here that seeks to deliberately cut down the number of work visas at least for those earning higher amounts than the median national income. So that is reassuring.

All employers seeking to employ migrants will have to become ‘accredited’ before they can support work visa applications. Initial accreditation will be valid for 12 months and it can be renewed for periods of 24 months (with what INZ described as a ‘light touch’ which in English means if you’ve got accreditation it won’t be too hard to keep it).

The process will comprise three steps.

1.       Employer check - employers can start apply for this for ‘late September’. By 1 November any employer that needs to employ non-residents must have that accreditation. Employers will be required to demonstrate inter alia they are registered as a genuine business with Inland Revenue (the tax department), have a registered Business Number, have a track record of complying with immigration and employment law and the employer must complete some government run, online, ‘employment modules’ providing any new staff with information on their employment rights etc. 

2.       Job check - depending on where the job is located (Auckland, Hamilton, Wellington, Christchurch, Dunedin being defined as 'cities' means the process may be a little dfferent to those applying for jobs everywhere else) and what the salary is will determine what sort of local labour market test, if any, is required. Advertising evidence may or may not be required again depending on location and salary.

3.      Migrant check - essentially proving the migrant is ‘suitably qualified’ to take up the role (we are assuming the same test applies to that which applies today), that there is no ‘suitable New Zealanders available for the role or who could be trained’ (again, status quo) and of course health and character checks will be carried out. So no real change coming there.

Franchises and what INZ refers to as ‘triangle’ employers e.g. those that employ and then sub contract out such as labour hire companies, will have shorter periods of accreditation and more onerous conditions placed on them. 

Those on existing work visas do not have to apply for new visas nor does their employer need to become accredited before 1 November.

Those earning twice the median salary will still have available to them a work to residence pathway i.e. work for an accredited employer for two years and you can qualify for residence in that way. A new higher salary threshold will apply - twice the median salary which today is a total salary of $106,080. Today to achieve the same 'residence from work outcome' applicants must be earning $79,560. My thoughts on that is most people earning $106,080 will qualify under the ‘points’ system anyway so nothing much to worry about for those people. 

The one big question mark for us was what about those on existing work to residence (WTR) visas if no residence visa has been filed before midnight on 31 October? INZ said they are waiting Ministerial direction on how they should be treating those people. That is of real concern to us. Is the Government going to pull the rug out from under the feet of the thousands of people in the country now on an existing work to residence pathway? In theory they could by simply reminding those holding WTR that what they hold is a temporary visa. Of course it is more than that to those that hold them - it is the only pathway many of them had to a resident visa so while technically it is a temporary visa, in effect it is so much more than that. I’d like to think the Government will confirm that the pathway to those people will be preserved.

All in all there is little to be too concerned about with this greater focus going onto employers but as always the devil is going to be in the detail.


A Good News Bad News Story

Posted by Iain on Oct. 16, 2020, 2:51 p.m. in COVID-19

 

I am not sure if this is the good news or bad news story.

It looks like the government is finally starting to open up the border, inconsistently and somewhat illogically, step by step. Over the last two weeks they have announced that: 

1.       International students - 250 PhD students who were expected to study in New Zealand this year will now all be granted border exemptions to come and complete/start their study, depending on the courses they undertake and if they have support from their education institution in NZ

2.       Those who are offshore holding a work visa will, if they were previously in NZ before the lockdowns took effect, be able to apply to enter NZ with their family. No exemption to crossing the border required.

While that is good news, especially the second point, I am left scratching my head over why those people who hold jobs whilst currently overseas see their family getting priority over reuniting the hundreds of families stuck overseas when one partner is already in New Zealand working. Every week hundreds of border exemption applications, some filed by us, are being declined, for such split families.

While some of IMMagine’s applications are being approved for these exemptions, others have been declined and there is simply no consistency nor rhyme nor reason as to who gets the approval and who gets the decline. It appears to be a complete lottery.

Our team is spending inordinate amounts of time and energy trying to get straight answers out of INZ about those that have and those that haven’t been granted border exemptions to reunify these split families.

What is so frustrating is INZ has always tried to explain away their historically inconsistent decision making by hiding behind the ‘each case on its merits’ line. It’s garbage of course. That is nothing more than a cop out as two cases which are by and large the same should expect the same outcome. But so often that is anything but the case.

Never has this inconsistency been more apparent since we were told by a senior Manager a couple of weeks ago that where one partner was in NZ on a temporary visa and a partner and/or children were stuck on the other side of the border, they intended taking a more humanitarian approach, were dong a ‘wider piece of work’ (if I hear that phrase one more time I’ll scream) and were going to have a team meeting to ‘calibrate’ (seriously that’s this week’s INZ’s favourite and utterly meaningless term).  They were probably going to talk ‘around’ the issues' in the exemption ‘space’.

It transpires that meeting never took place.

Given concerns INZ managers have about the (intellectual) capacity of their own ‘counter level’ staff tasked with making these important decisions a directive was however given to them to escalate requests meeting the bullet point criteria below to a ‘senior experienced immigration officer’ (suggesting there are senior inexperienced officers? God help us) so someone who has been around a bit longer can cast their more ‘experienced’ eye over the 3000 characters which is all you get to state your case.

Six applications later which are all by and large the same, including: 

    One partner in NZ on a work Visa

    Other Partner stuck in the ‘home’ country

    One or more young children stuck in the home country with partner

    Child(ren) not seeing the NZ based parent for at least six months….

 …two were approved, four were declined.

If two were approved isn’t that the benchmark for the others to meet and if they do surely they too must be approved?

Apparently not.

These aren’t complex cases like residence visas. These are on the face of it simple cases with four criteria common to all applications and no differences beyond the names and dates of birth of the applicants. Hardly rocket science. Complex assessments do not need to be made. The only thing that differed in those six cases was the officer making the decision.

When we got copies of the files under the Official Information Act, bearing in mind it is a legal requirement for these decisions and the rationale that goes into them to be recorded, we learned….nothing. None the wiser why some were approved and some were declined.

Who assessed it determined what the outcome was. Pure and simple.

INZ cannot reasonably argue ‘each case on its merits’ was the reason for some being approved and some being declined when in substance they were all virtually identical.

The conclusion is these applications are nothing but a lottery.

This is the best example of the perils of dealing with INZ. They have for years hidden behind the ‘each case on its merits’ mantra rather than face the truth and do something about it. It’s nothing but a smokescreen for their inability to make consistent decisions.

What kind of system is it when who processes your visa is likely the strongest determining factor as to its outcome?

As we have pointed out before INZ has admitted its biggest ‘challenge’ (I’d say handicap) right now, more than ever, is they have so many officers that are still wet behind the ears and have no idea what they are doing.

This is simply not good enough. These decisions impact people lives. The emotional trauma being wrought upon families is, for those of us not trapped in this visa ‘no mans land’, difficult to comprehend. It seems some INZ Managers ‘get it’ but they are powerless it seems to get it through the skulls of the decision makers on the ‘counter’. The only alternative is they don’t care and I cannot believe that.

At some point someone is going to do something desperate born of the despair, frustration and hopelessness they are feeling given their family has been split for months with seemingly no end in sight - not for a few days, not even a few weeks, but for many it has now been over 8 months. Covid is often spoken of as a physical health emergency but to me it is increasingly becoming a mental health emergency and for no one more so than those migrants that the Government has encouraged to come here to be part of its residence programme, people who have brought us their skills, their energy and their commitment to building new lives in New Zealand, for whom ‘going home’ is not an option and who, to a child deserves so much more than this lottery.

We have two clients right now in New Zealand on work visas both of whom are thinking of throwing in the towel because they haven't seen partners and children now since Christmas. How do you make them understand that when another complete family is sitting overseas with one partner who gets a job in New Zealand now going to leapfrog them in the visa process? Are their needs subservient to the family that has never set foot in NZ?

If their employer gave them leave and they flew back to South Africa, we filed new work visas because they no longer need border exemptions, we must assume that they are going to be granted. It’s insane.

On the one hand it's great news that the border restrictions are starting to ease but it's so depressing that the Department seems incapable of prioritising those that can enter in a sensible and consistent way.

Until next week

 

 

Iain MacLeod

Southern Man

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Let's not squander this opportunity

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

 

Iain MacLeod

Southern Man

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What is INZ afraid of?

Posted by Iain on July 24, 2020, 1:27 p.m. in Immigration New Zealand

The plot thickens.

Just what is going on with the processing of skilled migrant cases?

I received pushback this week from a senior Immigration Manager demonstrating one thing these people clearly do not appreciate is being questioned or held to account.

A problem I suggested in return might be easily solved if they publicised accurate and timely information on their website. They do not. Why?

We have learned under various applications made under the Official Information Act that:

1.      On July 2 INZ actually only had 427 skilled migrant resident (SMC) visa cases that met their priority processing criteria (high salary or occupational registration). I had been told there was 900 at the same time by a senior manager who should have known the number.

2.      INZ appears to have around 70 case officers assigned to process skilled migrant (points) cases and residence from work/talent visas.

3.      There is a priority queue within the priority queue (used for training up inexperienced officers and ‘efficiency improvements’ - translation -  meeting kpis and not looking completely useless)

4.      There is 14,000 SMC applications (covering around 28,000-30,000 people) sitting in the queue to be processed at the time of writing

5.      No Expressions of Interest are being selected - we were told during lockdown ‘no boots on the ground’ was the reason. The boots have been back on the ground now for around six weeks but still no pool draws. I am advised there’s around 3000 EOIs sitting in the pool currently. No invitations to apply for residence have been made for three months - so there’s little no new work adding to the queue.

6.      The Government has a target of around 25,000 resident visa approvals between Jan 2020 and June 2021.

7.      At IMMagine we have had four residence cases over the past week or so where we have been advised the case officer is happy with the evidence and arguments and moved to an internal INZ second person (quality and accuracy) check for sign off and the application has been sent back to the case officer because the more experienced officer has found fault with the first officer’s assessment. This is unprecedented in our experience. The officer training doesn’t seem to be going that well.

8.      The (now former) Minister of Immigration has as recently as ten days ago advised publicly that both priority and non priority queues are moving. The last non-priority case allocated for processing was receipted on 20 December 2018 (not 2019). Snails also technically move - doesn’t mean they will get anywhere any time soon…

What does all this mean to those waiting and wondering what is happening with their applications?

There is more people in the system than places available under the programme but only by the 10% variance allowed for. That hardly supports the notion that ‘demand’ for places is outstripping the ‘supply’ as the Minister and senior bureaucrats keep telling the world is the reason for the queue not getting shorter.

INZ Managers either do not know what is happening on their watch, how many cases representing priority and non-priroty are sitting in their queue or they are not telling the truth about it. I don’t think they are lying.

On the face of it when senior managers tasked with overseeing the ‘queue’ cannot advise us how many cases meet priority criteria and their Head Office Managers confirm that teachers and health care workers are being prioritised for training purposes, you know you’ve got a problem.

I don’t know how the number of officers is split between SMC processing and Residence from Work (I couldn’t get a straight answer) but given there’s probably 10 SMC cases for every one of the latter, that suggests there should be roughly 60 immigration officers processing the priority cases.

If there really was only 427 SMC priority cases sitting in the queue on 2 July as the Government advised under an OIA request, that means each officer would get roughly 7 cases. Seven! I also don’t know how long it would take an officer to process a case but let’s be generous and say, eight hours. That suggests the queue should be pretty much gone within a week.

So why, contrary to the Government’s statements that both queues are moving is there no evidence of it among the advising community which handle something like 40% - 50% of all cases in the system? The reports I am receiving are consistent - none of the corporate advising community is seeing any non priority cases being allocated for processing beyond a small number that have been ‘escalated’ through a strange process called EVE. I was told by a Visa Operations Manager these numbers are ‘very small’ and ‘rare’.

So what exactly are the case officers doing all day?

They can’t all be cutting their teeth on teacher applications.

Why can’t INZ (and the Government) just be honest with us all?

Are they hiding something because this maths and the experience of our industry just does not add up?

I am not suggesting there’s wholesale lying going on but the only other explanation is the government and the senior management of INZ do not know what is really happening in the branches and on the ground. I am not sure which is worse.

Senior managers can whine at those of us pushing for answers about what the numbers really are or they could get their act together and publish the real numbers. Don’t they want to know how they are performing?

I am calling on INZ to publish (accurately and I’d suggest weekly) in one place on their website:

1.       The number of SMC cases sitting in their yet to be allocated queue

2.       The number of residence from work cases sitting in the queue

3.       The number of priority cases within that number (1) above

4.       The number of priority SMC cases approved and declined weekly

5.       The number of non-priority SMC cases approved and declined weekly

How hard could that be? If we had those five simple metrics we could all stop firing off OIA requests tying up time of low level functionaries in Wellington who I know are often being asked the same question multiple times.

Wouldn’t it be in everyone’s interest, not least the Government's, to provide this snapshot each week when it is the government and INZ trying to convince the world, against all the evidence that the problem is demand for visas exceeding the supply of them?

What are they all so afraid of?

Until next week

Iain MacLeod

Southern Man

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Is the border about to reopen

Posted by Iain on May 29, 2020, 2:47 p.m. in Immigration New Zealand

This week the Director General of Health, clearly our de facto Health Minister during the Covid-19 crisis given the ongoing absence of the elected one, made an interesting and telling comment - virus testing was moving from the community to the border. The obvious conclusion is that with there being only one person left in the country with the Coronavirus this week and no new cases being reported and community transmission halted, this was the clearest signal yet the government is looking to start to gradually re-open the border.

So who might stand to benefit and who might be allowed in?

Seems to start with being a movie mogul with the Minister responsible for ‘exceptions’ to the border closure announcing this week that the crew required to complete the ongoing filming and production of the Avatar sequel are to be allowed in. Apparently they have special skills we do not have here which is doubtful given the size of the local movie, television and commercial production industry.

What of the thousands of other highly skilled workers we still need on the farms, in IT, education, biotech, trades and Engineering - many of whom still have jobs but are either trapped offshore or are in New Zealand with work visas in process?

I can imagine that the next cabs off the rank will be the hundreds of current work visa holders who still have jobs here, had been working here, but who were overseas when the border shut down. Strangely they are still not allowed to re-enter the country despite many of those quarantine hotel rooms now sitting empty.

At the same time those with valid work visas (but who hadn't taken up the job in NZ when the border was closed) should in my view be allowed to enter along with their families. We represent many - IT Security Specialists and Vets to name two - who work in areas of absolute skills shortage who are marooned offshore, leaving local employers tearing their hair out. All our clients have been invited to apply for residence but are unable to take up their respective jobs. All are resigned to 14 days quarantine if that’s what it takes.

Joining them should be partners and children of international student and work visa holders where the student or work visa holder is already in the country. This group was listed among those who could apply for exceptions to be allowed to enter the country when it went into lockdown in March but who were quietly dropped off that list within a fortnight. This has meant hundreds, if not a few thousand, people have had their families torn apart with no end in sight. If the primary applicant is in New Zealand and is still on a valid work or student visa, and in the case of those on work visas, has a job, it is only right (can I say ‘kind’ one more time?) their family should be able to join them.

Then, everyone else.

Tourists I imagine need not apply till there is a vaccine or they are prepared for two weeks of staring at the four walls of a hotel room in quarantine (potentially at their expense) if they are tested on arrival and found to be positive.

I am not saying this will be the order or when it might happen. I do not know and apart from that one telling statement from the Director General, the government has, typically, been silent. I expect however that they will make some announcements over the next couple of weeks.

In a demonstration of how low on the Government’s priority ‘to do’ list immigration really features, what did send a chill down my spine was when, finally, at a press conference this week the PM was asked how a person who seeks to enter the country while the borders are closed should be expected to demonstrate ‘compelling and exceptional humanitarian circumstances’ to get a precious exemption when the form they have to fill provides them 60 words to do so (that’s less than the length of the sentence you just read), she scrunched up her face in quizzical fashion, as she tends to do, and said she wasn’t aware of that but would ask her (ghost) Minister of Immigration why this is the case. Nice deflection Jacinda, but here we are, several days later, and the form hasn’t changed. Did all those Avatar movie makers have to explain in 60 words or less why they should be allowed in?

On the home front we are starting to see the immigration department get back to work and back to their bizarre assessment ways with some new tricks.

I have written previously, that the department was about to ‘go hard and then go even harder’ on new Essential Skill Work Visa applications. They haven’t let me down and have come up, it seems, with some inventive but typically illogical and stupid methods to ensure as few work visas are issued as possible.

For any typical work visa applicant it has always been a requirement that the employer demonstrate a genuine effort to recruit locals for a position and to prove why they cannot train someone for the role. Fair enough - with local unemployment looking to spike to 8-9% by the end of June before starting to fall depending on whose thumb suck predictions you run with — it should be New Zealanders first. Every Government, everywhere, thinks likes that.

Trouble is when you ask a bureaucrat to start applying an otherwise reasonable thought, requiring some exercise in discretion, they tend to go to extremes while their ‘managers’ sit back and watch them do it (Managers inside this department can’t tell anyone what to do you see. Fact).

Already this week we have seen two clients, both highly skilled and specialised receive ‘letters of concern’ (identical to one another it should be noted confirming already this isn’t an ‘each case on its merits’ process) in which the case officer wants to know what current advertising the employer is doing to fill the role.

Say what?

What employer follows a recruitment process of advertising, evaluating CVs, creating a short list of potentially suitable candidates, conducts interviews, selects one, formally offers a position and then continues to advertise the role? In which part of the universe does that ever happen?

Unfortunately some well-intentioned fool in Wellington sent out the following message in a recent guidance and as usual this has been taken, twisted, misinterpreted and then, like a virus, infected all case officers:

'Immigration officers should not specifically request that employers re-advertise a role (as this is not a request for information) though employers may choose to do this if an immigration officer is not satisfied that there are no New Zealanders available and that immigration instructions are not met'

Breaking that down it is clear that immigration officers are under no obligation to request, nor even suggest, that employers re-advertise a role... yet that is precisely what, in the only two cases we have received letters from INZ over work visas this week, they demand.

'Please send the following:

Updated advertising information to show there are no New Zealand citizens or residents available to do the work on offer and genuine attempts to attract and recruit suitable New Zealand citizens or residence class visa holders for the role have been made'

Identical letters. Neither officer bothered to explain why they are not satisfied that there are no New Zealanders available, just cut and pasted an identical templated letter that burbled on about the Coronavirus, local labour market softening, times are a changin' and then, as they tend to do, taken a one size fits all approach and demanded evidence of updated advertising.

Which begs any number of questions.

Why were they not satisifed with the genuine efforts made by the employer?

What evidence does the department have of current vacancies in that particular field? Are they up, down, sideways? What is the short, medium and long term labour market outlook for, say Veternarians in NZ or IT Security Specialists?

Given the employer had done all that immigration rules demand, in an often lengthy and comprehensive process leading to their decision to offer a migrant a job, if they do now run another advertisement online for a week or two, start the process over again but reach the same conclusion and (re)offer the job to the same non-resident, is the case officer going to accuse them of not making 'genuine efforts' the second time around and still not being 'satisifed' no New Zealander should be available?

I believe they are stupid enough to do it because they have clearly got it in their heads that they should be demanding new advertising to make sure a Kiwi steps forward. All in an effort to find a way, any way, to decline the work visa.

Honestly, I despair. If the advertising programme run by the employer finished, say, less than two-three weeks before the work visa application was assessed by an officer, why would INZ demand new advertising? Is the labour market going to shift seismically in 14-21 days?

If the advertising was completed before the country went into lockdown and jobs starting being shed locally I can better understand the employer being encouraged to have another crack at advertising OR INZ doing its own labour market research.

And if they are going to demand real time labour market testing, isn't the onus on the immigration department to receipt an application and assess it the day the application was filed? These applications can sit around for weeks in the best of times before case officers bother to look at them. They are seriously expecting employers to wait weeks until it is assessed, before getting this 'please advertise again' letter, then advertise again (which to do properly will take weeks), only to have some immmigration officer tell them that 'at the time of assessment' (not lodgement) 'I am not satisfied there may not be a local available'? Probably... because that's how they think. And it clearly what they have been told to do.

Is this a covert way of shutting down the skilled migrant residence programme without publicly announcing it?

I seriously doubt it - work visa rules exist in isolation from skilled migrant residence rules and I haven't ever come across a senior manager inside INZ who sees any connection (despite both visa outcomes relying on the same job offer, one which is labour market tested and one which is not), it seems to me to simply be another glaring example of a bureaucracy that makes decisions in a reality vacuum with no real understanding of how the real world operates and real businesses operate within that world.

The border might be about to open up a smidge but I fear the visa madness is only just the beginning.

Post script: Last week I wondered if those sitting in the Skilled Migrant Residence Visa processing queue, whose visa INZ hadn't got round to processing or approving when the lockdown started, might be treated with kindness and as part of the 'team of 5 million' if they lost their job, the conditions of that job (such as hours or effective hourly rate) changed such that they are no longer entitled to 50 or 80 points.  INZ had this to say today:

'The conditions in a work-to-residence work visa or a job offer associated with a skilled migrant category visa application must be met for the applicant to be eligible for residence.

'Must be met'. Meaning if you have lost your job, do lose your job, have your hours and or have your pay cut then you are screwed. 

My question of last week appears to have been answered and so much for all being in this together. Migrants might well be out in the cold and are not considered part of the 'team of 5 million' and are deemed expendable.

Until next week

Iain MacLeod

Southern Man

 

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Kia kaha

Posted by Iain on Feb. 14, 2020, 4:22 p.m. in Skilled Migrant Category

Kia kaha.

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.

Kia kaha. 

Until next week

Iain MacLeod

Southern Man


Study to Work to Residence - Pros and Cons

Posted by Iain on Nov. 15, 2019, 2:29 p.m. in Education

Spending a lot of time in Hong Kong and Singapore of late, a common question has emerged in my consultations.

When I explain to those who seek residency of New Zealand under the Skilled Migrant Category that they will need a skilled job, first, in order to secure enough points and that overwhelmingly demands for around 97% of clients that they resign their jobs and head off to New Zealand only to be confronted by a very real ‘chicken and egg’ situation (no work Visa means no job but no job means no work Visa), the blood usually drains out of their faces. The truth is most people, unless incredibly committed, are simply not going to resign their jobs, fly away without their family and try their luck in the labour market no matter how employable I believe they are (although right now however we are representing over 350 families who will).

As a consequence, I often get asked the question "What if I come and study in New Zealand as a pathway to residence?’ What is very clear to me is that in markets like Singapore and Hong Kong more than a few (unlicensed) education agents, push this line hard. It is a very seductive message (and keeps the cash flowing for the agent) but I'm not always convinced it is good advice.

I believe the advice is often given because in many cases it suits the person giving the advice rather than the migrant seeking a pathway towards residence.

If the holder of a Student Visa is studying toward a Bachelor degree or postgraduate qualification, they have 20 hours per week (and more during summer holidays) of work rights while they are studying and for the most part once they've completed their studies they are given a three-year Work Visa.

Those studying a research (thesis) based Masters degree or PhD have unlimited work rights while they are studying.

I think a lot of agents and immigration adviser/lawyers sell those advantage as if it is some silver bullet in terms of dealing with the ‘chicken and egg’ situation.

They seem to be incredibly active in the Indian and Asian markets despite two or three years ago the then National Party led government, as I have written about before, stabbing tens of thousands of, mainly Indian, international students in the back by changing who could get a work Visa at the end of the study. For many years in an effort to boost the export education industry, tens of thousands of youngsters were encouraged to come to New Zealand to study relatively low level and frankly garbage 12 month diplomas, not because of the knowledge they gained but because at the end of it they could get a Work Visa. I always believe this was borderline fraudulent on the part of the government and the private sector because the reality was most of those youngsters could not get the “skilled" job they needed in order to secure the points to remain in the country.

Interestingly, when the minimum level of qualification to obtain the Work Visa at the end of the study was increased to Bachelor degree there has been no significant drop off in the number of student visas been granted. This either means the world rates our education system incredibly highly (arguably, it should) or the government dangling the ‘carrot’ of a work Visa as the pathway to permanent residency at the end of the study, remains an incredibly strong incentive.

There are certainly pros and cons.

 

In the pro column: 

1.   Work rights while studying does offset the not in significant cost of study in New Zealand;

2.    Knowledge is always a good thing and if you can get that while experiencing a different culture and environment that can be an end in itself;

3.    New Zealand universities generally offer a high standard of education (Auckland University for example is consistently ranked in the top 100 in the world);

4.   A three year open work Visa at the end of the study does buy a lot of time to secure skilled employment.

5.   A work visa in hand absolutely does speed up the process of securing employment for some

6.   A qualification can of course, be an end in itself.

 

The cons:

1.  It is very expensive. A Bachelor degree is going to cost a non-resident something in the order of NZ$25,000 – $30,000 per year and most degrees will be three or four years long;

2.   Living in New Zealand is not cheap and unless you have a benefactor bankrolling you with limited work rights you're either going to get into debt or your parents are going to fork out a lot of money;

3.   It's all very well to have 20+ hours of work rights every week but full-time study is never easy at that level and squeezing in at least half a job can be very taxing;

4.    A student Visa is a temporary Visa. The graduate Work Visa granted at the end of the three years is also a temporary Visa. Every day on a temporary Visa is one more day for a government to change the residence or other immigration rules and looking three plus years into the future is potentially a risky game to play;

5.     That open Work Visa is no guarantee of skilled employment.


It is that last point which concerns me more than anything else for those choosing the study, to work, to residence, option.

Just because someone has a New Zealand Bachelor degree (or higher) does not mean the job that they get will be skilled in order to secure residence.

In particular those studying the soft subjects which don't qualify you for a particular ‘skilled’ occupation in my view should be avoided.

I think if someone is going to go down this pathway they need to study something which is going to give them, at entry level, skilled employment – I'm thinking engineering, IT, teaching, food technology and the like. Graduating with majors in Marketing, Business, Tourism or Hospitality is generally a waste of time because if you are young and you don't come to New Zealand with middle to senior level experience already, the entry level job you get on that work Visa is highly unlikely to be skilled enough to secure the points needed for residence.

For those who already have undergraduate degrees from abroad I will sometimes recommend if they do end up preferring this ‘study first’ option, to consider an MBA. It has a number of advantages - not least that you gain 20 additional points over a bachelor degree. While studying an MBA, there's going to be a lot of networking opportunities opening up and networking can often lead to jobs.

If you have a (foreign) Bachelor and a NZ MBA then there's a reasonable probability that the job you get is going to be skilled, but even that is no guarantee. There are plenty of international students who have come to New Zealand over the past decade and completed Masters degrees that cannot find skilled employment because they simply don't have the relevant work experience to get it.

Part of me says the three year graduate Work Visa option is a little more honest than the previous government's policy because three years is a long time and even if somebody graduated in New Zealand and took up a job that is not skilled enough to get residency, they may have enough time to get promoted to a position that is skilled.

The advice I tend to give most of the people that ask me about this option is that it should be Plan B. If you speak fluent English, you are a good cultural fit, you have skilled work experience already and you are resilient with a few dollars in your pocket (quite a few) then you are employable in the current market for the most part.

We are representing at any given time around 370 families all of whom need skilled jobs to get sufficient points to stay long term in New Zealand.

In the past year I think there might have been ten clients who came to New Zealand that did not find employment or did not get the right type of job. That suggests we are fairly good judges of who is likely to succeed and fail in the current labour market and although it is frightening prospect for most people to resign a job, jump on a plane and come to New Zealand and deal with ‘the chicken and egg’ it is still a quicker, cheaper more certain pathway to residency for the majority.

Not for the faint hearted and I sometimes think it is the less confident (or less well researched or advised) that end up going down what they perceive to be an easier pathway, of studying first.

Iain MacLeod

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Work Visa Change Proposals

Posted by Iain on Jan. 25, 2019, 3:04 p.m. in Work Visa

This week I’ve been part of a group of Advisers pulling together a submission to take to government on the proposed changes to work visa policy.

I am never quite sure whether it is worthwhile making submissions to an ideologically driven government that has certain ideas in its political head not supported by any real evidence but I've decided to chip in anyway given the importance of this issue.

What is really disturbing about the proposals is they seem to be predicated on the misguided belief that there is rampant exploitation of migrants in the labour market and therefore employers look likely to be forced to apply for accreditation with the government before any work visas can be filed. In essence, prove you are a good employer. Accreditation effectively means the government trusts that employer to do what is right by New Zealand, New Zealanders and any migrants they might be allowed to employ. On paper it's not a bad idea but in 30 years of dealing with immigration matters a good idea given to a bunch of bureaucrats to operationalise normally ends in tears.

I would make two very strong points to government.

Show us the evidence that migrant exploitation in the local labour market is so rampant it requires an overhaul of rules that seem to have served New Zealand's interests without leading to exploitation of migrants pretty well for 30 years. Show us the evidence!

I am not suggesting there aren't isolated issues but my advice to the government would be to focus on those industries including hospitality, farming, tourism and aged care. Do not make it harder for the vast majority of employers to fill vacancies in a labour market where we are creating thousands of jobs a month more than we can fill locally.

One of my suggestions as part of the submission process is that the government knows full well which industries and what sorts of businesses see isolated issues with ripping off of migrants. Surely, rather than taking the sledgehammer to the walnut and imposing an onerous process on the 95% of employers who act with honour and integrity, government should come down hard on, or perhaps create a separate work visa process for those industries where some credible independent evidence of exploitation might be proven.

The reality is any employer looking to support a work visa application today is required to present a lot of information about their workplace practices, employment history, financial viability and sustainability. Compliance checks I would argue are already rigorous enough to act as a disincentive to those employers who might be inclined to either rip off the system or a migrant.

Although it is lost on governments of our current persuasion, adding a disincentive to the significant majority of good employers who appreciate that the only real asset any of them have is their staff, is insane and an absolute overreaction.

The second point is that the immigration department is great on overpromising and under delivering. No doubt they will sweet talk the government on their ability to process all of this in a timely manner which will keep employers happy, protect vulnerable migrants and deliver on the government’s misplaced obsession about protecting migrants from exploitation. B-S they will.

Most branches of Immigration New Zealand today are quoting eight weeks before a work visa is even allocated for processing and another 6 to 8 weeks to process the actual visa. Before any of IMMagine's clients freak out the overwhelming majority are processed far more quickly than that because we know which phone numbers to call.

There is no way if these processing times become entrenched, or added to, because employers will have to file separate accreditation applications before a work Visa can be filed, that employers are going to employ migrants in the numbers they are today.

New Zealand's unemployment rate today is 3.8%. One of the discussion points that came out of this week’s meeting of Advisers, is that of the 110,000 odd people who are seeking work (apparently) the majority are basically unemployable. Interestingly this is not just because they lack the skills to fill the jobs being created but primarily because of mental health or substance abuse issues.  

What is clear is that skilled unemployment in New Zealand is effectively zero if not negative. We are still 40,000 construction industry workers short if you can believe the government. We are still several thousand Teachers short.

Why does the government want to make it harder for Schools to employ teachers or small construction companies to employ carpenters, plumbers and electricians?

The proposals start to look a lot like what Australia does which has led to a very rapid decrease in the number of employers being willing to play the work visa game and which impacts directly on the economic growth and future prosperity of Australia. Like New Zealand, Australia has a low unemployment rate and this was trending down even when work visas were trending up. There is almost no link between the two. We should not make the same mistake.

In the discussion paper the Minister, without quoting or providing any evidence to back it up is of the belief that there is "some evidence" that migrants displace local workers. It is worth noting the same discussion paper also quoted international studies which state the exact opposite but why let a few facts get in the way of ideology?

Again, to the Minister if he might be reading this, show us the evidence. I have never in 30 years of practicing as an immigration adviser come across a single employer who does not want to employ a New Zealander first. There is also no evidence I am aware of, given our rigorous and wide ranging legal and other protections, that migrants are pushing down local salaries or incomes.

The current Government cabinet is full of Ministers who are either ex union officials or people who have never run their own business. They are well-intentioned people who do not understand the realities of making sure that there is one dollar more in the bank account at the end of the week than there was the beginning. They seem to be people who believe that all employers see their staff as chattels to be used and abused without understanding that without those workers the boss doesn't have a business.

I know I am going to receive a flood of emails now from current and potential clients asking me if New Zealand is closing the door to skilled workers. To them I would like to say no, that is not the intention, however as they say the road to hell is paved with good intentions.

The immigration system is full of moving parts. Every time you tinker with or change wholesale one part of immigration policy it affects some other part of the system in a way most of the bureaucrats and politicians simply don't understand or cannot predict. Typically, in this discussion paper, there is no acknowledgement of that. Further illustration to me, if any was required of an obvious lack of understanding, on the predictable impacts these proposals will almost certainly have on the skilled migrant category if they go through. If we now create further disincentives for employers to employ migrant workers then the government will continue to undershoot its skilled migrant residency targets which are already 30% below what the government claims they want.

The government is already, rightly, coming under severe political and polling pressure for promising to build 100,000 "affordable" houses in its first 10 years in office. Anyone with three brain cells knew it was either a lie or they were on drugs when they came up with the policy. They said they would build 1000 in the first year. So far they haven't delivered a third of that. Although there are a number of reasons why it's not possible, one of the most significant is that employers simply cannot find enough skilled workers locally to fill these roles. They rely on migrants. If the government is going to make it harder by creating disincentives to those employers to recruit and employ migrants there'll be even less houses built than the government promised. And they might just end up with one term and power.

The fact that we need skilled migrants and we let employers effectively determine who gets in by making the migrant find skilled work, making the process more complex, onerous and time-consuming for the employer when the overwhelming majority of them demonstrably value all their staff equally, whether migrant or local, seems to be lost on these politicians and shows how out of touch they really are.

Until Next Week


Variables in 'Effective Hourly Rate'

Posted by Iain on April 27, 2018, 1:02 p.m. in Immigration

A few weeks ago I wrote a piece explaining that INZ now uses an ‘effective hourly rate’ to determine remuneration when deciding if a job is skilled or not under the Skilled Migrant Category. To be skilled, the effective hourly rate must be $24.29 to get ‘points’ for a skilled job. However, under the Work to Residence/Accredited Employer pathway, there is also a need to establish an effective hourly rate. 

Strangely (or not depending on your day job), INZ approaches what is in effect the same question with two different processes.

As the new skilled migrant policy is now a few months old, we are starting to get a better idea of how INZ is interpreting this ‘effective hourly rate’ instruction which, on the face of it, seems pretty straightforward. As usual in the world of visas and bureaucrats, it is anything but.

This is owing to the fundamental reality that out here in the real world, employment contracts are not standardised and most people are not paid on the basis of an effective hourly rate but by salary or wages.

Both now must be broken down into this ‘effective hourly rate’ to determine points for skilled employment.

Employment agreements/contracts in NZ must confirm the hours an employee might, is expected to or will work (so there are three variables to begin with). To cover the possibility/probability (two more variables) that from time to time or regularly or never, (three more variables) these hours might vary; most employment agreements will say something along the lines of ‘hours of work will be 40 per week and any other such hours as might be required from time to time’. This outlines what is expected but covers the possibility that more might be necessary. 

I can’t remember from my schoolboy maths what the possible total number of outcomes these variable might lead to, but it is a big number of possible permutations INZ has to deal with in deciding how many hours someone has, or wil work. 

How does INZ deal with that in terms of breaking it all down to an effective hourly rate?

Not very well, is the short answer. As it turns out, it depends which office is processing it (and likely which officer) and which category of visa it is - skilled migrant or residence form work (for an accredited employer).

As it turns out, the applicants pay cycle is being used - even though you’ll find no reference to this is the ‘rule’ book.

INZ can, if it looks like there is any chance of the hours being variable and the possibility exists that the hours are not fixed, (and an officer can request evidence of actual hours worked) will attempt to calculate the hours per week. If, say, the applicant is paid monthly and in one week of that month they work an additional 5 hours, then the total hours worked in the entire month will be added up and divided across that month to give an average weekly number of hours. That will naturally then reduce the overall effective hourly rate but not by very much.

However, if the applicant is paid weekly and five additional hours are worked over the month, then the effective hourly rate reduces far more because the pay-cycle used to calculate the hourly rate is shorter i.e. one week. So this person is assessed as working 45 hours per week. The one on the monthly pay cycle is assessed as being paid 41.25 hours per week (assuming INZ works on a four week month)

How bizarre is that?

You could then have two employees doing an identical job in the same company - both are earning say $25 per hour. One is on a monthly pay cycle and works an extra five hours every month. The second also works an additional five hours a month but is paid weekly. The second one now has a job that will no longer be deemed to be skilled because once calculated, their average earnings falls below the minimum threshold to be skilled, but the first is fine. Both work the same job for the same company doing the same hours for the same gross hourly wage but the outcome is that one is granted a Resident Visa and the other isn’t...

The clear lesson here is if you are in a job where you might, from time to time, work a bit of overtime and you don’t earn significantly more than $24.29 per hour, ask your employer to put you on a monthly pay cycle.

If you are on a Talent (Work) Visa and working for an accredited employer things are a little different but INZ is, as usual, not being definitive nor helpful about how they might calculate those hourly rates.

When assessing the Resident Visa claim following 24 months in work for an accredited employer, INZ has suggested they calculats hourly rates by taking the annual amount paid, dividing that by 52 weeks and then by the hours worked as per the contract. The minimum hourly rate required to achieve the minimum salary threshold is NZD$26.45 per hour based on a 40  hour week over 52 weeks. Thus, someone being paid $55,000 (being the current minimum annual gross salary) but working 41 hours or more per week would not qualify for their Resident Visa.

There is, however, no similar clause in the 'rule book' to that in the Skilled Migrant Category in terms of how to deal with any additional hours that might be required to be worked contained in the employment agreement when calculating additional hours.

INZ has vaguely suggested that they may request evidence of actual hours worked at Residence stage for a Work to Residence applicant, and then add the total actual hours worked across the entire period (2 years) and divide that by 104 (being 52 weeks x 2) to determine the actual hourly rate.

So two different divisions of INZ are tasked with calculating remuneration and both apply different assessment measures to establish effectively the same thing.

I don’t know how I still have any hair.

Until next week...

Iain MacLeod, Southern Man


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