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NZ Border Exceptions - Update

Posted by Iain on June 23, 2020, 3:56 p.m. in New Zealand

We are constantly asked what our view is on when the government might start letting non-New Zealand residents and citizens into the country. 

This is a rapidly evolving situation and INZ is making it very difficult to know what to tell anyone. The communications coming out of INZ are confusing, vague and often nonsensical. How the officials then apply these hard to interpret rules just makes things even worse.

We are hearing some very strange stories.

Until very recently I was confident that the government would start opening up to those, in particular, who are the partner and or dependent child of a New Zealander, those who hold work visas and are stuck offshore but who have jobs to return to, presumably their partners and children, and those that have a work Visa but who have never been here, then international students.

I think all of that changed last week with the embarrassing debacle which saw two New Zealanders leave their isolation hotel early on compassionate grounds without ever having been tested for COVID-19. This couple drove to Wellington and one of them thought she had symptoms and went and got her own test. She was positive. As was her sister travelling with her.

To suggest the Prime Minister was embarrassed is an understatement. I rather suspect she was livid. Jacinda lost her trademark smile. I think for those, like her, who believe public servants deliver 100% of the time what their political masters want is naive in the extreme. I'm not sure why she was surprised but she very quickly announced the military would now run the show (apparently they had already been very involved for many weeks and by all reports, things have tightened up considerably. (Perhaps the military could run the immigration department while they are at it!)

The fundamental issue the government faces, apart from its own staff, is the sheer numbers of people wanting/needing to cross our border.

The single greatest constraint on that is an inability to scale up the managed isolation (for asymptomatic arrivals) or quarantining (for symptomatic arrivals which as of today, totals 10, mainly from India but also Pakistan and the US).

Twice as many New Zealanders have come home in the past four weeks than in the four weeks before that and as a consequence capacity is severally constrained. I think as unemployment rises  wherever they might be overseas, suddenly home is looking more and more attractive. They have to be allowed in, and there is no way the government is going to prevent citizens or permanent residents entering.

What that does suggest to me is that those of you holding work visas are going to be bumped further down the priority queue until the government is able to provide rooms for New Zealanders first.

They have not made any announcement in this regard but when you couple the plan to eradicate/eliminate the virus in terms of community transmission (mission accomplished and representing an ongoing success) and keeping it at the border (10 who are positive), it is clear we are not going to have no cases in New Zealand because as it spreads more rapidly across the globe, New Zealand citizens and permanent residents are going to pick it up and then come home.

The government was suggesting yesterday that they may have to ask New Zealanders to delay their return because we simply don’t have enough isolation or quarantine capacity. I hope that somewhere deep in the bowels of government they are working on a plan to allow a more expansive but tightly controlled potentially cost sharing of quarantine. The problem is given how slack the civil servants have been over the past 10 days, I’m not sure this government would trust more bureaucrats to get involved and at the same time the private sector wouldn’t be trusted to do it any better. Government does everything best according to our current political leadership (even when it doesn’t).

Whoever is in charge of the quarantine and isolation only needs to let one person out who becomes a “spreader” and then we are potentially looking at lockdown again.

I don’t think the New Zealand economy could sustain it and just like I see happening around the world, populations bought into lockdown for a few weeks, but no developed country is talking about total lockdowns again. Everyone else is talking about living with this virus. New Zealand however remains obsessed about keeping it at the border.  I think the government has set us up for disappointment but now they have set the expectation bar so high, they are finding it very hard to lower it - and are wearing a lot of flak for the recent failures. New Zealanders seem to have been seduced into the unreality that we would never again see a case in the country. It was always a false narrative. It was always going to come in and needed to be stopped at the border.

The one question I have not heard any journalist in New Zealand ask the Prime Minister lately is whether the past 14 weeks have been used to successfully remodel/set up the health system to cope with any community transmission and localised outbreaks. That’s New Zealand journalists for you – they all love Jacinda!

I do know we are doing a lot of testing and to be fair, when those two New Zealand women took their road trip to Wellington last week, almost everyone that they might have become in contact with including those in the isolation hotel, have apparently been tested. Apparently…

So, as that might impact on those of you asking when you, or a loved one might be able to enter the country, I have instructed my team to file "exemption" applications for all those that want to come. Through other (friendly) competitors we are hearing that some people are being allowed in when others with identical circumstances are not. With Immigration New Zealand now having relatively junior level officers in different branches in different cities making the call, the one thing we can be certain of is inconsistency.

One of my industry colleagues told me earlier today that she has applied 25 times for a dependent child to be granted entry on humanitarian grounds. It was declined the first 24 times. On the 25th it was approved. That suggests they got it wrong 24 times. No change to the criteria and is an obvious case of if it first you don't succeed, try, try and try again. Twenty five times to be precise. Unbelievable.

We have had two rejections this week to these ‘exceptional’ applications (bear in mind you can apply on humanitarian or essential worker grounds), including in one case a NZ resident visa holding partner and child (offshore) of a New Zealand resident (in NZ) who according to the latest INZ release last week are allowed to travel and should’ve been granted the exception. We have submitted a “please explain” to more senior managers of INZ because we suspect it’s just a case of some lower grade official not reading the memo. STOP PRESS – shortly before loading this blog INZ has admitted they got this one wrong and the client and her child should now be invited to apply for their exemption visa. One down, about 50 to go…..

The upshot then is until all those New Zealanders sitting overseas decide whether they want to come home or not, it is going to push out the date when I think the government is going to let more essential workers and those seeking humanitarian exceptions into the country. It is of course impossible to say how long.

But it won’t be straight away.

Iain MacLeod

Southern Man

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The new (old) normal returns

Posted by Iain on June 12, 2020, 1:13 p.m. in New Zealand

New Zealand is now back to normal. No restrictions on what we do, where we do it or in what numbers. There are no active cases any longer in New Zealand. The virus will only arrive on planes (or boats) so the borders will remain closed, with few exceptions (except it seems movie makers and those with work visas for positions of regional or national importance, earning twice the median income for a time critical project,etc) and no end in sight.

Still the Government stays silent on its plans for the majority with visas who are stuck offshore.

What an interesting three months it has been.

I've learned so much these past few weeks as the lockdown forced upon us new ways of thinking about how we live our lives, how (much) we shop, how we get around, how we work and how we do business in a world where if you can't work remotely and don't have an online sales portal you are largely screwed. A world where, just as we get over this pandemic, experts are telling us a global pandemic is now expected every ten years as we continue to grow our population, further encroach on natural spaces and get in ever closer contact with the creatures that share the planet with us but which we want to run over with bulldozers and/or eat.

With NZ now free of coronavirus we've enjoyed, for the first time in over two months, the freedom to go where we want, however we want and in whatever numbers we want.

It is actually quite surreal. 

I've learned that at IMMagine we can continue to deliver our service without all sitting in our downtown office. I've learned that there's no need for a Monday to Friday work regime. Even less for a 9 to 5 workday. No reason to spend hours sitting in traffic (cutting greenhouse gas emissions), being stuck on buses or trains or travelling to work at the same time as several hundred thousand others Aucklanders.

I've learned I don't miss Auckland. Sitting up here in Northland in early winter having lunch in the sun in shorts and tee shirt, is really quite nice. I realise I don't miss airports, planes and hotels.

And there's one other thing I've learned.

If you have a problem do not look to Goverment to solve it. Don't expect politicans to know the answers. Not to the big questions, nor the small.

Look even less to the public servants, those agents of Government.

This week we were asked by INZ's General Manager to complete a survey on the quality of their service over the past few weeks. I'm not sure what he expected us to say given they were not at work for 8 weeks because they are so useless they couldn't work remotely, but at the same time I am not sure he will enjoy the responses he got from my team.

What first caught our eye was this bold statement:

‘As trusted stewards of the immigration system, we continue to facilitate and protect New Zealand’s interests throughout this unprecedented time.’

For starters, nobody who deals with these clowns trusts the Immigration Department. Nobody who works with them every day like we do, anyway.

They aren’t ‘stewards’, they are state functionaries that get in the way more than they add much value to anything.

We don’t see too much evidence of facilitation either.

Even less protection of the interests of thousands of employers with staff stuck in visa limbo.

What we see is a deer trapped in the headlights not knowing which way to turn.

Infrequently we receive announcements that they are thinking about doing a 'piece of work' on this 'framework' or that 'joined up' cross agency approach....announcements that they are thinking about thinking about stuff. (They actually get paid to think about thinking).

There will be no new normal for INZ as there is for the rest of us. They have already slipped back into their distorted reality, one size fits all, unplug the brain cells approach to, well, almost everything it seems.

Exhibit A. As New Zealand went into lockdown we filed a work visa for a highly skilled client. He had been offered the position of a Lift Mechanic. He was in New Zealand, his family was in Zimbabwe, the company was looking to fill several such roles. They had advertised for months. He was the only one they found. We filed his work visa, fully documented and almost decision ready (it was when a case officer finally picked it up)

INZ sent out their now standard post lockdown patter, a robotic letter demanding the employer demonstrate that they could still not find anyone to fill the vacancy.  Didn’t matter that they couldn’t when they offered the job to our client, all that is important to these ‘facilitators’, these ‘stewards’ was whether they could find someone on the day the visa application was finally assessed. No matter how long they sat on it without actioning anything.

The employer had not stopped advertising when our client was offered the job, as they were looking for several.

We were told by INZ they were not demanding the company advertise some more, but that was the clear inference (even though the employer had been until very recently).

We obtained a letter from an expert industry specific recruiter confirming that the lockdown and rising local unemployment had not seen any rise in the numbers of local applicants available or applying for this and similar highly specialised technical roles. In fact, the opposite is happening - as everyone is back at work and the construction sector is working in full catch up mode, demand for these skills had increased.

We pointed out to INZ that the labour market isn’t imploding across the board, it is selective and some sectors are seeing lots of advertising.

Advertising dropped by around 90% as we went into lockdown and through April (obviously and predictably) but jumped by 75% in May. Hardly an imploding labour market demanding any great change in the way INZ carries out local labour market testing. However, the instruction from on high was they should, so rather than breaking things down by sector or occupation, thinking about how each sector might be impacted (tourism decimated; hospitality lockdown hit but at level 1 now rebounding; ICT, Education and Construction - hardly affected at all) and rather than treating ‘each case on its merits’ we started seeing the same templated garbage being pumped out.

Prove you still can’t find a local they demanded. Okay. Easy, here is a reminder of the evidence we supplied previously and here is an updated snapshot of the market.

Here is the verbatim response (meaning the grammar and syntax is not mine) to that initial response from us:

‘To proceed further of the client’s application to process, we require the following information: 

Income tax or bank statements from overseas over a period the client works between April 2012 to July 2019. We note that you have provided the work reference letters from South Africa, however we require this information for the verification purpose only. Also, employer is looking for the applicants to have at least five years length of experience to qualify for this role’

What the officer failed to realise, because she clearly doesn’t know even the most basic of rules is that a person can be qualified for the role they are seeking to fill in NZ if they have a particular qualification OR a certain number of years of work experience. This client has both and is qualified by either and his work experience is immaterial. No need to verify anything.

Further, this is not the first correspondence with this officer - we can but scratch our heads over why this issue wasn’t raised the first time around over two weeks ago (answer - because she hadn’t thought about it the first time she emailed us, she must have thought of this ‘concern’ later).

My colleague questioned why this work experience verification was only being raised now and pointed out that it wasn’t material to the decision.

The officer replied she’d go and speak to her Supervisor.

She replied a few minutes later advising not to worry about the work verification. No apology. No nothing.

Clearly, she didn’t know the rules. We called her out. Only then did she go and ask what the rule was. The Supervisor told her IMMagine is right.

The work visa was approved and issued today. But what a struggle! 

Don’t you think, just maybe, if you have a trainee you’d do what I do when someone without much experience joins IMMagine and demand they draft their correspondence, show it to someone who knows the rules, ask them to justify their thinking, get it right and then send it to the client or their legal representative?

Generally, no new Adviser at IMMagine is allowed to send out unchecked correspondence for a year until we have absolute confidence they can do so accurately. 

The General Manager of INZ claims he leads an organisation that sets out to ‘facilitate and protect’ during these ‘unprecedented times’. What he leads is actually a three ring circus without a ringmaster. They facilitate little. They obstruct much. 

As I reflect on everything that has changed these past ten weeks, how our business has evolved rapidly and successfully to the point where reading this you have no idea where I am writing it, or where the Lead and Second Lead Consultants working on client files are working from, it occurs to me that one thing that will never change is INZ.

The politicians and bureaucrats won’t get us out of the economic hole we are in. It is our clients, their employers and all the other private sector businesses that face the rigours and discipline of a competitive marketplace who will do so.

INZ remains, sadly, a rigid and monopolistic government department that deludes itself as to its role and importance. 

They seem to have learned no lessons as at all.

Until next week

Iain MacLeod

Southern Man

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Business as usual next week

Posted by Iain on June 5, 2020, 1:54 p.m. in New Zealand

The pressure is mounting on the Prime Minister to take the country swiftly to Level 1 (meaning a return to business as usual only with closed borders) as there has been no new coronavirus cases reported for almost two weeks and there is only one known positive case in the country.

It must be election season because her Deputy Prime Minister and leader of the small (and on current polling in danger of being voted out of Parliament) New Zealand First Party is publicly calling for all restrictions within the country to be lifted immediately.  Breaking ranks with the other parties he is in coalition with he knows it is grandstanding as the PM has said it won’t happen for at least another ten days or so.  The political pressure on her however is clearly growing.

The science, as best anyone understands this virus, is if there is no community transmission for 28 days you can consider the virus eliminated. It has now been 33 days since the last known case of community transmission in the country.

So it looks like we will have packed rugby stadia when our local Super Rugby programme restarts next week. Sports fans will be pleased. My wife won’t be among them - she tells me the best thing about the lockdown was no sport on TV all the time. Pah! Restaurant, cafe, and bar owners who are trying to operate on a maximum of 100 people in a venue at a time while minimising physical distancing will likely still have a viable business with unlimited numbers allowed.

The Director General of Health will probably be having kittens right now. This is when we will really know if we have eliminated/eradicated this pesky invader.

Hopefully the health system is now fully geared up and prepared for any local outbreaks that might occur. Not that we would know. I haven’t heard a single journalist ask the question - are we prepared?

Which brings us to the border.

What is the plan?

The fact that James Cameron (he being Hollywood royalty who lives in NZ these days) touched down last weekend with around 38 colleagues on a private chartered jet all of whom were granted work visas and entry permission as an exception to the border closure.

You might well ask what makes them special when there are many hundreds, if not thousands of non-residents sitting overseas with work visas waiting for permission to come to work.

It is fair to say that the decision by the responsible Minister who has denied permission to over 80% of all those stuck offshore with existing visas including those with partners and family in NZ, has touched off an understandable cry of ‘What about my workers stuck offshore?’. ‘What about my husband stuck in South Africa?’

The Prime Minister has more political capital built up than virtually any PM of this country before her and she has clearly been willing to spend some of that on seeing the Avatar sequels being filmed and made here. Her political capital will only last so long if she continues to favour the ‘sexy’ employers and not the hundreds of SMEs desperate to get specialist skills here, many of whom have existing workers marooned offshore.

A local woman, six months pregnant, hasn’t seen her husband for several months as he was working in the US when the lockdown hit. His request to join her was denied.

Closer to home we have three clients, all holding work visas - one a Dentist, another an IT Security Specialist and another a Vet, who have both been denied entry as an exception. Their employers sit and wait.

I understand the Government’s concern with scaling up mandatory quarantine but when it starts picking influential movie moguls over the small local business owners who have just as great a need, it starts getting pretty hard to defend. The Government always knew that if its crushing lockdown worked we would by now be in the position we are in - there is almost certainly no virus in NZ any longer.

Just as we must hope they have done with the health system and gearing up for any second wave or isolated outbreaks of infections, surely they must have also been scaling up provision for mandatory quarantining. After all many of our hotels are closed and will be till the borders are re-opened which clearly won’t be available any time soon to all travellers.

And this is the bit that really bothers me.

The PM has been masterful in rallying the country around the elimination cause. We took the hit. We stayed home. Our collective action, led by Jacinda Ardern, bought the Government time to put in place a plan for ‘the other side’. A plan that must include international travel in time and allowing families, torn apart by the border closure, to be reunited in the short term.

So where is it?

All we have heard is silence.

In my circles everyone ‘forgives’ the PM for going hard and shutting everything down. She did the right thing.

I have always said the true and much bigger test will be the ‘other side’ and the re-opening and how that is handled because that is truly the hardest part.

Are we going to be living in a visa world where one Minister picks and chooses who gets in on an individual basis?

That is my fear. This Government seems perfectly able to pick winners and losers on a micro level (hell, even I could do that) but seems silent on the big picture planning. I have a horrible feeling they do not know what to do with the border even though we are told endlessly they are working on it.

I appreciate that the border cannot fully re-open or we’ll end up importing cases.

I do not understand however why the following people cannot now be allowed to travel if they hold valid visas: 

1.       Work Visa holders who usually work here, still have jobs but were caught offshore when the borders closed

2.       Work Visa holders who haven’t worked here yet but still have jobs to come to (Lord knows they must be needed badly if the employer hasn’t pulled the plug on the job)

3.       Partners and dependent children, themselves holding temporary visas where their partner/parent is in New Zealand

4.       International students given most universities are willing to wear the cost and logistics of the quarantining (that industry was worth $3 billion a year till two months ago and now it is dead in the water)

There must be a staged process to allow this to happen but so far, nothing…..

On a brighter note, this week most crystal ball gazing economists have reassessed their post lockdown dire unemployment forecasts. Most settled on a figure of around 9% (a few were higher, none were lower) when the lockdown began but most are now revising down to the 6-7% range. I cannot begin to tell you what a difference that will make to those looking to come here to find work to get residence, when the borders do allow for it. During the Great Recession following the GFC a decade ago unemployment levels reached that sort of level. Back then it took most of our fluent English speaking clients around 8-12 weeks to find work. I’d settle for that any day of the week given what 12-15% unemployment might have looked like.

The next key point in all this is what happens when the Government wage subsidy runs out in a months time.

Talk of a trans-Tasman travel bubble continues which if it comes to pass will be a major boost for beleaguered tourism companies as around half of all our international tourists visit from Australia. My issue with that is many parts of Australia continue to have new cases of the virus daily and unless people are tested pre flight and on arrival I think we should be preventing their travel.

Many Pacific Island nations have either had no Covid-19 cases or they too have eliminated them. I’d hope they are first cabs off the rank to join us in a travel bubble (with winter apparently coming to Northland a bit a scuba diving in the tropics in a few weeks time is a nice sounding proposition).

It looks like some light at the end of the tunnel for New Zealand and a future brighter than what we could have imagined even a few weeks ago.

Now we need less virtue signalling from the PM and some concrete action from the Government on who, apart from Movie directors and their film crews, can enter the country to help with the recovery.

Until next week

Iain MacLeod

Southern Man

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An open letter to the PM

Posted by Iain on May 21, 2020, 4:22 p.m. in New Zealand

Dear Prime Minister

You have spent the past two months exhorting us to be kind to one another as the county locked down and the national focus turned to eliminating the Coronavirus. You have reminded us daily that we are a ‘team of five million’, standing ‘together’, staying ‘kind’ to fight off the coronavirus. It seems that battle has largely been won. Your communication on the health fight has been world class and faultless. How we treat each other is dear to your heart. I salute you for all of that.

The national focus is turning to helping the economy recover from the shocking recession we now find ourselves in. In some ways locking the country down was the easy bit. How we recover economically will be the true test.

My question is where do the tens of thousands of highly skilled migrants currently in NZ and who have taken you up on your Government’s invitation (and congratulations) to file a resident visa application, fit into your plan?

Numbers are anonymous - every one of those roughly 23,000 people sitting, waiting, wondering what tomorrow might bring, are already in your immigration system and are people, mums and dads, a great many with children in tow, who have been here in some cases several years all of whom have given up a lot to join the team of five million because successive governments, and to be fair, the private sector, have marketed the country as a place to come and settle.

They are all now stuck in policy limbo. And the silence is deafening.

Migrants tend to be something of an afterthought for most governments. Skilled migrants are viewed as economic ‘units’ filling jobs we cannot fill ourselves. If as you demonstrate daily, it is time for a new kind of politics and a new kind of economy, your silence over where these 23,000 next door neighbours and work colleagues fit is deeply concerning.

We are not talking about people not yet in New Zealand, we are talking about people already here. People who were busy building lives with the skills you said we needed.

Immigration policy is usually an ‘add on’ to our core economic and social objectives. Migrants are seen as disposable - we view migrants for the most part from what we get out of the deal. That is to some extent understandable but not only is it not ‘kind’, it is also self-defeating.

We are going to have skills shortages regardless of the state of the economy and the billions about to be spent on up-skilling Kiwis, whilst laudable, will have no-one gaining trade or other qualifications, held by those migrants you invited to file residency applications, for three to four years. Right now there is around 23,000 people in that skilled migrant queue, with at least 11,000 main applicants all who went into the lockdown with highly skilled jobs who had been paying their taxes, contributing to the economy and adding to the social fabric of the nation.

Before the coronavirus hit the Immigration department was already in chaos. It is now an order of magnitude worse as only now, eight weeks after lockdown, immigration officers slowly return to work. A virus is a convenient smokescreen for all sorts of ills and it has been seized upon by INZ management to mask years of poor and ineffectual leadership, in part caused by a lack of political direction and oversight.

This chaos had its origins in:

1.      Your government letting the immigration programme, which determines how many resident visas will be granted over an 18 month period, end in December 2019 with no replacement being put in place (we are still waiting). Without a residence programme INZ is flying blind on numbers.  INZ management is left guessing the numbers they can and should approve. And they have made some strange choices as to who gets priority

2.      The queue for skilled migrant residence applications to be allocated was sitting at 2 years before anyone had heard of coronavirus. Two years when the average case probably doesn’t take more than an hour or two to process when done efficiently by a skilled and committed bureaucracy

3.      No apparent contingency planning for a shock of this magnitude appears to have been in place. There was no Plan B for coronavirus as there wasn’t in 2011 when INZ was forced to shut down the Christchurch branch following their earthquakes. INZ was left nearly ten years ago now with its processing pants down and they’ve pretty much stayed down ever since

4.      INZ management decided a few years ago to pool all visa applications of a particular type in one geographical locality (all visitor visas processed in INZ’s ‘hub’ in Beijing for example). That has been exposed as ill conceived and dangerous. When the Beijing hub was closed down in late January as the virus hit China, the department had limited to no capacity to process visitor visas anywhere else. That meant a cascade of failures as other visa categories went on hold (like New Zealanders trying to get work and student visas for their non-Kiwi partner and children). The problem hasn’t gone away.

5.      For over ten years the Department has been trying, clumsily, to transition to an electronic online visa processing model. Tens of millions of dollars have so far been spent on trying to tack a new online processing system onto an old platform. With lockdown and immigration staff being sent home there was limited to no capacity to process resident visas for those skilled migrants. The system has ground to a halt.

6.      Your government has continued previous administrations penchant for spending millions of dollars every year marketing this country to migrants - money that arguably could and should have been spent building an IT system. Money that presumes otherwise highly intelligent and skilled wannabe Kiwis don’t know how to use Google search….I have often wondered how many new residents NZ gained out of sending a team of INZ management and marketers, no doubt travelling business class, to wine and dine in Chicago when the All Blacks played Ireland a couple of years ago.

During the lockdown we have continued to ask your senior managers critical questions on how highly skilled migrants sitting in your ‘managed’ queue are going to be treated now, if:

1.      They have lost their job and consequently have insufficient ‘points’ to qualify for residence

2.      They have taken a pay cut which pulls their ‘effective hourly rate’ (the definition of whether a job is skilled or not) below the policy minimum

3.      They took a pay cut for a few weeks dropping them below the required hourly minimum but which has now, or will be, restored to ‘skilled’ levels (technically they don’t meet the rules any more) before your officers look at their case

4.      They have had their hours cut below the minimum policy allows of 30 but are still in their skilled job

I could go on.

The response has been ’All these questions and many more are sitting on the Minister’s desk’.

And that Minister hasn’t been seen nor heard since the country went into lockdown. Truth be told he wasn’t seen much before that either.

Here is my suggestion.

Immediately close the skilled migrant category down to all new applications for six months. Honour the invitations already issued. Regroup.

Use that six months to:

1.       Clear the decks. As quickly as you can approve all 11,000 odd applications sitting waiting for processing and a decision without delay. If it looks credible, approve it subject to character and security checks. They can’t go anywhere if you decline them now anyway

2.       Use this period to think about who you employ and change it - the sad reality is employing legions of migrants in the department who have English as a second (or third) language might be a good cultural idea (know your customer and all that) but the truth is for the most part many do not understand the rules because they can’t understand the rules. Use the opportunity to employ local law and other graduates who will now be only too happy to get an entry level government job that pays $60,000 plus. Build a level of institutional knowledge that has been lost from INZ over the past decade. Might put me out of business, but if it’s best for the country, I’ll take one for the team of five million.

3.       Fire whoever has been working on your IT programme. Start again. Build a ‘fit for purpose’ IT system allowing all resident visas to be able to be filed and processed electronically (the Aussies have been doing this for years). Make this INZ’s ‘Manhattan Project’. Work triple shifts. Work weekends. Build it. There’s a ton of IT talent in this country that could do it (hell, we have one at IMMagine I’d happily share with you which allowed us to work remotely right through the lockdown and we do what you do)

4.       Stop marketing NZ to the world given the borders are closed and you keep signaling a vaccine is what will be needed to re-open fully. Reassign those millions of dollars to where it is needed - staff training and IT. Build capacity. Both human and electronic.

No one, apart from a few hard of heart types, could begrudge this ‘kindness’. Yes there’s some political risk but spend some of your capital so richly built up through this crisis.

Sell it as self-serving for the nation if you must if kindness won’t cut it politically when talking about immigrants. We will still need their energy and commitment to get through this, even those who may have lost, or will soon lose their jobs. You invited them….and they came when we called.

And if you thought it might lose you a few votes, remind all those that might think in such a hard hearted way that every one of those migrants is highly skilled. And it was for the most part the Government that encouraged them to come, it was the Government that congratulated them when they got their job, the government that congratulated them when they got their work visa, the Government that congratulated them when they were ‘selected’ from the pool of skilled aspirants wanting to live here, the Government that congratulated them when it invited them to apply for residence and it was the Government that took their thousands of dollars in fees. Those people had sold their houses, resigned their jobs, left behind social networks for the chance of something better and a future for their children by contributing (for immigration is a two-way street).

Kiwis believe in fairness. How would we like to be treated if the boot was on the other foot right now?

And do yourself a favour. Use the next six months to reset and rebuild the highly dysfunctional immigration department, shut down any new applications for six months (those who haven’t yet filed a case will still have their chance in time if and when you get round to announcing your current residence programme we have been waiting for since December 2019).

Even if some New Zealanders don’t much care about migrants as people and only think about migrants as numbers, I think you appreciate this is a crisis for them as well. They are real people. Just like you and me.

If you think of them as most kiwis do – as our friends and next door neighbours, work colleagues, members of the local cricket or netball club or that guy that installs your internet, fixes your car, keeps the water flowing through the pipes or designs those roads - they have all been contributing to the team of five million before and during the virus battle.

They are already part of the team of five million. Let them stay.

Until next week

Iain MacLeod

Southern Man

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What Does Level 3 Hold For Visa Processing

Posted by Iain on April 24, 2020, 11:46 a.m. in New Zealand

Global media reports this week that Australia and New Zealand have just leapt to the top of the preferred countries to migrate to globally as people contemplate what the future might look like in a world that has not eliminated the coronavirus and for which there may not be a vaccine for quite some time, if ever. We were always popular destinations but very flattering to become number one and number two. But who got the gold medal? On this occasion let me just say it doesn't really matter. First among equals and all that.

This might have something to do with the fact that in New Zealand we are on track to eradicate the virus (virtually insignificant numbers of infections per day) and Australia has done a mighty fine job of containing things there. Internationally New Zealand is getting great praise for the way it is handling the epidemic. On a personal level I think Australia has done a better job as they didn't shut down the economy to the extent that we did and on a per capita basis their infection rate and death rate is broadly similar to our own.

As a business, we’ve already started to get more inquiries from people with lots of money interested in one, or both countries. For some time New Zealand has been viewed as something of a bolthole for wealthy Europeans and Americans, and more than a few Chinese. The fact that New Zealand has borders easy to protect, an abundance of food and sustainable energy makes it a very attractive country to live.

Reports here that shortly before the lockdown Learjets and Gulfstreams were practically falling out of the skies as, in particular, wealthy Americans, headed for their holiday homes, farms and bunkers primarily in Te Wai Pounamu/South Island of New Zealand. Yes, that's right, bunkers. There are apparently scores of these that have been built underground in recent years and some equipped with gyms, home theatres, squash courts and one imagines, several thousand cans of baked beans (or caviar). The cheap ones come in around $1 million and the expensive ones far more. Word was out many years ago in Silicon Valley that if the world looked like it was going to come to an end, New Zealand was a mighty fine place to watch it happen (at least until your caviar ran out).

I do not wish to rain on anyone's parade but I don't have any doubt that there will be zero appetite with this government to give preference to people with lots of money. In fact to be fair on this government, no government of any persuasion in New Zealand has really gone out and chased the super wealthy. It has always been politically a non-starter given New Zealanders egalitarian and socialist beliefs and in my experience the limited value that very rich people bring to the country anyway. I can't speak for Australia but I have little doubt politically it would be a nonstarter there as well. Both countries set aside, relative to their entire residency programs, very small numbers of visas for the wealthy.

With the Immigration Department in NZ announcing yesterday they will not be returning to work when New Zealand moves to Level 3 at midnight on Monday, it is clear that Visa processing is going to continue to be delayed and chaotic for the foreseeable future. Level 3 is expected to last at least two weeks. I can live with this virus but I struggle to live with an immigration department that has been thoroughly exposed during this time for being even more inept and ill prepared than even I thought possible. And that is saying something.

The fact they seem to have had no contingency planning in the event that its staff might need to work from home is as shocking as it is, in hindsight, unsurprising.

It is interesting that when the major earthquake events occurred in Christchurch in 2011 we got a picture of how disruptive it was to the entire global operation of the immigration department when one physical branch, of around fifteen, was knocked out of action. The flow on effect of that was incredibly disruptive for months. Nine years later(!) when the country goes into lockdown it is scarcely believable that since the Christchurch event the department had still not developed its IT systems to the point where staff could effectively work remotely.

In my view the Auditor General should be doing a thorough audit of the department and without doubt heads should be rolling. This did not need to happen.

In Australia, the immigration department was deemed to be an essential service (only those immigration officers at the border were in NZ) and have continued to function from their offices. None have died. Processing of visa has slowed but not stopped.

I fail to understand how it has been possible for the immigration department here to never plan for disruption.

In a further bizarre announcement, late Wednesday this week, we were told that with their "limited capacity" priority is going to be given to Visa applicants seeking protection from "domestic violence" and, more sensibly, partners and children of New Zealand citizens and residents. The fact is domestic violence applications have always been tiny in number and even the police announced yesterday that while levels of domestic violence did increase in the first week or so of lockdown it quickly returned to historic levels. Hard to understand then why those Visa applicants are going to get priority over all those people that need to change jobs, change their hours, are being made redundant, might need Visa extensions because they can't leave the country and so on. It is an interesting set of priorities.

We are warning our clients that processing queues are about to get even longer.

Now, nearly five weeks into the lockdown communications coming out of the department continue to be sporadic, vague and what is posted on their website usually contradicts the actual rulebook that is being amended with each new announcement. Getting straight answers is virtually impossible right now and we are continually told ‘The questions are sitting on the Minister’s desk awaiting his action’. The deafening silence and lack of direction is leading to a lot of very frustrated and angry clients unable to make decisions although thankfully the significant majority appreciate we cannot control what the Minister and what visas the department choses to prioritise.

Although the immigration department in Australia is open for business my colleagues in Melbourne have confirmed that decisions are very few and far between over there as well. At least however they haven’t ground to a complete standstill as their equivalents have in NZ.

On a brighter note, as we all have to contemplate new ways of doing business I delivered my first online seminar on Saturday last week to people in Hong Kong, Singapore and Malaysia. The psychology of looking at a green light on a computer screen rather than a sea of faces in a ball room in a hotel in Singapore or Hong Kong was quite something. It seems to have gone fairly well, following a few early technical glitches and we will be repeating the exercise shortly. If you, friends or family would like to register their interest and they live in one of those three countries, they can do so here.

My colleague Paul presented a seminar on Thursday morning to 200 or so people in South Africa. That too seems to have gone very well and we do intend offering another seminar in a fortnight’s time. If you have friends or family that might wish to express their interest, they can register here

The Immigration Department might not be able to process too many visas right now but for the rest of us, we are still hard at work trying to make it happen.

Until next week

Iain MacLeod

Southern Man

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Tags: visas

The Future of Immigration

Posted by Iain on April 10, 2020, 12:25 p.m. in New Zealand

Like most business owners in New Zealand, I have been desperate of late for some signal from the government as to when we will come out of lockdown and how that might look. This week as the Covid-19 infection rate continued to fall dramatically, it seems the harsh lockdown being experienced in New Zealand is working in terms of eliminating the virus from the population. That’s the very good health news.

But how long can we remain an island in a sea of global infection?

Yesterday, and under mounting pressure particularly from the business community, the Prime Minister did signal that if we continue on the current infection transmission path, we can expect to go from our current Level 4 lockdown (basically everything but essential services closed and people required to isolate within a household/social group) and transition to Level 3 either nationally or regionally (those that can safely work to do so while exercising social distancing but places where people gather such as restaurants, gyms, theatres etc to continue to be closed).

My crystal ball is no clearer than most right now but given my day job I'm acutely aware that it is not hard to close the borders and isolate 5 million people when you are surrounded by an awful lot of ocean, but you can only do that for so long. We are an exporting nation relying on global supply chains. Exports of our primary produce are holding up well and the prices for our agricultural and horticultural products are actually lifting. So it ain’t all bad news.

What about migration? Where does that fit into our economic recovery?

Given that around 40% of the infections in New Zealand have been caused by people entering the country the government announced yesterday that all New Zealand residents and citizens returning from overseas from now on will be required to go into mandatory and supervised quarantine for a period of 14 days. To achieve that they have affectively commandeered 18 hotels and the government will pick up the tab for the people forced into quarantine in them. The police will be on guard and the Government hasn’t ruled out using the military (but they seem strangely reticent to actually get the military involved in anything).

Where does that leave temporary visa holders or resident visa holders stuck overseas who have been told if they haven't yet activated their resident visa for the first time, they will not be allowed into the country?

The short answer seems to be that the borders will stay closed for many weeks if not months to all foreign nationals. So far the Government has not said those people are going to have their visas cancelled, only, by implication, they will not be using them for some time.

I reached that conclusion when the Prime Minister said the only reason they had not commenced compulsory supervised quarantining on all people entering the country earlier is ‘scale’. Since the lockdown started around 40,000 people have crossed the border, almost all were New Zealanders. It is impossible to impose supervised quarantine on them all. With most airlines no longer flying the numbers arriving each day is now in the low hundreds.

They clearly don’t have the scope or a plan to quarantine non residents or citizens.

There has been no official announcement about how our immigration systems and rules might change as a result of the economic shock to the country. In fairness perhaps it is too early to know for sure how many jobs will be lost (around 10,000 last week apparently and we started the crisis at 110,000 unemployed and who are largely unemployable).

What is clear is international tourism is effectively dead in the water for the foreseeable future and that sector directly or indirectly employed around 400,000 New Zealanders. Events and Hospitality are also sectors effectively dead, at least for the next 6 - 12 months. These industries have in recent times employed tens of thousands of young people on working visas with some securing residence as skilled migrants through those jobs (where the job is highly skilled). Most of them are going to lose their jobs and will need to leave the country.

Our labour market needs are clearly going to change over the coming months and years as the world tries to climb out of what many believe will be a global depression. It is a strong assumption that the government will not force the newly unemployed of New Zealand to go and pick fruit, take up farming jobs currently filled by thousands of temporary workers, take up waiting jobs when restaurants reopen or work as housekeepers in hotels as and when they might reopen, because in past recessions they’ve never done so. Presumably we are going to need those temporary workers back but the political pressure will remain on for them to be kept out (especially and as long as the NZ First Party remains pulling the Government’s strings). There is of course no guarantee those, mainly young foreign nationals would come back anyway and I suspect many won’t. Are we facing a future of forced work for the locally unemployed in exchange for a weekly Government unemployment cheque? Unfortunately, I doubt it.

While there are 5 million of us living in the country, at any given time there is around 600,000 New Zealanders living overseas. Many of them are young people doing their obligatory two year "overseas experience", many of whom will be losing their jobs in the UK and Europe in particular and to a lesser extent, Asia. They will be coming home. I’d assume tens of thousands at least in coming months.

We can reasonably expect the recent flow of tens of thousands of Australians each year who have been coming here to slow to a trickle as most were coming over to take up jobs, given, relative to Australia, our economy has been stronger. Plenty of Kiwis will be about to lose their jobs in Australia and will head home. Fewer Kiwis will leave New Zealand.

None of those number can any Government control. They also cannot control what skills they bring with them or take away.

If even half of the New Zealanders living overseas decided to return home it creates both an opportunity and a challenge. The obvious opportunity is they don't need visas and employers who might want their skills, won't have to deal with the frustrations of the immigration department. On the other hand those returnees might not have the skills that employers require to get their businesses back up and running. We will get many with skills sets we do need, meaning fewer migrants will get work. Equally many of those returning may struggle to find work themselves if their skills don’t match whatever it is we need.

I suspect that given New Zealand is on a path to eliminate rather than contain this virus, it will make the country an even more attractive place to live and I can see lots of New Zealanders will want, or be forced by circumstance, to come back to a country where they have family and social support.

At the same it will become even more attractive for migrants. It doesn’t matter how bad it gets here it’s about to get a whole lot ‘badder’ in most other places (in my new motto ‘bad’ and ‘badder’ is replaced by a word beginning with ‘f’ when I am in familiar company).

If thousands of New Zealanders return home, they will certainly diminish work opportunities for migrants. If they don't, the perennial skill shortages will continue to exist, particularly in areas of engineering, information technology, health and aged care, education and teaching, trades and technical.

I think it most likely that migrants who are employed in "white collar" roles are those that are going to find opportunities most limited in the next year or two.

If tens of thousands of New Zealanders return home, the housing shortage is going to get a whole lot worse, mitigated in parts of the country with more short term housing becoming available as work and student visa holders leave the country. You can't control the numbers of New Zealanders that might decide to return and they are all going to need housing that for the most part we don't have. Obviously if even half of the 200,000 work visa holders were to leave the country, that is going to take some pressure off the housing stock but they will tend to be renters and I can imagine many older New Zealanders returning will be looking to buy houses.

But who knows? We have a Minister of Immigration who has been largely missing in action since he took over the portfolio over two years ago and has not as far as I'm aware issued a single media statement or press release talking about what the future holds for foreigners in New Zealand on temporary visas now, foreigners holding temporary visas wanting/needing to come to New Zealand who are stuck overseas or how our policy settings might change as New Zealand unemployment rates climb to levels not seen since the great depression.

Virtually every time I ask senior INZ managers an operational question to try and get some clarity for our clients I am told ‘It is on the Minister’s desk’. Must be a bloody high pile by now!

I have heard Immigration Department management in Wellington apparently conceding they have little idea what is going on and what changes might be on the horizon. There was and remains no substantive co-ordinated planning (it was only a week or so ago they started getting laptop computers out to the staff sitting at home and even then they have limited capacity to process visa applications despite $38 million and climbing over the past few years to take all visa processing online). ‘Cluster f***’ was how one senior manager is said to have described the situation a few days ago.

As the fog starts to lift, we will be able to share more with you.

I encourage those of you that are in NZ or trying to work out what the future holds if you want to move here to continue reading my Covid-19 Blog. As and when we gather snippets of information we do our best to interpret the information, as difficult as it can be, and we are posting information there - several times a day on some days.

Until next week

Iain MacLeod

Southern Man


NZ COVID-19 Updates

Posted by Iain on April 8, 2020, 11:48 a.m. in New Zealand

July 10

 

Further to the advice below, Government has confirmed that the blanket extension to those holding work visas that are due to expire before the end of the (presumed) calendar year does not apply to partners and children. They still have to apply separately if they wish for their visas t be extned for the same period.

 

I can only wonder what genius came up with that.

 

July 7

 

The New Zealand government confirmed today that anyone who holds a Work Visa that expires before the end of the calendar year 2020 will have it automatically extended without any application or fee for a further six months. Everything else about the work Visa remains the same e.g. employer and job specific.

 

June 22

 

Following last week's embarrassing early release of two recently returned NZers, who had not been tested while in quarantine and were found to be positive for Covid-19 only when got themselves tested when they arrived in Wellington, the government has brought in the military to supervise and run the quarantining programme. A major setback for the 'team of 5 million working together' and 'elimination/eradication narrative following weeks of spin and virtue signalling by the Government that told us they had this under control. 

 

NZ now has 7 new cases - all imported and all in quarantine.

 

A new Minister is also in charge as the Government tries to work out the logistics of an ever increasing number of NZers wanting to come home but there not being enough quarantine beds for them. No rooms for temporary visa holders. Which rather puts paid to many more short term exceptions being made to temporary visa holders stuck offshore being allowed into the country in my view.



And for that matter and Trans-Tasman Travel Bubble as cases increase in Victoria and NSW in Australia.

 

June 12


Government announced (typically with little detail) changes to who can enter NZ:


Removing the need for partners and dependents of NZ citizens and residents to travel together when they have a relationship based visa or are ordinarily resident in NZ


Allowing entry of maritime vessels where there is a compelling (there's that undefined word again, 'compelling' - Iain) need


Diplomats to take up posts.


Introducing short term and long term criteria for other essential worker requests. INZ states "This exception is aimed at high value workers essential to time critical work on projects of regional or national significance'.* 


They go on to say that 'We are working on establishing a joined up approach to labour market planning which will see our workforce, education and immigration systems working together to better meet differing and changing skills needs across the country'  (which means they are announcing yet another 'piece of work' that will take forever and will likely be an abject failure....

 

*Criteria from 18 June 2020 for ‘other essential workers’ who may meet exceptions to the border closure:

For a short-term role (less than six months):  

o The worker must have unique experience and technical or specialist skills that are not obtainable in New Zealand, or

o The work must be significant in terms of a major infrastructure project, or event of national or regional importance, or government approved programme, or in support of a government-to-government agreement, or have significant benefit to the national or regional economy, AND 

o The role must be time critical (eg if the person does not come to New Zealand, the project, work or event will cease or be severely compromised, or significant costs will be incurred),

For a longer-term role (more than six months), the worker must: 

o meet one of the short-term criteria AND 

o earn twice the median salary (as an indicator of high skills), or

o have a role that is essential for the completion or continuation of science programmes under a government funded or partially government-funded contract, including research and development exchanges and partnerships.

o have a role that is essential for the delivery or execution of a government approved event, or programme that is of major significance to New Zealand.

 

An application to be determined as an ‘essential worker’ may also request approval for the worker’s partner and dependent children. Anyone approved under the ‘essential worker category must secure a place in managed isolation or quarantine for 14 days, and the costs of that managed isolation or quarantine are to be met by the employer or sponsoring agency, or the individual.

 

June 5

INZ has confirmed that no skilled migrant category resident visa application reeipted by them since 18 December 2018(!), has been allocated or processed unless it meets one of their two priority processing criteria (high salary or NZ ccupational registration). So when they start blaming Covid-19 for visa processing delays, remember that date. The virus was still inside a bat at that point!

June 2

We have been reassured today by a senior manager that if an applicant has a Skilled Migrant Category application sitting unallocated in INZ's backlog queue and you lose your job, although you are required to advise INZ they have said they will not rush to decline your application. If you find  another job before they assess your application then you are going to be able to swap the job offers in and out.

Less helpfully when we asked how applicants who have lost their job, or have dropped below the minimum effective hourly rate or for some reason or other no longer are eligible for the 50/80 points for their job offer, INZ has said to us today:

'we would look to consider the individual circumstances of the applicant, whilst also considering immigration instructions applicable'

Not entirely sure what that actually means...nothing as far as we can tell in terms of anything certain.

May 29

We have been speculating whether 'being kind to one another' extends to how the Governmet intends treating migrants who have filed SMC resident visa applications whose circumstances might have changed as they sat in the backlog of cases INZ never got around to processing before the pandemic appeared. We might now have got our answer.

In a communications update today the following appeared:

‘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.

So much for all being in this together. migrants are clerly not part of the team of 5 million and deemed expendable.

May 21

ITA residence relief

Government has today advised that any invitation to apply for residence under the skilled migrant category that was issued between 1 November 2019 and 15 April 2020 is being extended for six months. That's good news. What we don't yet quite know is whether Immigration will receipt applications that we have filed during lockdown which were technically incomplete because clients could not get documents such as police clearances Issued from overseas and careered to New Zealand owing to various Covid lockdowns but which had invitations expiring.

May 13 - Level 2

INZ advises that all offshore offices will remain closed (no hint for how long nor why).

Onshore, they are only allowing 70% of staff back into the local offices (one assumes that has something to do with social distancing - no talk of working say two eight hour shifts per day to clear the backlogs). Or working weekends. 

Focus will be on onshore applications - SMC iResident Visas are once again being processed with the same priorities (high salary or ocupations with NZ registration only) as pre-lockdown.

No advice provided on lifting EOI suspensions for SMC, Parent or Investor.

And here is the important but not unexpected kicker for labour market tested work visas such as Essential Skills Work Visas. INZ has helpfully reminded us all of the high numbers of locally unemployed and the importance of employers demonstrating there is no local avalable to take up a job. Expect a blow torch to be held to these applications and high rates of decline on the basis that a NZer 'should be able' to do the job - whether or not they apply. Another way INZ has found to deal with their self created resident visa backlog.

May 12

Despite INZ advising in their last comms over a week ago that they would give priority to visa applications on the following list we have just been advised by a Manager that a client's son, in NZ, who needs a student visa issued so he can return to school  next week (a simple, online application), our request for it to be processed has been knocked back on the basis it is not priority(!)

Here is what INZ website is now priority:

On top of COVID-19 related applications, INZ is prioritising the following visa categories:

  •  
    • Temporary visa applications for Victims of Domestic Violence
    • Partnership category temporary visas (including reassessments)
    • Full fee paying student visas
    • Post study work visas
    • Exceptions to border restrictions

We just keep scratching our heads. Either the comms released last week was inaccurate or no one shared the news with the processing teams that can work inside INZ.

May 11

The Government has announced today that the country will move to Level 2 on Thursday. Yippee!!

Children return to school on Monday, all workplaces are open, universities will be back in action, restaurants, cafes, gyms and the like back operating (all with social distancing) and we can now travel around the country...we can even get. drink in a bar on 21 May.

Disappointingly but not surprisngly there is still no word however on when or if the Immigration Department will open and what they will do when they do open. I have a feeling they are still working out what their reaction to Level 3 might be. Started two weeks ago...ends on 48 hours.

The migrant world and their legal representatives await. 

May 6

And in a stunning bit of unhelpfulness, the Immigration Department communications people have released an update today telling the world pretty much exactly what they told the world last week which was pretty much nothing. 

They did however have a useful tip if you are an employer in New Zealand and you've offered a job to someone who is sitting overseas in possession of a Work Visa but who remains unable to travel to New Zealand owing to the border being closed to:

'.... consider alternative solutions, for example, employing someone already currently in New Zealand'

Isn't 'already' and 'currently' the same thing?

And gee thanks INZ for that splendid advice. What other examples of helpful 'alternative solutions' might you have in mind?

It has clearly escaped whoever wrote this unhelpful garbage that if the NZ employer could have found someone 'currently already in NZ' then they wouldn't have offered the job to someone who is not in NZ.

I wonder sometimes:

a) Where these people went to school given English isn't their strong suit; and

b) Which planet they come from because it sure as eggs isn't the one I am sitting on.

May 5

The government is tabling a Bill which allows them to make decisions on groups of visa applicants without forcing them into individual fee paying applications. It seems to be causing uncertainty in the market but taken at face value it looks a relatively benign step. It would allow for example those currently in New Zealand on temporary visas that are going to expire to all be granted "extensions" without them actually having to file individual applications. While most if INZ sits at home because they have an antiquated IT system this is going to allow blanket approvals and decisions without applications.

It also extends to suspending pool draws/expressions of interest and even invitations to apply for residence. 

The bill requires the Minister to only draw on these provisions where it is necessary to mitigate or manage the direct impacts of COVID-19. The language is vague enough to allow him to do basically whatever he wants with these applicants under the name of Covid 19. The trusting side of me says nothing to see here folks and it's a pragmatic response but the side of me that deals with 'Immigration all day says we should be careful.

April 28

In specific questions I put to a senior manager today on when INZ is planning on returning to work, I was told that INZ is still 'planning' on how they get back to work under lockdown Level 3 (it started last night so you'd hope they don't take too long to come up with their plan because in two weeks we are likely to be down to Level 2!).

On the one hand I was told INZ has been working during lockdown yet at the same time they have admitted to not being able or 'allowed' to process many types of visas owing to capacity contraints (translation being they have little ability to work remoely). I was surpised they have been told they are not allowed to process some sorts of visas because apart from visas specifically required for the Covid-19 response, they are processing nothing.

We are still then nonethewiser as to when they might be back at work. Like, really at work and not claiming most of them sitting at home doing nothing is actual work.

April 23

As the rest of New Zealand looks forward to returning to work in some shape or form next Tuesday, the immigration department has announced that they will not be returning to work. With their "limited capacity" to progress visas they have indicated they are going to give priority to "victims of domestic violence" and partners and children of New Zealand residents and citizens. Incredible. Not in a good way.

April 21 Lockdown to level 3 Monday next week

The PM has announced we move from total lockdown to lockdown 'lite' (Level 3)

at midmight Monday.

Those that can work from home, must. Those that can work safely at their workplace, can.

Construction, manufacturing and forestry are all re-opening - with social distancing and no customer

facing allowed. Strict social distancing at work.

Retail can reopen but only online for delivery or click and collect - no customer facing - so most physical

stores to remain closed. Takeaway and drive through allowed to open

Schools - up to year 10 children (generally aged 14) to reopen but home schooling encouraged.

No word yet on what the Immigration Department's plans are... I shudder at the chaos

when they get finally back to work. INZ has announced 'usual processing times on visas'

effectively out the window.

April 16 9:15am

Not much news the past week out of Government but yesterday INZ released some minor changes to policy.

1. Families offshore that hold temporary visas separated by the border closure have been dropped

from the list of those that might be allowed to join a NZ partner or parent in NZ.

2. Those working in an 'essential industry' in NZ can now change jobs, upon application to INZ,

so long as the new employer is also an essential industry and is in the same geographical region.

3. International students, most of whom only have permission to work 20 hours per week, can now

change their hours to work more than that minimum

Apart from that we sit and wait and wonder what awaits....

 

April 9 6.10pm. Skilled Migrant Category - what exactly has been suspended?

Many clients are receiving an email from the Immigration Department causing a great deal of confusion about skilled migrant category resident visa applications that have been filed and are with INZ - many clients seem to think that SMC cases are not being processed. To be clear the Department is NOT suspending processing of applications filed (once they are out of lockdown and back at work). What is being suspended is pool selections - so no EOIs wil be selected until further notice.

April 9 1.15pm Mandatory government quarantine announced- a move beyond self isolation

Government has announced mandatory Government controlled quarantine for all returning NZers

(citizens and residents).

Government advises since the lockdown two weeks ago over 40,000 NZers have returned

 meaning we simply didn't have the capacity or the processes in place to deal with it.

They now say that we do.

No word on what happens to non-Kiwis but you have to read into this the borders

will continue to be closed to virtually all foreigners.

Only 29 new Covid-19 cases reported in NZ in the past 24 hours - the fourth day

in a row and a signifcant fall.

April 9  10am

Skilled Migrant Category effectively suspended

Better late than never - INZ has confirmed that it is suspending indefinitely its Skilled Migrant Category pool draws and therefore no longer issuing Invitations to Apply for Residence. Their justiification is that there is no one working inside INZ during the lockdown to process. The other rationale is applicants won't have time to get their documentation together which is patently absurd. Around 95% of applicants are sitting in NZ on work visas so they will almost certainly have all the documentation to file applications at hand if they are invited to apply following any pool selection (and if they don't, they heven't been getting very good advice).

In other updates - temporary visa holders wanting to join family in NZ:

INZ added to their mail out comms late yesterday:

'As of today we have received 2,406 EOIS from people who believe they meet exceptions to the border closure. Of the 1,976 EOIs decided so far, just 369 met the criteria to apply for a visa'

Earth to INZ - if only 18% of those that believed they meet your criteria actually do meet your criteria, that suggests your messaging on eligibility may need a degree of clarification. Any chance of that actually happening?

Contradicting the official INZ website we have this morning been told that it is only those health and medical workers directly involved in the Covid-19 response that have been exempted from the border closure. INZ's website very specifically states that on a case by case basis applications can be made for humanitarain reasons, or where a partner/parent is in NZ on a temporary work or student visa and wishes their partner and/or children to join them and workers in 'essential industries'.

The information we have been given this morning by a senior manager is that the Government is still to work out what constitutes 'essential industries' and we already know that if you are a non health worker, and your parent or partner is in NZ, you are not going to be allowed in.

INZ needs to change its website to clarify who might be in with a shot during the border closure. And maybe reassign the Section 61 team back on to regular duties.

April 6

Applying for temp visa variations to jin family in NZ

Two clients each with a partner in NZ on a valid work visa, have now attempted to seek a variation of conditions via the newly set up Expression of Interest seeking a possible 'invitation' to apply for that variation to join their partner in NZ. Both were quickly declined. That strongly suggests, as I speculated late last week, that applying was a waste of time. So it has proven to be. 

The Director General of Health has, in the past few minutes, confirmed that at least as far as he is concerned, the only people that will be allowed in are Kiwis and PR visa holders and those people that are crtical to dealing with the virus in NZ.

It is interesting to note that INZ's website refers to not only those people crtical to fighting the disease, might be grand an exception, but those working in essential industries. It seems what INZ and the DG of Health are talking at cross purposes.

And the messages being sent are, as usual, garbled and contradictory.

My advice however is that the border is closd and clietns and others should not waste their time clogging up INZ time by applying for these exceptions.

Skilled Migrant Category pool draws

Following on from the April 2 post below, an industry colleague confirmed to me late last week she was advised by INZ that there would be no SMC pool draws during the lockdown. I was advised that there would be. It seems logical there won't be draws during the lockdown but that being confirmed would be useful. If anyone at INZ is listening or reading this, some clarification would be appreciated!

April 2

No Skilled Migrant Category pool draw yesterday?

It appears no Skilled Migrant Category pool draw took place yesterday. We were advised by a senior INZ Manager a few days ago it was going ahead suggesting even senior management are out of the loop. No one from INZ has explained why, no press releases, nothing on INZ's web site, nothing sent to Advisers - yet again a communications void. I do not know what to read into this.

Stay tuned.

April 1 - Those stuck offshore

Late last night INZ released further information on who can travel to NZ while the borders are closed beyond the standard NZ citizens, permanent resident visa holders and Australian citizens or PRV holders who are usually resident in NZ. I note that no definition has been provided as to what 'normally' resident in NZ means which isn't very useful. Given a temporary visa is by its very definition for a finite, short stay it is hard to reconcile that with the holder having to show they'normally' live here. For how long? One month? Two months? Six months? Longer?

Government has put in place a process, via an online Expression of Interest, where you include your details and submit it. Someone, somewhere, somehow will make a call based on the information provided whether to approve a variation of conditions to the current visa being held by someone offshore which will, if successful presumably be annoted to includes words to the effects of 'Covid-19 response and during the border closure, the holder may travel to New Zealand before X date'.

You should note however the language used in the release.

'Consideration will only be made for people with exceptional circumstances who have a critical purpose for travelling to New Zealand. The starting point for any consideration is that for the protection of New Zealand the border is closed. Exceptions are only in place for extreme circumstances.'

The key words being 'exceptional', 'critical purpose', 'extreme circumstances' and the 'border is closed'.

That suggests a very high bar and I have a very strong feeling that missing your partner and or the children will not cut it.

Who then might this apply to and who not?

1. Most importantly for our clients - the partner and/or dependent child of a work or student visa holder (who is currently in NZ) may be granted entry as an exception so long as the offshore (not in NZ) visa holder 'normally' resides in NZ. This suggests if you have previously visited NZ, your partner or parent is still in NZ, you may be in with a shot. Without wishing to burst any bubbles, I don't think they will say yes but it may be worth a crack.

If however you have never used the temporary visa you hold to travel to NZ, you will not be approved. 

2. Those who have been granted a resident visa but never used it to travel to NZ will not be allowed to enter - unless one of the the criteria in point 3 below applies.

3. Partners, dependent children and legal guardians of:

i. New Zealand Citizens or permanent resident visa holders may be okay, and

ii. New Zealand resident visa holders who are travelling to New Zealand for a second or subsequent time, may be okay and

iii. New Zealand resident visa holders whose resident visa was granted in New Zealand are okay

The kicker however is that the NZ resident or citizen party must themselves also be offshore (not in NZ) and travelling on the same flight as those with temporary visas if they are approved to travel.

There are others but these are the ones critical for our clients.

As we learn more, we will post more.

MARCH 30 - A few Visa changes

Government has today eased the work visa requirements for two groups of workers for a period of 30 days freeing them up to undertake more hours of work or to work in a role different to that specified if they hold a work visa:

Supermarket employees – only those as part of the Woolworths or Foodstuffs groups may now do any sort of work for that employer; and

Student Visa holders – where they were restricted to 20 hours per week, they no longer are (but it is not clear if there is any maximum hours of work they can work – one assumes so long as the amended employment relationship complies with all employment law, then the visa holder will be acting within these new 30 day rules.

MARCH 24 - What Visas Can Be Applied For On Partial Lockdown?

What visas can and cannot be filed?

The Resident Visa Operations Manager has confirmed this afternoon that:

1.         Expressions of Interest (EOIs) under the Skilled Migrant Category can still be filed. The SMC fortnightly selection process is still underway or at least no official decisions have been made about stopping them. I do expect delays in getting Invitations to Apply (ITA), if any ITAs are generated at all. No word yet on how INZ will treat Resident Visa applications that cannot be filed within the four month deadline who have received an ITA. 

2.         Any Resident Visas filed (manually, in paper form, as they must be) will not be receipted nor entered into the system for allocation and processing. However, INZ will it seems ’deem it to have been lodged’ subject of course to checking in due course it meets the mandatory requirements to be receipted and accepted for processing.

3.         Temporary visas - work, student and visitor - can still be filed electronically. I think it reasonable to expect delays in processing….

(i)         Any person with a temporary visa expiring before 1 April must file a new application prior to 1 April. This needs to be done online. No information on what evidence INZ is expecting to accompany it e.g. are applicants for a work visa for example expected to provide evidence of labour market shortages? No idea…. Minimum lodgement requirements for a visa to be accepted under the Act is form (online), fee, passport sized photo (jpeg) and passport (copy). It should be noted that what is on INZ’s website and what the PM suggested a couple of hours later was slightly different and might be interpreted in a slightly different way. What we think the message here is tough is if you are INZ and your temporary visa is going to expire before 9 July, don’t worry…. 

(ii) Those with temporary visas expiring between 1 April and 9 July will according to INZ’s website be granted a new visa. What they do not explain is whether that is automatic (but that is what will means) and we note they have not advised if they expect any online application to accompany that. A strict reading of their website suggests not but we learned a long time ago (like Friday) that what they publish in their rule book and on their website are often two different things. 

4. Those needing to apply for a variation of conditions on a work visa (changing like job for like job in the same region) must continue to do so manually. It is logical to assume that these applications will be held till the Department re-opens. I am giving the advice to our clients that they take up the new role. I am giving that advice because I know our applications are ‘decision ready’ and there is no reason for INZ not to approve it when they can.

That’s it for now folks.

Hoping the INZ Comms people get a whole lot more detailed in their advice.

Regards, 

Iain MacLeod

MARCH 23 - NZ Complete Lockdown Wednesday

Last Thursday the NZ Government closed our borders to travel only to New Zealand citizens and residents.

A few hours ago, the Prime Minister announced New Zealand will be in full lockdown by Wednesday afternoon for a period of four weeks (initially). This means the immediate closure today of all non-essential businesses. Schools will be closed from Wednesday.

I think in the end the Government just couldn’t get through to enough people how grave this situation is.

Everyone in the country will be expected to isolate (individually or in self isolating groups) from today. This means an extended ‘staycation’. We are not prisoners in our homes, we are allowed to go out for walks and exercise for example but we must only do it with those people that we are isolation with.  And stay 2 m metres away from others.

Supermarkets, pharmacies, hospitals and pizza parlours will remain open. Just joking. Anywhere where people gather inside or outside is now closed for the next four weeks including pizza restaurants, all bars, restaurants, theatres, gyms - all those communal places that you might imagine - anywhere human beings may gather in any sort of numbers.

This is drastic and even though there was only 100 reported cases earlier today including two believed to be community spread, the Prime Minister has acted decisively and sensibly in my view. As I indicated on Friday in my blog the government has announced further support mechanisms for business owners and their employees.

If we don't do those the Prime Minister stated the medical advice is that ‘tens of thousands of New Zealanders’ would have died. Reading between the lines she still expects many to not survive this outbreak but it does appear that we have got well ahead of where countries like the US, Italy and dare I say it, South Africa are likely to be in the coming weeks.

We are basically cutting ourselves off from the rest of the world apart from freight and the travel of essential personnel across the border.

Obviously clients have a million questions but one million is probably at least one fewer than we have right now. Here is what we can tell you:

1.      The Immigration Department has been woeful in their communications over all of this. We know through ‘out of office’ auto replies a number of Managers are not in the branches and a few minutes ago I was advised by a senior official that all staff will now be sent home. I have been told in the past few minutes INZ is closed for business. He awaits advice from the Minister over what functions might continue - the rest are on holiday. I am told the only parts of INZ that are ‘essential business’ is their border unit. Visa processing onshore has now halted. Offshore offices might have some limited processing but given the border is closed it is hard to see the point….

2.      Later this evening the Prime Minister will issue an ‘epidemic notice’. What this means is under the Epidemic Preparation Act 2006, anybody who is in New Zealand and whose Visa expires cannot become unlawful. Anyone then reading this in the country who cannot file another application or who has and which now will not be processed, for whatever reason - can stay in the country without fear.

3.      Some clients, already in NZ and looking for jobs, are asking us whether they should stay on their visitor visas or head home. We cannot give a blanket answer to that one as everyone’s circumstances are different. The reality is they cannot become unlawful if they feel safer in New Zealand than in other countries (and again I'm thinking specifically of South Africa and my grave fears for how Covid-19 is going to unfold there). Those on visitor visas are not going to have access to the health system beyond the normal accident related issues should they have one but again you must weigh up the realities of what happens when, not if, our hospitals are overwhelmed with New Zealanders needing a bed. It has to be questionable how many employers are going to be offering too many people too many jobs for a number of months.  You need to weigh up how long your money will last, what financial or family support you might have here.

4.      We have a number of clients who have been separated from their family who want to know if those family members overseas can fly and join them. According to the published rules where one partner is in New Zealand on a work or student visa and the rest of the family is offshore with visas of their own, they can fly - but all our clients trying to fly have been prevented from doing so.  We have a number of clients separated by the virus and the border closure desperate for clarity. This is what the rule book says:

A person… may still be granted entry permission by an immigration officer as an exception to instructions (see Y4.45), for reasons including but not limited to: 

1.       Humanitarian reasons

2.       Essential health workers as confirmed by the Ministry of Health

3.       Other essential workers as defined by the New Zealand Government

4.       Citizens of Samoa and Tonga for essential travel to New Zealand

5.       Partners or dependants of a temporary work or student visa holder, and currently resident in New Zealand where the temporary work or student visa holder is currently in New Zealand.’

Although, in point 5 above, the second part of the sentence is absolute gibberish, the first part is very clear. If you are not in New Zealand but you hold a temporary visa and your partner, or in the case of a dependent child, is in New Zealand currently on a work or student Visa you should on a case by case basis, as an exception, be allowed to board your flight to New Zealand.

We have begged the Immigration Department to clarify this because point 5 above is pretty simple to understand… if anyone is overseas looking to join a partner who is in New Zealand on a temporary work or student visa, and who goes to the airport to check-in, you can expect the airline to call the Immigration Department in New Zealand and while the answer should be that you should be able to travel - they probably won’t let you.

No one can tell us why.

Either we don’t understand English, the rule as written is incorrect or the airlines have been told something different.

What infuriates me is what happens to clients that should have been allowed to fly but were kept out by incorrect advice being given to airline staff, if indeed the idea was they should have been able to come to NZ.

Although there is an awful lot happening at the moment in New Zealand and I'm sure these government agencies are busy, we are mortified that we are all being left in the dark not just in terms of who can still travel to New Zealand but what is happening inside the department itself. It is shameful.

Stay tuned for more updates as we can provide them.

Regards

Iain MacLeod

Managing Partner

MARCH 19 #2 - Exceptions to the Border Closure

Following on from our newsflash of a few minutes ago, INZ has just posted a very hastily written piece of advice on their INZ website which seems to contradict what the Prime Minister said earlier today. The website states and I quote verbatim:

‘Exceptions can be made on a case by case basis by Immigration New Zealand for: 

The holder of a visitor visa who is the partner of (sic) dependent of a temporary work or student Visa holder and who normally lives in New Zaland (sic) and is currently in New Zealand’ 

There are a number of obvious questions that I have sought answers to including:

1. Is there a formal process to gain an exception and what is the process? 

2. Why only visitor visas or is this a typographical error or omission? There are plenty of clients who have partnership work visas for example who I don’t imagine the government meant to exclude. 

3. How do we define “who normally lives in New Zealand’?

I have sought some answers from a very senior manager in charge of temporary visas and as soon as we know the answer we will come back to everyone. I do believe that if you do hold a valid temporary visa of any kind and your partner is in New Zealand then they’re not trying to exclude those people. 

Presumably however they will require the recently arrived family to go into isolation but I suspect it will be a small price to pay.

Until we can find out more…..

Regards

Iain MacLeod

MARCH 19 - NZ Border Closure

At 6 pm New Zealand time the Prime Minister of New Zealand announced that the border is being closed to all non-New Zealand citizens and non (permanent) resident Visa holders, effective 11.59 tonight NZ time.

She has not given any indication how long this ban on people entering will be in place.

Anybody who is “en route to New Zealand” is not covered by the ban and will be allowed to enter. What we cannot tell anyone is if that means your last airport if you are transitting to the country e.g Sydney or where you started your journey e.g. Johannesburg. The not unexpected bombshell (rumours have been swirling al day) is a little short on detail. 

It should be noted that anyone who is in New Zealand on a work, visitor or student Visa and who was expecting a partner and/or children to join them, needs to understand this will now no longer be possible. The government has only said that medical personnel and limited “humanitarian" cases will be exempt. Again, no detail on what constitutes humanitarian but I don’t expect it will mean partners and children of those in New Zealand on temporary visas.

I’m hopeful there will be more detail available to us in the morning New Zealand time and I urge you to contact your lead consultant here IMMagine.

I do know the only way we are going to get rid of this virus is for everybody to self isolate, practice strict ’social distancing’ and this is one part of the NZ Government’s plan to ensure the health of New zealandrs and it is a prudent decision which will lead to the quickest way of ridding ourselves of the virus.

Regards

Iain MacLeod

MARCH 14 - Mandatory self-isolation for all travellers to NZ from Sunday night

In the interests of getting ahead of the breaking news we are sending this message to all our clients. I intend for all our clients to be contacted who might be affected by this on Monday when the team is in the office and you are welcome to email your lead consultant (or me) any questions you might have in the meantime.

A couple of hours ago the NZ Government announced all passengers arriving in NZ will be required to ‘self isolate’ for 14 days.  This takes effect at midnight tomorrow (Sunday).

This is not a travel ban.

Only those travelling on Iranian and Chinese passports or who are transiting through those countries en route to NZ (if that is even possible today) are actually banned from entering New Zealand. Everyone else remains welcome once they’ve done their 14 days of laying low.

We await further details of exactly what self isolation means. I am still in South Africa along with my wife and youngest son and we won’t be home till the new isolation rule is put in place so we are going to find out soon enough but clearly it is going to be a voluntary thing and it’s more ‘taking one for the team’ than anything the Government can actually control. I am assuming that we will still be able to head out to the supermarket and pharmacy (although of course you can order everything you need online and have it delivered in NZ). And I’m not sure how anyone could be stopped anyway….

Part of me says this is an over reaction. Here in South Africa there has been one reported case of the coronavirus although I am sure there are many more not yet reported. The reality is I’d have more chance of getting the virus if I was working in my Melbourne, Australia office!

Another part of me says it is better that we take the hard economic hit this will undoubtedly cause and come out of the ‘pain’ sooner than those countries stiff faffing around (like the US) or who moved too slow and too late (Italy). 

I wish everyone though would just listen to the science here - this virus DOES NOT KILL 98% of those that get it. Hells bells, even Tom Hanks thought he just had a cold!

The fact is however the government has made this move and we need to live with it.

To those clients planning on travelling to find jobs our advice it so ‘keep calm and carry on’ with the plan. Getting jobs takes 6-12 weeks for the vast majority of our clients so spending the first 14 das getting over jet lag, chilling and starting to apply for jobs online is not going to be too much of an inconvenience.

Regards

Iain MacLeod

Managing Partner


NZ - What Happens Post The Lockdown

Posted by Iain on April 3, 2020, 12:47 p.m. in New Zealand

 

A lot of people have been asking me lately what I think will happen once New Zealand comes out of lockdown in a little over three weeks. I think too many of you flatter me for my crystal ball gazing abilities, but I'm happy to tell you what I think as I have been doing as much reading as I possibly can over the past few weeks on the COVID-19 disease and thinking about how that will impact our economy, our employers and our clients.

According to a local expert on public health, Professor Michael Baker, New Zealand might be the only western nation to eliminate the virus - no other western nation is on track to do so. In Asia, only Taiwan, Singapore, Hong Kong, along with China might. It is sobering to note that this virus will infect around 60% of humanity and until a vaccine is developed, manufactured on a scale never seen before and distributed, Prof Baker estimates around 20 million people will die. Compare that to SARS when around 760 people died and more recently the Swine Flu which took around 500,000 lives.

It is going to decimate the global economy. I can see countries like South Africa, slip off the economic cliff they have been teetering over in recent years. My biggest fear in countries like that is the absolute breakdown of law and order. And not just South Africa, but in any country where public institutions are not strong or are not trusted by the societies they serve. And where poverty and living day to day is the way the majority of people live in ‘normal’ times. It almost doesn’t bear thinking about.

I am pretty sure the economic protectionist walls will go up. Even here in NZ, we have a Government making noises about getting into business. That is a blog topic all of its own. God help us if that happens. Public/private partnerships maybe, but the Immigration Department call themselves a business and they can’t even get their communication during this time out to their ‘customers’. They couldn’t run a business if their livelihoods depended on it.

Of course for us to have any chance this lockdown must be tight and rigidly (self) controlled.

Professor Baker believes, if we all do this in NZ for three more weeks, infections should peak in 7-10 days but having cut off the possible infection chains, should then go into fairly sharp decline.

Here, until a vaccine is created, manufactured and rolled out over the next 12 to 18 months, we are presumably going to see outbreaks popping up because we will probably never completely eliminate the virus from the population and because with everyone separated we're not going to build up any sort of ‘herd immunity’.

So what happens at the end of the lockdown if indeed we are on a path to eliminate the virus here?

My reading is the borders will essentially have to stay closed at the end of four weeks (no airlines to fly anyway) and will only gradually open up in the months that follow. If other countries haven’t eliminated it, we are not going to want those people coming here - or if we do, one presumes every person will be tested at the border (I understand there are now reliable ’15 minutes to get the result’ test kits) and if they prove positive, such travelers will go into some formal and mandatory quarantine.

We simply cannot shut ourselves off completely from the rest of the world until a vaccine is developed. If we do we will be eating turnips and hoeing the fields behind draught horses again.

After this four week lock down period, on the assumption the rate of infection is trending toward or has reached zero, and we are on the path to elimination, I suspect we will have the current Level 4 lifted in most parts, if not everywhere in New Zealand, and so long as we continue to practice social distancing, some, may be allowed back to work. I would not rule out an extension of the lockdown though for a week or two if we are still seeing infection outbreaks.

I can imagine a situation where government isolates villages, towns or even cities on an ongoing basis to snuff out any chance of rapid spread. Not quite sure how you do that practically, but you can't keep the whole country at home forever - will it mean roadblocks and the military, ah la Wuhan and other parts of the world? I suspect so.

I expect the government will have to consider allowing those sitting offshore with work visas, or who are granted work visas, and work in essential industries and in essential occupations (a list which I expect the immigration department to be working on now with our political leadership) will be expanded as they roll out the recovery program, allowing work visa holders to start entering (or returning to) New Zealand relatively quickly following the lifting of the Level 4 lockdown.

I don't think we're going to escape a significant jump in unemployment rates - economist are picking anything from 5% to "low double figures". That effectively means nobody knows.

I'm expecting the government to roll out some further business support. The Australian Government was very slow to start making any decisions over how to treat the virus (still is) but I can’t fault them on their support for businesses. What is on offer to help our business in Australia is greater than anything offered to us here in NZ, at least to date.

The early feedback we are getting from the labour market here is quietly positive and encouraging. Only a handful of clients have been given notice they are going to lose their jobs, the significant majority have not. I suspect the wage subsidy ($585 per full time worker per week for 12 weeks), is helping with that but I think most businesses are probably in something of a holding pattern, pending further announcements from the government. Many companies are cutting wages and salaries by 20% (the maximum allowed to keep the wage subsidy).

I’m confident further assistance is on its way as there is no government that wants to have 10% plus unemployment.

I'm also conscious that the majority of our clients are in highly skilled and specialised roles that are not going to be easily replaced even within a softening labour market. We are still 2000 teachers short and we aren’t going to be able to pull them out of any local hat any time soon. Ditto Engineers, particularly civil and construction related. Also Tradesmen, technical and IT workers. 

I do expect it's going to take longer to get those jobs and we're probably back to looking at 3 to 4 months for many as we were back in the dark days of the global financial crisis that lasted around two years through 2009 and 2010.

I do believe that this recession is going to last at least as long as the GFC event and that means two years of (relative) high unemployment rates.

In the short term the government has somewhat clarified what options exist for families separated by the border closure. After a week of people like me demanding some degree of clarity, family members can now file an expression of interest in travelling and if they are invited to apply, can theoretically get a variation of conditions to their existing Visa. I have a few clients starting to apply for these but no outcomes at the time of writing. I’m advising most of my clients that applying for this seems to be a waste of time, at least while the country is in lockdown, because the starting point for any decision is that the border is closed and it is closed for good reason.

Anyone needing to travel during the lockdown period must show “exceptional circumstances”, have a ‘critical purpose’ and a ‘compelling’ reason to travel here - I don't think missing the wife and kids is going to cut it.

Also, it is worth noting, that no Skilled Migrant Category pool draw took place this week. I had previously been advised by a senior manager that it was going to, but in discussing this with at least one other industry colleague post the fact, she had heard from the department that it was not. I don't read anything into this not taking place beyond the fact that Immigration New Zealand’s comms are a disaster, INZ itself is in lockdown and their IT systems don't allow them to work remotely. There's no point selecting expressions of interest from the skilled migrant pool, if there's no one to process them.

At this point we can still file resident visa applications - they are simply piling up outside the branch office in their courier bags. We have been assured that will deem them to have been lodged, once INZ is back to opening the mail.

It would've been nice if the Communications team inside the department had signaled this week’s (and future?) pool draws were on hold. How hard would have been to have posted something on their website? No one appreciates the uncertainty - and the Department had a week following the lockdown to get ahead of this. They haven't bothered to, or have been incapable of doing so.

That’s my take on things folks. Interesting times.

We will continue to post updates and alerts on our special Covid-19 blog

Until next week (or next Covid-19 blog update)

Iain MacLeod

Southern Man

 

Tags: Immigration

Time is Every Migrants Enemy

Posted by Iain on March 20, 2020, 8:54 a.m. in New Zealand

At every consultation I have I remind people that the strategy we offer is based on a snapshot of their future eligibility for NZ or Australia. This is because there are so many steps and applications to third parties, English exams, skills assessments, qualification assessments, finding jobs and so on  before anyone can file a visa. I warn those looking to make the move that every day they delay executing the strategy we offer, is another day for the Government to change the visa rules or things to change. I am sure more than a few think this is cynical sales talk. It has never been so.

Well, this week is the best example of that very good, non ‘sales’ related advice, I can think of!

What a week.

Last night the NZ Government announced they were closing the border from midnight. This applies to everyone except NZ citizens or (permanent) resident visa holders and on a 'case by case basis' some temporary visa holders whose partner or parent (if the visa holder is a dependent child) is in NZ on a temporary work or student visa (note, not visitor visa) and whose partner or parent is currently in New Zealand. Although the situation is rapidly evolving, INZ's messaging and advice was predictably muddled and confusing. 

I have to presume that this border closure for NZ and Australia will be in place for at least a month, but I am picking it is more likely to be 12 weeks at least, as it will take that long to work this virus out of our systems. That is pure speculation on my part based on watching China, Hong Kong and Singapore deal, pretty effectively, with the virus.

I expect more restrictions on movement and gatherings will be put in place locally in NZ (and I expect, Australia).

Last week ‘self isolation’, ‘social distancing’ and ‘flattening the curve’ were all new terms for me, now it is as if they have been part of my vocabulary forever!

My wife, Karina, son Tom and I arrived back in New Zealand on Monday night from South Africa to mandatory 14 day self isolation. I left my colleague Paul behind in South Africa to do a series of seminars starting Monday evening.

We are cutting short his trip and he is flying home today, while we have the chance to get him on a flight. I don't think it will be long before all airlines are grounded except for vital trade/cargo routes. And even then only with Government support.

On Sunday night the South African President decided, belatedly in my view, it was time to address his nation on the imminent threat of Covid-19 and the measures being put in place to deal with the coronavirus, including banning meetings of 100 people or more. I suspect the horse has already bolted.

I couldn’t believe how this time last week while I was in South Africa, Covid-19 seemed such a non issue while it was rapidly spreading around the world and had already arrived in SA. Given our seminars see between 300-400 people attending we scrambled to secure multiple nights at the venues we'd booked to present two or three seminars to smaller audiences.

Unfortunately, all the hotels and venues have decided to either close for the next 6 weeks or so or are limiting meetings to no more than 10 people. No use to us, that's a knitting circle not an immigration seminar.

So Paul is heading home into self isolation.

Our Government has warned New Zealanders if they want to get home they need to leave wherever they are without any delay. As more and more airlines ground their fleets, it is definitely going to get harder to get to Australia or New Zealand over the next few weeks.

We have made a few key decisions this week: 

1.       All staff in Melbourne and Auckland will largely be working from home for the foreseeable future so we can minimise contact and ensure ‘social distancing’. We will have minimal and purely essential staff in the offices. The decision to spend big a few years ago on our own bespoke CRM allowing us to work from anywhere with wifi now looks like a very sensible business investment. I don’t expect clients will notice any difference to the way they interact with us. 

2.       Seminars - having had seminars cancelled in South Africa and made difficult in Hong Kong owing to their recent decision for almost everyone landing in Hong Kong to self isolate for 14 days, we are shortly going to offer our first online seminar to audiences in Singapore and Hong Kong. Once we iron out any wrinkles we will start offering them to our South African clients in a few weeks. In some ways I'm quite excited because the technology now exists for us to do this in a way that even a few years ago, we couldn't. Adversity sometimes forces change and those changes can be very positive. The end of my seeming never ending jetlag?

I have been very reassured by the reaction of our clients, virtually all of whom are carrying on with the process of migration and looking beyond the border closures.

For those, particularly in South Africa, who might be worried about their employment prospects, particularly in New Zealand given you need jobs to get enough ‘points’ to get visas, can I add some words of relative comfort. I have been through a few financial crises now - the 1998 Asian Financial Crisis, the fallout from the New York terrorist attacks in 2001 and the GFC of 2009/2010. None were pleasant, yet almost all clients coming to the country were still able to secure jobs. Over the past two years the majority of clients have been taking between two and eight weeks to find employment, I imagine we will be looking at three to four months or so, as clients were back in the GFC of 2008 - 2011.

I don’t want to sugar coat what is happening however. This virus is going to tip New Zealand and Australia into instant recessions. Economists here believe that the fiscal stimulus should limit it to around a 1% contraction.

Governments of both countries have cut interest rates to virtually zero and significant fiscal stimulus packages have been announced. Earlier this week the NZ government announced $5 billion of wage subsidies and health spending to prepare for the inevitable uptick in patients needing hospitalisation, equipment and if they can find them, personnel.  Wage subsidies are being put in place for 12 weeks to assist employers keep staff (if you take the subsidy you cannot lay anyone off).

The Minister of Finance advised the package, amounting to 4% of GDP, is ‘just the beginning’.

The advantage NZ has is we have very low levels of public debt which currently runs around 19.5% of GDP (Italy by comparison has debt levels of 134% of GDP, the US in the order of 105% and South Africa around 65%). Our government therefore has a lot of room to borrow big and borrow cheap to get us through the next 12-24 months.

I couldn’t find a single economist finding fault with their announcements on keeping the money flowing. The sharemarket has been pretty stable this week while carnage has been the order of the day on most international sharemarkets.

On Thursday the NZ Government also announced a $54 billion infrastructure spending package covering projects over the next ten years. I suspect they were going to wait for the May budget to announce this (we are in an election year) but they wanted to give certainty to the construction companies and others that big money will be flowing as we build roads, freeways, light and heavy rail and public transport.

I expect other ‘war time’ measures to be announced over the next couple of weeks.

The Australian Government is busy announcing similar policies.

If you are sitting wondering if you are about to jump out of a frying pan into a fire (particularly those of you in South Africa) allow me to offer you some perspective on the risks. South Africa, before the outbreak of Covid-19 a couple of weeks ago, had 30% unemployment, was in a recession, had an insecure energy supply leading to power black outs virtually every day of 2-4 hours, had an insolvent national airline, bankrupt municipalities and affirmative action policies meaning the first people to lose their jobs as the recession deepens, as it will, will likely be you.…

However bad South Africa has got in recent years, it is about to get worse by degrees.

How will South Africa be able to respond when, not if, the virus gets into the overcrowded and unsanitary townships when you already have a health system that in the best of times cannot provide care for the majority of South African citizens?

New Zealand has been creating thousands more jobs every month for two years than we have had pepole to fill them. We continue to not produce enough teachers, engineers, IT workers and many more. Demand will take a hit but we come off a base of such accute skills shortages, the demand will not dry up.

If you lose your job or fear losing your job in South Africa you will still be far more employable in New Zealand than in South Africa no matter what happens here. I have long liked the frying pan and fires analogy when it comes to leaving South Africa (understandably worried about job prospects) and many South Africans and other potential migrants have asked themselves if in search of a better future they are jumping out of a frying pan into a fire by considering migration at any time. My view on South Africa has long been, that you are actually already sitting in the fire, upon which fuel is about to be poured. Migration is always hard and it is about to get a lot harder. It won’t be comfortable for a while but you won’t burn in the fire either.

I was in Hong Kong a little over a month ago. The economy is tanking there the strict border control and isolation measures, including shutting down schools, but they have shown the world how to get on top of this virus. Singapore has achieved it slightly differently but no less effectively.

I am absolutely confident NZ will cope with this. And the border closure is part of that. Shutting down the economy for three months works. It's incredibly painful and that pain awaits New Zealanders and Australians, but shutting down the border is really the only way of stopping more cases of those with the virus entering our countries.

In NZ, Australia, Hong Kong and Singapore these measures are by and large understood and accepted by almost everyone.

I am less confident about South Africa and if I had the chance to leave I’d be looking to do so, no matter how long our borders remain closed.

For those clients headed for Australia, short of any change in Government policy you are in a very good position. The process to get the visa is taking around a year to 15 months at the moment, you have the thick end of 12 months to get to Australia to activate the family’s visas once approved and you have at least another 12 months, if you headed home, to go back to Australia and settle - that’s a very enviable four year window which allows Australia plenty of time to right the economic ship which will be listing for a year or two like the rest of us.

Make no mistake, as someone who has seen a few recessions, the next few months will be brutal on all of us to a greater or lesser extent.

NZ has taken the first step in closing ourselves off from the world and although it is not good for the economy, it is the only thing to do. The US, Europe and every other nation on this planet need to do the same thing or this virus will linger and fester and destroy economies, and kill thousands more people. If we can take the hit, bear the pain and then rebuild, we will get through this.

I’d far rather take that hit in a first world, law abiding land of plentiful energy and food like New Zealand than anywhere else on this planet.

Kia kaha.

Until next week,

Iain MacLeod

Southern Man

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A Mountain Tale

Posted by Iain on Dec. 20, 2019, 11:13 a.m. in New Zealand

It is sometimes lost on us, as we live our ordinary and for the most part, urban, lives, so utterly disconnected from nature, just how wonderful this country of Aotearoa/New Zealand really is. Often we only appreciate it when we step out of our comfort zone and head for the hills (or in my case, mountains).

We are surrounded in New Zealand by nature and it is cheap and accessible on all levels. Within 40 minutes’ drive of downtown Auckland we have beaches with few or no one on them, regional parks and reserves, conservation areas where battles rage against introduced pests and predators, marine reserves that hark back to pre-human days still exist and all can be enjoyed at minimal to no cost.

Travelling a little further afield, I left the humid northern summer of Auckland last week and flew to Queenstown in the South Island where the temperature in the mountains was around 10 degrees cooler than I had left.

I then spent three days walking the Routeburn Track with my wife and some good friends. The Routeburn is a 35 kilometre, three-day hike across the Harris Pass dividing a mountain range and several valleys.

There are two types that ‘do’ this track. There is what is known as ‘independent’ walkers, those who carry everything on their backs and stay in very comfortable, warm and dry (free, can you believe it?) Department of Conservation huts (dormitory sleeping and no showers!) or for the more well-heeled, you can pay Ultimate Hikes, which has a concession in this and the Milford Track to provide guides and accomodation, as we did. They have their own accomodation (with showers!) and chefs so while you carry your own kit, they provide the (most excellent) food and bedding. 

The Routeburn starts in the Fiordland National Park and ends in the Mount Aspiring National Park.

Day one saw us dropped off halfway to the more famous Milford Track, climb steadily though Beech forest, stripping off layers of clothes until we finally got to the (winter) snow line where the forest ended and the alpine vegetation began. A well-formed and relatively easy side track took us up to 900 metres above sea level where we were still dwarfed by towering mountains, topped with the last of the winter snow, and deep glacier carved valleys stretched out in all directions.

After six or so hours of hiking over some 15 km, we arrived at the MacKenzie Hut where tired feet were consoled by excellent local, Central Otago wines and a hearty meal. At the latitude we were at (think southern France for those of you that know Europe) it seemed like the sun was never going to set. At 10pm it was still only dusk. A rare teat indeed for we northern New Zealanders where even on the longest day of the year the sun is gone by 8.45pm. Pink clouds snuggled the nearby mountains, enveloping us after dark and providing a gentle patter rain through the night. Thankfully it was gone with a crisp dawn.

We had gone to sleep and woken up to the sound of the local mountain parrot, known as the Kea, screeching and squawking. These birds, only live above or about the snow line, and are said to have the intelligence of a 3-4 year old human. The stories you hear about what these critters can do as they work individually or in teams to solve (usually food related) puzzles was absorbing as the guides shared their experiences observing them over the years. Like the pair working in unison on getting into one of the cabins — one landing on the door handle of a room while another sits at the bottom ready to push the door open with its shoulder makes you look at them a with a profound respect.

Day two started with 30 minutes in dense beech forest with a floor littered with giant boulders cracked from the valley walls or pushed down the valley by advancing glaciers thousands of years ago. It is almost impossible to describe and I am not a good enough wordsmith to do it justice. Picture if you will 20 metre high trees, growing on or in between massive boulders. Every surface of every rock, the forest floor and even the trunks themselves were padded with many different species of moss, lichens and liverworts. The only visible stone was on our pathway. It was so ‘Lord of the Rings’ but no set designer or builder could have ever imagined or created anything as beautiful. Every shade of green you can imagine everywhere you looked.

There had been so much rain the previous month (the next valley over had had 2600mm of rain - that’s no typo…) in four weeks, everything was dripping or felt like a wet sponge when touched. We had to take a detour out of camp because the usual way out of the camp was under a metre of water.

Higher and higher we trundled and the forest gave way to the most amazing abundance of alpine plants, many in flower. Many plants in New Zealand owing to millions of years of isolation often resemble plants of a quite different genus or even family. The best of them was the Mount Cook Lily. What looks like a lily actually turned out to be a buttercup. Pure white petals surrounding a bright yellow centre, they only flower for three weeks a year and we happened to be there during one of those three.

The walk was punctuated every 50 to 100 metres by waterfalls, some over 100metres high, tumbling off almost vertical valley sides. Scores of them. Waterfalls with the sweetest, freshest water you have ever drunk. Side note: how depressing it was that our guides felt obliged to advise those ‘uncomfortable’ filling their water bottles from these purest sources of water that if they wanted sterilisation tablets they could be supplied with them. Who could be ‘uncomfortable’ drinking water that may well have fallen from the sky hundreds of years ago and lay locked up in glaciers before being perfectly filtered through layers of moss? I swear I have never drunk water so sweet. But how far removed from mother nature so many urban dwellers have sadly become.

Day 3 was a doddle 9 km walk. Downhill, our backs to a mighty waterfall we descended back into the beech forest, snacked by a glacial fed river and a forest full of bird song. The past seven years has seen active pest control meaning the valley is once again habitable for some of our most precious and rare native species and they are finally able to reestablish viable breeding groups.

Lunch in a corner of a winding river running deep and crystal clear. Every rock and every pebble visible given the clarity of the water. A deep gorge sliced through by often raging waters, we were treated to the seemingly fearless South Island Robin, a bird of black and cream, hopping onto our hiking boots and picking at the gravel where we had had scratched the surface, looking for its next meal.

We were reminded once again of the volume of rain this part of New Zealand can get. I am not far off six foot in height and standing up the trees above my head were laced with mats of grasses and other dead vegetation, caught in the branches when the river was last in flood a few days before we got there. Huge logs, stripped bare of any remnant foliage, balancing precariously on house sized rocks some two metres above the river level. According to our guides they hadn’t been there a week before….

You are left in no doubt in New Zealand of the awesome power of nature. In particular, and in the lower south west of the South Island the immense power of water, whether frozen or liquid to shape and define the landscape.

Equally, you get to share an experience out of the ordinary and enjoy a part of New Zealand where depressingly few people venture. It was great to share the experience with a group of Japanese tourists, the oldest I understood to be about 70, a couple from San Francisco and another from Taiwan. The enthusiasm of the young guides from New Zealand was infectious.

To those of you who have moved here or will move here, I wrote this time last year about walking the Milford track in November 2018 - a valley or three removed from the Routeburn. I may have mentioned a bucket list and although I don’t have one of those, the Milford Track being ranked one of the top walks in the world, was always a must do for me. I didn’t think it could be beaten. While it was epic, if you want something a little quicker and less difficult on the body, add the Routeburn to your list. I think most older children could manage it, so if you have any and you want to experience a true ‘100% Pure NZ’, the Routeburn is for you.

You can do it cheap (actually the whole thing is free including the accomodation) and carry your own bedding and two minute noodles or do it ‘easy’(er) and book through Ultimate Hikes.

But please do it. I get so frustrated that so many people move here for the wonderful New Zealand lifestyle but never get out into these places. I think the south African clients make the effort coming from a similarly outdoor culture but the clients from Singapore and Hong Kong? Get out of Auckland’s shopping malls this summer and get into the heart of ‘God’s own’ country.

This will be the last Southern Man for the year. We close today at mid-day. What a year it has been. We are currently assisting over 650 families to make a permanent move to New Zealand or Australia. It has been a year of cuts from the Governments of both countries, depressingly sensitive to the politics of immigration despite the unarguably positive aspects of ‘new blood’. In New Zealand, we end the year with increasing pressure on the Immigration Department which seems to have moved from a state of chaos last year, to I suspect, breaking point now. Resident visa applications, that a year ago were taking six months to process are now, with a few exceptions, taking over 18 months. While I hope that 2020 will be the year the department finally gets its act together I won’t be holding my breath.

Will 2020 be the year of higher pass marks for skilled migrants coming to New Zealand as we head into an election year? I don’t rule it as the Government has so dismally failed to deliver on most of what it promised such as more housing and continues to have its immigration agenda controlled by the New Zealand First leadership that they chose to jump into a coalition bed with.

I confess for the first time in a long time, despite the fact that jobs continue to rain down on almost all of our clients, I am worried that the economic need for every single one of you that chooses to come and join us here, might be tossed on the pyre that is an election year bonfire.  The minority coalition partner will do and say anything to appeal to the small number of New Zealanders that think migration is a bad thing (at last election they amounted to 7% and polling 4% now) and which trots out the anti-migrant rhetoric every three years to keep its status of kingmaker.

Those peaceful mountains suddenly feel a distant memory.

Have a peaceful and restful Christmas as we, at IMMagine, intend doing in the best kept secret on planet Earth.

Iain MacLeod

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Tags: New Zealand

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