It's just a thought...
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Posted by Iain on Oct. 16, 2020, 2:51 p.m. in COVID-19
I am not sure if this is the good news or bad news story.
It looks like the government is finally starting to open up the border, inconsistently and somewhat illogically, step by step. Over the last two weeks they have announced that:
1. International students - 250 PhD students who were expected to study in New Zealand this year will now all be granted border exemptions to come and complete/start their study, depending on the courses they undertake and if they have support from their education institution in NZ
2. Those who are offshore holding a work visa will, if they were previously in NZ before the lockdowns took effect, be able to apply to enter NZ with their family. No exemption to crossing the border required.
While that is good news, especially the second point, I am left scratching my head over why those people who hold jobs whilst currently overseas see their family getting priority over reuniting the hundreds of families stuck overseas when one partner is already in New Zealand working. Every week hundreds of border exemption applications, some filed by us, are being declined, for such split families.
While some of IMMagine’s applications are being approved for these exemptions, others have been declined and there is simply no consistency nor rhyme nor reason as to who gets the approval and who gets the decline. It appears to be a complete lottery.
Our team is spending inordinate amounts of time and energy trying to get straight answers out of INZ about those that have and those that haven’t been granted border exemptions to reunify these split families.
What is so frustrating is INZ has always tried to explain away their historically inconsistent decision making by hiding behind the ‘each case on its merits’ line. It’s garbage of course. That is nothing more than a cop out as two cases which are by and large the same should expect the same outcome. But so often that is anything but the case.
Never has this inconsistency been more apparent since we were told by a senior Manager a couple of weeks ago that where one partner was in NZ on a temporary visa and a partner and/or children were stuck on the other side of the border, they intended taking a more humanitarian approach, were dong a ‘wider piece of work’ (if I hear that phrase one more time I’ll scream) and were going to have a team meeting to ‘calibrate’ (seriously that’s this week’s INZ’s favourite and utterly meaningless term). They were probably going to talk ‘around’ the issues' in the exemption ‘space’.
It transpires that meeting never took place.
Given concerns INZ managers have about the (intellectual) capacity of their own ‘counter level’ staff tasked with making these important decisions a directive was however given to them to escalate requests meeting the bullet point criteria below to a ‘senior experienced immigration officer’ (suggesting there are senior inexperienced officers? God help us) so someone who has been around a bit longer can cast their more ‘experienced’ eye over the 3000 characters which is all you get to state your case.
Six applications later which are all by and large the same, including:
• One partner in NZ on a work Visa
• Other Partner stuck in the ‘home’ country
• One or more young children stuck in the home country with partner
• Child(ren) not seeing the NZ based parent for at least six months….
…two were approved, four were declined.
If two were approved isn’t that the benchmark for the others to meet and if they do surely they too must be approved?
These aren’t complex cases like residence visas. These are on the face of it simple cases with four criteria common to all applications and no differences beyond the names and dates of birth of the applicants. Hardly rocket science. Complex assessments do not need to be made. The only thing that differed in those six cases was the officer making the decision.
When we got copies of the files under the Official Information Act, bearing in mind it is a legal requirement for these decisions and the rationale that goes into them to be recorded, we learned….nothing. None the wiser why some were approved and some were declined.
Who assessed it determined what the outcome was. Pure and simple.
INZ cannot reasonably argue ‘each case on its merits’ was the reason for some being approved and some being declined when in substance they were all virtually identical.
The conclusion is these applications are nothing but a lottery.
This is the best example of the perils of dealing with INZ. They have for years hidden behind the ‘each case on its merits’ mantra rather than face the truth and do something about it. It’s nothing but a smokescreen for their inability to make consistent decisions.
What kind of system is it when who processes your visa is likely the strongest determining factor as to its outcome?
As we have pointed out before INZ has admitted its biggest ‘challenge’ (I’d say handicap) right now, more than ever, is they have so many officers that are still wet behind the ears and have no idea what they are doing.
This is simply not good enough. These decisions impact people lives. The emotional trauma being wrought upon families is, for those of us not trapped in this visa ‘no mans land’, difficult to comprehend. It seems some INZ Managers ‘get it’ but they are powerless it seems to get it through the skulls of the decision makers on the ‘counter’. The only alternative is they don’t care and I cannot believe that.
At some point someone is going to do something desperate born of the despair, frustration and hopelessness they are feeling given their family has been split for months with seemingly no end in sight - not for a few days, not even a few weeks, but for many it has now been over 8 months. Covid is often spoken of as a physical health emergency but to me it is increasingly becoming a mental health emergency and for no one more so than those migrants that the Government has encouraged to come here to be part of its residence programme, people who have brought us their skills, their energy and their commitment to building new lives in New Zealand, for whom ‘going home’ is not an option and who, to a child deserves so much more than this lottery.
We have two clients right now in New Zealand on work visas both of whom are thinking of throwing in the towel because they haven't seen partners and children now since Christmas. How do you make them understand that when another complete family is sitting overseas with one partner who gets a job in New Zealand now going to leapfrog them in the visa process? Are their needs subservient to the family that has never set foot in NZ?
If their employer gave them leave and they flew back to South Africa, we filed new work visas because they no longer need border exemptions, we must assume that they are going to be granted. It’s insane.
On the one hand it's great news that the border restrictions are starting to ease but it's so depressing that the Department seems incapable of prioritising those that can enter in a sensible and consistent way.
Until next week
Posted by Iain on Sept. 11, 2020, 11:51 a.m. in Immigration New Zealand
Last Friday something very strange happened.
At the same time as the Government released a press statement about an immigration matter, two lobby groups, unrelated to one another, released press statements applauding the Government for announcing an expansion of the occupations that would be granted border exemptions.
Except that’s not what the Government announced.
It had announced that those with Visitor Visas expiring shortly would automatically be granted five month extensions without fee or application form. The Government claimed no knowledge of any such plans on easing border restrictions for a wider group of occupations other than those ‘critical for the Covid-19 response’ however.
The press releases from Federated Farmers and a school Principals Association were hastily retracted. Embarrassment all round one expects but I’d have liked to have been a fly on the wall in the offices of those two lobby groups because they were clearly expecting an announcement that aligned with their press statements.
What was insightful was these unrelated entities, both lobbying hard for a more sensible approach to allowing managed entry to those whose skills New Zealand desperately needs, particularly Farm Managers and Teachers, were expecting their lobbying prayers to be answered. I suspect the Government denying knowledge of these groups understanding is simply spin, if not a downright lie, when someone higher up the political food chain put a stop to it. I have little doubt these groups, which have strong Government connections and access, had been told the Government was going to announce something quite different to what they actually did.
With community transmission in Auckland ongoing but seemingly well under control, any news the Government might be thinking of increasing levels of migration, however minor, a few weeks out from this ‘Covid election’ was possibly considered electorally ‘unhelpful’. So it wasn’t announced. I’d wager at the very last minute.
In the meantime, few border exemptions continue to be approved and despite rising unemployment, skills shortages continue to hamper the economic recovery with many sectors outside of farming and education crying out. Letting in those people with specialist or technical skills must surely be considered important by Government. Economic confidence is fragile across New Zealand as it is across many countries right now. While we haven’t (yet) been hit as hard by the coronavirus as many economies we have been hit hard. Denying scarce skills to employers is simply going to further undermine confidence. The pressure has been growing for weeks for the Government to get its border act and exemption policies sorted - we cannot remain closed to the world forever,
I have never understood why Governments fear putting forward the argument that there’s a distinction between allowing entry to those with specialist or technical skills we don’t have enough of and protecting local jobs. These objectives are not in conflict. Right now we certainly don’t need more retail managers but we do need more school teachers. We don’t need more marketing assistants but we do need Farm Managers. We don’t need more middle level managers but we do need, Plumbers, Veterinarians and Engineers.
And New Zealanders should be able to be reunited with their partners stuck offshore when the border abruptly closed back in March to all but a few.
Immigration and more latterly border policy needs to get smart. It isn’t rocket science to establish what the areas of critical skill shortages are but it has always been done piecemeal. The Long Term Skills Shortage List isn’t fit for purpose and never has been an accurate reflection of the extensive skills shortages that have existed here for decades. The public service seems ill equipped or unable to provide the data on what we really are short of (despite issuing tens of thousands of work visas every year that are labour market tested). Coupled with that I suspect is little interest at a political level. Lord only knows why given we keep hearing about a ‘whole of Government’ approach to the crisis brought about by this virus. Skills and labour shortages should play a greater role in border decision making in my view.
Highly skilled migrants only get work visas once the immigration department is satisfied no local should be able to fill the vacancy or be trained to fill it. If the politicians believe the public servants are good at implementing this policy, what is their electoral fear? Is admitting we can’t always precisely predict what our future skills needs might be and tweaking local education and training to ensure we produce enough of our own an admission of failure? I would hope not. The world changes quickly and so too labour markets and skills needs.
Having been waiting for many weeks for the Government to announce an expanded list of occupations that will be eligible for border exemptions reflecting the reality that we still have shortages - like 1500 teacher and 1000 Farm Manager vacancies - it seems last Fridays mis-step was indeed a portend of things to come. Late this week this week an extremely limited number of exemptions for longer term work visa holders who have filed resident visa applications who are stuck offshore will be allowed entry. The criteria to get one of these is so strict I doubt they’ll approve the 850 people they think might be eligible.
In addition partners and dependent children of New Zealanders stuck on the wrong side of the border along with those people granted resident visas but who haven’t been able to activate them will from early October be able to obtain exemptions to enter the country. Twelve month ‘extensions’ are being granted to those with certain visas stuck offshore owing to the pandemic.
Further easing on what defines ‘other critical workers’ who may be eligible for a have also been announced today.
Sometimes in this game it is about understanding subtle signalling. Reading between the lines proved accurate and last week’s non announcement suggested some announcement on the larger issues highlighted here was never going to be far away. Now we have had the release it is clearly a case of better let than never and it will be relief in particular to the many Kiwis who have not seen partners or children for many months and for a few exasperated employers increasing access to scarce skills.
Things are definitely starting to move in the right direction after months of uncertainty and chaos.
Until next week
Posted by Iain on Nov. 23, 2018, 4:33 p.m. in New Zealand Employment
During last year's election season when there was much talk from the politicians of toughening up on immigration to New Zealand and ‘cutting’ or ‘slashing’ numbers (depending on who was dispensing the hot air) there was one simple reason I suggested it was never going to happen.
Solid economic growth and job creation at almost unprecedented levels demanded no cut, in fact economics very much pointed to demand led increases in skilled migration levels. New Zealand needed every skilled migrant it could get its hands on.
Alas, economics and politics of course are often not comfortable bedfellows.
Fast forward 12 months and job vacancies are up 9.4% over this time last year across virtually every sector in the economy and every region. The economy continues to fire.
The unemployment rate is currently 3.9% which is among the lowest in the developed world.
Walking through Queenstown last week, it seemed every other retailer, restaurant, pub or action/adventure business had a ‘staff wanted’ sign in their window.
What is even more impressive than 3.9% unemployment is that labour market participation rates are at historic highs. By this I mean, we now have around 70% of all those that fall into working age, working. It hasn’t been higher in recent history. This means everyone who wants to work or can, is.
Even in the United States where much is being made of similarly low unemployment rates, labour market participation rates are only in the low 60%s and have been falling in recent years. This tends to suggest in the US there are many people who have given up on finding work and have simply dropped out of the labour market. The opposite is true in New Zealand.
This doesn’t mean that as a potential immigrant you can expect the precious job you need to gain residence offer over Skype and the employer will wait six months for your arrival.
The no visa/no job but no job no visa ‘chicken and egg ‘situation is still very real. I have noticed this year however that more and more employers appear willing to interview via Skype and to offer positions when they cannot fill them locally, which is increasing. Depressing numbers still won’t engage the migration process, however.
In particular I am seeing more willingness to engage with people not in the country in regards artisans/tradesmen and in particular electricians and mechanics but we are also seeing a lot of construction and engineering related occupations as well - quantity surveyors, construction project managers, carpenters and the like. Teachers continue to be in hot demand and I think over the next year short of any international economic shock we will see more occupations being added to this list.
The rest of our clients coming to NZ to find work are overwhelmingly getting them - it is still around 90% within three months of landing and almost everyone within six.
What continues to confound me is the government has not allowed the pass mark for skilled migrants to fall from the current 160 points. This, despite the fact that the government was around 9000 skilled resident visas short in the year ending June 2018 in terms of filling their own target.
What that clearly indicates is a political sensitivity given those that are currently governing are those that squealed loudest during the election process last year on cutting back immigration.
If they were to now even be seen to allowing more people to enter the country, when all they might do is fill their own quotas/targets, I have no doubt the media would tear them to shreds. If there is one thing the media does not like it is hypocritical politicians.
Overall however, the fact that net migration is falling, any objective assessment makes it clear the government would now be justified in easing that skilled migrant pass mark which would allow more people to qualify for the Job-search Work Visa without needing a job offer first. Right now only a tiny fraction of all skilled migrants can attain 160 points without the offer of skilled employment.
Net migration is falling because of the way a migrant is defined.
A migrant is not somebody coming to New Zealand to settle permanently with a Resident Visa, but rather someone who intends remaining in the country for at least 12 months.
You can therefore add virtually all international students and most work Visa holders to the list of those defined as being ‘immigrants’. Of course, to you and me someone on a temporary visa with no right to remain long-term is not likely to be viewed as an immigrant. Such is the world of statistics that they are. As the government has very successfully pulled the rug out from under the feet of tens of thousands of international students who were promised a pathway to residence of New Zealand if they spent lots of money to complete the first step of the residence journey, they are now leaving in their droves after not being able to secure appropriately skilled employment to get to 160 points. While that is very bad news for them it does give the government room to manoeuvre politically to open things up for the more highly skilled and experienced (our clients).
I cannot however see the government moving away from the current model whereby securing skilled employment will still be the guarantee of a resident Visa. As hard as that makes it on applicants I continue to support that approach as it means New Zealand is only granting residence to those who have demonstrated an ability to break into the labour market.
I often describe the process as being quite Darwinian insofar as the skilled migrant process is all about the survival of the fittest/most employable.
The migration landscape is changing once again and now that the hot air of the election has dissipated and the people that voted for those parties promising migration cuts can see that we don’t have the skills to fill the vacancies being created I can but hope the Government does the right thing and eases the entry points.
I am not however holding my breath.
Until next week
Posted by Iain on June 15, 2018, 1:55 p.m. in Education
Given most of you migrate to New Zealand for a bit of freedom, lifestyle and education opportunities for your children, a really uplifting and positive report has just been released that shows we are doing an awful lot right when it comes to our children’s early years in school.
Bearing in mind that in New Zealand all children must by law be in school by their sixth birthday, but most start on their fifth, this longitudinal study looked at how the mothers of some 7000 six year olds perceived their child adjusted and coped with the transition from pre-school to primary school.
The study was overwhelmingly positive and here are some highlights:
The single most important factor in the transition was the teacher. Around 12% of children had at least two teachers in their first year and the report suggests that this needs to be looked at given the relative importance of the teacher in the process of transitioning from a pre-school environment to a primary school and how the children adapt.
Class sizes are growing as more school adopt the Modern Learning Environment. I read an interesting paper on what these are, as they are not viewed as necessarily universally beneficial and as with all things education in this country, everyone has an opinion.
An increasingly mobile workforce saw a surprising 12% of children experiencing a change of school in their first year and close to two-thirds had moved house at least once by the time they were five.
Apparently, the children are going to be surveyed to see if their reality mirrors their mother’s perceptions.
Until next week...
Iain MacLeod, Southern Man
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