And it’s a virus of confusion. This is nobody’s fault. Two weeks ago – if you can remember back that far – the way that business got done was pretty familiar. Suddenly we are in a different world of isolation and restriction. Even though it is an agency of the State, Immigration New Zealand has been hit as hard as anyone.
The Level 4 lockdown and the Epidemic Management regulations mentioned in our last blog have raised more questions than they might have answered. From what I have seen in communications with INZ, the policy-makers don’t yet have answers to those questions.
For example, if someone on an employer-sponsored Work Visa has to choose to work less than 30 hours a week, or be made redundant, what happens to their application for Skilled Migrant Residence? The way things are now, their application would be declined because they are not in full-time work (which must be at least 30 hours per week). Do they have to take the chance of filing an appeal and arguing that they face special circumstances? On one view, they certainly do. Are the circumstances all that special, when tens of thousands of other people face the same issue?
By accepting lower hours, they might have breached the conditions of their Work Visa, which was granted on the basis that they would be in full-time work. This makes them liable for deportation. Is INZ going to act on that, or will they just look the other way because they don’t have the time or resources to chase everyone down? Might they decide to deport people in order to remove migrants from the picture, so that local workers get a chance to take the job? This is a live question, with talk now circulating about unemployment going into double digits. Or, perhaps, will the rules be relaxed for a period, in order to recognise that we actually need to keep migrants in jobs because they have skills that Kiwis do not?
That is just one aspect of the whole, sprawling mess. I have been involved in formulating questions which need answers, from the industry. Immigration has invited this. Perhaps they recognise that they are not equal to tackling this alone. Bear in mind that most visa staff and managers are unable to function at all because they are not set up for remote working, or they are having to make do at home and get onto conference calls and Zoom meetings.
Then there are unforeseen disconnects in the system. As we mentioned, everyone whose temporary visa was to expire between 2 April and 9 July gets an extension to 25 September because of the effect of the Epidemic Management Notice. Normally, people get an automated warning 45 days in advance of the end of their visa, to tell them to reapply or leave New Zealand. Well, they are still getting those emails. Someone forgot to switch them off, or recode them. This is probably causing quite a bit of stress for people who don’t know which message to trust.
Again, really it’s nobody’s fault. There are just so many loose ends to try to pick up right now that everyone is scrambling.
We don’t have all the answers either. Like our colleagues in the industry, we haven’t been told a great deal. However, we may be able to shed some light on your particular case if we can. We’re probably about as well placed as anyone outside the Policy and Service Design meeting room in Wellington, to suggest how things might go. Contact us if you have some important decisions to make, and we’ll see what we can do.