Which Way Are We Going To Go On Immigration This Election?

Is it just me, or does the immigration talk in the news seem like it’s about to reach fever pitch? It seems scarcely a day goes by without some talk about the impact of immigration, changes to immigration policy, scandals within immigration… and we haven’t even started the official election campaign yet!

We’ve said this for a while and it now seems abundantly clear where the focus of this election will be heading – immigration is a great battle cry for the political parties, especially those seeking a boost in the polls.

Taking aim at migrants can be a real boost to some parties; it’s probably safe to assume that, in general, the electorate is fairly conservative when it comes to immigration, so pro-nationalist policies can attract widespread support.

At the same time, most migrants can’t vote (unless they have a Permanent Resident Visa, by which time they will have already been through the most difficult stages of the residence process), which means that it is very rare to lose a whole heap of votes for taking a tougher stance on immigration.

However, I sense that this view has changed somewhat over the last few years. Many people acknowledge the benefits of immigration, not only in economic terms, but in social and cultural terms as well. Migrants can bring skills and experiences which develop and enrich our communities. Generalizing about the impact of migrants (“They don’t want to integrate! They are taking our jobs!”) doesn’t reflect the dynamic reality of immigration in our small market economy.

It’s with this in mind that the recent changes to immigration policy seem to be pandering to the worst aspects of our nature. The NZ Herald covered the changes to immigration policy and how this is having a real world impact on people who are contributing and providing for the country. The axe is well and truly being swung down on pathways to residence for many people, especially those in roles which (let’s face it) many Kiwis don’t want to do.

We are already seeing the impact that this is having in the community. Businesses, especially small businesses, are very concerned about the impact these changes will have on staffing. Many businesses, particularly in the hospitality industry, simply don’t attract locals to the jobs they want to fill. It’s not realistic to expect that locals will simply plug the gaps where migrant workers once were – the reason so many people apply for residence as chefs, retail managers and restaurant managers is that Kiwis don’t want to take up the work.

At the same time, these changes will force out valuable staff members who have been in positions for years, simply because the Government has decided that they are surplus to requirements. Businesses will be gutted out, with key staff holding key knowledge and experience of the running of these businesses forced to leave because they are not deemed “skilled”.

My fear is bigger changes to the family categories. The Government has already taken a hard line on this, from removing the Sibling Categories back in 2012, to the recent closure of the Parent Category, among other changes. I certainly hope that we don’t see an adoption of a financial-based criteria for Partnership Residence like in the UK, which would seem a logical extension of current policy requiring financial contributions to obtain residence.

But this is where things stand – many people, who have come to New Zealand to study or work, making a real difference through their efforts, with a reasonable expectation that their contributions might lead to residence one day, are being cast aside in the name of more votes. What we might gain in a short term sense of fulfillment (as if cutting migration will be the silver bullet, cure-all for all of New Zealand’s social issues), we may lose out on over the long term. While it may be a perfectly legal approach to take, I’m not so sure it is the moral route to take either.

I prefer the approach advocated by others – let’s have a smart debate on immigration. Relying solely on outlier stories, scare mongering and downright falsehoods won’t get us anywhere. While there are legitimate grounds to say that we should fine-tune our immigration policy, whole-sale reactionary change just seems to be the wrong way to go. Let’s do this the right way.

Posted in Business, Immigration Industry, Immigration Problems, Immigration Visas, Politics, Practice of Law | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Unwanted Side Effects Of Changes To Immigration Rules

http://www.nzherald.co.nz/nz/news/article.cfm?c_id=1&objectid=11846425

It appears recent changes to the Skilled Migrant category may have quite an unintended side effect. An interesting article recently appeared in the New Zealand Herald. The article describes the impact that the new salary requirements to be imposed on employment which points are being claimed for in Residence applications under the Skilled Migrant category, may have on restaurants and in particular applicants claiming points for employment as a Chef.

One of the benefits of immigration for New Zealand which is often cited is the diversity that has come with it. This has flowed through in many cases, literally to the diversity in opportunities for “eating out”, especially in places like Auckland.

The New Zealand Herald article cites a Thai restaurant in Auckland CBD, whose Chefs currently hold Work Visas but do not earn at least $49,000 per year, meaning their employment would not meet the new salary requirements for their employment to be assessed as skilled in an application they make for Residence under the Skilled Migrant category . The business owner is quoted as saying his business is “totally dependent” on migrant workers and that “in the 30 years I have been in business I have never been this worried”. This is literally because as a result of the salary requirement the business may not be able to source and retain suitable staff, or alternatively in order to afford to pay them a higher salary, the business may need to increase its prices, with a direct effect on customers who may stay away as a result.

The New Zealand Herald article also mentions Restaurant Association survey of 110 businesses, which found that only one in ten restaurant workers are paid more than $49,000 per year. The impact of the new salary requirements could therefore be widespread.

While immigration continues to be a political football, it certainly is unclear whether the changes to the Skilled Migrant category were made while keeping in mind small businesses such as the Thai restaurant mentioned in the New Zealand Herald article, or the many other small businesses that the Restaurant Association survey indicates may be affected. Indeed it is quite possible that the impact of the new requirements on their situation was not specifically understood at all.  It is doubtful whether many New Zealanders will enjoy paying more for their Thai food or other meals out, or not being able to enjoy such food at all because the businesses have to close for lack of staff. Therefore while big noises are sometimes made about the unwanted side effects of immigration, it is relevant to note in the restaurant and Chef case for example, that ironically new requirements paraded in the media as “advancements” or “steps forward” are themselves likely to have an impact which is unwanted.

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Pause for Thought – the Akbari Deportation Case

Earlier this week the NZ Herald uncovered the story of Sultan Ali Abdul Ali Akbari who had the threat of deportation suspended by Immigration New Zealand, even though he had committed multiple crimes of sexual assault.  The writer has to ask: did the Minister of Immigration overreact by temporarily withdrawing INZ’s ability to make such decisions?

To see why this might be so, it is first of all necessary to understand the powers that Immigration was given.  Akbari has been a Resident for a few years, and under the Immigration Act a recent Resident automatically becomes liable for deportation if they commit an offence in New Zealand.  However, the Minister can decide, on a case by case basis, to suspend or even cancel that liability for deportation.  This power is one of “absolute discretion”.  As the term suggests, it is very broad and is not usually meant to be limited by particular criteria or policy.  Every case is different and may call for a unique approach.

However, what the Minister declared in his Press Release the same day was this:

“I have made my expectations very clear when it comes to deportation decisions involving offending of this nature and those expectations are not being met. So I am temporarily suspending Immigration NZ’s decision making authority until I have confidence that the decisions being made are consistent with my expectations.”

There is a problem here.  How can the Minister set up “expectations” of what is to be done when the decisionmaking power involved is meant to be an absolute discretion?  Now, it is all very well for Government to set up policy around general powers of decision in other situations, when no guide is given in the law as to how decisions will be made.  Policy like this is being written all the time.  But in this case the power is described as “absolute”.

So, has the Minister already been writing de facto legislation for his officials to follow when using his authority?  It certainly sounds like he has already done so in the past, and he is going to reinforce it now.  It is fair to ask if the Minister is in fact acting unlawfully in telling Immigration officers what to do with this delegated authority.

True, section 380 of the Act states: “A delegation may be made subject to such restrictions and conditions as the Minister thinks fit”, and so that provides an out.  But if that is so, where are those rules kept?  They are certainly not published in Immigration’s Policy Manual.  What we must conclude is that what was “absolute” is no longer “absolute” when it is not the Minister himself who decides.

We cannot presently know what directions have been given or will be given.  Are certain nationalities or religious groups excluded from having their deportation liability suspended just because of that status?  Are you out of luck if you are from Somalia?  Or if you are a Moslem?  Personally I think that is unlikely – but we just do not know.

So, back to the first question:  Did the Minister overreact?  It is worth reflecting on Akbari’s profile.  According to the Herald, he came here as a Resident in 2012, in his mid-50s.  This raises the possibility that he was accepted as a refugee on political or other grounds, although such details are kept strictly confidential.  This is significant because New Zealand has obligations under the Refugee Convention not to return someone to the threat of serious harm unless they are a risk to national security or they have been convicted of a “particularly serious crime” (Article 33).  The Parole Board directed his release in January this year, saying that his risk of reoffending would be mitigated by the support structures he could call upon in the community.   The point here is that his criminal offending is not the whole story, and it was not just Immigration New Zealand that was lenient upon him.

But, of course, it became a news story.  And it’s Election year.  Do we have more of these sudden-death directives from Government to look forward to in the next few months?  We will try to keep up with the play – but, as always, the immigration landscape continues to change from week to week, and it is likely that there is more excitement ahead as September draws closer.

Posted in Immigration Problems, Immigration Visas, Refugees | Tagged , , , , , , | Leave a comment

BREAKING NEWS – Big Visa Changes on Both Sides of the Ditch

Within the space of 24 hours, the Governments of both Australia and New Zealand have announced changes to their immigration policies. They claim to be addressing the needs of their respective labour markets, but there’s probably a bit of political self-interest in there as well.  It is instructive to see how different their responses have been to a global trend to “get real” on migration issues.

New Zealand – Tweaking and Tinkering?

Now, it is important to sort the facts from misreporting. While one article refers to the “skilled worker visa”, we need to distinguish between what’s happening with Residence and with Work Visas.

Residence

Some of my predictions in a post from September 2016 will be fulfilled when new policy comes into force in August this year.

The flagship of NZ migration is the Skilled Migrant Category (“SMC”) Residence policy. The changes are found here.

Features of the new game plan are:

  • For the first time, the salary paid in a job offer will determine whether the job can earn you points in a SMC application. Because the pass mark of 160 is so high, this is critical because almost everyone needs points from their job in order to apply. On the other hand, if your job was not on the “skilled” list but you are paid over $73K, you can now claim points where that was not possible before. Think: truck drivers.
  • Those in jobs paying over about $98K can claim bonus points too. This addresses a conundrum discussed at an industry-INZ consultation on the SMC which I attended last October: what to do about the high-paid, middle-aged, highly competent executive who never got a degree in her youth?
  • The balance is shifting toward rewarding work experience over mere qualifications – although extra points are also available for a Masters or Ph.D. Immigration policymakers were bothered by the flood of qualified but woefully inexperienced graduates of NZ export education flooding the queues of SMC applications – this was not what they had intended.
  • Bonus points will be cut back for those in the “future growth areas” of IT, creative industries and biotech.
  • And people will no longer be able to claim points for having relatives in NZ. This seems to run counter to the “settlement and contribution” criteria applied to SMC applications, as to the migrant’s ability to integrate into NZ society if they get Residence. Surely having family nearby would be an advantage, and encouraging people to come in who have this head-start would be a good equation as a matter of social policy.

The Opposition has, predictably, alleged that all of this is only a fiddling of the knobs, a pretence at action in order to gain votes for the upcoming Election. This, however, reflects a lack of practical understanding of how the policies work.  Some of the SMC changes appear to be subtle, but they will shut out whole slabs of the migrant market while opening the field for others.

Work Visas

Meanwhile, read about the Work Visa shakeup.  Unlike the SMC changes which are set to roll, the Work Visa review is a set of proposals which Immigration claims to be ready to consult on. As with the SMC scheme, they will put the final version into effect in August.

The same salary bands as for SMC will be used to determine whether people’s job offers are in “skilled” occupations for which Work Visas will be permitted. This could have a massive impact.  While the minimum threshold will be set at about $49K, our work is often with Work Visa applicants earning $35 – $45K, including those working for SMEs who say that they can’t afford to pay their managers or tech people more than that.  Again, though, your well-paid truck drivers could be back in with a chance.

Those who work in “lower skilled” jobs will only get Work Visas for 3 years. After that they must leave NZ for a stand down period, duration uncertain as yet.  As Bill Milnes just pointed out to me, think of the rest home carers who just won their fight for better pay.  That settlement may cost the Government $500 million a year because it subsidises the elder care industry. As so many caregivers are from countries such as the Philippines, is this an indirect way of tightening the fiscal strings?

And, critically, partners and children of people who get Work Visas for “lower skilled” jobs can only come in on Visitor’s Visas unless they themselves qualify for Work or Student Visas. Read: children must enrol as international students (and pay full fees).  This sets up an immigration class system.  The favoured ones who have the skilled jobs (as determined by Government) can bring the family in, perhaps plan for Residence down the track.  The underclass of the underskilled must think hard about whether to bring their families at all.  More to the point, they must consider whether to even make the journey themselves.

Now that is a problem. In many industries New Zealand relies upon migrant labour, often in the lower paying and semi-skilled jobs.  We can’t do without them.  New Zealanders don’t want to do those jobs – otherwise we wouldn’t have 139,000 unemployed.  The Government argues that it is getting real with migrants who may never have a chance to stay permanently. But many of them already know that.  They have come here nonetheless.  Making it less comfortable for them to be here may have two unintended consequences – starving key industries of manpower, and prompting social dislocation arising out of those who decide to stay here separated from their spouse and children.

Australia – Slamming the Door Shut

The Government will abolish the 457 (work) visa in a bid to get more Australians into the workforce. The 457 will be replaced with the completely new Temporary Skill Shortage (“TSS”) visa.

Changes are progressive – some are effective immediately, and 457 visas will be phased out entirely by March 2018.

There is also a move to tighten criteria for those applying for Australian permanent residence. This could have far-reaching consequences for some current 457 visa holders.

Are these changes likely to affect NZ visa holders?

We anticipate that when a 457 visa holder realises that her/his visa will not be renewed, the first place to look for an alternative will be NZ. We may find that those from countries in the Working Holiday schemes of both countries will cross the ditch; and visa applicants, especially those in lower-skilled positions, may face more competition for the jobs they want to use as a basis for their visas.

However, we may also see more skilled people, who no longer meet the Australian criteria for residence, looking to move long-term to NZ. This could be good for those businesses struggling to find skilled people in NZ, especially in those sectors which will probably be hit by the disincentives we mentioned just above.

Whether by accident or design, New Zealand is likely to benefit from the Australian moves. While Australia has taken a blunt, Trumpian “Aussies first” approach, NZ is fine-tuning in order to keep getting what the policymakers view as the good migrants.  The contrast between the two approaches is actually quite stark.

What should you do?

If you are wondering about how the above changes could affect your job or your visa prospects, seek professional advice well before your visa expires. The hard truth is that some people may not be able to renew their Work Visa on their current job, and others who planned on Skilled Migrant Residence have just been locked out.

On the other hand, opportunities for Residence may have opened up for well-paid, 30-something migrants with a solid work history. Those are the people we’d like to talk to.  They are also the people the NZ Government is apparently encouraging to stay.  Whether it really works out the way they hope for is yet to be seen.

Posted in Immigration Industry, Immigration Visas, Politics | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 2 Comments

Is Cutting Immigration Really the Answer?

http://www.nzherald.co.nz/nz/news/article.cfm?c_id=1&objectid=11834706

Now that the Herald has our attention, we read further and the article actually quotes Te Atatu MP, Phil Twyford, [who] said the party was still working on the policy, which was not about slashing immigration but would probably have a number on it to find a better balance.
While Michael Woodhouse, Minister of Immigration comments: I don’t think any dramatic change to immigration settings is appropriate. It is election year and immigration raises its ugly political head again.
Our politicians are caught between a growing concern amongst voters, that what some see as excessive migration, is compromising who we are as a nation; with the knowledge that migration means money, especially at a time of global recession.
Cutting immigration is easy to say, but losing the economic stimulus of high migration will make it hard to do.
So where could the cuts be made?
• New Zealand citizens returning from overseas?
• Australians who receive full residence rights on arrival?
• Skilled migrants filling jobs which employers are unable to fill from within NZ?
• Students who expect to complete their qualifications and move through to residence? The international student market was worth $4.28 Bn in 2015-16. https://enz.govt.nz/news-and-research/research/the-economic-impact-of-international-education-201516/
Some of that nearly $5Bn subsidises NZ children into tertiary education, which allows government to cut back on the Education Grant.
• Parents of new New Zealanders? – that category has been under a low cap in numbers for years and is currently on hold for 2 years.
• Refugees – after considerable public pressure, government increased our intake of refugees from 750 to 1000. Not a big contribution to the 71,333 long term migrants arriving in NZ in the last year.
The question is further complicated by the economic stimulus migrants bring to NZ with the average contribution of migrants being higher than that of the average NZer.
Reduce the numbers and reduce the stimulus which has helped NZ through an extended global recession.
It is only a few years since the numbers of incoming migrants didn’t even replace those leaving NZ for work or on their OEs. The high numbers of Kiwis leaving NZ started to reduce with the GFC in 2007-2008 and escalated with the mining downturn in Australia in the early-mid 2010’s http://www.telegraph.co.uk/finance/newsbysector/industry/mining/12142813/Australias-mining-boom-turns-to-dust-as-commodity-prices-collapse.html
What is going to happen to our migrant numbers when the Australian economy picks up again?
What effects will Brexit and Trumpit have on migration to NZ?

What impact has the economic changes had on new migrants?
As practitioners, we have noted over the last two years, a considerable hardening of attitude by INZ towards overstayers, students struggling to find skilled employment and workers seeking new work visas.
I suspect that as large numbers of Kiwis have returned to NZ and Australians decided that for now, perhaps NZ is ‘The Lucky Country’, considerable political pressure has been applied to Immigration NZ to not grant visas to anyone who could be seen as filling a position which could be done by someone who would otherwise qualify for the dole.
As a result, INZ appears reluctant to grant discretion to someone who may have applied for a work visa under the wrong section of Immigration Instructions.
For example, we have had several people come to us, who have struck a problem with their visa application because their employers did not think to provide all the documentation necessary, or because they submitted their applications under the wrong section of Immigration Instructions.
Where they have come to us before their visas have been declined, we have usually been able to negotiate with INZ for time to correct their problems and achieve their work visas.
Unfortunately some only seek advice after their visa applications have been declined, by which time, it their visas have expired, they are illegally in NZ and their chance of avoiding self-deportation are considerably reduced.
Long Term impact of a declined visa application
If a person leaves NZ after having a visa application declined, whenever they apply for a visa to any country in the future, they will have to admit a declined visa which will make it considerably more difficult to get a visa to any country.
People generally do not realise the long term implications of making a mistake in a visa application. Yes it costs money for professional advice, but it will cost an enormous lot more for the applicant, family and employers, if they do not get the application right and the person is required to leave NZ as an overstayer.
The immigration specialists at Laurent Law have been working to assist employers and applicants to achieve immigration success for over 20 years. That experience and success has taught us that there is often another way of achieving the success our clients strive for.
We respect INZ and the decisions they have to make, and we believe that we are respected by INZ and the immigration profession in NZ.
For experienced immigration advice, preferably before your application is declined; contact us:
Tel 09 630 0411
estander@laurentlaw.co.nz
408 Mt Eden Road [opp. Valley Road], Auckland 1024

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New Zealand Wants You!

https://www.forbes.com/sites/laurabegleybloom/2017/02/27/tempted-to-move-out-of-the-united-states-new-zealand-wants-to-help-you-escape/#30d2de1d4fd3

The writer came across an interesting article published by Forbes magazine, recently posted on social media. The article describes the attractive features about New Zealand and the efforts that are being made to recruit IT skilled candidates from the United States to places such as Wellington in particular.
Wellington, becoming known as “Silicon Welly”, has launched an initiative called “LookSee Wellington”, the goal of which is to recruit “100 talented technology candidates from across the globe, with a focus on the United States… the program arranges meetings with prospective employers who have roles that match a candidate’s skills, and flight and accommodations are covered”.
The article describes that “whether you work in the tech industry or not, Wellington is a great place to live. Diversity is celebrated, gay marriage is legal and the first female leader was elected more than 20 years ago. If you hold a work visa valid for two years or more, public healthcare is free or low cost. The city also has more restaurants, cafes and bars per capita than New York City. And New Zealand has been called an “incubation nation”, a place where innovation thrives and where people can make a real change and have impact”.
The article paints a very positive impression of New Zealand and Wellington in particular. The initiative and also the description of Wellington as “Silicon Welly” is very interesting.
Specific profiles of those who have made the move to Wellington are also given. Some of the comments include:
• “when I arrived in Wellington in 2011, I encountered entrepreneurs using the tools of business in exciting ways”
• “when I visit California now, I’m really struck by its contradictions. There’s so much money, but poverty is in your face at the same time. It seems like people work crazy hours, jostling for survival or trying to be the next unicorn. Honestly, Kiwis could learn a thing of two from Americans about claiming their strengths and putting themselves out there, but I love how down to earth and free from hype it is here. New Zealand has its problems, too, but it feels so much less intense”
• “people think its funny that I’m from San Francisco and I came to New Zealand to do startups, but to me it was natural. It’s very easy to start a company in New Zealand in terms of legal paperwork, but I also think there are things you can do there as an entrepreneur that you just can’t do elsewhere”
• “people call New Zealand an “incubation nation” because you can develop new products here and iterate and improve them in a forgiving market before going out to compete globally. Innovation is also enabled by the collaborative entrepreneurial community”
• “New Zealand has a utopian reputation, a fantasy island (with Hobbits) where they speak English and the culture’s not too different, far away from worldly problems”
I hadn’t really thought of New Zealand or in particular Wellington this way myself until reading the article, but it seems positive to me that its popularity is such that it is generating interest like this. Forbes is a US-based publication with US-based readers and it seems positive that New Zealand is receiving a good reputation in this way. The article deserves a read.

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New Zealand – Utopia For Skilled Migrants

https://www.forbes.com/sites/laurabegleybloom/2017/02/27/tempted-to-move-out-of-the-united-states-new-zealand-wants-to-help-you-escape/#30d2de1d4fd3

The writer came across an interesting article published by Forbes magazine, recently posted on social media. The article describes the attractive features about New Zealand and the efforts that are being made to recruit IT skilled candidates from the United States to places such as Wellington in particular.

Wellington, becoming known as “Silicon Welly”, has launched an initiative called “LookSee Wellington”, the goal of which is to recruit “100 talented technology candidates from across the globe, with a focus on the United States… the program arranges meetings with prospective employers who have roles that match a candidate’s skills, and flight and accommodations are covered”.

The article describes that “whether you work in the tech industry or not, Wellington is a great place to live. Diversity is celebrated, gay marriage is legal and the first female leader was elected more than 20 years ago. If you hold a work visa valid for two years or more, public healthcare is free or low cost. The city also has more restaurants, cafes and bars per capita than New York City. And New Zealand has been called an “incubation nation”, a place where innovation thrives and where people can make a real change and have impact”.

The article paints a very positive impression of New Zealand and Wellington in particular. The initiative and also the description of Wellington as “Silicon Welly” is very interesting.

Specific profiles of those who have made the move to Wellington are also given. Some of the comments include:

  • “when I arrived in Wellington in 2011, I encountered entrepreneurs using the tools of business in exciting ways”
  • “when I visit California now, I’m really struck by its contradictions. There’s so much money, but poverty is in your face at the same time. It seems like people work crazy hours, jostling for survival or trying to be the next unicorn. Honestly, Kiwis could learn a thing of two from Americans about claiming their strengths and putting themselves out there, but I love how down to earth and free from hype it is here. New Zealand has its problems, too, but it feels so much less intense”
  • “people think its funny that I’m from San Francisco and I came to New Zealand to do startups, but to me it was natural. It’s very easy to start a company in New Zealand in terms of legal paperwork, but I also think there are things you can do there as an entrepreneur that you just can’t do elsewhere”
  • “people call New Zealand an “incubation nation” because you can develop new products here and iterate and improve them in a forgiving market before going out to compete globally. Innovation is also enabled by the collaborative entrepreneurial community”
  • “New Zealand has a utopian reputation, a fantasy island (with Hobbits) where they speak English and the culture’s not too different, far away from worldly problems”

I hadn’t really thought of New Zealand or in particular Wellington this way myself until reading the article, but it seems positive to me that its popularity is such that it is generating interest like this. Forbes is a US-based publication with US-based readers and it seems positive that New Zealand is receiving a good reputation in this way. The article deserves a read.

Posted in Immigration Visas | Leave a comment