Labour’s Immigration Policy – More Election Rhetoric

Yesterday the New Zealand Labour Party announced its immigration policy in the run-up to the September General Election.  As today’s interviewer on Morning Report picked up on, it appears Labour appears to be lining itself up alongside the xenophobic New Zealand First party; and its aims to strike at unskilled employment is oddly contrary to its normal stance of standing up for “the workers”.

Post-Study Work Visas Axed

To be fair, Labour leader Andrew Little is right that previous settings were incentivising foreign students to aim for work – and then Residence – after doing some undergraduate Diploma or other.  As a result, a large number of (mainly Indian) migrants qualified for Skilled Migrant Residence while being underqualified and relatively inexperienced.  The party aims to nip this issue in the bud by removing the open “Job Search” Work Visa option entirely for anyone doing less than a degree-level course.  The hope is that this will discourage overseas students from trying to stay on to work, or even to apply for Student Visas in the first place.

But the Opposition is too late.  The Government has already unveiled its plans to open Skilled Migrant Residence only to those who earn over the median wage, along with other measures that will reward experience over mere qualifications.  This was signalled in our blog in April.  This is an indirect attack on the problem from the other end, and may produce a similar effect.  What it does not do, is to harm that all-important export education market directly, as Labour’s plan would undoubtedly do.

To be cynical, the National Government wants to preserve the significant tax revenue from the industry, while Labour wants to be seen as tackling the supposed immigration problem head-on with a policy change that is easy for voters to understand.

Cut Education Industry Corruption

Another policy-rollout does appear reasonable: that is, to tighten up on the ability of institutions to offer courses to offshore students unless they have been vetted by, among others, NZQA.  Our industry colleagues and other stakeholders have argued for years that a number of the courses and colleges on offer are tainted by corrupt practices including the selling of certificates.  But to attack the root of the problem, go back to the education agents offshore (again, India in particular), and subject them to licensing in the same way as the immigration advice industry has been regulated for the last 10 years.  And set an enforceable limit on the percentage commissions that colleges and universities pay these agents.

And . . . the Old Chestnut

Yes, here we go again.  Mr Little continues to claim that migration is responsible for high house prices and traffic congestion in Auckland.  As Guyon Espiner pointed out this morning on national radio, how many of those low-qual students whom Labour has demonised buy houses?  And how many own cars when they most often live in high-rise apartments on Beach Road or Hobson Street?

Just another example of how the immigration stance of all players in the Election game is founded on rhetoric.  It is indeed time for a reasoned conversation about what migration really means to New Zealand.  Somehow, I don’t expect that we’ll get it before the voting starts.

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

Change is a Constant in Life!

We said goodbye to Mathew Martin on Friday, 2 June 2017. Mat was part of the team since November 2015. He moved to Australia with his partner and although this is a new and exciting adventure for him, he was sad to leave us behind.

There are critical factors that must be in place before any group can function as a leadership team and Mat contributed to each of these in his own very special way. His support, goal orientation, collaboration on initiatives and commitment to making this team a leadership team will live on.

Mat was particularly committed to the human side of immigration and the difference that he could make to the lives of others. To him it was not only about the goal of securing the desired visas for clients, but to give them what they wanted more than anything. Our clients have a dream of living and working in New Zealand and contributing to society as a whole in the most positive way. Mat made it his dream to help them do this. We are thrilled to be a part of the journey that both our clients and Mat undertake to reach their dream goals.

Mat left us with a challenge to replace him with someone just as special but we rose to the occasion and appointed not one but two very worthy team members. Dew James will join us in early July and Jacqui Lee will join us in the middle of July. Our two newest team members will continue to chase dreams for our clients to help them live and work in this beautiful country. It is so that not every dream can be achieved. We always strive to provide our clients with the best solution under the circumstances. Because of our solid reputation and commitment to our clients, we had no shortage of candidates who wanted to join this prestigious firm. Dew and Jacqui have experience and compassion for the job at hand and we look forward to having them on board.



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Residence and Health – When is it Time to Call it Quits?

I am in the unusual position of supporting a recent change in Immigration policy which restricts people’s ability to apply.  This situation is illustrated by the recent case of Sanita Devi who failed in an application to the High Court for relief.  You can read the decision here.

Mrs Devi and her husband have been in New Zealand for nearly 10 years.  While applying for a Work Visa for her in 2008 they found out that she had lupus, a severe autoimmune disease.  Over the next few years Mrs Devi tried for numerous visas.  This culminated in a request for intervention by the Minister of Immigration, which was denied.

A key piece of the story, though, is that originally the couple’s joint Residence application was declined because of Mrs Devi’s medical condition.  Mr Devi later reapplied and left his wife off his Residence application, so that he did in fact get Residence some years ago.  They might have had a residual hope that she could then get Residence too.  The situation now, though, is that the couple probably faces a hard choice about whether Mr Devi should give up his Residence so that they both return to their home country of Fiji.

Previously, it was possible to do what they did – that is, leave a family member off an application because of their health, or other problems, and later see if they can get Residence another way.  This gap has now been plugged.  From 8 May 2017 an application for Residence must include the partner and all children of the main applicant who are already here on temporary visas.  What this means is that if someone tried to leave a family member off their Residence application:

  • the application could be declined for that reason alone, if this was discovered during the course of the application; or
  • if Residence was granted for the rest of the family, and Immigration later discovered that someone had been left off the application, then the whole family could become liable for deportation for “concealing relevant information”.

Now, that all sounds pretty Draconian.  So why do I support it?  The simple answer is that it stops families having false hopes that they can somehow work their way around the system to get everyone in, one day, eventually.  The reality is that most people in such a situation either never managed to achieve this; or, if they did, it would take years and cost a lot in fees to lawyers or immigration advisers.

As the record shows, the Devis have struggled for 9 years to try to get Mrs Devi her Residence.  If the policy had left no room for doubt back in 2008 then they might not have applied for Residence at all – or, at the very least, Mr Devi could not have got Residence on his own.  Maybe the uncertainty and cost of the last decade was a reasonable price to pay for being able to stay in New Zealand in the meantime.  But, as I sometimes ask clients, “Where are you going with this?  What do you want to do with the rest of your life?”

If, in the end, there is no long-term future in this country, then perhaps it is better to learn that early on and make your plans accordingly.

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Stuck between a rock and a hard place

A recent article in the New Zealand Herald made me realise once more how fragile our lives can become. The story of the English woman who can’t work in Australia but can’t leave to go back to the UK will be all too common in some ways and won’t be limited to Australia. As an immigrant myself, I am well aware of the emotions and stresses associated with immigrating. A lot was said about immigration and the pros and cons of allowing people who were born elsewhere to work and live in this country. When you place yourself in the shoes of those who desperately want to make a better life for themselves, the perspective changes.

It is so that not everyone who wants to live and work here should be allowed to do so. It is fair to say that any country should have a selection criteria by which suitable candidates are screened and ultimately accepted or declined. These selection criteria hardly ever convey the full story of those desperate to live free of crime and violence, close to their children; or seek stability for themselves and a future for their children. On top of this they often offer skills that will contribute to the economy of the country where they choose to settle. It sounds like a win-win situation for all parties concerned but it doesn’t always work out that way.

Sometimes ruthless people who watch from the side-lines see an opportunity to enrich themselves at the expense of these willing immigrants. All too often people are so keen on making the move that they forget to do their homework properly. A Look-See-and-Decide trip to the country of choice cannot provide all the answers. A lot must happen between deciding to leave your country of birth and getting that all-important visa in your passport. It is all about understanding the risks, getting the right advice and doing things the right way. All too often uninformed intentions lead to heartache and the disastrous outcome of having to return to your country of birth without that visa.

We regularly find desperate clients on the brink of having to leave this beautiful country because they did not approach the immigration process correctly. I like to refer to a proper approach as the 3 steps to a happy immigration:

  • Firstly you will need to get the right information. It is advisable to obtain this from a suitably qualified and well trusted source;
  • Secondly you will need to invest in your future. It will cost money to move and apply for the visas to allow you to work and stay. You will also require settlement funds to find your feet on the other side; and
  • Thirdly you will have to understand and deal with the emotional turmoil that this process will dump on you.

It could be the best or worst decision of your life. Policies constantly change, which can be a game changer for your dreams. Make sure you get it right by doing it right. Contact us for trusted and accurate immigration guidance so the process can be the stuff that dreams are made of. What you need is someone who will be honest enough to tell you what you can do and can’t do. It is better to know from the start whether this is doable or not.

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Too many? Too many migrant workers taking Kiwi jobs? Too many tourists destroying our country? Too many cattle fouling our rivers? Too many migrant students who can’t get skilled jobs?

The common denominator is immigration which has unintentionally, produced an oversupply of low-cost migrant workers, willing to work for sub-standard wages in their desperate attempt to qualify for residence in NZ.

Government has belatedly accepted that the current system is damaged and has proposed changes to the work and residence programmes in an attempt to lift the quality of people able to migrate to NZ.

But, as is too frequently the case when legislation is rushed or produced for political/electioneering purposes, it is the individual worker at the bottom of the pile who suffers the most.

What is changing and who will be affected?

From August, wage/salary levels are to be added into the recognition of skilled employment. This has been proposed by immigration practitioners for some time as it allows employers greater say in how important an applicant is to their business.

Under the proposed Essential Skills instructions:

Positions paying in excess of $35 per hour will automatically be recognised as skilled for both work and resident visas.  This will allow jobs such as some scaffolders or heavy equipment operators who currently are not considered by INZ as skilled, to be granted 5 year work visas and to apply for residence.

Mid-level ‘skilled’ people being paid approx. $24-$35 per hour may be granted 3 year visas. Both the skilled categories will be able to renew their visas and have family accompany them.

Lower-skilled workers, will only be granted 1 year visas and after a maximum stay in NZ of 3 years, must leave NZ for at least 12 months before applying for another essential skills work visa.  Lower-skilled workers will not be able to bring partners or children to NZ, unless they qualify in their own right. Children of lower-skilled workers will be required to pay international student fees.

One consequence of this approach must be a preponderance of young, dislocated men, away from the steadying influence of family, partners and children, trying to get ahead in a foreign culture with minimal, if any support.

The NZ economy is based on:

  • primary exports, in particular, dairy – a large employer of low wage migrants
  • tourism and hospitality – also a low-wage sector

If the government’s proposal are carried out, our key export earners will be facing considerable disruption as employers have to plan and cost for staff having to be replaced every three years.

Or will it force our low-wage industries to lift the quality of their services and their wages?

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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.

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Unwanted Side Effects Of Changes To Immigration Rules

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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