SOUTHERN MAN IMMIGRATION BLOG

And the Winner is…Virtually Everybody!

October 1, 2021
Iain MacLeod

In a blog a few weeks ago (read here) I explained how I would solve the current crisis sinking the government’s skilled migrant programme caused by multi year processing backlogs. Working quite closely with the National Party spokeswoman on Immigration, Erica Stanford and one or two others from the immigration consulting community in recent weeks, I was rather hoping the policy released by the Nats would be stolen by the current government as a solution to the problem it created.

Earlier this week I seem to have got my wish.

The Government has announced a pathway to residency for people in New Zealand who are working as of 29 September with fairly generous terms. Although it’s not going to cover everybody in the country it is going to cover the significant majority who have been stuck in, or who have stuck by, New Zealand during the Covid crisis.

The government clearly, if belatedly, appreciated that without radical surgery the patient was going to die. To nurse the system back to health and clear the backlogs would take years. They could not hope to roll out their so called ‘reset’ until they dealt with this problem. I think they also became tired of waking up every morning to new nightmarish migrant stories in the media and they wanted to get in front of an issue that has been starting to hurt them politically.

In what could be described as a ‘big bang’ solution they have announced a pathway to residency for all virtually everyone who was in New Zealand and employed on 29 September 2021. As always the devil is going to be in the detail but one thing is very clear to me – the government is expecting to grant around 165,000 resident visas over the next 12 months or so (by the end of 2022). That can only mean one thing – the application process is going to be what we are referring to as ‘tick and flick’.

So who is likely to qualify?

All of those who hold an Essential Skills Work Visa, work to residence (Talent or long-term skills shortage list), post study work visa and who:

•         Has been in New Zealand for three years or

•         Earns more than $27 per hour; or

•         Who work in an occupation that meets the criteria for the long-term skills shortage list; or

•         Who work in a health or education occupation in New Zealand that requires local statutory registration; or

•         Personal care workers (I’m assuming this is referring to Nursing Assistants and Nurse Aids and similar) and ‘other critical workers’ or

•         Workers in primary industries – clearly designed to cover all those working on farms that may not have jobs that are skilled enough to be granted residence in the normal way

It’s basically everybody employed on 29 September. Those that might not qualify will likely have been the in the country for less than three years and earning less than $27 per hour. It is curious that criteria has been added. This smacks to me of a last minute addition to keep the ‘anti-immigrant, you’re flooding the country with cheap labour, Kiwis can fill these jobs’ brigade happy. They do exist despite the evidence the are wrong. 

Only one family member needs to hold the Work Visa if there is a partner and children. 

Government intends prioritising, from 1 December, those people who have filed a (new if necessary) residency application and who have “adult” but dependent children aged under 25 included in their application. This covers those who have children age 17 or older.

Everyone else waits it seems till March 2022.

Disappointingly but perhaps predictably the government has not at this point signaled any priority for the “split families” where the primary applicant is in New Zealand but their partner and children remain offshore. Given the demand for managed isolation and quarantine (MIQ) hotel rooms it was always likely the government was going to only be able to offer ‘certainty’ of residence to that family on the one hand but tell them they going to be separated for a long time yet on the other. I am hopeful MIQ won’t be necessary for many people by early 2022.

I think it’s also clear that this signals government is expecting to open the border early in 2022. They need to clear the decks now so that Immigration New Zealand is positioned, certainly by the middle of 2022, to roll out whatever the new skilled immigration policy is going to look like. I also wrote a piece on that a few weeks ago on what the new policy might look like and you can read that here. I predict a higher pass mark of perhaps 180 (up from 160) and a change to the points system rewarding those people in New Zealand with more points if they work in occupations requiring statutory registration, work in an occupation on the long-term skills shortage list and, possibly, those earning one and a half times the median income around $84,000.

While this week’s announcement is great news for everybody seeking certainty I think this should be recognised for what it truly is – not a government being kind to migrants – but a government realising the immigration system is so utterly broken the only way forward is to basically burn it to the ground and start again.  The good news is they didn’t leave the migrants in the house after they lit the match and I will give them credit for that because they’ve gone further than I expected they would.

In doing so they’ve been able to take the great ideas of the National Party spokeswoman who has been ratcheting up the pressure on a fairly useless Minister and disinterested administration for over 12 months. A lot of the credit for the government’s announcement should ironically go to Erica Stanford, not the Prime Minister and not the Minister himself.

The government has confirmed that they will not be selecting any EOIs from the skilled migrant pool until July 2022. What is not yet clear is whether people can still file them in the meantime but hopefully will get more detail on that shortly.

By July 2022 I expect that the government should have been able to significantly eat into the current backlog.

Government has been quick to reassure the world that New Zealand is not closing its doors but the opposite. It will, for reasons of political expediency, burble on about ‘up skilling and training New Zealanders as a priority’ for the local political audience. The reality in the labour market is this decision does not in any way diminish the acute and worsening skill shortages in an economy that continues to perform strongly. All the people that are now going to be given a pathway to residency are already in New Zealand and filling jobs we cannot. We need people to fill the jobs being created today, tomorrow and next week – or which have been unfilled since we closed the border in March 2020.

All this action does is allow those people who have been in New Zealand and contributing to remain and to offer them certainty they not going to be thrown out of the country. With every month at the border remains closed the skill shortages get worse. That tells me the future for skilled migration to New Zealand remains positive and if you are wanting to join us, viable. Unless and until we produce the skills locally that we need to fill the tens of thousands of jobs we create every year, we simply must have a skilled migrant policy. We cannot magic up several thousand IT workers a year, nor engineers, architects, draftsmen, tradesmen, auditors, teachers, nurses, radiographers – the list is endless. 

No one then who was planning on moving to New Zealand in 2022 who has consulted with us should in my opinion have anything to fear. If anything this week’s announcement clears your pathway and while change will come in 2022 I am confident in that general advice. My ear is close enough to the ground that I’ll put my reputation on the line and say anyone that IMMagine currently represents or chooses to represent over the next few months is still going to have a viable pathway to residency even if they are currently overseas.

It has been wonderful to be able to tell several hundred families over the past few hours that they now have the certainty they have been missing since March 2020. Immigration Department managers are heaving a sigh of relief. For the politicians, they’ve managed now to lance a big nasty boil and relieve some of the pressure they were rightly feeling to fix the mess that they created. I fervently hope they better appreciate now that migrants are human beings and not simply reference numbers on a piece of departmental letterhead or political pawns. What we and our clients have experienced in recent years is shameful and I hope never allowed to repeat. 

Now, I have to find a way to get me and my family home! 

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