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Future Skilled Migrant Pass Marks

November 14, 2016
Iain MacLeod

Whenever immigration rules change, most potential applicants and their Immigration Advisers (not to mention media commentators) tend to conclude that the changes will be in place forever.

There is often a knee-jerk reaction as people throw their hands in the air with horror and conclude the door is not only closed, it is nailed firmly shut and there isn’t a crowbar in sight.

The increase in the selection points for Skilled Migrants from 100 to 160 on 11 October has made many people think that they will have to score 160 points forever.

We have spent the past two weeks explaining to most of our clients that we are able to increase their points claims to the new selection level anyway, which is great for them, but will the pass mark stay at 160 forever?

I doubt it.

The ‘market’ constantly misunderstands what is really going on and why. The important reality that confronts applicant and adviser alike is that just as selection points can increase, so too can they decrease. The pass mark is simply a mechanism for controlling flow. We have all just got very used to it not moving around in recent years.

My assessment of why the pass mark was increased to 160 was, if I may be so bold, bang on the money. It was designed for one reason and one reason only – to flush out of the ‘pool’ those applicants claiming 100 points or more but who, while they had prima facie skilled jobs, these were relatively low quality jobs paying low wages and on the margins of what is considered skilled and not skilled.

The issue here was the sheer numbers of them increasingly dominating approvals. Over recent years the average skilled migrant’s salary has fallen; reflecting more and more recently graduated international students who have studied in NZ claiming places under the skilled migrant category.

I am talking here about your local store ‘Retail Manager’, your recent graduate who suddenly has a job offer as a ‘Restaurant Manager’ down at the local cafe or the ‘Manager’ of any number of small businesses.

All on the face of it, many still have a claim to residence even though many, I suspect, would have been declined anyway once verification was undertaken.

Government, however, simply couldn’t take that risk.

So how do you flush all these EOIs out of the pool and effectively start again once you put in place the new skilled migrant criteria?

Easy: put the pass mark up so high you stop selecting all but those who are older, more qualified and with more work experience.

As I wrote about two weeks ago – who does a 160 pass mark close the door on?

Largely, younger people. And which younger people dominate EOIs in the pool?

Recently graduated international students with on the whole, skilled, but certainly more entry level and certainly lower paying jobs than the 30 plus year old segment.

As I keep pointing out – if you only have one resident visa to give away and you have two applicants, both claiming say 100 points, do you give it to the 23 year old who came to New Zealand to study who secures at the end of that study an entry level but skilled job with a low salary? Or do you give it to the 35 year Software Developer with ten years of highly skilled work experience in an area that New Zealand is critically short of?

You want to give it to the older guy with the greater level of experience who is of greater ‘value’ to the economy.

How do you achieve that if they are both in the pool and both on valid work visas, working in these jobs while you put in place new criteria?

You put the pass mark up!

On the face of it, both miss out now and it will remain so in the short term. However for those willing to play the longer game (say, 6-12 months) and stay on a valid work visa then I predict by the middle of next year the 35 year old Software Developer will have enough points to be selected but the 23 year old Retail Manager won’t.

It is public knowledge that officials are shortly to make their recommendations on new criteria for the skilled migrant category.

I don’t expect any recommendations they may make will surprise anyone inside Cabinet given the haste with which the review was announced and the speed of the public ‘consultation’. They will sign off on the changes designed to knock out the younger applicants (read: a large number of international students in their early twenties with little to no work experience) before the year is out. INZ will then spend six months ‘operationalising’ the new criteria (writing up the new rules, updating websites and application forms) and announce the new rules will come into effect in mid-2017. In the meantime the pass mark will remain beyond reach for enough applicants that the selection process is not overwhelmed.

So here is a prediction – the pass mark will be lowered once again to somewhere like where it has been – perhaps 140 points for automatic selection mid-2017 or thereabouts.

By then the pool has been flushed and thousands of EOIs will ‘lapse’ because they won’t have been selected. If those applicants are still in New Zealand they will no longer meet the ‘new’ rules to be granted residence.

The 35 year old Software Developer, or his contemporary Engineer, Manager, Accountant, qualified Tradesman, Technician, Teacher, Nurse and the like, however, will once again meet the selection points and will be selected. If they play their cards right thereafter they are in with a reasonable shot at residence.

The ‘tsunami’ of EOIs that drove the change in selection points/pass mark two weeks ago will have passed, albeit taking several thousand bitterly disappointed international students with it and the 160 point ‘bar’ will have achieved exactly what it was designed to achieve.



Iain MacLeod

Iain has been working as an Immigration Adviser since 1988 and has been running his own practice since 1990. In 1998 he merged his practice with Myer Lipschitz leading to the creation of Protea Pacific Limited which was rebranded in 2008 to IMMagine New Zealand Limited...

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