How long is a piece of string, really?

May 27, 2022
Iain MacLeod

For those of you in the age demographic closer to my own you may remember during the invasion of Iraq by the Americans twenty something years ago, the then Defence Secretary Donald Rumsfeld famously said ‘There are known knowns, there are known unknowns and there is unknown unknowns.’

Everyone understood the first two parts of that sentence but everybody scratched their heads over the rest.

I have to say I fully understood what he meant because I deal with Government all day and they often surprise – usually on the downside. The current Immigration environment in New Zealand is full of ‘unknown unknowns’.

What is clear is that excitement is building among our clients who have been stuck on the other side of the border for the past two years that we can finally resurrect and continue the process of their move to New Zealand. Most will be coming under the skilled migrant category.

Everybody wants to know once they get their job offer what happens next. Explaining the process itself is easy – it’s when they want accurate timelines that the crystal ball becomes hazy.

In a case of known knowns, as I wrote about two weeks ago, those that get jobs paying twice the median salary or who have jobs that meet the requirements of the “Green List occupations” are going to be able to apply for residency under a non-points based system. A subset of that Green List will be required to work for two years before they can apply for residence.

Another known known is the Minister of Immigration announced at the same time there would be another pathway to residence for those skilled migrants who won’t meet the criteria for one of the three ‘announced’ pathways – and these ‘others’ will be the majority. What we don’t know is what that pathway will look like, whether it will be the same as what we had when the border closed in March 2020, if the pass mark will remain at or about 160, go up or go down or whether in fact a points based system will exist at all (I tend to find these clowns don’t reinvent the wheel they just repackage and call it ‘new’ so I am not expecting radical change).

As Immigration advisers people look to for us for answers. It is incredibly frustrating not to be able to give people concise answers to obvious questions.

A good example is the Green List occupations. That list effectively replaces the current Long Term Skills Shortage List (LTSSL). The LTSSL is less an ‘occupation’ test than it is a qualification test. If that sounds strange someone who works as an Electronic Engineer might get a job offer in New Zealand which has the title of Electronic Engineer and the work might closely match the tasks of an Electronic Engineer but, if you don’t have hold a recognised Bachelor of Engineering degree then you will not be treated as an Electronic Engineer as defined by the LTSSL. We are making an assumption that the ‘Green List’ criteria will work in the same way.

This week however I have learned that the Immigration Department still hasn’t written the rules that accompanied the grand announcement two weeks ago of the criteria attached to these ‘new’ (actually repackaged) resident pathways, so we don’t actually know.

And that is where things get very difficult for us. True to form the government made an announcement with trumpets blaring, flags waving and toothy smiles but no one had yet written the rules that accompanied the grand announcement.

We got the headline but we didn’t get the detail because the detail hadn’t been turned into actual rules and criteria.

To make things more complicated, as the border opens up, clients very reasonably want to know how long will it take to process a Work Visa? How long will it take to process the Resident Visa?

The only answer to that is how long is a piece of string?

Frankly, it depresses me to admit it but that is the situation we find ourselves in now that the government has rushed to pull forward the opening of the border and clients now gear up to resume their residency journey.

In respect of Work Visa government tells us to expect two weeks for the employer to secure accreditation, two weeks for Immigration to consider the evidence presented as to whether there might be a New Zealander available to fill the vacancy and two weeks to process the subsequent Work Visa application. Six weeks all up. I’ll believe that when I see it.

When we filed the first employer accreditation application on Monday this week after it opened to applications the message we got back from the online system was that the application was queued waiting for the system to accept it. Clearly, and typically, INZ underestimated the demand so they set up what was affectively a triaging system so that their website did not crash.

In respect of Skilled Migrant Resident Visas I learned to my horror last week that between 1 April and 7 May to the Immigration Department finalised a grand total of 51 so called ‘fast tracked’ Resident Visas under the RV2021 program. Those 51 cases covered 108 people. There is approximately 70,000 applications by my estimation sitting in the queue to be processed covering another 150,000 people. If the Immigration Department is going to continue finalising two applications a day then if my math does not let me down it’ll take them around 270 years to process the remaining applications. That’s right, years….270 of them.

Government Ministers advised that the Immigration Department would by Christmas have cleared 80% of those applications but again, big promises were made but the reality is the Immigration Department lacks the capability and capacity to achieve that.

From September applicants under these “new” skilled pathways will be able to file their Resident Visas and they too have been promised “fast track” processing. Does that mean they will jump ahead of the RV 2021 crowd or will they go into a queue behind the RV2021 crowd?

Whatever the processing order of all these applications, ‘fast tracking’ it ain’t. For anyone.

On the one hand it’s really exciting that nine of our clients have secured skilled offers of employment in the past 10 days without being in New Zealand.

At first I took that to perhaps be a measure that employers are modifying their recruitment behaviour, recognising there is these days often no one available in New Zealand to do the job they’re trying to fill and they have to embrace the Visa process to keep their businesses functioning.

Then I started to think that perhaps what is actually going on is that employers are racing now to avoid having to apply for accreditation (the deadline is affectively 3 July to get someone work rights without being accredited). What we are seeing could actually be little more than a signal of how much employers distrust the Immigration Department to deliver what the government is promising. They want to deal with the devil they know…

I really don’t know which it is but we will find out in the next few weeks.

It is certainly great news that the border is opening up and we can once again resume our work for those clients that put things on hold the past couple of years.

Everyone has to accept however that there are known knowns, known unknowns and as is increasingly common with this Government unknown unknowns.

Until next week

Iain MacLeod

Southern Man

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