It Isn’t Meant To Be A Lottery

December 3, 2013
Iain MacLeod

What you are about to read is a true story. It shows, if any evidence was needed, how inept the Immigration Department can be and how idiotic decisions can literally change lives.

I today met a Malaysian who on paper is possibly the highest scoring skilled migrant I have ever met and if he had a job offer would score over 220 points. Which, trust me, is about as good as it gets. A highly qualified Electronic Engineer he took his wife and young family to New Zealand and completed his PhD at Auckland University. Relying on the Immigration Department’s website and staff for advice he filed his Expression of Interest (EOI). He had points to burn without needing a job offer. His family were well settled. They added to their family with a New Zealand born child. The eldest two went to school and considered themselves little Kiwis.

His EOI was duly selected, the Department carried out their credibility check and then invited the family to apply for their Residence Visas. They were not warned that their application was doomed before they wrote out their application cheque for almost $2000 and that they were destined to be declined.

They ran around and gathered everything they required at considerable expense, excited that they had been invited to file their residence papers.

Having filed their application they were in the fullness of time interviewed by an immigration officer tasked with the decision of whether they were likely to settle well and contribute to the great nation that is New Zealand.

For those unfamiliar with what happens after interview there are three possible outcomes – the case can be declined, the applicant can be granted unconditional residence or the applicant can be given a Work to Residence Visa (WTR). The idea is that those that have demonstrated an ability to settle well should be granted a Residence Visa. But someone forgot to tell this family’s case officer. This family had lived in New Zealand for three years and they were as integrated as it is possible to be. The principal applicant was getting job interviews but understandably with a few months to finish his PhD he wanted to get that out of the way first. That did not prevent the granting of a Resident Visa – it was the obvious outcome.

Bizarrely, the officer said she could not grant them a Resident Visa (goodness only knows why) and she was going to offer a Work Visa but the officer explained she couldn’t do that either because he was a student. To give him a Work to Residence Visa would mean he couldn’t study any longer. Of course if he was granted a Residence Visa he could……

So the application was withdrawn/declined and the couple, frustrated, dejected and disappointed left NZ and returned to Malaysia where two of their children, who only really knew New Zealand education, felt dislocated and were teased for their accent and inability to speak Malaysian.

They were confused on many levels.

A good friend of theirs, also from Malaysia, was also studying a PhD in New Zealand and filed their own EOI and had enough points to be granted a Residence Visa. Following interview they were.

Same points profile, both studying a PhD in Auckland, both still to complete it – the parallels between these two cases are stark and obvious.

One application was processed in Auckland Central Branch and the other in Henderson Branch (both about 20km apart).

Though both were in Auckland there were two entirely different and potentially life changing outcomes.

How can that be? Two almost identical cases with opposite outcomes?

Is there more than one rulebook?

No. There is only one.

So how could it happen?

Simple. If you have two immigration officers and one rule you will often have two different interpretations of that rule.

I always remind audiences at my seminars that I have four golden rules to help them survive this process with any of their mental faculties left intact:

  1. Assume nothing about your eligibility and the process;
  2. Suspend logic – this process is illogical;
  3. Just when you think you understand the rules your visa is processed by an immigration officer who does not know the rules; and
    Treat with great caution what you read on the Department’s website – it can be both misleading and dangerous.
  4. One family safely settling in Auckland, the other stuck in Malaysia looking for a way back to the life they loved and the city they want to raise their children in.

What happened to this Malaysian family should not have happened. And if they had known about Immagine New Zealand it would not have happened. We would not have let it.

It is utterly unacceptable that the Department continues to employ and deploy officers who have limited English and little to no understanding of immigration rules.

This family had uprooted and come to New Zealand in good faith. They ticked every box to secure their Residence Visa, but they were let down by a system that employs people you’d never employ in your own business.

Immagine will get them back to New Zealand. They are just what the policy was designed to attract but what a shame they have wasted time and money in a fruitless exercise that should have been successful.

While it is always somewhat sad to listen to these stories (especially when the guy you are talking to is sitting there in his All Black jersey!), knowing his children will get the chance to recommence their lives in New Zealand once we sort of this avoidable mess is the reason my team and I get up in the morning.

The skilled migrant system is not meant to be a lottery but so often appears to be. We have the power to take the randomness out of it.

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