A Place To Call Home…
If there was a way for the officials that run the immigration system in this country to ‘walk a mile in my shoes’, I would gladly hand over my size 11’s.
In this business we have learned that you can never underestimate what it means for someone to pack their lives into a box, burn bridges in their homeland and head for New Zealand in the hope that they will be able to establish a new life here. For some it’s a choice but for many it’s the only option.
And for all their talk about ‘customers not numbers’, ‘positive settlement outcomes’ and ‘trusted partnerships’ I doubt that there are many people within the immigration machine that truly understand (as we do) what it means to migrate. There are some officers out there who do get it and these are the ones we try to work most closely with, but unfortunately for the majority, it’s a system of numbers and forms, KPI’s and targets with little in between.
I recently came to the end of what was one of the most complex cases I have ever handled, the kind of stuff that gives a Licensed Adviser insomnia and cold sweats. The kind of case that also makes you realise just how much is involved in a person’s decision to migrate.
This particular client had, through a series of unfortunate circumstances, ended up being deported from Australia back to a country he had fled over a decade earlier. He had for a large part of his life been living under the immigration radar without a Visa and without being able to truly settle anywhere. In the midst of all of this he had met a girl and that girl, although she happened to live in Australia (where they met), was New Zealand born. So not only was this particular client abruptly removed from a life that he had built over many years to one that was completely foreign; but he was also torn away from the love of his life.
They had been through the immigration process in two countries and failed. Their attempts to tell their story were never really heard and they felt like their options had been exhausted. I recall the first conversation I had with the New Zealand partner and it sounded like the wind had been knocked clean out of her. Put simply they were just another number in a statistic on someone’s spread sheet.
As an Adviser taking on a case like this you need all the facts. We need to know pretty much everything there is to know about the history and anything less just won’t cut it. I listened to this couple and the story they told made sense. In this particular case, as it is with anyone that has been anywhere unlawfully for that long and then deported, it was always going to be 50/50 and I had no reservations in telling them that we were in for a lengthy battle. My role in all of this was to simultaneously minimize the risk of failure whilst maximising the chances of success. There was a lot at stake here and this was a couple that were prepared to go to hell and back to make it work.
After 20 months, 520 emails and numerous lengthy discussions with Senior Immigration Officers that, to their credit, also listened; the outcome was successful. What this means for this couple is best left to the partner to say. Here is what she emailed me when she was given the good news:
“…he hasn’t felt like he has belonged anywhere ever, he has never felt comfortable to call a place home and actually make solid decisions about how he wants to spend his future – he can now do that…”
Are we proud of this? Yes. Did we pull off a miracle? Well not quite. In reality we simply knew how to navigate this process, who in the system to talk to and how to talk to them. We listened to the client, understood the situation and then set about minimising failure and maximising success.
As Advisers we constantly advocate that the machine should deliver consistent and fair outcomes. Sometimes, as was the case in the scenario above, we have to fight a little harder to secure those outcomes particularly when you have a round peg and a square hole. However, there are occasions when even though the system shouldn’t be a lottery, it can feel like you are rolling dice.
Take last week for example. INZ decided it would be a good idea to change the security settings on their online Expression of Interest (EOI) login system. As a result the system didn’t work for a few days and for anyone using Google Chrome there was not much hope of filing an EOI (there is probably a good blog in that). A week later INZ conducts their regularly scheduled EOI selection process and for the first time in seven months, the pass mark fell (ever so slightly).
It wouldn’t be silly to conclude that the drop in the pass mark was because fewer people were able to file EOI’s, meaning INZ had less ‘customers’ to choose from and therefore to get their regular number of plus/minus 600, they needed to select those with a slightly lower score. Or it could be just the computer system making up numbers because demand was lower. Either way the thinking isn’t necessarily being done by a person.
For the number crunchers and budget balancers within INZ this would simply have been an ‘anomaly’, possibly a ‘glitch’ or perhaps just ‘statistics’. For a few would-be migrants out there who have filed EOI’s in the hope that somewhere, somehow they might get selected, this would have been the very first step in that new life.
No matter how hard you try to understand this process it can sometimes (thankfully rarely) come down to whether the guy manning the IT desk, put a semi-colon in the right place or which way the number crunchers lean.
I know that Iain (the actual Southern Man) has four golden rules when it comes to this process and one of them rings true here – “Just when you think you have the system figured out, they change it”. We know this and it’s probably why we have the success rates we do. Prepare for all situations and never underestimate the system’s ability to get it wrong.
Above all, however, a good Adviser will go further than forms, paperwork and process to understand what’s involved with your situation, to navigate you through the system successfully and remove as much of the randomness and inconsistency as is possible. You should never just be a number.
For my client and his partner, I wish them all the very best. Having not only listened to their story but also being a part of it, I am privileged (and somewhat humbled) to know that New Zealand now feels like home for him, in the truest sense of the word.
For everyone else reading this blog who has thought about making the move but would like someone to walk the journey with them, drop us a line, or if you are in South Africa, Singapore or Malaysia (click on the links to register) we have our last seminars for 2013 in November and December coming up, so why not come and listen to what we have to say and perhaps share your story with us.
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