Pot, Kettle, Black

September 20, 2013
Iain MacLeod

When I was a slip of a lad I remember watching a movie about a group of British prisoners of war in WWII. Toward the end of the film the men, having clawed their way through sweltering jungles and hotly pursued by Japanese soldiers came to a clearing. They knew that if they made it across they were back to their own lines. However they saw on either side of where they were crouched two machine gun nests. They had nowhere to hide. To go back meant certain capture and death. To run, meant a chance, albeit small, that they would make it to the other side. After a brief discussion and in terribly British fashion they shook hands, wished one another well and said, all stiff upper lip ‘see you on the other side’.

And off they ran. The zigged and they zagged. The machine gunners opened up on them and hot lead whistled around them. A few fell. A few more.

I remember sitting there hoping the hero would make it to the other side.

Uniforms receding into the distance. Men falling.

Naturally the hero didn’t make it. He had copped a bullet and gone down, never to rise.

I may even have cried when I realised.

New Zealand’s Prime Minister John Key is in Britain right now catching up with David Cameron and spending a weekend with Queen Elizabeth, as you do.

He has, among other things, been trying to get the Brits to continue to recognise the longstanding relationship between the two countries especially in respect of immigration. And fight hard he has had to do to preserve the two year working holiday visa (which we reciprocate) and the four year pathway to British residence through ancestry (which we don’t do because our ancestors all tended to come on one way tickets from the UK).

I nearly fell off my bar stool this week reading that our Prime Minister pointed out that the British Government was continuing to chip away at New Zealanders’ access to the UK.

He is reported as saying that forcing Kiwis to get jobs before they enter the UK and then subjecting that job to a labour market test (to check to see if there are locals who could do the job) made it ‘almost impossible’.

I can but assume our Prime Minister hasn’t read his own Government’s immigration policies any time recently – that is exactly what an increasing majority of skilled migrants to New Zealand have to do – find a job first, run the gauntlet of a ‘local labour market check’ and a hostile local immigration bureaucracy which seems to always believe a New Zealander should be able to do the job. If that is the conclusion, the migrant generally loses the chance to settle here. Having risked much to be in that position.

I am sometimes surprised New Zealand gets any skilled migrants at all when you consider what they have to go through to get these jobs. The Prime Minister has clearly not had anyone explain the realities of it to him.

  1. If they cannot enter visa free they will need to apply for a Visitor Visa to enter New Zealand so they can apply for positions – recruiters and employers seldom take seriously the emailed job application arriving from offshore. If in a visa application the applicant says they want to come here to find work so they can apply for residence (as the job gives them the points to be recognised as a ‘high quality skilled migrant’ to quote the government blurb) their Visitor Visa will almost certainly be declined – not a genuine tourist. If they say they are coming on ‘holiday’ then country risk profiles kick in and the younger, poorer and more single one is the less likely an applicant who will get the visa – so many applicants are damned if they tell the truth and damned if they lie and fall at the first hurdle. We do encourage applicants to tell the truth and often file a Visitor Visa for the express and perfectly legal purpose of entering to look at the place and employability as part of a decision to immigrate (but it is usually a hell of a battle);
  2. Whether they got the Visitor Visa before flying to New Zealand or enter visa free (Brits, South Africans, Singaporeans, Malaysians, and a whole lot of others) aren’t home free. Once they arrive at the airport here they have to run the gauntlet of another set of over zealous officials (these ones like getting themselves on TV setting up and denying entry to would be job seekers). If the migrant tells them they are coming to explore the country because they think they may wish to settle they can be (and sometimes are) refused entry – even if a Visitor Visa was issued for them to come here to explore their employability and the country as a place to settle!
  3. If they get past the border guards at the airport they then run the gauntlet of disinterested, commission driven recruiters and employers who’d prefer to employ locally if they can. Who would go through the hassle of dealing with the Immigration Department if you didn’t have to?
  4. If the migrant gets a job the Immigration Department is then usually required to be satisfied the employer has made a genuine effort to recruit locally, should not be able to train a local and no New Zealander should be able to do the job. Well I haven’t met a migrant yet who was offered a job no New Zealander should not be able to do…
  5. Then, if they haven’t jumped off a bridge into a fast running river, the migrant must then file their residence papers and deal with yet another set of officials (this will be the fourth set) with a whole new set of rules that bear little to no relation to the work visa rules above and try and negotiate their way through the Resident visa minefield.
    I should add at this point our clients are overwhelmingly successful in negotiating the New Zealand immigration ‘Wheel of Fortune’ but it is no thanks to John Key, his Government or the officials who have steadfastly refused to listen to our concerns for longer than I can remember about the inherent conflicts in design and approach to Visitor Visas, entering at the airport, getting Work Visas and if you have survived your zigging and zagging amid a hail of Immigration Department bullets, a Resident Visa.

At this point I unashamedly give my whole team credit for ‘coaching’ and guiding our clients through the no mans land of visa applications when there is bureaucratic hot lead flying about their ears. And to remind readers that our success rate is still around 99%. But God help those trying it themselves or with some shonky offshore immigration agent – a majority never get past the Visitor Visa stage.

I am at last being flown to Wellington early next month having been invited to meet with Senior officials to talk through the very issue that is the dysfunction between Visitor, Work and Resident Visas for skilled migrants.

Perhaps this time they will listen and perhaps this time they will do something about a more ‘linear’ path to residence for those highly skilled and talented migrants looking to join us and fill skills shortages.

I wrote last week that New Zealand employers have missed out on 18,000 skilled migrants these past two years because we have demanded most get jobs first and then apply for residence and this puts many off who would otherwise join us and make a sterling contribution.

My final wish is that the Prime Minister might turn up to my meeting so I can tell him that his moaning to David Cameron is a bit rich and very much the pot calling the kettle black.

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