WANTED: Migrants With The Health Of Olympians

May 17, 2019
Iain MacLeod

In these days of work visas for main applicants (and student and temporary visas for their remaining family) taking up to 4 months to be allocated before being processed, ensuring a visa application is fully and correctly documented to get it into the priority allocation queue is increasingly critical.

In our experience two major factors that slow down visa allocations and processing is meeting the health and education (for dependent children) standard for the duration of the visa being applied for. Not being in tiptop condition is inviting delays.

I could not tell you the last time we had a work visa declined on medical grounds, but plenty require scrutiny by the Department’s medical assessors. That can add weeks to the process. Recent analysis of our own applications for work visas for skilled migrants saw around 25% of the 350 we have filed in the past year requiring a recommendation by the departmental doctors on approving or not.

There were some very common ‘conditions’, in particular with South Africans.

The three most common are:

Obesity (including hypertension and or high cholesterol)
Anxiety and/or depression
Children with ADHD or mild autism spectrum disorder
None of these in and of themselves need to be deal breakers but all potentially cause delays and if the delay is too long it could cause the New Zealand employer to withdraw the job offer and there goes the work Visa and probably residency.

Anyone that has a Body Mass Index (BMI) of 30 is deemed to be obese. Once the BMI rises to 35 (far more common than you might think), an applicant is deemed to be morbidly obese. The obese applicant is usually going to be required to provide evidence they are otherwise healthy, the morbidly obese tend to require specialist reports including cardiology, often pulmonology and sometimes liver scans. All of that cost a lot of money but more importantly cost time.

We do have a significant proportion of our South African clients who do have BMIs higher than 30 and or have hypertension and or have high cholesterol. While they always tell us they are healthy and it is not a problem, they need to understand the decision to let them into New Zealand (or not) is based on the “likely” health costs that the New Zealand tax payer will pick up over the duration of the work Visa for which they are applying. Then, when it comes to a resident visa application, the bar is even higher because the timeline they are being assessed against in terms of probable costs is far longer. Passing the health test therefore at work visa stage is no guarantee it won’t be a dealbreaker at residency.

My advice? If your BMI is 30 or more you need to do something about it. I am not a nutritionist nor doctor and not about to start giving advice on lifestyle and diet but you don’t need to be a rocket scientist to appreciate that for most of us we carry extra weight primarily because of what we put in our mouths.

Anxiety and depression is another very commonly diagnosed South African ailment. I appreciate that South Africa is an incredibly stressful place to live, for those looking to migrate the economic pressures are often mounting by the day and psychologically when you are losing hope that tomorrow will be as good as today, it means there are large numbers of people suffering from anxiety and or depression. In and of itself this too is not a dealbreaker necessarily, but where people are being medicated and/or have been hospitalised for treatment and/or assessment, they will face close scrutiny from the departmental medical assessors. Hospitalisation in particular has been the cause of many visas being declined down the years, even if that hospitalisation was only for assessment to diagnose the condition. Thankfully none of our clients, as we were able to argue that the likely cost to New Zealand was not going to be significant no matter what the history.

My advice? Where it is medically sensible and appropriate to come off medication you should try and do so before you get to New Zealand. Again, I’m not holding myself out to be a psychologist but I do wonder if a lot more people in South Africa might not be given alternative therapies to pills. It does seem to me that the answer to most things in South Africa is a bottle of pills and I’m not sure if that is a medical system that is not socialised/public or it’s simply easier for the doctors to prescribe pills rather than alternatives.

ADHD/Mild autism spectrum disorder. We see this a lot particularly in South African children but also in Singapore. I am not quite sure what it is with children’s behaviour that they need to have a label slapped on them and treatment rendered and I find it extraordinary the number of clients we see specifically from Singapore and South Africa who are diagnosed with these conditions. I sometimes wonder if there’s something in the drinking water. (Although I read a fascinating article yesterday on trial therapies involving gut bacteria). I suspect however it has more to do with a pressure cooker education system in Singapore and the clients that we consult with sending their children to private schools in South Africa.

The good news is, it is not normally a dealbreaker because in New Zealand children with ADHD or mild autism spectrum disorder will be mainstreamed and not sent to a special or remedial school as is very common in South Africa. In fact I cannot tell you how many times clients have arrived in New Zealand, put their children into school having taken them off their medication in South Africa and the New Zealand school had no idea these children had any “condition” at all.

In regard to children with one of these conditions they are assessed against the likely cost of any special education need they might have and also the medical cost. So be careful and assume nothing.

My advice? Make sure you get a letter from an educational or developmental psychologist in South Africa, Singapore or wherever you come from and make sure these are filed with your child’s student Visa application. In addition to that if they are on medication you should provide details of the medication and the dosages. That does not mean the department will not come back and ask for more but if this information is loaded with the child’s application and it’s worded appropriately covering all the issues that the department is interested in they could normally expect to be approved.

With ever increasing delays in processing work and other temporary visas it has never been more important to understand the criteria against which the visa is being assessed (as best as you can when you’re not an expert) and then to try and mitigate that by understanding what treatments and services are available in New Zealand and how you or your child fit into that treatment regime and the cost associated with it for New Zealanders. For, in the end, it is the cost to the New Zealand tax payer and what your child or you will require in terms of health or education need that determines whether or not the visas will be issued – not the cost or needs in the applicant’s home country.

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