Why I Do This Job

June 14, 2013
Iain MacLeod

While it might be stating the obvious that I am not the biggest fan of bureaucrats it is interesting some of the questions I get privately from regular readers of this blog.

Two spring to mind.

The first, almost always from Singaporeans is, doesn’t the Government of New Zealand treat your clients more harshly because of what you say in your blogs? How very Singaporean I always chuckle – thinking that because where they come from my blog would last about ten minutes before it was shut down by their Government and I’d likely be up on some sort of charge because of my ‘tell it like it is’ attitude.

The short answer is no. They don’t. If anything it could actually work in our clients favour as the Department would prefer not to provide me with ammunition so in many instances they work with us very closely and very professionally to expedite outcomes. I don’t kid myself they do it to shut me up but they’d prefer it if I had nothing to write about them. Not that that is the reason I speak out against them. I simply believe ‘the little guy’ needs to know someone out here has their best interests at heart.

Another question I get all the time is ‘Why do you do this work? How do you put up with the frustration of dealing with the Immigration Department?’

I was actually asked this today during a meeting with a senior Greenpeace employee for whom we are doing some work. They have been royally mucked around by the Immigration Department over a number of applications and need to get temporary and permanent visas for people fairly regularly and they tie up endless hours arguing with the immigration officials here and overseas.

Before I go on I am no Saint and I seek no medals. Yes, financially I do alright out of this business and that is great but I see it as a bonus. But my attitude was just the same 20 years ago when I was in a lower tax bracket.

I explained I do my work for the same reason they all work for Greenpeace. When you believe strongly in something, which in my case is helping migrants get the visas that I believe are rightfully theirs and can, at the same time, help people survive the emotional, logistical and financial ‘Mount Everest’’ that migration is, it is very rewarding indeed.

There is nothing like calling up a client and telling them their visa is approved. Months and sometimes years after we first met to discuss it.

Many people, immigration officers included I suspect, don’t appreciate the role we play. We don’t just fill out application forms (in fact we hardly fill out application forms). We are as much Psychologists or Counsellors as we are immigration rule experts preparing, lodging and processing applications and helping people with the settlement process.

Earlier this year a client of mine here in Auckland (but from South Africa) emailed me and said she was chucking in the towel. She had arrived in New Zealand in November 2012 to try and find the skilled job she needed to get her points and therefore her residence visa under the Skilled Migrant Category. She was doing this with no partner and one son. The timing of her arrival wasn’t the best with only about four weeks till Christmas.

She had followed our advice and tried to identify potential employers and recruiters that might be able to assist her find work before she arrived but like most of our clients got little by way of encouraging feedback – ‘No work Visa’ or No Permanent Residence’ or ‘If you were in New Zealand…..’. The usual internet based replies for those not here.

Once here she approached recruiters, applied for jobs through companies advertising online, she approached organisations that might be able to use her skills and we were able to introduce her to some clients who work in her field and she started doing the rounds.

No luck before Christmas – a few interviews but no offer. Things ground to a halt for 3-4 weeks over the Christmas New Year period as expected.

By January’s end she was frustrated. Within a few weeks of that she was really struggling emotionally and financially. By mid February she emailed me telling me she just couldn’t do it and was heading home.

I sent her a lengthy email reply as I was overseas. When I got home a few days later I called her.

Her son (back in South Africa by now) encouraged her to keep going – nothing for us here in South Africa was his basic message. Pretty much the same as mine.

She was clearly torn – there is only so much a person can be expected to take on this journey. How tempting it must have been to just buy that ticket, how easy to board that plane and head back to South Africa. Trouble with that plan is all the reasons for her leaving there were waiting for her on return if she did.

‘Rocks and hard places’ like most of our clients.

I felt desperate to help her get through these dark days that so many of our clients find themselves in as they look for work.

I spent about 45 minutes on the phone with her shortly after I arrived back in the office encouraging her to stay – the signs were all there she was employable and notwithstanding the difficulty of breaking into the labour market she should not give up. What was happening to her was normal – the rejection from recruiters, the procrastination by employers, the emotionally draining process of getting up every morning wondering if this was the day the job offer would happen or if it would be another day of rejection. Another day of dealing with the “What if I have to go back….?’

We spoke regularly on the phone and I was as encouraging as I could be.

Within a few more days she was invited back for a second interview for a job that suited her down to the ground. It seemed to go well and the employer said they’d call her later that day. I checked in when I heard nothing. They didn’t call. My heart dropped and I thought, ‘Oh no, not again….’ The client felt the interview had gone well and was guardedly positive. I am sure however that night didn’t deliver her the best night’s sleep she had ever had.

The next morning I got a phone call – she had been offered the job! Skilled, relevant and the right salary to get her the work and residence visa.

At that point the rest of the plan came together quickly – we got her a work visa in a little over a week, and she started work.

We filed her Expression of Interest in Residence and she was selected from the pool as expected within a few days. We filed her residence application about a month ago. Ten days ago it was allocated to an officer for processing. Five days ago her residence was approved.

I am not a good enough writer to do justice to what she had gone through emotionally but the overriding emotion the day of the approval was relief. Not joy. Not excitement. Just tired relief that she had survived the climb.

I cannot tell you how that makes me feel and again I am not a good enough wordsmith to describe it. Professional pride perhaps. Vindication is one word that springs to mind. I know our clients will make good New Zealanders. I know our clients are employable. I know they can get jobs here. I know we can get the work and residence visas thereafter.

It is like a Football Coach that wins the Premier League – a good strategy, lots of planning, a good management team to help you execute the strategy and good quality players (the clients).

This particular client sent me a simple but heartfelt message a few days ago, ‘Thank you for giving Michael and I a better life’

And that’s why I still do this. Right there.

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