New Zealand Immigration, changes?

April 12, 2017

Immigration has become a popular topic in NZ with many ‘experts’ presenting ideas on how the system could be improved. This is an important discussion, but to make it more productive it would be helpful if the ‘experts’ could first take a look at the current system, previous systems applied and immigration patterns. This would help us avoid people ‘fixing’ the system by:

  • ‘introducing’ ideas which are current policy;
  • re-introducing ideas which have previously proved flawed;
  • confusing temporary visa rules with those relating to residence;
  • blocking occupations in key areas NZ needs.

Understanding the system before you ‘fix’ it helps avoid the risk of repeating the errors of the past, throwing away sections which work well, damaging NZ businesses and the ability for NZ workers to get training and jobs, and of course fend off the ever-present spectre of the law of unintended consequences.

Oh, and statistics can be useful, but please use the right ones (to talk about ‘residents’ for example use the dataset which measures ‘residents’). Seizing on statistics which affect one or two people a year to discuss the entire system is also unhelpful.


Mike Bell
Migrant Advocate | Licensed Immigration Adviser


Raising a migrant tax

March 12, 2017

New Zealand immigration is an important area of debate with lots of ideas and opinions – to ensure immigration continues to provide a benefit it must be carefully managed as there are definitely pros and cons.

This week I saw an article on NewsHub ‘Expert calls for poll tax on immigrants‘ that I wanted to discuss, mainly because this is an important debate and the ‘expert’ Mark Keating had not helped one bit by getting his numbers very badly wrong.

“A tax expert says there should be a poll tax on immigrants of up to $15,000 to help cover the cost of extra infrastructure and services needed by a growing population.”

A migrant tax
The idea of a migrant tax is not new – last year migrants paid $201 million in fees and $15.4 million in levies, this is used against the costs of the immigration department and other services.

In December 2015 levies were extended to cover all visa applications – previously only people getting residence paid a levy – meaning more cash: the $17 now applied to every student visa application alone should bring in an additional $1.7 million in income per year.

The article about Mr Keating quoted an estimated additional $100 billion would be needed over the next 10 years to cover costs of hospitals, schools, roads and services to cope with population growth. New Zealand’s population grew by 97,300 (2.1%) in the year to June 2016, Statistics New Zealand estimates 71% of that growth is as a result of immigration with 29% being a natural increase so this is an important discussion we need to have.

Mr Keating has calculated that on current immigration figures, a tax of $10,000 would raise more than $896 million a year, and at $15,000 it would raise more than $1.3 billion.

Who would pay the tax
Before we get into the numbers I wanted to know who would pay this poll tax, currently all applicants – whether for a 3 month visitor visa or residence pay a levy. Quotes attributed in the article to Mr Keating indicate this is aimed at people coming to live in New Zealand permanently – to ‘join our club’ and to ‘share in everything New Zealand has built up’. It would seem a little unfair to charge $10,000 to temporary students and workers right? 

Each individual would pay the poll – a family of four would pay four amounts and so would partners and children of New Zealand citizens returning from abroad. Mr Keating is not applying this to Australian citizens (25,681 arrived in the year to Jan 2017), refugees or people filling skill shortages.

How much would each person pay?
The target would be $7.1 billion (that 71% generating their share of $10 billion needed a year) and Mr Keating suggests each person should pay between $10,000 and $15,000 to raise between $896 million and $1.3 billion per year. A family of 4 would then pay between $40,000 and $60,000 on top of current levies and fees.

Currently migrants bring in between $2 billion and $3 billion a year net of costs but that gets spent into the economy rather than paid to the government.

$10,000 to $15,000 sounds a lot but unfortunately Mr Keating has got his numbers wrong. Had Mr Keating used correct figures from data set he appears to be applying instead of between $10,000 and $15,000 to raise the sums suggested individuals would need to pay between $53,632 and $80,435 each!

That New Zealander returning with a partner and three children would need to pay between $214,495 and $321,743 to get their family in to the ‘old country’.

Why are these calculations wrong?
I have to make an assumption here but I think it’s a reasonable one, bear with me. The article on NewsHub was quite light on details making it harder to check the calculation however an earlier article published by the University of Auckland gave more information.

In the year to January, there were 89,670 permanent and long-term arrivals to New Zealand, excluding refugees, Australians and returning New Zealanders. At $10,000 per arriving person, that would generate $896,700,000. At $15,000 per migrant, it would total $1.345 billion.

Unfortunately and unusually the figure of 89,670 migrants is not referenced but I think we can work out where it came from. The article specifically mentions figures to January 2017. There are two sources of immigration data: Statistics New Zealand and the immigration department. While Stats NZ provides monthly reports data from Immigration New Zealand tends to be annual to June.

Statistics NZ’s monthly report on ‘Permanent and Long Term Migration’ (PLT) to January 2017 confirms 89,670 people arrived who were not ‘NZ and Australian citizens’ or ‘other’. As this is quite a specific number I think we’ve found the source of these figures.

The problem with using this figure is that only 16,722 of this group confirmed they were staying NZ permanently, the other 72,948 were temporary visitors, workers and students:

Visa type Number Percentage
Residence 16,722 18.6
Student 24,297 27.1
Work 42,415 47.3
Visitor 6,236 7.0
Total 89,670  

Applying this number gives the individual poll tax of between $53,632 and $80,435 to achieve the same income. To calculate a levy which would be applied to people being granted residence it might have been more useful to:

  • Look at the current levy being applied; and
  • Use figures of people actually being granted residence.

In the year to June 2016 for example Immigration New Zealand statistics confirm 52,052 people were granted residence (excluding Australian citizens). If you drop off the other people Mr Keating suggests – people filling skill shortages and refugees – the poll tax would fall on the remainder of roughly 38,000 made up of investors, entrepreneurs and partners and children (of New Zealand citizens, residents and workers filling skill shortages).

This is why it is important to consider who will actually be paying this amount – the returning New Zealander with a partner and three children might only need to pay as little as $102,388 to be allowed to bring them into the country.

We need a serious discussion but could it please be based on applicable evidence and facts! It’s a shame NewsHub and the University of Auckland didn’t check in to these claims before publishing them.

Mike Bell
Migrant Advocate | Licensed Immigration Adviser

Skilled migration cut by 50 percent

October 14, 2016

On 11 October 2016 Hon Michael Woodhouse, Minister for immigration confirmed changes to New Zealand’s residence programme which would take immediate effect to reduce levels of permanent immigration.

Immigration Minister Michael Woodhouse today announced that fewer residence approvals would be planned for the next two years, with levels down to 85,000-95,000 from 90,000-100,000.

While presented as a minor reduction to improve the benefit provided by immigration it is important to assess the actual likely effect of these changes. Very clearly:

  • This is not a minor change at all;
  • It will have a significant effect on reducing skilled migration to New Zealand.

The changes made are interesting and so are the reasons being provided for these changes.

For example, current quotas of between 45,000 and 50,000 residence visas being granted per year have been unchanged since 2001. Previously the immigration department (INZ) has simply managed numbers by simply selecting less applications.

This has proved so effective that 2016/17 is the first year since 2008/09 where the number of visas granted has met or exceeded the minimum quota of 45,000 per year. During that time the quota allowed for grant of at between 17,761 and 42,761 more visas than were actually allowed.

Clearly these changes are not being made to effect a small reduction in the quota, that would be redundant and unnecessary.

Residence Programme
The Residence Programme includes all residence visas granted including partners and dependent children of New Zealand citizens, investors and entrepreneurs as well as skilled workers and their families. Last year the following visas were granted:

  • 25,756   (49.5%) – skilled professionals (SMC);
  • 3,963     (7.6%)   – other workers, investors and entrepreneurs;
  • 4,138     (8%)      – humanitarian;
  • 5,739     (11%)    – parents and siblings of workers;
  • 12,456   (24%)    – partners/dependent children of citizens/residents.

Most of these groups are tricky to reduce and for this reason Mr Woodhouse’s announced changes affect the SMC and Parent Category as areas of easy change.

“Increasing the points required to gain residence from 140 to 160 will moderate the growth in applications in the Skilled Migrant Category and enable us to lower the overall number of migrants gaining residence,” Woodhouse said.”

Skilled Migrant Category (SMC)
The most significant change announced was to the SMC, a residence stream making up approximately half of the Residence Programme.

SMC is accessed on an invitation-only basis by qualified professionals in specifically selected occupations. Typically they are already living (*76%) and working in New Zealand in skilled occupations (*64%).

By its nature INZ has complete control over who is invited into the SMC and uses a points system to identify who is the most ‘attractive’ as a candidate. Candidates are generally in roles which are likely to create jobs and opportunity for New Zealand businesses – for example the rebuild of Christchurch, I.T. and creative businesses, accountancy and engineering.

The change presented by Mr Woodhouse is that the selection point of 140 is simply being raised to 160 to reduce immigration numbers slightly.

To present this as such a simple change is not accurate however as roughly 18% of candidates selected to access SMC so far this year had less than 140 points but were allowed to enter the system as they already had a skilled job in New Zealand – roughly 90% of those were already living and working in NZ.

The first selection made after this change was implemented (made on 12 October 2016) shows a drop in numbers of over 50%. I know it is very early days yet, but over a year this would be projected to 24,800 people!

This is not a minor change with potentially 24,800 less people paying taxes, training NZ workers, creating jobs and business opportunities. Government figures indicate this would be a loss (net of costs) to New Zealand each year of $1 billion or more and also represents a $35 million drop in revenue for the immigration department.

Raising quality
Raising the points bar is not a way to raise the ‘quality’ of candidates.

The current system is invitation only with qualified workers in specific occupations being selected. Where amending the list of occupations allowed through, selecting specific skills or identifying skill gaps more carefully would have had a useful effect in increasing ‘quality’ simply raising the bar will not.

For example I am currently assisting a Construction Project Manager with over 20 years’ experience who is employed helping to rebuild Christchurch. Construction Project Manager is an occupation identified as being in serious shortage but despite his skills, experience and a job in Christchurch my client can only attract 125 points. Before the announced changes this would have been enough to apply for residence but now he is blocked from gaining residence and will have to leave New Zealand in time.

Simply raising the points barrier to a higher level will not favour those with higher skills and experience we need, it will not identify those with skills in shortage. Instead it is likely to favour those with higher qualifications making this a big step backwards – the immigration system in place before 2001 favoured qualifications and was a failure.

Working Holiday Visas
A point raised by journalists more aware of how New Zealand’s immigration system works is the issue of Working Holiday Visas (WHV). WHH is a temporary visa lasting from 12 to 23 months which allows a young person (under 30 or 35 depending on their ethnicity) to come to live and work in New Zealand.

Mr Woodhouse said the issue of temporary visas was separate to that of visas that led to residency.

Temporary visas were not putting pressure on cities like Auckland, but were filling job shortages in the regions, he said.

“Those strongly growing areas – [visitors] like working holiday-makers aren’t staying in Auckland. They are going out into the regions, where there are high levels of demand for labour.”

While SMC numbers have been reduced (on average 3,500 lower than expected per year over the past 5) the number of Working Holiday Visas (WHV) being granted has been increasing.

Numbers of visas granted have more than doubled since 2006/07, rising from 33,051 in 2006/07 to 69,051 last year. This is clearly a favoured category: Mr Woodhouse signed the most recent agreement allowing more as recently as 26 September 2016.

That increase of tens of thousands of people each year appears to have been noticed by mainstream New Zealand as migrants with WHVs can work in jobs that require no training or experience – such as the local supermarket or fast-food outlet – placing them in direct competition with NZ workers, something which is not permitted with skilled workers.

Another difference between holders of WHVs and skilled workers holding other work visas is that while skilled workers must by law be paid a market rate salary there is no check on what is paid to people on a WHV. Increasing the number of these visas has the effect of strengthening a low-wage economy and making it harder for New Zealanders, especially school-leavers to find work.

The changes implemented by Mr Woodhouse appear to have nothing to do with reducing a quota which has been managed very well within the new tolerances for many years. Instead they are likely to have the effect of cutting skilled migration in favour of a much larger increase in unskilled temporary labour working for less and competing directly with New Zealanders for jobs – the antithesis of the stated intention of the immigration system.

That might increase corporate profits but will also cause a drop in tax being paid and will certainly not help New Zealand workers looking for entry-level jobs. I am not sure I agree with BusinessNZ chief executive Kirk Hope:


“Today’s announcement is an encouraging sign of progress towards a migration system that benefits the workforce and New Zealand generally.”



It appears to be the opposite of this, only time will tell.

Mike Bell
Migrant Advocate | Licensed immigration adviser

* Figures from INZ’s official 2016/17 EOI selection statistics.

Is Brexit increasing migration to New Zealand?

September 1, 2016

New Zealand as a stable, safe and beautiful place to live is often the first country people think of when they want to emigrate.

It is quite common for thoughts of migration to be sparked by disappointment in political change, especially amongst the citizens of first-world countries who are potentially globally mobile.

New Zealand’s immigration department (INZ) reported a huge jump in the number of UK citizens asking for information immediately following the Brexit vote in June.

Over the past ten years however the average number of UK citizens applying to work temporarily in New Zealand has changed very little, averaging around *22,800 per year coming to Aotearoa for an adventure before returning home.

The number of UK citizens applying to stay permanently has also been steady at roughly 5,200 each year, although these figures are nearly 60% lower than numbers from 2006.

What the figures tell us is that while many people may think about migrating very few actually do.

New Zealand’s immigration department provides general information on the visa system but does not offer advice or assistance. Anyone needing explanation or help from overseas would need to contact a licensed immigration adviser and for this reason if there was an increase in numbers it would be likely to be visible to professionals supporting migrants from the UK.

New Zealand Immigration Advice Ltd is one of Christchurch’s largest immigration consultancies, working regularly with UK citizens to explain eligibility and visa options. To date we have not seen any rise in requests for this kind of service from people in the UK.

Although it is early days and figures are not yet collected I very much doubt there will be any big increase in numbers from the UK (temporary or permanent) moving to New Zealand over time.

Mike Bell
Migrant advocate | Licensed immigration adviser

* stats from official INZ stats


A chilling comment on licensing

March 7, 2015

Reading the following sentence, attributed to Lyn Sparks of Business Immigration Ltd in a news article today put chills down my spine:

“We get licensed every year don’t we”

Mr Sparks was apparently replying to questions about his activities following complaints lodged by 66 of his clients that he had breached the strict rules licensed immigration advisers must adhere to. His implication appears to be that he must be acting properly because he is licensed each year by the Immigration Advisers Authority (IAA).

The article explains:

All workers have similar complaints – primarily that they were charged fees of up to $15,000 for a job in New Zealand through Business Immigration and its overseas agents. Many took out loans in the Philippines to cover the fees, and were paying between 40 per cent and 50 per cent annual interest.


The reason I find this comment attributed to Mr Sparks chilling is that he appears to be using the status afforded by a poorly implemented but well-meaning licensing regime to prey on migrants.

This comment of course is entirely misleading and highlights deep problems with the licensing of immigration advisers which has dogged the system since its introduction in 2009 such as:

  1. Protection for consumers only applies to immigration services
    Section 44 of the Immigration Advisers Licensing Act 2007 only allows the IAA to accept complaints against advisers regarding “provision of immigration advice”. While you might expect advisers to be held to account for any actions as a professional that’s not the case at all. Advisers getting up to no good in any other area – for example recruitment – have nothing to fear from the IAA as any complaint will be rejected.

    History has shown that the IAA will only act (for example to take away a licence) if the individual is convicted of a crime under another piece of legislation. This issue was raised back in 2009 but requires a change in the law and nothing has happened about this.As a result the actions of advisers charging for job search services are not covered at all by the licensing rules with few people realising this, creating opportunities for the unscrupulous.

  2. No test of competence
    While many long-standing advisers are highly competent this competence, effectively assured by licensing, has never actually been tested. When licensing was introduced in 2009 advisers working in the industry were required only to show three case files (which they picked) to be assessed by IAA staff to confirm the adviser’s competence. This alone is a poor test and I understand the IAA staff assessing these applications had no training or background in immigration.

    From there to renew their license each year advisers only had to provide one case file (which again they picked) to be assessed by the same IAA staff. Interestingly while this process did check business systems it stopped checking prices charged some time ago following pressure from long-standing advisers who did not appreciate being questioned in this regard.

    It wasn’t until 2012 that a level 7 qualification was introduced to provide a test of competence completed to any defined standard, however existing advisers did not have to sit this. Thankfully the IAA is now moving towards a system of randomly checking the work of advisers based on the records of the immigration department. This is excellent as it should identify problems and patterns, but it still will not spot issues like advisers charging excessive fees as suggested in this case.

It will be interesting to see what happens with this story. Mr Sparks has faced complaints and penalties before but is still operating. The IAA has indicated there has been insufficient evidence to take up this case but public awareness of this problem may force their hand.

Under this is the truth that the IAA can only investigate and punish for actions relating purely to the provision of immigration advice and in the past has taken a very narrow view of this, potentially allowing bad advisers to escape punishment as a result.

A strong and robust IAA is badly needed but currently it looks weak and indecisive. Let’s see what is done following these complaints.

Mike Bell

Migrant advocate | licensed immigration adviser

90 day rules and existing workers

September 24, 2014

Interesting story today in The Press:

Christchurch rebuild manager unfairly sacked
A piling manager recruited from England and sacked in his first 90 days has won nearly $40,000 from his Christchurch employer.

Basically the employee started work in January 2014 but didn’t sign his employment contract until February 2014.

Hickey ruled the 90-day clause was invalid because the Employment Contracts Act said such provisions could not be imposed on existing employees. Hall and Smith Crane had not signed the individual employment contract before Hall began his job. By the time he signed the contract, he was an existing employee.

90 day clauses cannot be applied to existing employees – including those who have completed a free trial – and this sets an interesting precedent of what is an ‘existing employee’.

Of course this situation should never have occurred:

  1. It is illegal for an employer to start you in the job without a signed contract.
  2. To get a work visa to work for a specific employer (like an essential skills work visa) the migrant has to prove Immigration New Zealand (INZ) with a signed employment contract, it’s a mandatory requirement and the INZ have to be satisfied that the employer meets all New Zealand employment and immigration laws. .

Mind you, I had a migrant come in to see me the other day for advice who already had a work visa but hadn’t signed his contract yet – the immigration case officer processing his visa application hadn’t noticed. Government plans to automate the granting of work visas soon through online applications, I wonder if that will improve quality control.

There are a couple of things to take out of this article:

  1. The Employment Relations Authority –
    This organisation is there for you (even if you are on a work visa) to protect your employment rights.
  2. Employment law
    Migrants coming in to NZ to work for a specific employer need to understand the employment laws here, for example:
    – the 90-day trial period and what is means;
    – Unpaid trial periods are illegal and risk your visa application;
    – You must have an employment agreement from day one;
    – This must have clauses which protect you (such as holidays);
    – You must have a minimum of 30 paid hours pw guaranteed.

The immigration and employment laws around this area are in place protect you and are there for a reason ;o).

Mike Bell
Migrant advocate | Licensed Immigration Adviser

Cutting immigration – NZ First

July 19, 2014

Today on current affairs programme ‘The Nation’ Winston Peters, leader of the New Zealand First (NZF) political party confirmed:

“We’ll cut immigration to people we need in our economy, not who need us.”

He went on to state:

“Half the people coming and more are not here to make any contribution until 21 years or more or never to make a contribution. That’s bad economics.”

So here we have another political party going into the 2014 election trumpeting that immigration is economically bad for New Zealand and needs to be cut.

New Zealand First policy
To find what Mr Peters meant I checked the NZF website and found recent confirmation that he intends to block migrants who are not in the skilled category.

As I confirmed in May on average just under 40,000 people come to live in New Zealand permanently every year. These are made up of four main streams – using 2012/13 figures roughly these are:

  1. 51% – skilled workers, entrepreneurs and investors
  2. 29% – the foreign-born children and partners of New Zealand citizens and residents
  3. 11% – the parents and family of migrants
  4. 8% – humanitarian and pacific quotas

This policy then appears to plan to cut groups 2, 3 and 4 including parents of migrants, the foreign-born partners and children of New Zealanders and NZ’s humanitarian work.

The NZF immigration policy is basically a list of current immigration policy (for example the parent category is called the ‘capped family stream’ because it is capped with a quota already) with additional measures to:

  • protect migrants against exploitation;
  • push skilled workers into regions and out of Auckland;
  • remove the ability for some migrants (not skilled workers) to purchase pre-paid English lessons to meet requirements.

Forcing skilled workers needed by employers to live in remote areas where there are no jobs is an interesting idea that I don’t think will catch on – yes you can work remotely as an IT professional but it is a bit harder for engineers etc. The others points listed are tiny tweaks with the vast majority of what NZF stands for already being current immigration policy.

Cutting immigration
Mr Peters has spoken out previously against the parents of migrants in the “Capped family stream”. These (not including other family) make up 9.5% of residence numbers with Chinese parents (the group Mr Peters is most concerned about) being (last year) 43.8% of this. Parents of people born in China make up just over 4% of residents.

The “Uncapped family stream” Mr Peters appears to have most problem with (29% of residence visas) are the foreign-born partners and children of New Zealanders. I am not sure blocking this group from coming to NZ is something which would be supported by most Kiwis.

Government has been working to bring skilled New Zealanders working overseas home but forcing them to leave their partners and children behind may make many think twice about heading back to Aotearoa.

Economic benefit
Mr Peter’s comments also ignore government research from the 2006 census which confirmed in 2008:

“…overseas-born migrants contributed $8.1 billion to the economy in 2006, while using $4.81 billion in benefits and services. In comparison, New Zealand-born citizens contributed $24.76 billion and used $21.92 billion in benefits and services.

The net impact for having an immigrant here is $3.29 billion, or $3547 per capita, while the net per capita contribution of a New Zealand-born is just $915,..”

This related to all migrants, not just skilled workers. Healthy and law-abiding migrants trained overseas are economically beneficial to New Zealand, but often because they are supported by their partners. Their children are also needed as future workers to support an aging population if the concepts of “retirement” and “pension”  are to continue in this country.

I’m not sure New Zealand First’s policy will win the hearts and minds of New Zealanders by blocking their husbands, wives and children from entering the country – they might want to think this through.


Mike Bell

Migrant advocate | Licensed Immigration Adviser

Final Chapter of the Vermaak Family’s story

July 6, 2014

Back in July 2012 I wrote about the Vermaak family’s plight in facing deportation.

Since that first story there has been a huge amount of silent work behind the scenes, but now it’s time for an update as a final decision has been made on their fight to stay in NZ. This update includes a brief recap of the situation.

Facing deportation

March 2012 – Work Visa Declined
Cherie had been working for the Christchurch City Council for 4 years in a skilled occupation but ran into trouble when she needed a new Police Certificate to arrive from South Africa.

With her work visa due to expire she needed this certificate to put in an application to renew her visa. Unfortunately South African certificates can take several months to arrive and the immigration department (INZ) refused to wait for this.

The decision by INZ meant that Cherie found herself in a very difficult situation very quickly. Without a valid visa she lost her job and only source of income despite backing from her Council boss. Being unlawful in New Zealand she and her two children were subject to deportation. Zelda who was 16 year old at the time was also no longer had the right to go to school.

May 2012 – First Media Story
This is where Tammy and I became aware of the situation and decided to get involved. The family was now without a source of income and, as temporary visa holders were not entitled to any kind of benefit or financial assistance. Imagine having no way get or earn money, no way to ix your situation.

In an incredibly short space of time they were in a desperate situation, being forced to sell their possessions to buy food and facing eviction from their home. When we first met the family they did not know which way to turn – running out of possessions to sell and in real danger or being thrown out onto the streets.

Thankfully the media attention generated a wave of support for the family which held off their eviction for a short time. The New Zealand public were fantastic!

I went to work to help where I could. First jobs were talking to the Ministry of Education to get Zelda back into school and asking the immigration department to hold off deportation action to give the family a little more time.

June 2012 – Facing Eviction
The amazing support generated by the New Zealand public helped for a short while but soon ran out and the family found themselves facing eviction with no money and no way to get any.

A tight Squeeze

A tight Squeeze

We couldn’t allow them to become homeless so Tammy and I opened our own home to the family of three and their cats Fluffy and Peebles.

It was a tight squeeze with our family (which included four cats), but they stayed with us for four months until they were able to get back on their feet.

October 2013 – Ministerial Intervention
Cherie had a job offer but INZ were unwilling to grant a visa so Mike took the case to Hon Kate Wilkinson, then Associate Immigration Minister. The first great break-through for Cherie and her children came when the Minister agree to Mike’s request and overturned INZ’s decision, granting Cherie a visa to work.

This involved about 500 hours of pro-bono work for the family, but put them in a position where once again Cherie could work her way out of this terrible situation. Cherie and her children have had a harrowing two years and just needed that chance. Once Cherie was able to start work she became eligible for residence again and we worked with her to lodge an application.

The Final Update
It has not been plain sailing – there have been serious ups and downs for the family – but we are thrilled to report that this week Cherie, Kyle and Zelda were granted New Zealand Residence. This means they no longer need to fear deportation and can finally have hope and security for the future.

Cherie and Mike

Cherie’s Request
Cherie has asked us to update all of the people whose support and generosity made such a difference to this family during such a difficult time.

Cherie, Kyle and Zelda wanted to thank the hundreds of people both locally and from around the world who were there for them in so many different ways. The family is now looking forward making long term plans for their new life in Christchurch New Zealand.

Tammy and I are catching up with Cherie next week for a celebratory curry :o).

I am really delighted with this result. Sometimes bad things happen to good people and this is why migrant advocates are so badly needed – to give a helping hand at the right time.

Mike Bell
Migrant advocate | Licensed Immigration Adviser

News stories

This story has been followed through the media, here are a number of the news stories written.



Ignoring History – part 2

June 2, 2014

Following on from my last post “Ignoring History“.

So the NZ Labour Party is proposing to cut immigration to help reduce the rapidly rising cost of housing. There has been a lot of confusion about how this is intended to be done – whether to cut temporary visas or residence visas for example.

Labour leader David Cunliffe is now stepping away from the more contentious comments, indicating the whole thing has been a media beat up. While to some degree this may be true I clearly remember Mr Cunliffe stating there is “open slather” on the current immigration system. So is there “open slather”?

Ignoring history
The party appears to have settled on visas being issued through the Skilled Migrant Category as the problem – people on temporary work visas generally don’t buy houses – but this ignores history.

Skilled Migrant is the largest residence stream and is managed through a points system. The Labour Party have most recently indicated they would use this points system to manage numbers on the basis that reducing numbers would reduce pressure on house prices.

I say this ignores history as over the past five years the Skilled Migrant Category has been slashed by a third. This reduction has had no apparent effect in lowering house prices.

Here is a graph of residence visas granted since 2008/09:


Source: Immigration New Zealand Residence programme statistics
As 2013/14 figures are only available to 4 May (307 days of the year) I have calculated a figure based on this for 365 days.

To explain the categories:

  • Skilled Migrant – skilled workers meeting a stringent points system.
  • Other business/skilled – investors, entrepreneurs etc.
  • Humanitarian – refugee quota, pacific quotas.
  • Capped family – family members of migrants (only parents can use this now).
  • Uncapped family – foreign-born partners and children of NZ citizens and residents.

Changes since 2008/09
Clearly the Skilled Migrant stream is by far the largest single stream and this is because the residence programme is designed to fill skill gaps.

While most of the streams have changed very little, numbers coming through the Skilled Migrant stream are down by 32%.  Over the past five years nearly 32,000 less people have gained residence visas through this category compared to 2008/09 levels.

Manipulating the points system

So why have these numbers fallen so far? Because government has been managing numbers using the Skilled Migrant category points system – the same tool Labour proposes to use to reduce house prices now.

Government has incrementally been raising the bar on the Skilled Migrant points system since January 2010 by reducing the types of applications accepted – at the first stage called Expressions of Interest or EOIs.

For example before January 2010 any EOI scoring 100 points or more stood a very good chance of being selected to begin the process. Since January 2010 – across 112 selections – only EOIs with bonus points relating to skills in long term shortage have been selected.

Additional changes in June 2011 and January 2013 further reduced this to the point where the only EOIs being routinely selected now are those with 140 points or a skilled job offer. All of the data is provided by the immigration department and available for analysis.

The natural result of less people entering the system has been less visas being granted: using the points system to manage numbers.


Source: Immigration New Zealand
Again as 2013/14 is incomplete I have used the average for this year for the last 3 selections to go to complete a total year figure.

I am not aware of a resulting drop in the cost of housing in New Zealand.

I am aware however of a huge increase in skill shortages with 59% of employers reported as struggling to find key staff. Skill shortages directly reduce the number of jobs and training opportunities for New Zealanders while lowering wage growth and company profits – arguably one of the reasons the NZ economy has failed to pick up.

The original quotas were set at a level in 2002 for a reason and had been working very well. Since these changes were implemented government has missed minimum quota levels  by an average of over 4,600 per year (10%).

Labour’s proposal then is for more of the same to produce a different result.

Wasn’t it Albert Einstein who defined insanity as “doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results”?

It will be interesting to see the next phase in this policy.

Mike Bell

Migrant advocate | Licensed Immigration Adviser

Ignoring history

May 31, 2014

The Labour Party, in the lead up to this years’ election, is proposing to cut immigration to help reduce the rapidly rising cost of housing as covered in the Press today and echoed by Phil Twyford on The Nation this morning.

“Labour’s proposal would, in part, see the “points system” under which skilled migrants get entry to New Zealand tweaked in response to net migration flows.”

So what’s wrong with this policy?

Well there are quite a few problems, but the main one is that doesn’t work.

A few issues
Some of the main issues with this have been identified in todays’ article, for example that the Permanent and Long Term Migration figures being used cover everyone coming in for a year or more (working holidaymakers, students, temporary workers and residents), the vast majority of which would have no intention of buying a house here.

When Labour talks about the “points system” what they mean is a system used in assessing applications under the Skilled Migrant Category (SMC) of New Zealand’s Residence Programme. Points are awarded for age, work experience, qualifications with weighting towards having skilled employment here, especially if this is in an area of long term skill shortage.

There are a number of problems with using the SMC to manage immigration like this such as:

  • Time lag
    It takes on average between 8 and 12 months for an application to go through this process, longer if the person is offshore. Any changes will take a very long time to have an effect.
  • Numbers
    If Labour is planning to use this immigration route to manage immigration by 25,000 to 35,000 there is a problem – only 18,156 visas were granted through this stream last year. A cut could easily see the entire stream canned.

    While some people might think that would be a good idea, remember that NZ is in an international battle for skills, trying to attract top migrants here to fill skill gaps. We’re not talking about gaps which can be met by training a few I.T. graduates as the article suggests, we’re talking about attracting qualified professionals who already have years of experience.

    I was talking to a Christchurch employer recently who confirmed for every highly skilled foreign worker (usually with 10+ years of experience) they employed they could employ and train at least 2 New Zealanders.

  • Incentive
    So under this policy SMC points will move around in an unpredictable way. Is it an incentive for migrants to have to pay $2,320 to enter a system where the goal posts are continually moving? We need more transparency in immigration, not less.

Ignoring history
Finally there is one major problem with this policy – it doesn’t work. We know it doesn’t work because it hasn’t.

Successive changes were made by government in January 2010, June 2011 and January 2013 to make the SMC points system harder to get through, as a result visas granted have dropped by 32.78% compared to 2008/09. The effect of this has been nearly 32,000 less people allowed residence visas under SMC during the past five years.

What effect has this had on Auckland house prices? Why would further cuts have a different effect?

Interestingly during the same period (25 July 2011) “residential property development” was added by the government to the list of acceptable investment types for wealthy overseas investors to apply for visas here. Just sayin’.


Migrant advocate | Licensed Immigration Adviser