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.

source

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.
source

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 – www.era.govt.nz
    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.

Summary
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:

residence-visas

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.

eois

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%).

Summary
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.”
source

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’.

Mike

Migrant advocate | Licensed Immigration Adviser

 

CTV News interview

May 29, 2014

Interview with CanterburyTV news today about immigration, the rebuild and what the effects of cutting work visas might be. 



We’re right in the heart of Christchurch providing advice to rebuild employers and workers every day. Immigration has become a key issue, but mostly because people are being scared by misused statistics and partial information often confusing permanent and temporary migration.

Work visas holders are here only because we need them and cannot find NZ workers to do jobs that need skills and years of experience – apprenticeships are vital for local youth, but unemployment for men here is down to 2% and to rebuild we need mostly experienced experts overseeing a smaller number of trainees.

Training in many areas has really taken off because of the overseas experts helping our local tradespeople in giving those with an aptitude tuition and oversight. You can’t train an electrician, plumber or stonemason overnight, but because of the work visa holders many young New Zealanders are beginning careers now that will help this country into the future long after those visas have expired.

Mike Bell

Migrant advocate, Licensed Immigration Adviser

Cutting immigration – where to start?

May 26, 2014

Politicians are talking about cutting immigration using figures which relate to people coming for 1 year or more – the Permanent and Long Term arrivals produced by statistics NZ.

From these stats it is clear numbers have changed since last year due to:

  • 16,151 less NZ citizens leaving the country;
  • 3,267 more NZ citizens arriving in NZ; and
  • 9,954 non NZ citizens arriving.

So roughly 66% of the change was the movement of NZ citizens, 18% was an increase in the number of Australians coming to NZ and 15% was ‘everyone else’.

As a point of interest the only aspect of immigration which is not carefully controlled or managed by the NZ government relates to Australians – citizens and permanent residents can simply get on a plane and are automatically handed residence visas at the border.

This year there was an increase of 5,391 Australian citizens coming to NZ, a rise of 34%. I wonder how many of the 15% ‘other’ were permanent residents of Australia, the stats do not show this.

By comparison looking at the other countries there were:

  • 1,186 more Indian citizens;
  • 736 more Chinese citizens;
  • 662 more German citizens;
  • 402 more US citizens;
  • 262 more South African citizens; and
  • 16 more UK citizens.

Blind statistics
Using these statistics however does not give detail on why people came to NZ or how long they planned to stay – we only know they intended to stay for a year or more.

My last post looked at residents only – those you could argue who are most likely to buy a house – asking which of these the politicians would cut.

Perhaps it would be better to look at all of the visas issued last year which would be likely to be for a year or more to compare more closely with the figures being used by politicians.

Looking through the immigration department statistics on visas issued in 2012/13:

  • 14.6% were residence visas – arguably the most likely to buy a house as they stay permanently. Of those 11,291 were the partners and children of New Zealand citizens and residents.
  • 21.3% were foreign fee paying students who paid around $1 billion to study here last year, spending around $848 million on accommodation etc.
  • 19% were young people on a 1 year working holiday visa, these were required to bring collectively at least $210 million into the country to spend.
  • 17% were skilled workers (temporary and permanent) where employers had proved they could not find NZ workers to do the job offered (paying taxes, filling skill gaps, creating jobs and training NZ citizens).
  • Another 10% were partners (of visa holders or NZ citizens) on temporary visas.

That’s a total of 82.4%.

The remaining visas went to refugees (1%), children studying at school (3.3%), parents of visa holders (1.7%) etc.

scaremongeringIf numbers are going to be cut where will the politicians start I wonder?

Where do you think the cuts should be?

Mike Bell

Migrant advocate, Licensed Immigration Adviser

 

 

Cutting immigration?

May 20, 2014

Cutting immigration has become a key election issue on both sides of the political spectrum.

Labour leader David Cunliffe has recently been reported on the NBR website indicating Labour would slash the net migration flow from 40,000 — which he claims is overheating the property market — to between 5000 and 15,000.

So what would this mean?

Net migration
There are different measures of migration and Mr Cunliffe would be talking about Permanent and Long Term migration, or the New Zealand Residence Programme as both average just under 40,000. As we’re talking about the housing market it would make sense to look at how this would impact on residence visas issued.

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:

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

So if immigration was cut, who would still get through? Are we just talking about foreign workers? The following is a view of  the idea of these cuts using actual immigration figures from 2012/13:

5,000 places
I guess the individuals getting first option would be those NZ legally has to take under agreements and treaties – around 2,200 people.

Second option would presumably go to the children of NZ citizens and residents – around 1,200 places.

There would sadly only be just under 1,500 places for the foreign-born partners of kiwis with 85% (around 8,500) losing out.

This would leave no spaces for skilled workers or investors. I am guessing parents of migrants and other humanitarian cases we are not legally required to take would be at the back of the queue, no space for them either.

15,000 places
Expanding the number of places to 15,000 would enable all of the children and partners of NZ citizens and residents to get through – phew!

There would be space for around 883 skilled workers and their families (assuming the current rate of 1.65 people per application continues). Parents and other humanitarian cases would presumably lose out.

The effect of this change
I won’t go into how this policy might affect NZ, I’ll leave that to your discussion, but I’ll pose some questions:

  • Will it be an incentive for kiwis to return to NZ if their families are not allowed to come too?
  • Will reducing skilled migration by 92% affect skill shortages and NZ business?
  • Will this affect the ability of NZ to support an ageing population?

residence

 

Certainly food for thought. The migrant quota has been in place for many years (i.e. under Labour and National governments) providing benefit to NZ quietly year by year with balanced and controlled migration.

Mike Bell

Migrant advocate, Licensed Immigration Adviser

Migrants accessing health care in New Zealand

November 30, 2013

Getting information about what healthcare migrants can access in New Zealand is a bit of a problem which is starting to cause issues – I saw the following article in the paper today:

Migrants ‘clogging’ hospital

Christchurch Hospital’s emergency department (ED) is the busiest it has ever been and foreign rebuild workers have been pinpointed as the likely main cause.

Migrant workers with illnesses as minor as colds are “clogging up” ED because they are not enrolling with GPs in Christchurch, a business leader says.

The city’s health sector is calling for the workers to enrol at medical practices to take pressure off the hospital.

You can read the whole article here

Christchurch rebuild

This is not a new problem at all, I’ve seen these issues in Christchurch since 2006 when move2nz launched our migrant centre as a dedicated resource to help skilled migrants.

Now working as a licensed immigration adviser in the centre of Christchurch with rebuild workers every day I see this problem close up. This problem is growing more apparent simply because of the number of people coming in to help with the rebuild.

Rebuild workers fall into two main groups:

  1. Young people on Working Holiday Visas
    These generally cover only a year and the workers are required to hold medical and comprehensive hospitalisation insurance for the length of their stay.

    The exception is the UK scheme where the visa can be for up to 23 months and no medical insurance is required because there is a reciprocal agreement between New Zealand and the UK.

  2. Skilled workers on work visas
    These visas can be for up to three years although many (especially for lower skilled job like truck and digger drivers, and scaffolders) are just for one year.

So how do these workers access healthcare and what differences are there between them?

Accidents

Many rebuild workers are in hard physical jobs where accidents can happen. Luckily New Zealand has an accident compensation scheme: ACC.

This is a ‘no fault’ universal accident insurance scheme which covers treatment costs for accidental injuries whether you are a citizen or just a visitor, whether you had an accident at work or cycling up in the hills.

Anyone having an accident can access hospital so there is no difference between our two groups except that as ‘part charges’ may apply medical insurance could be useful.

One thing to be aware of however is that while ACC covers injury-related treatment it does not cover repatriation expenses. It is a good idea to have comprehensive travel insurance to cover this.

Warning: Check the small-print on your medical insurance. This year a migrant who had come to me for immigration advice sadly died in a climbing accident. Due to a technicality in his medical insurance the company refused to fly his body home (on the basis he hadn’t been resident in the UK for six months before he took out the policy).

Make sure you don’t encounter the same problem by checking the small-print on your policy.

In an emergency dial 111 and ask for an ambulance

Public healthcare

This falls into two areas and there can be important differences for migrants:

  1. General Practitioner (GP)
    These handle all general medical and wellness issues and should be your first port of call if you are unwell. Registering with a GP is recommended, you can search for  a GP near you using the interactive map.
  2. Hospital Care
    There is a strong drive to keep hospitals free to stop them getting bogged down and for this reason before heading to a hospital you should try:

Importantly there can be costs accessing any medical services.

Free Public Health Care
For those who qualify for free public health care you can access:

  • free public hospital treatment
  • free treatment at public hospital 24-hour accident and emergency (A&E) clinics
  • subsidies on prescription items
  • subsidised fees for visits to GPs.
  • subsidised fees for specialist care (such as physiotherapists) when referred by a GP for an accident case
  • free or subsidised health care if suffering from acute or chronic medical conditions
  • no charge for most laboratory tests and x-rays, except at privately operated clinics
  • no charge for public health care during pregnancy and childbirth
  • no charge for GP referrals to a public hospital for treatment
  • subsidies for children under six for visits to the doctor and prescriptions (most visits to the doctor  and prescribed medicines for small children are free)
  • free breast screening for women aged between 45 and 69.

Your can check your eligibility for free healthcare – if you have a work visa lasting at least two years for example or come from the UK or Australia you are covered.

The Problem

The real problems here then are that:

  • Many migrants do not register with a GP and do not know where to go for medical help, for this reason they end up at the hospital which doesn’t have the resources to cope.
    • Solution:
      Register with a GP and follow the links in this article to find out more about health services in Christchurch. Go to the appropriate medical service if you need care, leaving the hospital as a last resort.
  • Some people on Working Holiday Visas do not have the comprehensive medical insurance they are required to have, making them vulnerable to mishap.
    • Solution:
      Make sure you have comprehensive medical insurance and check the small-print to make sure you are covered right through your stay in New Zealand, not just the first 6 months. Repatriation in case of serious mishap is an important inclusion.
  • There is a small group that fall outside health provisions: people on a one year work visa. This group do not have access to free healthcare and often do not have medical insurance. This makes them highly vulnerable and often they will not realise until something goes wrong. People in this situation can end up with large and unexpected medical bills.
    • Solution:
      Take out comprehensive medical insurance!

So if you are in Christchurch get searching for a GP near you and register. Find out where your local medical services are (there is a handy interactive map here including GPs and pharmacies) and take care of yourself.

If you are having difficulties access medical care let us know by posting about your experiences below ;o).

Mike Bell


Mike is architect of migrant community move2nz.com, a migrant advocate, and a qualified and licensed immigration adviser.

 

Useful links for Christchurch:


Follow

Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.

Join 510 other followers