Archive for March, 2012

Building transparency on EOI selections for skilled migrants

March 30, 2012

As regular readers of my newsletters and blogs (and anyone researching a permanent move) will know, the Skilled Migrant Category (SMC – you’ll get used to all of the acronyms!) of New Zealand’s Residence Programme starts with an Expression of Interest or EOI.

This EOI contains all of the information needed to make a decision about your application and costs $440 (if you submit it online, $560 if you send in a paper form). EOIs submitted go in to a ‘pool’ and each fortnight the immigration department selects a number of EOIs from the pool to meet agreed quotas.

The SMC is run on a points system (see a description of this category here and details of bonus points here) and EOIs need to score more than 100 points to be entered.

I have been concerned for some time that there is not enough clarity around the chances of EOIs being submitted being pulled from the pool before they expire and the applicants lose their money. Although there are no guarantees I believe that migrants have a right to transparency so that they can weigh up the decision before paying to enter an EOI.

Here is what the immigration department’s website says about EOI selections:

Expressions of Interest that have total points of 140 or more are selected automatically Expressions of Interest that have less than 140 points and include points for jobs or job offers are selected in sufficient numbers to meet the requirements of the New Zealand Residence Programme Additional Expressions of Interest may be selected from the pool to meet the requirements of the New Zealand Residence Programme using criteria set by the Minister of Immigration.

What the statement above says to me is that:

  1. EOIs entered with 140 points or more will be selected.
  2. EOIs entered with less than 140 points and a job offer will beselected, but only within the quota.
  3. EOIs entered with less than 140 points and no job may be selectedto meet requirements.
  4. The NZ residence programme requirements will be met.

Is this what is actually happening?

Well yes and no. To help me explain I will use groupings that were commonly used by the immigration department before 2009 (policy has not changed since then, it’s just that some of these groups are no longer ever selected):

  1. 140 points or more with a job offer;
  2. 140 points or more;
  3. 100 – 135 points with a job offer;
  4. 100 points or more with 15 bonus points for work experience;
  5. 100 points or more with 10 bonus points for work experience;
  6. 100 points or more with 10 bonus points for qualifications;
  7. 100 points or more with no bonus points.

All of these groups are valid entries under the current system, but how do your chances stack up for each of these groups?

2011/2012

The immigration year starts on 1st July. To give you an idea of selection patterns here are the numbers which have been selected since July 2011 for groups above.

Group:

  1. 62% (6,308);
  2. 13% (1,320);
  3. 17% (1,730);
  4. 8% (861);
  5. 0% (0);
  6. 0% (0);
  7. 0% (0).

Groups 1 and 3 (those with job offers)
The emphasis in the Skilled Migrant Category is to bring in skilled workers who have either obtained job offers or are already working – i.e. groups 1 and 3. As a result in the year to date these two groups make up 79% of all EOIs accepted.

Group 2
On average the department try to select around 100 from Group 2 (which are high scoring applicants who do not yet have a job offer) each fortnight depending on what is available. Applicants entering Group 2 EOIs have a pretty good chance of being selected before their EOI lapses – on average so far in the year from July the department has selected 96 per fortnight so they are pretty much on target and could probably do with some more of these.

Group 4 (15 bonus points for work experience)
EOIs submitted in this group are not always selected each fortnight and overall only a very small number of these EOIs have been picked. What may catch people out is that the pass mark (i.e. the minimum number of points needed before selection) wanders around. For example on 14 December 2011 EOIs claiming 110 points were selected, but in other weeks only those with 120, 130 or even 135 will be taken from the pool.

Here is a graph of the pass-mark since July 2011 (applications with points below the red line would not be selected).

Group 4 passmark in 2011/12

What you can see from this is that no EOI entered falling into this group scoring less than 110 points has been selected so far this year. For most months EOIs would need to score 125 points or better and the average ‘pass-mark’ (of points needed to be selected through 2011/12) has been 128 so far.

This is a marked change from 2010/11 when EOIs scoring over 100 points were often selected. In fact for 2010/11 the average ‘pass-mark’ needed for a reasonable chance of selection was only 108 points.

Group 5 (10 bonus points for work experience)
No EOIs have been selected falling into this group since 19 May 2011 when EOIs claiming just 100 points and upwards were selected. This means that all EOIs falling into this group entered between May 2011 and late September 2011 (so far) lapsed before being selected. Any EOIs being entered in this group are highly unlikely to be selected under the current regime.

Group 6 (10 bonus points for qualifications)
Again no EOIs have been selected falling into this group since 19 May 2011 have been selected meaning that many would have lapsed. Any EOIs being entered in this group are highly unlikely to be selected under the current regime.

Group 7 (no bonus points)
No EOIs in this group have been selected since December 2009 meaning that any EOI entered which did not exceed 140 points or claim bonus points between December 2009 and September 2011 would have lapsed. Any EOIs being entered in this group are highly unlikely to be selected under the current regime.

New Zealand Residence Programme requirements

An important point affecting migrant’s expectations of their EOI being selected from the pool is the statement that the current regime will meet “the requirements of the New Zealand Residence Programme”. Many migrants entering EOIs may feel that this means the chances of their EOI being selected has not diminished, however this is not the case.

The Skilled Migrant Category makes up around 58 percent of New Zealand’s Residence programme which is spread across three main streams: Business/Skilled (90% of which is the SMC); family and humanitarian. The Residence programme has a quota agreed by government, which used to be between 45,000 and 50,000 per year and is now a span of between 135,000 and 150,000 over the next three years.

In 2010/11 the immigration department failed to meet the Residence quota for the first time. The department did not miss this by a little, but by 4,263 or 9.5%. The majority of this shortfall came from the Skilled Migrant Category which was 3,855 or 14.3% short.

Creating a little transparency
Government reports blame the Canterbury earthquakes and global recession, however when asked for the data to support these conclusions the authors are not able to provide this information. Interestingly the reports fail to attribute any blame for the fall in numbers gaining residency through the Skilled Migrant Category to policy changes made by the immigration Minister, for example the 30% cut implemented since January 2010 in the number of EOIs selected for processing through the SMC residency stream!

This year (although the quotas have been now spread over 3 years) the department is heading for a shortfall of 8,442 (based on departmental statistics to February 2012) or 33.8% on the Skilled Migrant Category.

Migrants entering EOIs should be aware that although technically the requirements of the Residence programme are being met, this is because the ‘goalposts have been moved’. In reality applicants entering an EOI stand a significantly lower chance of that EOI being selected for processing as not only has the number of EOIs being pulled from the pool been cut by 30%, the percentage of those lucky applications which are declined has doubled over recent years to 17.8% so far in 2011/12.

Summary

I am concerned that immigration department statements, like the one I quoted earlier in this article, give many migrants thinking of entering EOIs overblown expectations of their chances of being selected. While those with job offers or over 140 points can reasonably expect to be selected under the current regime, thousands of others are entering EOIs in good faith not realising they stand little or no chance of being selected.

Figures for the number of EOIs which have lapsed (i.e. dropped out of the pool with the fee lost) are not available, however if numbers from 2009 had been maintained through the months since over 2,200 applications entered – which would have stood a good chance of being selected in previous years under what is presented as the same system – would have lapsed meaning the applicants would have lost their money.

Not considering additional costs to migrants (such as paying a professional to help prepare the EOI), fees received by the New Zealand government alone for applications which had little or no chance of success would add up to nearly $900,000!

I would very much like to see the position clarified in immigration department information so that migrants are given transparent information on the current criteria (which has been in force since January 2010) enabling them to make informed choices on whether to submit their EOI or not.

Hopefully this article will begin this process of building awareness and transparency.

Mike
move2nz.com

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Immigration department ‘own-goal’?

March 28, 2012

Drop in migrants hits Govt coffers

Immigration New Zealand could be heading for a record deficit because of the drop in numbers of people coming to this country.A briefing paper to the Immigration Minister says the agency’s memorandum account is forecast to hit a deficit of $44 million at June 30, up from a deficit of $28.1 million recorded last October.

“This is largely a result of a drop in visa application volumes following the global financial crisis and the Canterbury earthquakes,” the paper says.

This looks like a huge ‘own-goal’ for the immigration department leading to the first deficit since the current system was introduced in 2001.

While government reports might point to earthquakes and the global recession for the shortfall this does not stack up and the department has been unable to provide any evidence to support this when asked.

Strangely the fact that policy was introduced in January 2010 to cut the number of Expressions of Interest (EOIs) selected by the immigration department under the Skilled Migrant Category which makes up 59% of New Zealand’s Residence Programme. Since then the number of perfectly acceptable EOIs left to expire has been steadily rising as only a third of the EOIs available are being selected.

These policy changes helped drop the New Zealand residence programme figures 4,263 below the minimum quota last year – the first time the quota has been missed since it was introduced. This would have cost the department over $6.2 million in lost fees and levies.

This process has continued and as a result the shortfall caused by policy is calculated to double in the current year with the Immigration department on target to miss the old residence programme quota by a whopping 33%. The drop of 8,442 migrants below quota will lose the government over $12.2 million in fees and levies for residence alone.

This situation could easily be helped by simply putting selection rates for skilled visas back to 2009 levels – there are plenty of applicants available – over 1,200 were left in the pool last selection – but that does not look likely.

Mike
move2nz.com

A third of New Zealand migrants on benefits?

March 7, 2012

Yesterday Nathan Guy, New Zealand’s new Minister for Immigration, stated in an interview with TV One’s breakfast show that a third of migrants in New Zealand are claiming a benefit.

I just don’t know where to start with this one. I had been hoping to stay on a positive footing with this new Minister…

Actually I can’t imagine (beyond outright racism) what an Immigration Minister could have done to cause more damage to his portfolio.

It lookslike Mr. Guy has single-handedly:

  • undermined the entire immigration department (which delivers a multi-billion dollar profit to NZ every year); and
  • tried his hardest to scare off as many globally mobile skilled workers as possible.

What makes this statement incredible is that:

  1. The majority (85%) of migrants arriving in NZ each year aren’t eligible to claim any kind of benefit as they are on temporary visas: temporary workers, students etc.
  2. Of the other migrants – the ones who would gain residency:
    • 60% are not eligible to claim for benefits for the first two years (skilled/business stream);
    • 31% are family sponsored meaning that if they claim benefits during the first five years of being in NZ the money is reclaimed from their sponsor

That leaves just 1% of migrants coming into the country (9% of residents) who can claim benefits during the first two years of being in New Zealand.

It should be mentioned that this group enter New Zealand through the humanitarian stream, many as refugees which effectively form New Zealand’s international good work.

Employment
Migrants generally cannot get in to New Zealand without a job offer and because of this rates of migrant employment are very high.

Benefit to New Zealand
The immigration department applies a strict set of rules against each application which are aimed at encouraging gain for New Zealand while protecting this country from loss.

For this system to work is must provide a greater benefit to New Zealand than it costs. The latest government research provided in its International Migration Outlook for 2009/10 confirmed that for 2005/06 (the last time gain was fully calculated by government) immigration delivered $8.1 billion into the New Zealand economy that year.

The report confirms that while the New Zealand population of 3.1 million people had contributed $2.83 billion to the economy that year the migrant population of 927,000 (i.e. all of the migrants including new and those who had been here for many years) had contributed a much greater $3.28 billion.

This clearly confirms that the immigration system, which has not significantly changed since 2006, is working extremely well in providing New Zealand with people who continue throughout their lives to contribute to the economy rather than a mass who claim benefits and drain the system.

I have written to the Immigration Minister to ask about these statements and will update once I hear back.

Mike
move2nz.com

Govt directive undermines NZ Immigration department principles

March 3, 2012

A change in immigration department policy which could potentially affect almost all migrant workers was notified to immigration staff through an Internal Administration Circular on 14th November 2011.

This issue was originally identified by blog website NoRightTurn who obtained key documents under the Official Information Act. The story has now made it into mainstream headlines and I have written this article to explain what this change means and who it could affect.

What has changed?

When an application made to the immigration department for a visa is declined the reasons for refusing that application are always recorded in accordance with the
core principles of the immigration department: fairness and natural justice.

What the circular does is to direct staff on cases involving section 61 of the Immigration Act specifically not to record the reasons for declining an application, effectively making it impossible for the applicant to appeal or question the decision.

19. The rationale and reasons for the decision should not be recorded, either on the template, in the notes or in communication with the client.

So what is section 61 and when does it apply?

Basically S61 affects anyone who doesn’t have a valid visa. Anyone not a permanent residence or citizen can find themselves unlawfully in New Zealand if their visa expires or is cancelled for any reason. In this situation you are automatically and immediately classified as being in New Zealand unlawfully. I wrote an article about how easy it is to become an overstayer last May on Move2NZ’s blog.

What used to be known as S35A in the 1987 Immigration Act was updated to S61 in the 2009 Act:

Immigration Act 2009

61 Grant of visa in special case

  1. The Minister may at any time, of the Minister’s own volition, grant a visa of any
    type to a person who—

    1. is unlawfully in New Zealand; and
    2. is not a person in respect of whom a deportation order is in force.
  2. A decision to grant a visa under subsection (1) is in the Minister’s absolute discretion.

Under section 14 of the Act any non-citizen in New Zealand must hold a valid and current visa to be here. If you do not have one you are unlawfully in New Zealand and must leave.

If someone who is unlawfully in NZ applies for a visa to stay section 61 kicks in. Over the past few three years an average of 138 cases have fallen into this category with most of these being approved. At the end of December 2011 the department had 58 cases on hand.

A real-life example

Often migrants do not see how a change like this might affect them, so here is a real-life example of someone affected by this legislation:

A migrant came with his family to New Zealand aiming to get permanent residency through the Skilled Migrant Category. His skills were listed on the Long Term Skills Shortage and he was soon offered work.

To take up that job offer (and get the points he needed for his residency application) he obtained a temporary work visa, started working and then entered his Expression of Interest (EOI) for residency – a route taken by about 80% of people who gain permanent residency. Unfortunately just a month later he was made redundant through company restructuring.

He (and his family) were then unlawfully in New Zealand.

Why? Because his visa was linked to his job. No job, no visa and no visa = unlawfully in the country. He told immigration about this change of circumstances and was told to leave New Zealand.

Luckily, being highly skilled, he was offered another job and applied for a new work visa to allow him to stay in New Zealand and start work. As he was unlawfully in New Zealand this application was handled under S61 of the Immigration Act. His application was declined and again he was told to leave New Zealand.

He successfully appealed this decision with the Removals Authority (now the Immigration Protection Tribunal) on the basis that the immigration department’s decision was wrong. The immigration department was ordered to give him a 12 month work visa, giving him time for his application for residency to be processed – effectively making the residency application the test of whether he should go or stay. He now has residency.

Fairness and Natural Justice

While there may be an argument that this change does indeed breach New Zealand law (potentially violating both the right to justice and the Public Records Act.) I’ll leave that discussion to the lawyers.

What I do know is that “fairness and natural justice” are the core principles that the immigration department and system are based on. The immigration department’s operations manual has this to say:

Underpinning all our activity is the desire to provide the best possible service and to demonstrate honesty, fairness, confidentiality and respect in all our dealings.

According to A1.1 of the operations manual:

All immigration officers must act on the principles of fairness and natural justice when deciding an application.

As you would expect, being founded on these core principles the immigration system contains a number of processes to protect individuals from unfairness or mistakes, for example the right to appeal decisions to the Immigration Protection Tribunal (which reviews immigration decisions), the office of the Ombudsman (which reviews the actions of government departments and the High Court.

Why was this change made?

Appeals through the Ombudsman’s office and high court take time and resources and it appears that this decision has been made simply to cut costs. In contrast to this the immigration department’s operations manual has this to say:

Good decision-making requires attention to process, to how the decision is made, as well as looking at the merits of the case. A fair process is more likely to ensure a fair outcome. Decisions that are not made in the proper manner may be reviewed by the courts or become a subject of complaint to the Ombudsman

By making this change to systematically stop recording the reasons for an immigration decision the right of appeal is automatically removed as one needs the basis for the decision to be able to appeal it. Migrants in this position will be unable to use the systems set in place to protect them from mistakes or unfair decisions.

Taking action

Undermining these core principles of the immigration department cannot be a good thing and I believe this is simply a mistake which needs to be corrected quickly to avoid damage to the department’s reputation.

I’ll be writing to the Immigration Minister to highlight my concerns and will let you know the result.

If anyone is currently affected by this change please contact me to share your story – any information will be handled in strict confidence.

This article was first published on move2nz.com 29/2/12 – move2nz.com: helping inform and support migrants since 2005.