Immigration New Zealand’s actions signal that kindness isn’t for everyone

Last week, Immigration New Zealand announced the closure of offices in India, South Africa, and the Philippines, and Minister of Immigration Kris Faafoi promised a review of skilled migrant residence category settings by the end of this month, with an emphasis on upskilling New Zealand workers.

Aaron’s Take

Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern would like to everyone to be kind, but kindness appears not to extend to everyone. While thousands of migrants wait in limbo, some of whom are already onshore and have been here for years, Immigration New Zealand is taking its sweet time and appears unconcerned about what happens to non-New Zealanders.

Back in October, Immigration New Zealand suspended EOIs in the skilled migrant category for another six months, ostensibly to give them a chance to catch up on the backlog and review the category’s criteria. Time is almost up, yet it appears that nothing has been done in the past six months – so what exactly have they been doing all this time? Now we have the Minister announcing a review to justify another hold on the restart of the category. On top of that, reports indicate that cases are being pulled from the backlog for training purposes, meaning that unseasoned officers could be handling your residence case. Not exactly reassuring when your future – and your family’s – is on the line.

If INZ has truly had an 80% drop in applications – and therefore their workload – there must be a lot of staff sitting around with nothing to do. No more international students are coming here, the mainstay of work for the Palmerston North team, so what, indeed, are they working on? Most investor category applications come from offshore and were therefore already not being processed. The entrepreneur category is not heavily subscribed to and on hold, and the Global Impact visa is now defunct, so what are all the people previously dedicated to these workstreams currently doing? Where exactly is the bottleneck?

Immigration officers have been allocated to the skilled migrant residence cases INZ received before August 2019, but there’s been no appreciable increase in turnaround speed, pointing to a serious flaw in their current systems. After a year of reduced inflows, it’s clear that INZ is worried about work – and money – running out. Yet there’s an enormous pool of unprocessed EOIs, the onshore and therefore eligible contingent of which could help offset funding gaps brought on by putting everything on hold.

While the minister is avoiding focusing on the numbers they intend to grant residence, that’s got to be part of the equation. After all, Immigration’s operational funding relies on numbers, and the MIQ system works on numbers. Warning employers not to rely on migrant labour then refusing to talk numbers is, quite frankly, like walking around with one eye open and one eye closed.

Every immigration minister in the last 25 years has given this same speech about upskilling New Zealand workers, yet they miss the mark every time, with skill shortage lists that are too narrow and too prescriptive to accurately reflect industry need. The NZ education system isn’t equipped to make Kiwis work-ready for the 21st century and is therefore passing the buck to employers to upskill them.

The minister’s comments clearly foreshadow the introduction of compulsory accreditation for employers, but that’s not going to solve skill shortages that still exist and undermine industry sectors including construction, horticulture, and aged care. To compete as a trading nation, we need to import skills at all levels of the workforce to train New Zealanders in the skills we currently lack – and take the jobs New Zealanders currently reject because they don’t see longevity for themselves in these industries.

The minister’s comments also show the siloed thinking of most Wellington technocrats: because they say so, it will be. We say there will be increased upskilling of New Zealanders who will be able to take on all this work, and there will be enough of them – and it will be so. That’s never worked before. Why would it now? What foundational changes are we going to see that will make it different this time around? And why do they always leave everything till the last minute?

INZ will tell you that because of COVID-19, these are extraordinary times. Compared to the rest of the world, these aren’t extraordinary times, not in New Zealand anyway, especially not for people who are already onshore. Why can’t they reopen the skilled migrant category to those people and process them in a timely manner?

Need help or advice on your immigration situation? Contact Aaron Martin at NZIL for an honest and helpful appraisal.

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