Thursday 30 March 2017

To H-1B or not to H-1B: the skilled migrant visa question

Bottom line: it would be darned hard for a skilled worker in the US on an H-1B visa to land a New Zealand Skilled Migrant Visa without a job in hand here.

Immigration New Zealand screens these things using a points system. They're currently accepting Expressions of Interest from those with point totals higher than 160.

What's required to get 160 points? Here's the calculator.

Suppose that you're 29 years old. You received your tertiary education in the US and received your PhD in an area of absolute skills shortage when you were 27. You worked your way through university, always in that same area of absolute skill shortage, and you're working now in the States.
  • Age 20-29: 30 points (the highest for the category)
  • Level 9 or 10 postgrad degree: 60 points (the highest for the category)
  • Qualification in an area of absolute skills shortage: 10 points
  • 10+ years experience in a comparable labour market or in an area of absolute skill shortage: 30 points
Ok, that gets you to 130 points. The minimum is 100, but they're not considering EOIs less than 160.

A skilled employment job offer in NZ is worth 50 points. I can't see how you get past 130 without that offer in hand. You can bump it up to 150 total by having a partner with a recognised qualification of Level 7 or more (20 points), but that's about it. Having the job offer in hand is critical to getting over the current points threshold.

And so there are a pile of qualified, productive people in the US on H-1B visas who potentially would love to come here given what's going on there. They'd be good for the tech sector here. But without a job in hand, they can't really do it. And flying out to New Zealand on a job-hunting tourist trip is risky if you're on an H-1B and getting back into the US is dicey. 

Meanwhile, employers vary in ability to deal with immigration issues. The base mechanics aren't rocket science: here's Immigration New Zealand's summary:
Offering a job
You’re allowed to offer a job to someone who doesn’t have a visa but your offer should be conditional on that person getting a visa.
We use a points system to decide who we’ll invite to apply for residence under the Skilled Migrant Category.
For your candidate to be able to claim points for their job offer, it must be for:
  • a skilled occupation
  • full-time work (at least 30 hours a week)
  • permanent employment for 12 months or more, or on a contract basis, if your candidate can show us they have a history of consistent contract work, a current contract for services, and that the work’s likely to be ongoing 
  • an employer who has good workplace practices and complies with immigration, employment and other laws.
Applicants whose jobs are on one of the skill shortage lists or are in an identified growth area are more likely to be successful.
Nevertheless, an employer could easily be put off by the process: if the visa issuance is conditional on the job offer, and the job offer is conditional on the visa, then the employer may worry about Immigration limbo until the visa is approved after the job is offered. They could have Schrodinger's Employee: both hired and not hired, until the paperwork clears Immigration.

Even where Immigration NZ is doing a great job and moving fast, there's still risk: foreign governments can take a long time to process police background checks if NZ insists on them. The FBI is fast, but if somebody's in the States on an H-1B visa, they might need to get a police certificate from India (for example). And then everything waits on that.*

Some potential solutions?
  • Count possession of an H-1B as being worth 40 or 50 points towards a skilled migrant visa.
  • Deem anyone on a current H-1B visa to have passed the relevant police background checks as they would have passed them to get the H-1B in the first place and would have been deported from the US and had their visa revoked if they'd committed crimes while in the States. 
  • Set a temporary visa category for those in H-1B visas letting them move here and work here for a year, with automatic transition to the skilled migrant category on receiving employment. Put in big print on the visa form that regardless of the expiration date on the visa, any employer offering a job can be assured that the migrant will be given a longer term skilled migrant visa immediately on an employment offer being extended. Heck, print it all really clearly on an official looking sheet of A4 so the visa holder can give copies of the paper to any potential employers worried about immigration hassles. 
  • Coordinate with NZ tech employers to run some recruitment fairs up the US West Coast, with an immigration official along for the ride and able to issue visas on-site for any US H-1B holder who's been extended a job offer from a Kiwi employer. 
New Zealand suffers from shallow talent pools in too many areas. This is something simple the government could do right now to improve things. It targets entry to the kinds of skilled migrants that even NZ xenophobes claim that they want here. It's a pool of talented people many of which are likely ready to jump ship and come over. 

The government seems to be shying away from this one for fear of giving Winston a stick to beat them with, but this seems the kind of immigration drive that even NZ First should love. 

* Simple personal story on that one. When Canterbury extended me the job offer in March 2003, they said I could take up the offer anytime before February 2004 when classes started. So I spent a few months in Germany as a post-doc at ZEI at the University of Bonn. I put in my police background checks with the FBI and the RCMP really early, long before we left for Germany. And I also sorted my medical checks too. The FBI processed things quickly, because they're geared up to run fingerprint checks quickly. I think the RCMP at the time had two 80 year olds using magnifying glasses and checking applications against a big printed record of criminal fingerprints. Anyway, the RCMP took so freaking long to process my background check that my medical certificate expired. And so I needed to get a new medical check in Germany. 

Immigration NZ moved hellafast to make sure everything was in order for me to be able to fly out to Christchurch to take the job, once I was able to get them the RCMP paperwork, but there was SFA they could do while waiting on the paperwork. I had my American Green Card already, and a sane process would have just said that the Canadian check I'd done to get my American Green Card was sufficient for NZ purposes because I hadn't lived in Canada since 1998 anyway.

Now imagine all of that from the perspective of a private sector employer instead of a university that's happy for me to just show up sometime over the 10 months after the job offer was extended. 

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