Monday 24 May 2021

Clarke's law, migration edition

One play on Clarke's third law holds that any sufficiently advanced incompetence is indistinguishable from malice. 

I don't know whether it's malice toward migrants driving things in the current government, or a sufficiently advanced incompetence, or a combination of the two. It's overdetermined. 

But it's pretty bad. 

Anuja Nadkarni reports that Immigration NZ is sitting on $5m in fees it's collected from potential skilled migrants, with zero intention of processing anything

The expression of interest processing pool has been put on hold because of Covid and the freeze was extended for another six months in October last year.

Before Covid, expressions would be processed every two weeks and could be in the pool for a maximum of six months.

Immigration NZ's border and visa operations general manager Nicola Hogg said that although the suspension was currently being reviewed, there was no timeframe for a decision.


To be successful in their expression under the skilled migrant category, migrants must have a job that qualify for at least 160 points under the immigration's system (determined by an immigration advisor). The expression of interest fee is $530.

If successful, migrants can apply for permanent residency after completing medical checks.

Currently there are about 13,000 people waiting in queue for their residency applications to be processed by Immigration NZ.

Immigration Minister Kris Faafoi said this was because of increased demand, but the government department said it was waiting for guidance from the minister to make a decision on a new approval quota.

A company behaving similarly would likely be up on fraud charges. But it's MBIE that runs consumer protection, and MBIE that runs Immigration, and even if it were unlikely for MBIE to prosecute MBIE anyway, there's likely a statutory exemption somewhere protecting government agencies from being hit. 

The go-slow at Immigration also winds up hitting the kids of skilled migrants who wind up in a special hell-limbo, where remaining dependent on their parents maintains some hope of getting a visa, but also means they can't really study because internationals student fees are rather high. 

Under immigration rules, applicants younger than 24 years who are single, don’t have any children of their own and rely on an adult for financial support can be considered “dependent children”.

The rules also don't permit Kayleigh and Chevaunne to work in New Zealand or study without paying international fees. Advice received from immigration advisors, and immigration call centres is to not volunteer or intern either. 

“I can’t apply for residency as an individual because I don’t have any work experience or money,” Kayleigh Roffe says. "My application wouldn’t be successful even if I tried."

The family's spent at least $34,000 on their residency applications.

A positive residence decision would mean the kids could at least study. But Immigration New Zealand isn't processing applications. They're just taking fees. Like run-of-the-mill scam artists. And an 18 year old who's here with their skilled-migrant parent isn't likely to be able to get a work visa on their own. 

At the same time, the border has separated a lot of families. If the border closed after a skilled migrant got here, but before the migrant's spouse and children could get here too, there seems no hope unless the migrant earns a fair bit. There's room in the MIQ system. But you need a special visa to be allowed a slot in MIQ, and they aren't being granted for the families of skilled migrants who are already in New Zealand. There was room for nutritionists for the America's Cup challenger teams, but no room for the spouse and kids of a math teacher. 

The Spinoff notes some of the consequences.

Johan Steyn’s story is by now a familiar one. Having just barely squeaked through the closing doors of the border, he went straight into lockdown with no income for more than a month. After initially being given what he calls “false hope” from Immigration New Zealand (INZ) they’d let families through case by case, he says, what followed was a year of stonewalling.

He and Sumari spent untold hours on hold with immigration, only sometimes getting through. By November, they’d sold all their South African assets, including their home and two businesses. Through racked with anxiety over his family’s safety — besides a rampaging virus, he says, they had to stay in a bed and breakfast near a dangerous area — they were repeatedly rejected for border exemption, told that “humanitarian grounds” meant only matters of life and death.

By the end of 2020, after running two households on a single income for months, they were feeling the financial sting. In New Zealand, Johan was refused a credit card because he was only a visa holder. In South Africa, with no more assets to her name, Sumari couldn’t take out a loan.

He says they’ve spent the majority of their life savings now. And his daughters are struggling. His eldest has seen her grades suffer, while his youngest was told by her classmates her dad would find another wife while he was gone. All the while, hopes raised by the government’s serial assurances that things would happen soon have been repeatedly dashed.

“If you want to torture somebody for a year and a half, you do to them what they did to us,” Johan says.

I'd hit on some of this in last week's Dom Post column:

Potential skilled migrants deserve a few warnings about what they are getting into in moving to New Zealand – the kinds of disclosures that are often mandatory in the private sector to ensure consumers can make informed decisions

The Fair Trading Act’s provisions against deceptive and misleading conduct do not seem to apply to Immigration New Zealand. Caveat emptor.

It isn’t just immigration of course. One of government’s best tricks is exempting itself from the regulatory regimes it applies to the private sector.

But if a private firm with a government-enforced monopoly invited potential clients to submit applications, with hefty application fees, with little intention of ever processing those applications in any timely fashion, there would be consequences.

Engaging in deceptive or misleading conduct, and making false representations, is forbidden by the Fair Trading Act.

But Immigration New Zealand can take skilled migrants’ application fees with little intention of processing visa applications, and the consumer protection side of MBIE never seems to notice.

The world is a big place providing a lot of options for skilled migrants. And a lot of countries seek to attract skilled migrants.

Where New Zealand bans new migrants from purchasing a home until they have achieved residence, Portugal grants residence visas to new migrants who purchase a home in Portugal.

In 2020, Italy enacted a special tax regime for inbound workers. New migrants benefit from generous tax exemptions: up to 90 per cent of migrants’ income is exempt from taxation for up to ten years.

These kinds of tax exemptions are a terrible idea. They make a mess of the tax system and badly distort labour markets.

But they reflect a fundamentally different attitude towards migrants than that evidenced more recently in New Zealand.

... If you come here, you should expect there to really be no way to leave and return, or for family to visit you, for perhaps another year.

Even for people who are vaccinated, and even if they are from places from the UK where high vaccination rates have suppressed the virus.

Hopefully, Minister Faafoi’s announcement will signal a substantial change in attitude and in policy.

But caveat emptor applies. Migrant beware.

Minister Faafoi did not show up for the very heavily publicised immigration speech. His Deputy, Stuart Nash, announced nothing; he just summarised current government policy. Why piles of execs were invited down from Auckland for what was advertised as being a big announcement is anybody's guess. There was no announcement, nor even a hint of one. The Minister's being ill would have been a fine pretext for postponing if they'd found some hole in whatever policy was supposed to have been announced. 

Sufficiently advanced incompetence? Malice? Both? 

Whatever the reason, whatever the government winds up announcing around skilled migration, caveat-the-hell-emptor. 

I have been the biggest advocate that all of my friends should move to New Zealand. I spent the last year wishing that more of them had listened to me. 

I could not recommend that anyone I like or care about do that now. Dealing with Immigration New Zealand under the current government will not be worth it. It'll take something pretty big to fix things. 

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