Week in Review

NZ filters immigration tap, turn-by-turn

Immigration New Zealand has revealed that while the Govt hasn't raised residency requirements, it will simply bury many new applications for a while.

Immigration New Zealand will send new residency applications from skilled migrants to the bottom of a two year-old queue unless they earn more than double the median wage or satisfy occupational registration requirements.

Existence of the new criteria emerged this week when a further change taking effect from Monday meant even a type of residency application that had been allowed to jump the skilled migrant residency queue without double the median wage earnings would now also not be processed.

INZ quietly changed its website on Monday to disclose it had stopped looking at residency applications from applicants earning less than $106,080 per year, $51 per hour, unless they were in a registered occupation like teaching. Those amounts are well above the official requirements for residency. 

The site said: “Recently we have received enough applications that meet the priority criteria, that other applications were no longer being allocated.”

The department confirmed this wasn’t a new “priority” policy but one it had adopted for skilled migrants since the middle of 2018. The policy was signalled to immigration advisers, but had not been widely publicised. 

Since that policy was put in place, Residence for Work (RfW) “talent” applications had been allowed to jump the queue. 

Those applications were where a migrant may have worked for an accredited employer for two years, but the number of applicants from this category had ballooned after the exception was granted.

From February 24, those RfW applications would no longer be allowed to jump the queue unless applicants earned double the median wage or had occupational registration in a profession like teaching, INZ's border and operations manager Stephanie Greathead said in a statement.

Taking those applications out would allow INZ to start processing a backlog of skilled migrant applications that stretched back to December 2018, Greathead said. 

'Keep both queues moving'

Immigration Minister Iain Lees-Galloway said the move would keep the priority and non-priority queue moving without requiring a Cabinet vote on a new residency planning range or on changing the number of points required for residency.

However, it was “impossible” to say how many residency applications would be processed by the end of this year under the new approach, Lees-Galloway said.

“The key thing here is both queues will keep moving."

The old residency planning range expired at the end of last year and was used to decide how many residency applications would be granted.

A total of 52,048 applications were approved during the 18-month period from July 2018 to December 2019, when the planning range was 50,000 to 60,000 applications.

That was effectively an approval rate of 35,000 per year, and left a backlog of 26,000 unprocessed skilled migrant residency applications as of November 2019.

Greathead said INZ would continue processing applications with the same resources and at the same rate until the planning range was replaced.

She said there were 13,800 Skilled Migrant category and Residence for Work category residency applications on hand as of February 18.

The stalled call

David Cooper of Malcom Pacific Immigration said this all came down to a long overdue call on residency numbers that Newsroom reported had stalled at Cabinet.

“It’s just putting a sticking plaster on the problem and the problem right now is there are three times more people applying than places that were available under the old programme,” Cooper said.

“No changes have been made to stop people applying, to cut numbers back at the front end. And nothing’s been done to help those people that have done the right thing because the Government said please apply for residence in New Zealand because you’re just the people we want here,” he said.

“What they’re doing is they’re sticking them in a queue and they’re damaging people's lives.”

Potential applicants for residency are invited to apply after they file expressions of interest (EOIs). This system allows the government to tweak residency requirements to reach a particular target of residencies. If the government needs to grant more people residency under the target they simply lower the number of points needed, if they need to grant less they raise it.

“My question would be where’s the harm in making a decision? It’s not that hard, it’s gone on for years that whoever is the government of the day can announce the residence programme."

However the number of points required hasn’t changed and the target, the New Zealand Residence Programme (NZRP) expired at the end of last year. 

New Zealand has operated a 'planning range' of 45,000 to 50,000 residency approvals per year since the early 2000s, and this has often been expressed as a two-year range from 90,000 to 100,000. The previous National Government lowered the range to 85,000 to 95,000 for the two years to June 2018, which meant the annual allowance fell from 47,500 to 45,000. The current Labour-New Zealand First Coalition Government lowered that again to between 50,000 to 60,000 for the period from July 1, 2018 to December 31, 2019, effectively lowering the annual rate to 37,000 for the period that expired at the end of last year.

So, the number of work visas has grown while the number of potential residency visas has been cut. In 2008 there were a potential 125,000 applicants on work visas for 47,000 residency visas: a ratio of 2.65 to one. Today that ratio sits at 7.84 to one. It has meant the number of unprocessed residency applications has almost quadrupled in the past two years, as this previous article reports and this chart shows:

Cooper said the residency requirements hadn’t been officially changed because once they were, many people on work visas who were already employed in New Zealand would no longer choose to stay.

“The politicians keep saying the media are overblowing it whatever, whatever, whatever,” Cooper said.

“My question would be: where’s the harm in making a decision? It’s not that hard, it’s gone on for years that whoever is the government of the day can announce the residence programme. What’s your concern? What’s your worry? Why are you deferring?,” he said. 

Alastair McClymont, an immigration lawyer, said he had told his clients to expect a wait of up to two years on their applications. Many of the more skilled migrants in IT who earned salaries just shy of $80,000 a year were already exploring other options. 

The backlog itself had caused a further backlog as people panicked and tried to get their applications in, he said.

“They’re all afraid that something is going to happen and that the doors are just going to shut on them,” McClymont said.

Kate, a migrant from the UK whose application is in the queue and who Newsroom spoke to earlier, was cautiously optimistic her application might have a better chance of being processed after the announcement. 

“I just think they’re doing it to cover themselves because of all the media that’s gone on and now they’re doing something about it,” Kate said.

“They’re not stopping people applying…[and are] happy to take people’s money,” she said.

“It’s not really sorting the problem. It's just masking it.”

Another person in the queue, who Newsroom has spoken to before, said she had her first interview with a case officer this week. She filed her application in October 2018. 

“[The case officer] didn’t say when she can give me the decision. I didn’t even ask.” she said.

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