NZ Association of Migration and InvestmentImmigration
Address to the NZAMI annual conference
Sky City Hotel
Thank you for inviting me to speak to you this morning. It is certainly a great pleasure to again address the NZAMI annual conference. But today is a special day for me – it is exactly one year and eight months since I became the Minister of Immigration.
I wish to focus my address on that one year and eight months and the changes that have been brought about in a relatively short space of time. I also wish to comment on some of the matters that I raised at last year's conference to give you an update on progress.
But first I wish to acknowledge the excellent working relationship between myself and the NZAMI. I have enjoyed several opportunities to meet with executive members of the institute and this has given me an opportunity to hear first hand of some of the concerns that are being raised at the grass roots. I also wish to acknowledge Bill Milnes for his contribution to the Ministerial Advisory Group that was established earlier this year. His contribution has been extremely welcome, and I believe that he has not only represented the interests of NZAMI but has also been able to focus on the broader range of issues that are raised within the immigration context.
I believe that the Ministerial Advisory Group is working well, and its members represent an excellent touchstone, for testing ideas. It also represents a conduit for good ideas from the range of sectors that have an interest in migrant and refugee issues.
Last year I indicated that we were working on the whole question of settlement policy. I indicated to you that I was working very closely with the Hon George Hawkins in his role as Minister of Ethnic Affairs to ensure that there was an integrated pattern to settlement.
Cabinet has now approved the development of an integrated settlement policy for New Zealand, and it involves the Immigration Service taking the lead role on pre-settlement matters and the initial settlement experience, and Ethnic Affairs taking the lead role on the post-settlement policy elements.
In order to ensure that the NZIS has a strong focus on settlement outcomes, a settlement branch was established in June. It is already extremely busy with a very detailed work programme.
A key piece of work is the implementation of this government’s recognition that successful settlement begins before the decision to move to New Zealand is made. The NZIS slogan is “New Zealand – the Right Choice”. We are almost ready to release a brochure with a working title “New Zealand – Making Sure it’s the Right Choice for You”. We are releasing a draft to the NZAMI for comment next week. The purpose of the brochure is to ensure that people have a realistic set of expectations should they decide to come to New Zealand, and it encourages people to take up the 6 months work permit option to find that all important job offer.
Work is also being undertaken to modernise and update the NZIS web-site. I believe that the work that was done last year on the Business Migrant web-site was excellent, and no doubt contributed to the exponential increase in ‘hits’ that we have experienced.
There is also work underway on an ‘Access from Anywhere’ pilot, so that NZIS can deliver on this government’s commitment to an effective e-government strategy.
The Settlement Branch is also very closely involved in the settlement pilots.
As you will know, 10 migrant levy-funded settlement pilots have been established, 6 of them here in Auckland, and the rest in Wellington, Christchurch and Palmerston North.
This morning I attended a breakfast organised by the Auckland Chamber of Commerce. It was to talk about the role that their pilot can play in producing good settlement outcomes by linking business and professional migrants with local business and professional networks. The New Kiwis website has proved to be a highly popular website, which has encouraged a number of migrants to register their interest in professional work and has also enabled a number of businesses to look to the local new Kiwis market before looking overseas.
Although it is early days I am extremely pleased with the results I have seen so far. It is the second most popular website for employment operating in NZ and that is within two months of it being established. There are, as of yesterday, 1047 migrants registered on the site and 137 employers registered on the site.
The latest statistics that I have is that within the first 6 weeks of the site operating, 42 migrants were placed into employment as a direct result of linking businesses and migrants on the website.
Two of the other pilots are focussed on mentoring for employment. One of them is operating out of Palmerston North and the other out of Wellington. The idea that employment is one of the key features in establishing successful settlement outcomes has proved to be a reality. I am confident that when we come to assess these pilots that we will find they have produced excellent results and I look forward to being able to report on those at next year's conference.
Enforceable Standards for Immigration Consultants
At last year's conference I talked about the options for setting enforceable standards. We received a large number of submissions – 94 to be exact - and as a result we have taken the matter back to Cabinet and Cabinet has asked for further work to be done on the details of the options that are before them. Basically there are two options now. One is a full statutory model, the other is an enhanced form of self regulation. It is possible within the context of the work that is being developed now that a hybrid of the two models could in fact emerge. I have looked at some of the other models that have been developed for other professions and it does appear to me that there is some potential in combining the self-regulatory model within a statutory framework.
Something which I wish to release publicly today, is the report that has been undertaken on immigration consultants. The report produces some very interesting information about the size of the industry, the types of migrants who utilise the industry and the success or otherwise of applications associated with the industry.
The research was initiated this year, and was designed to scope the size of the immigration consulting industry, investigate the characteristics of consultants & the migrants who use them, and to provide some information on the extent and nature of any problems associated with the use of consultants. The research improves our understanding of the dynamics of the NZ immigration consulting industry.
A data set of 227,235 people applying for temporary entry or permanent residence. 27% of migrants used agents for residence applications, although this proportion varied substantially between residence categories. Those applying under the business categories had the highest proportionate use of agents, at 63% of all applications. 33% of General Skills applicants, and 48% of Humanitarian category applicants used an agent.
Approximately 10% of all applications for temporary entry made use of an agent (8% work, 9% visitors & 15% student).
- There was no consistent pattern of agent use dependant on whether lodged on or off-shore.
- Applicants from Asia were more likely to use agents across all immigration categories, compared with applicants from Europe/the Americas.
- Principal applicants who were male were more likely to use agents than females
- There was no systematic association across all immigration categories between whether an applicant used an agent and whether those applications were successful.
It also draws some conclusions about the size of the industry, using three criteria: Volume of business (they excluded agents who had been associated with less than 5 successful residence claims in a year), occupation (that is if they were listed in the Yellow Pages and had at least 1 successful application in a year), and other forms of self-identification ( membership of NZAMI or they included the words migration or immigration in the company name). Using this definition the researchers concluded that there were 159 active immigration consultants in New Zealand in the year 2000. However, there were 352 New Zealand based agents associated with successful residence applications that year, so it is always going to be difficult to establish just who is and isn’t in the field.
What the report does clearly identify, however, is that just over 68% of successful residence applications involving agents, saw the agent covered by a code of standards/ethics – i.e. they were members of NZAMI, lawyers or accountants.
It also indicates that there are very big players and very small players. For example, the 10 most active agents handled almost a third of all successful residence applications dealt with by agents.
In terms of the problems encountered by a search of some of my Ministerials, they were false refugee status claims, false claims being made to intending migrants about the application and settlement process, and the giving of poor advice generally.
The one caution that I would attach to the issue of the size of the industry is this. Although the numbers may be relatively small, the impact on New Zealand’s international reputation and the individuals who are duped is enormous. I was very gratified to see that the membership of NZAMI did not feature in the ‘rip-off’ merchant statistics – with only one member being identified.
I am acutely aware that the opposition is criticising me for the delay in bringing in a register, however, I do not apologise for being meticulous. I am determined to get the model right. There is also a significant cost in implementing either model, as you can see from the size of the industry, and I want to ensure that it represents value for money, as well as providing an effective tool for ridding the industry of the cowboys.
When I spoke to you last year, I talked about an example of an immigration consultant or indeed, several immigration consultants who together had made the settlement experience very unpleasant for a particular family. The barrier to the family attaining residence at the end of the day was the NZQA qualification assessment not producing sufficient points for residents. This matter has now been addressed.
From July 1st of this year, NZQA qualification assessments are now required to be front-end loaded with the application. We have a Memorandum of Understanding with NZQA that the maximum period of time that people will have to wait for an NZQA assessment upon the lodgement of complete documentation, will be 8 weeks.
You will note that we were able to achieve the 1 July start up date as a result of an enormous effort undertaken by NZQA and I want to take the opportunity at this conference to publicly congratulate NZQA for what was a mammoth task and something that was achieved within the timeframe that was allotted to them. We have also been able to significantly expand the list of recognised qualifications, which enables people to simply lodge their applications knowing that their qualifications have already been accepted. This work is of course ongoing and we will be able to add to the list.
NZ Immigration Programme
You will be aware that earlier this year I announced that there would be a change with respect to the NZ Immigration programme and the focus on the general skills migrant. The announcement was made that there would be a separate stream for general skills and it would have its own approvals programme of 27,000.
There are a number of other announcements to follow as a result of decisions that have already been taken by Cabinet, however, there are still two more papers to go through Cabinet and once that has been concluded the announcement will be made in full.
This of course will include details of the family sponsored categories, which have been the subject of a first principles review.
Work Permits for Spouses
One of the significant announcements that I have already made and that has already been translated into government policy, was the decision to make work permits available to the spouses of Long Term Business Visa applicants and Work Permit applicants. I believe that this was an important move to make in order for us to be part of the "brain exchange" which is the reality of an international labour market.
I noticed in a newspaper recently that a group of 20 international companies have set up a lobby group called the Permits Foundation, in order to persuade governments around the world of the benefits of spousal work permits. I am pleased to say that along with a very small number of other countries, New Zealand is leading the way.
Another decision that the government made last year, which I am extremely proud of, was the Transitional Policy. This enabled a number of people who were here in New Zealand either unlawfully or lawfully without the opportunity of gaining residents, who were well settled in New Zealand, to obtain residence.
At the close of the Policy deadline on March 31st, NZIS had received more than 6000 applications of which some 4000 have already been approved for temporary permits. There are still some 2000 applications to be processed but it is likely that the majority of them will be approved under this Policy.
A major priority for this government has been the reduction in the backlog of refugee cases. I had hoped to achieve the 3-month turnaround for first level determinations by the time I addressed this year’s conference. However, due to a high number of manifestly unfounded claims, emanating from Thailand and the Czech republic, this has not been possible. The decision to suspend the visa waiver for these two countries has already made an enormous difference, and I am confident that I will be able to report the achievement of the goal next year.
Last year in the lead up to the Transitional Policy and beyond a communications strategy involving Community Training was developed for the Pacific Communities.
This year’s priority is the development of similar strategies for the Business sector. I announced earlier on this year that a General Skills qualifications exemption similar to that applying to the IT sector was now available to create new categories of residence for those individuals who would contribute to New Zealand’s economic development. I have had not one request for such a category, and yet the demand was clearly advised to us at recent government/business forums.
Our focus this year will be not only on developing new policies – e.g. the linking of work permit to residence status – but communicating in more innovative ways, the range of products we already have. I believe NZAMI can play an important role in assisting with that communication both here in New Zealand and internationally.
In conclusion, reflecting back on the last year and eight months as Minister of Immigration, I feel that we have achieved a lot in a short space of time. I am enormously proud of the NZIS's capacity to respond to what has been a very intensive 20 months where they have been called upon to revisit previous government policy and to respond to a change in direction. We of course have some way to go and I look forward to working in partnership with the NZAMI.
Thank you once again for the opportunity to address you this morning and I would be happy to respond to any questions you may have.