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Pansy Speak: Immigration NZ's big con

Pansy Speak
Immigration New Zealand’s big con

The cost of introducing the Skilled Migrant Category in 2003: Millions of dollars with 10,000 applications dropped

The cost of fixing the category to ‘slow the flow’ of migrants in 2005: More than $700,000 with 2,000 Expressions of Interest dropped

Realising there’s no difference between this category and its predecessor, the General Skills Category: Priceless

Three years ago the General Skills Category was dropped by Immigration New Zealand in favour of the Skilled Migrant Category (SMC), to enable ‘New Zealand to manage immigration applications more effectively’. Legislation was rushed through Parliament under urgency, 10,000 applications were ‘lapsed’ due to the changes and it cost taxpayers millions to implement them.

The then Minister of Immigration, Lianne Dalziel, said the SMC was essential to allow New Zealand to go ‘from being a passive recipient of skilled migrants to actively recruiting them’. Fast forward two years to July 2005 and immigration officials were scrambling to find a way to ease the pressure. The new system had failed to effectively manage applications. Officials claimed that unless changes were made, three-quarters of the migrant target for the 06/07 financial year would already be filled.

Dalziel blamed the ‘auto pass’ feature of the General Skills Category for the huge backlog of applications in 2003 and said that under that category ‘all applications must be accepted, when the pass mark is met, we have to grant residency’. The system had been set up so the weekly pass mark could be changed to reflect supply and demand, but Dalziel neglected to do this.

This problem was not fixed by a legislation change. Cabinet papers from July 2005 reveal that ‘holding the Skilled Migrant Category selection at the minimum standard of 100 points has permitted a high level of approvals. It has also made the SMC resemble the “auto pass” system of the previous General Skills Category… [the] selection point stability at 100 stops the policy working as the mechanism for active selection of skilled migrants’.

Déjà vu anyone?

Just 18 months after the SMC was ushered in the new Immigration Minister David Cunliffe was forced to introduce changes to stop the flood of applications. The category was failing in the same way as the previous one. In a press statement announcing the changes, he confirmed a return to the dreaded ‘auto pass’ system and said that all expressions of interest with more than 140 points would automatically be selected.

Why on earth did the Minister do this when his Government threw out the General Skills Category in 2003 for this reason?

The changes introduced in December 2005 were meant to have a one-off cost of a maximum of $500,000, but that budget has been blown out to $700,000 with no explanation as to why, and there will now be ongoing costs of more than $200,000 each year.

What are we paying for?

Looking at the nuts and bolts of both the General Skills Category and the SMC we see there are no principle differences between them. The objective is still the same, there are still a minimum number of points required, and points are still given for qualifications, age, work experiences and offers of employment. The fact that the Minister has openly adopted an automatic pass mark for applications has made a mockery of the changes.

The Government has conned New Zealanders into believing the SMC is better than the old system when in fact it’s the same in all but name and cost. The SMC is causing exactly the same delays and problems for applicants. In 2003, 10,000 applicants who met the points were dropped. In 2005, 2,000 applicants faced the same fate.

I was also disturbed to read suggestions of reducing the transparency of the SMC to enable officials to make changes to the requirements whenever the Department sees fit.

It is time for the Government and Immigration Minister David Cunliffe to stop blaming the problems on the system, and admit they can’t manage the portfolio and department. How can we have confidence that this Government can competently handle the latest Immigration Act Review when they can’t tell the truth as to what’s really happening with immigration?

Note: The Skilled Migrant category has certain processes that applicants must go through to be accepted. First they submit an Expression of Interest (EOI) in which they have to meet a points requirement to be accepted – emphasis has also now been placed on job offers. Once their EOI is verified and accepted they are issued with an Invitation to Apply (ITA) for residence.

Pansy Wong


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