A recent article raises the point that expecting almost everyone applying for Skilled Migrant Residence to have “Skilled Employment” in order to apply is forcing people into management jobs where they are being exploited (by being underpaid, for instance).  The problem is especially bad for those who complete a NZ qualification and who have been sold the dream of a pathway to Residence.

We see this every day.  The common scenario is someone who has done a Diploma in Business and then got a job as a “marketing manager” for some shop, or – even worse – is managing a gas station with one other staff mamber to supervise.  Or else they are a Shift Manager at Burger King.  Often we have to tell them that the job they have taken up will not get them Residence.  We send them away to go and get a promotion or find another more senior job.

Now, it is true that a lot of young migrants who are not long out of college are too optimistic about their chances to qualify for Residence.  They simply don’t have enough experience of work and of life to realise that they may need to put in more time before they try for Residence.

However, the more fundamental problem is that the “pathway to Residence” is really a pretty steep one.  It goes like this:

  • Complete your NZ qualification – usually it should involve at least 2 years of full-time study
  • Get a 1-year open Job Search Visa – you can work for whoever you like
  • Find a job which is “relevant” to your qualification (more about this in my next post) which allows you to get a 2-year Work Experience Visa
  • Apply for Skilled Migrant Residence

Now, the key here is that almost everyone who does a Skilled Migrant application must have Skilled Employment before they can be approved.  There are very few exceptions (for example, those who have done a Masters or Ph.D in NZ).  There is only a certain list of jobs which Immigration recognises as Skilled Employment.  Many of those are Manager positions, but the way they are classified means that you have to show that you basically run an entire business operation on your own.  Lots of jobs out there have the word “Manager” in their title to make them sound more impressive, but don’t be fooled.  Unless the business owner lets you run the show on your own, or else the company is very large and you have a lot of people under your control, your job will not get you Skilled Migrant points

Things are even more difficult for Retail Managers and Cafe/Restaurant Managers.  In September last year Immigration gave an internal direction to its visa officers that these occupations will usually not qualify unless the applicant has a particularly high level of control over the shop.  Specifically, this must include financial control over the budget of the shop or restaurant, setting prices of goods and so on.  But in New Zealand a lot of shops and eateries are small and the owner is usually pretty hands-on.  They do not give that sort of control to their manager because they remain involved in the business themselves.  There is a mismatch between the job classification system and the conditions on the ground.

Looking back at the “pathway to Residence” above, you can see that in order to get Residence you need to get yourself to a high-level job within 2 or 3 years of graduating from your studies.  In the real world this just doesn’t happen.  People need to have some work experience before a boss will put them in charge.  As a result, employers who would like to keep good workers on have inflated their Job Descriptions in order to help them get Residence, and have even falsified their pay records to pretend that they are on a higher salary.  Immigration officers spend huge amounts of time trying to poke holes in these suspicious cases.

At the same time, the stats show that the annual quota of places on the Skilled Migrant Residence Programme has sometimes not been filled.  Previous Ministers of Immigration have agreed that the New Zealand economy and job market rely upon an ongoing flow of new migrants who will settle here, as the local population ages and retires – although the current Minister has been a bit more cautious about saying that migration is the big solution.  It seems then that the current approach to Skilled Employment is counter-productive and simply unrealistic.

In the meantime, those who are thinking about Skilled Migrant Residence need to do their homework carefully.  They need to look at their job and ask, “Does this require real expertise?”  “Do I need to use what I learned in my degree to do it?”  If not, then start looking at the job ads again.