If you’re thinking about applying for Skilled Migrant Residence, there’s one big message here – get a job offer first.  Then, so long as you score 100 points, put your application in.

Technically, you can start the Skilled Migrant process without a job or an offer of a job.  It is a points system where you can score for your age, qualifications, work experience and a number of bonus features (such as getting work outside Auckland).  If you are well-qualified and experienced in an occupation on the Skill Shortage List or in a “future growth area” such as IT, it is relatively easy to score over 140 points.  That puts you in the premium stream for getting a quick Invitation to Apply for Residence.

However, there is a trap which is not obvious up front.  Right at the end of the Residence process, sometimes 6 months or more after you have started down this road, Immigration carries out a “settlement and contribution” assessment.  That is, they work out if you are well-placed to settle in New Zealand.  If you have a New Zealand Ph.D or a job offer, no problem.  But if you have not yet got an offer of work then things become tougher.  The process is a bit involved to go into here, but what it boils down to is that everyone must get “skilled employment” from a New Zealand employer before Residence will be granted.  If you do not, you will be declined, no matter how many other good things you have going for you.

“Skilled employment” is tightly defined.  There is a list of jobs which Immigration says are skilled, and everything else is not.  Senior managers, professionals and experienced tradespeople are probably on the list – but don’t assume that your job fits into the list just because it says “manager” in the Job Title.  Many of the problem cases which we are asked to fix revolve around trying to convince Immigration that someone’s job fits the “skilled” definition.  Visa officers will go to great lengths to pick holes in a person’s job description in order to decline their Residence application.  This situation was not so bad a few years ago, but it is now becoming harder and harder to get people through the obstacles which Immigration throws up to stop them getting Residence.

Quite frankly, I’m not sure why INZ seems to be bending over backwards to find reasons to stop people from getting Skilled Migrant Residence.  Although the Minister of Immigration recently trumpeted the upswing in net migration, most of this was about how many people had got Work Visas.  In fact the relative numbers of Skilled Migrant approvals are falling.

The New Zealand Residence Programme (NZRP) states that this country should grant between 135,000 and 150,000 Resident Visas between 2011 and 2014.  This comes to 45,000 – 50,000 a year.  Of these, 60% are supposed to be Skilled Migrant visas.  It is the flagship Residence category and has the highest priority when it comes to processing visa applications generally.

But in 2012-2013 only about 18,000 of 38,000 Resident Visas were for Skilled Migrants.  Not only was the total under the NZRP average of 45,000 per year, but only 47% were Skilled Migrant visas.  For the 8 months from July 2013 to February 2014, 30,000 Resident Visas were approved, and only 14,000 of these were Skilled Migrant.  That’s 47% again.  The country is not getting enough skilled people in to stay.  Yes, the net migration is up, but that’s mostly because less New Zealanders are leaving for Australia or somewhere else.

One result of this lack of Skilled Migrants in the system is that it is easier to make an application in the first place.  In order to get in you have to score 100 points.  There are priority levels above this, so that (for instance) those getting 140 or more get Invited to Apply ahead of anyone else.  The fact is now, though, that pretty much anybody who scores over 100 will be Invited to Apply.  Don’t be put off if you only just scrape in – you probably won’t have long to wait to get the invitation letter.  Still, remember that the job offer is the key, and without it you should really think twice about getting started.

Finding an offer of work if you are still overseas is difficult, of course.  Maybe you need to consider coming to visit for a holiday, and use your time on the ground to go to a couple of interviews.  Employers and recruiters will also conduct interviews by Skype.  Unfortunately, many employers are not keen on hiring people unless they already have Residence, but the message at the start of this blog remains the same.  If you start the Skilled Migrant process without that job offer up your sleeve, you do so at your own risk and cost.