Six-Month Permit Too Tough, Say Job-Seekers

New Zealand Herald Story
Six-month permit too tough, say job-seekers
Wednesday January 17, 2007
By Simon Collins

A controversial six-month limit on work permits for skilled immigrants is under review after only 3 per cent of intending migrants managed to gain residence in New Zealand in the first six months of the new policy.

The policy, introduced four days before Christmas 2005, gives immigrants permanent residence if they hold a skilled job for at least three months of their six-month permit.

But migrants' groups say most employers won't employ people who are here on six-month-only permits.

The Association for Migration and Investment, representing immigration agents, says the Labour Department asked for comments on the policy late last year and the association recommended extending the permits to a year – although still less than the two years which applied before Christmas 2005.

Labour Department policy manager Lesley Haines said yesterday that the whole skilled migrant category was being re-evaluated.

“It is too early in the process to say whether the work-to-residence policy will be an aspect that is evaluated. However, if the policy is reviewed, any feedback from migrants or communities will be considered.”

Roberto Barrion, a 38-year-old electronics and communications engineer from the Philippines, has just received a job offer in his field after job-hunting for two months on a six-month work-to-residence permit.

He left his wife and three young children at home until he could find a permanent job.

“Since I arrived here I was under pressure. It's only now that I can relax,” Mr Barrion said.

“Ever since I arrived here it was very difficult – I'm always looking at the advertisements, the internet, the newspapers, friends.”

He applied for jobs “almost every day” but got only two interviews in his field – one with a recruitment agency and the one that has landed him a job.

In the meantime he has been labouring at a window lock factory in Albany with six other Filipino engineers who have still not found work in their fields.

“Their visas expire next month. They are really in big trouble right now,” he said. “I am luckier.”

Labour Department figures show that 617 people were granted six-month work-to-residence permits in the first six months of the new policy. But only 19 (3 per cent) had gained permanent residence by the end of June last year.

More than 1300 Filipino immigrants sent a petition to Prime Minister Helen Clark and Cabinet ministers David Cunliffe and Chris Carter on January 5 seeking a reinstatement of the original two-year term.

“The policy on the work-to-residence deferral period of six months has proven to be ineffective, inequitable and inhumane as those who have gained entry into New Zealand under said policy have generally failed to secure employment in their field of skills,” they said.

Filipino Society president Agnes Granada, who runs an employment support group through the Migrant Action Trust in Mt Roskill, said the department's own website advised immigrants that “even well-qualified migrants may take six or more months to find suitable employment”.

“So why on earth do they have this policy when their own website says it may take more than six months to get a job?” she asked.

Migration and Investment Association chairman Bernard Walsh said his association had recommended to the Labour Department that the term be extended to a year.

How the scheme works

* Most people granted permanent residence under the skilled migrant category gain residence immediately through points for their qualifications, work experience, age and current work or a job offer in New Zealand.

* Borderline cases may be given work-to-residence permits allowing them to work for six months, then gain residence if they have held a skilled job for at least three months.

* 617 work-to-residence permits were issued in the first six months after the policy took effect on December 21, 2005.

* Only 19 of those people (3 per cent) were given permanent residence by June 30, 2006.