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A win for Chefs - we'll take it! But what does it tell us about our immigration policies?

This is actually set to be a big week for Immigration as we believe certain decisions have been signed off not just about Chefs. The Minister is holding a meeting this Wednesday where he may also give a bit more direction of travel over some of the holes in our current processes.

However, sticking to Chefs for the moment: just yesterday, the Minister for Immigration (the Hon. Michael Wood), announced a U-turn on a Chef policy that hit our desks in May. That was the policy that said a CHEF must have an NZ Level 4 Professional Cookery or overseas equivalent as assessed by the NZQA. Chefs had been singled out as the only profession to not be able to get a work visa without a qualification.

For all other jobs, getting an Accredited Employer Work Visa can be either with a qualification OR work experience, depending on the specification of the employer. This was therefore a direct attack on CHEFs.

Which is why it needed to be tackled. I used the example of Jamie Oliver who, according to good old Google, has a home economics qualification that most likely would not be on all fours with the NZ level 4 professional cookery. For anyone seasoned (pun intended) in the world of professional, international chefs, it's well known that a "stage" or internship with a famous Chef is the prized jewel, more than any formal qualification. With all respect to NZ's level 4, the idea that we could get a CHEF a visa having just graduated from that course but with scant experience, while unable to get a CHEF of 20 years' experience including in Michelin-starred kitchens, was an affront to common sense.

The situation intensified the more employers came up against the problem. Many did Job Checks not realising this new rule even existed. Not surprisingly, as the first iteration of the new Accredited Employer Work Visa rules issued on 4th May did not mention anything about CHEFS. They simply said "an applicant is suitably qualified to do the job they have been offered if they have the qualifications, work

experience, skills and other specifications that were listed by the employer, in the Job Check application, as the minimum requirements for the job."

Then on 11 May, a 20-page Amendment Circular flashed across our desks with the insertion of the rule. I was in Europe at the time but realised this was going to be a major. The implication was that we could only get visas for Chefs if prepared to work as a Cook because a Cook did not need a level 4 qualification and could rely on work experience. How ridiculous I hear you say. And it was. In my own daily practice, the pinnacle of realisation of just how ridiculous this new rule actually was, came when assessing a couple who wanted to come to work here. The husband was the more experienced but had no qualifications. The NZ employer wanted him as their Head Chef. The wife, much less experienced, had a qualification that looked possible to get assessed. However, much easier was to get her in as a Cook and the Husband onto a Partner work visa, whereby he could work as the Head Chef without any issue.

I also found myself trawling through Chef CVs and the overwhelming patterns was that the strongest candidates were the least likely to have the level 4.

On the trail for honest answers, In early July, I put a question through parliamentary select committee channels, being one of the tools in our belt to call the immigration system to account (hommage to the fact we do live in some kind of democracy!). The question and answer were as follows:

This was one of those replies that clearly came from an MBIE official's lips, rather than the Minister who signed off but I doubt was really on top of the issue. It felt like a "because I say so" answer - caught in its own logic parallel universe. What has since come out in the Beehive release of yesterday is that the real reason for the rule was to "reduce the risk of wage and job inflation in these roles". However, making Chefs have level 4 qualifications is a non-sequitur in that regard. The job of Immigration New Zealand is to verify whether a person has the work experience they say they have - we all know that it's common to be asked for pay/tax/social security and other "independently verifiable" evidence of work experience. It's precisely Immigration New Zealand's job to identify risks and carry out verification. That is why we have specialist verification teams in New Zealand, India and China - specially trained to make sure work experience histories stack up. The system is also there to screen jobs to see if there is any "inflation". The grand irony of all that's happened being also that by requiring Chefs to have a Level 4 but not Cooks, restaurants have had to simply make sure they only offered out Cook jobs to their unqualified Chefs. A result that clearly made no sense to anyone.

The lobbying intensified when this new piece was aired just a week ago. As has been all too often a feature of our immigration policies in recent years, it seems to take a good hammering by the media to get any real traction. Wish that it were otherwise.

Be that as it may, mercifully, as from the 18th October, the rule will be gone and we can all get on with the job of getting Chefs with work experience into New Zealand.

The next reality to bite is that from 27 February 2023, the Median Wage for immigration purposes will go up to $29.66 per hour. Cooks and Chefs will have to meet this. This is now more than an immigration officer or start-out Early Childhood Teacher earns. I was interviewed alongside Julie White, CE of Hospitality NZ this morning on this topic.

While of course delighted to get to this point, what this says about our immigration policies is that we have to stay alert and fight for transparency and rationality at every corner. There are far too many blunt edges and anomalous policy decisions being made. I could write an essay about the anomalies that still abound, but we pick our battles.

I also look back fondly in retrospect. I used to Chair our main industry body Policy Committee cherish the memory of those days when we could sit around the table with policy officials and nut out the fine points before policy went to print. The last major example was when 5 of us flew down to Immigration NZ HQ in Wellington at the invitation of the officials, to bat back and forth on the last major Skilled Migrant Policy amendment. We didn't agree on everything but we certainly were able to make a significant difference to round off some of the sharper edges. That is now nothing but a distant memory as certainly since Covid, the door on consulting industry was firmly closed. We have since only been presented with faits accomplis.

If you would like to join me for a Facebook Live this Wednesday 12th October at 7pm, I will be discussing the current direction of travel for our immigration policies, taking into account any further nuggets gleaned this week...


Look forward to seeing you there!

Katy Armstrong, Principal and Licensed Immigration Adviser 200800243

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