I have realised, more than ever in this journey of the Residence Programme in the last year just how much experience counts. Knowing how Immigration NZ thinks and behaves can pay dividends.
Throughout 2020-21 when the Skilled Migrant pool was suspended, we had a hunch that continuing to submit EOIs would somehow be worth the effort and investment. INZ thought otherwise and famously at a public meeting held in Queenstown, admonished advisers for putting in EOIs while the pool suspension was in place and while the Skilled Migrant Category was up for review. Our hunch kept telling us it was better to have a ticket in the immigration lottery of life. It was an ethical challenge for us as we did not want to be charging clients for something we could not guarantee would lead to any kind of result or advantage. INZ itself was leaving the pool open and, irony not lost, taking fees.
Still, over my own career, I have learned that immigration can sometimes be highly strategic. For years I've talked about strategy setting - it's in our client agreements. Hesitation has sometimes cost an entire strategy - I will never forget the 2016 change that hiked points from 100-160 overnight. We had someone who had prevaricated over submitting an EOI who lost out at the flick of a switch. It took them four years to recover and regain enough points to meet the new threshold. That was a stinging lesson that changed my own approach to be much more steely. Though never cavalier.
When the RV21 visa was announced last 29 Sept I knew we were in for a ride. It was going to be a case of a steady hand at the tiller and free thinking throughout.
The first thing that become apparent was that putting in an EOI was going to get people with their dependent children aged 17+ priority in the RV1 handling. We have since gone on recently to know that having an EOI in without children and even if claiming below 160 points, or having lost the skilled job on which it was based, now gets people into Phase 1.5.
Steady as she goes.
The first challenge: we had many clients about to reach the two-year anniversary of their Work To Residence visas. Wondering whether to ditch their paper applications and opt for this new RV21 visa. Reading between lines, something told me to keep on going with the paper applications unless otherwise persuaded (e.g. if none of the papers for Residence From Work were yet in place and were going to cost a lot of money to get).
I set about trying to find out what was really going to happen as the messaging from INZ was very much geared to dissuading us from lodging any paper. I asked colleagues what they were thinking - many indicated they would be ditching paper as going RV21 was looking like a better option. My own inclination after sifting through various parts of the information was to take a "two trolleys" approach unless and until persuaded otherwise. In other words, unless anyone could point me actively to a reason NOT to be putting in paper and layering up with an RV21, I would advise accordingly. Two trolleys; two cars on the motorway; two irons in fire. Call it what you will, I just wanted people to have options and to be able to make truly informed decisions rather than being swayed by public opinion.
The first indicator that running two trolleys was not going to be prejudicial was the confirmation that paying the 2nd fee would not be required The Immigration Regulations that came out made clear (Reg 5 2AA) that regardless of the date you lodge paper, if you did that before you lodge an RV21 you would be exempt from paying a 2nd fee up-front.
There then came the news before C'mas that the paper team would be stripped out to 10 case officers and all resourcing thrown at the RV21 team and that at least for a couple of months, no paper applications would be allocated. This was no surprise. Steady hand at the tiller.
We then had the Afghan Nationals case which told us all residence applications (including skilled) lodged before the border closure had been unlawfully placed on hold and so would need to come back to life. We asked if these applications would be put ahead of priority applications freshly lodged to be informed the priority criteria still would apply - this was then confirmed in instructions in December. In other words someone who lodges priority even now will still get priority over an SMC lodged in December 2019 that is non-priority.
The missing piece of the puzzle always was whether putting in an RV21 on top of a paper application would somehow lead INZ to simply bypass the paper application altogether. I personally entered into email communications with INZ to test the thinking and was assured that there would be no prejudice to any applicant who decided to put in two applications, rather than one.
However, just the week before last, the Head of INZ (Alison McDonald) at a Select Committee hearing, being questioned on RV21 processing mentioned that while the paper queue was now being worked on again and more officers would be put to that team, they would pick up on cases if no RV21 had been lodged. As this went against the prior confirmation that putting in an RV21 would not prejudice the progress of a paper application, I reverted again to INZ management at the Manukau branch. They have today stated very clearly:
Sorry for the delay.
If we’re ready to allocate the RFW/SMC, and if processing of the RV21 application has not begun, we’ll ask the client which they want us to process (and withdraw the other application)."
This comes at an interesting juncture. Just yesterday, we learned that the RV21 processing of Phase 2 is going to start a month later than planned (1 April) and with selection by date of expiry of temporary visas, prejudicing those who have renewed Work to Residence visas about to expire, having that priority paper application in may never have felt more worthwhile. Just this week we are aware of approvals of paper applications coming through. Even though we of course don't know just what lies in store, the idea of having options open is clearly a solid one.
There has remained a doubt about the fees issue as communications from INZ have also set some cats among pigeons in stating that for Phase 2 all will need to pay fees upfront. Again, it has taken various means to go back and raise with them that this cannot be the case, else would breach the Immigration Regulations that have the force of law. We have it in writing from INZ that the existing REALME form being used for Phases 1 and 1.5 will remain open to Phase 2 applicants who are not required to pay a fee upfront. The communications going out publicly just seemingly can't quite sync in harmony as when I looked yesterday (it may well change) there was no inkling of this on the main RV21 process page of the INZ website. That is why we take care to back all thinking with confirmation from INZ in writing.
The race and the strategising is far from over. With each and every twist in this journey, we are aware that much more is yet to play out. The desire to be strategic is, of course, always personality driven. Some visa applicants are much happier to ride the waves without dwelling on what may or may not happen - they just want to keep things as simple and tolerable as possible. Others are very interested in the best possible moves and to keep all irons in fire at all times. We like to cater to all types and one of the first questions I ask people is how much information do they really want to take in - do they want the simplified or more complex version of things. It's always interesting to hear the response. We ourselves, like a mix. We like the challenge of finding the strategic advantage. We are equally very happy to go simple where that suits our instructions and in some cases we are therefore riding two trolleys and in others, not. Each to their own. Our underpinning philosophy is to ensure clients have the advice and information they need to make their own informed decisions. Hence this post, to fuel your think tanks.
To all our clients please don't hesitate to check back in any doubt about your own strategy. I have been busy reviewing with the team all strategies and we are here for you throughout.
Wishing all a good weekend as we gear up for this launch of Phase 2!
Katy and the team.