NZ Immigration blocks entry of Y2K staff

Year 2000 specialists are still finding it difficult to gain residency in New Zealand despite government assurances aimed at easing their entry.

One specialist, employed by one of New Zealand's largest telecommunications companies, describes the New Zealand Immigration Service as "the most unhelpful and least professional organisation" he has ever dealt with.

"We've had an application pending since June and every time I make contact with the department I get a different story. In the space of an hour and a half I had three different stories," says the configuration manager, who does not wish to be named for fear of jeopardising his chances with Immigration.

Despite including letters from his employer pointing out just how important his role is, and how much in demand his skills are overseas, the manager was told that "applications are not considered retrospectively" with regards to the new ruling.

"I then talked to a chap at the call centre and was told that wasn't the case at all and it applied to every application, not just new ones," the manager said.

The manager was also told that the new rules had been made "but they hadn't heard about them officially yet" and therefore they couldn't be applied.

"If we keep getting messed about by Immigration, we will go somewhere else. That's not a veiled threat, we'll just leave," says the manager.

Ted Sheehan, press secretary to Minister of Immigration John Delamere, believes this is an isolated incident and that all the branches have been informed of the new requirements. The press release issued on November 12 highlights the minister's concerns about such misunderstandings.

"An amendment to the Immigration Service operational policy will make it clear that where a person with specialist skills satisfies the necessary requirements they may be granted a new work permit," says the release.

"I can understand Immigration's point of view -- there are so many people coming in it's difficult to make exceptions. Having said that, if they do announce a policy they should enact it," says Ross Stewart, Y2K specialist with recruitment firm Wilson White.

But this one manager's case is far from isolated. Briton Jim Dunmore has 18 years of IT experience in Europe, but doesn't qualify for residency because he has no tertiary degree. "Many of my colleagues have left New Zealand in the past two years for the same reason -- umpteen years of experience, but no degree," he said. While Immigration's press release claims it will review the present system, it won't do so until next year.

"Any country that outlaws a large segment of foreign IT skills until the eleventh hour . . . isn't taking Y2K seriously," says Dunmore.

Another issue Dunmore raises is one of ageism. "I know two people who have left in the past 18 months because they were over 55. They've changed the rules recently for retirees, but there are loads of IT people who would qualify except they're too old," he said. The two people Dunmore referred to are now working in Europe on Y2K projects, he added.

"They always say 'come here on a work permit', but imagine you're earning £4000 ($A10,600) a week and the world's your oyster," Dunmore said. "Why should you choose the country that's going to grudgingly give you a work permit over another country that's going to give you a future?"

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