Editorial: Immigration loses the plot

By Peter Jackson

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Juliet Garcia has been given two days to leave New Zealand.
Juliet Garcia has been given two days to leave New Zealand.

Immigration might not have an easy job, but it seems to have a penchant for picking on the wrong people. There must be thousands of immigrants who add little of value to this country, but Juliet Garcia is not one of them.

GOD might move in mysterious ways, but He has nothing on Immigration NZ. Judging by the information currently available, its decision to order Kaitaia woman Juliet Garcia, and by association her husband, out of the country makes no sense whatsoever.

Giving them 48 hours' notice that they were about to become subject to deportation was deplorable.

The Garcias have lived in Kaitaia for 10 years; she has worked at Switzer Residential Care throughout that time, he has worked at Pak'nSave for the last eight years.

Their two sons, both of whom were working, were ordered back to the Philippines when they turned 21.

Ms Garcia has successfully renewed her work visa nine times in the last decade. She and her husband have undergone, and passed, three-yearly health checks. This time, however, her renewal application has been declined. And on Friday afternoon she was told that, as of yesterday, she would be an illegal alien.

Being given 48 hours to move house would be a tough call. To be given 48 hours to pack up, presumably never to return, after a decade of working and living in this country, is abominable. As her employer has pointed out, Ms Garcia's job is here. Her friends are here. This is her home in every sense.

On Friday morning she was a happy, hard-working member of her community. As of yesterday she and her husband were to be gone. Even by bureaucratic standards that is appalling. Even more disconcerting is the basis on which this decision was made.

Much of the blame can apparently be sheeted home to Switzer. Immigration has found that it has not tried hard enough to find a New Zealander to fill the position, despite advertising on Facebook, which Immigration found to have reached a 'local, closed group,' TradeMe (with two responses, neither applicant having the required qualifications) and working with WINZ. But there's more.

The wage offered was lower than the market rate (an error in that wage rate, as reported to Immigration, has been corrected, and sits well within the market rate, as determined by Immigration), and was too low to attract a suitable New Zealander.

We all know that aged care does not pay handsome wages. Switzer acknowledges that. It also acknowledges that New Zealanders don't queue up to work for the money offered. That is one of the reasons why aged care nationally, not just in Kaitaia, leans heavily on immigrants. If Immigration has any ideas as to how that might be addressed, the sector would no doubt be very keen to hear them.

The fact, however, is that neither Switzer nor any other home for the elderly is able to lift its wage structure so as to attract more New Zealanders, or anyone else, into work that Switzer general manager Jackie Simkins says is neither easy nor always pleasant. There is a limit to what residents are able to pay, and a very definite limit to the extent to which the government is prepared to subsidise those who cannot afford to pay.

This has been a problem for the aged care sector for years, and is likely to remain one for the foreseeable future. If Immigration expects Switzer to increase the wages it pays its staff significantly to improve its ability to recruit, it is dreaming.

Nor is Immigration impressed by the argument that Ms Garcia's skills and knowledge do not grow on trees. That, it says, is irrelevant. Not surprisingly, Switzer does not agree. Even if New Zealanders were queuing to step into Ms Garcia's shoes, which they are not, it asks why it should make the significant investment needed to train someone to reach the skill and qualifications levels that she has achieved over the last 10 years.

The rules followed by Immigration actually deem a range of factors to be irrelevant. These include whether the applicant is well regarded/highly valued by their employer (which Ms Garcia is), whether the applicant is claimed to have specialist skills or is well trained in a job that is 'readily trainable' (Ms Garcia does have skills and training in a field that Switzer argues is not 'readily trainable,') whether the applicant (and their family) are well settled in New Zealand, and whether they are willing to undertake work at pay and conditions that would not be attractive to a New Zealander.

All irrelevant. There might some rationale behind the last one, but not if the wage offered sits within the 'market rate', which Ms Garcia's does, quite comfortably.

Most ridiculous of all, her job is on Immigration's list of required skills. That is, skills that are in short supply in this country, and that Immigration is charged with finding overseas. She is about to acquire a qualification that will enable her to work in the Dementia Unit. Perhaps she can collect her certificate at the airport before she boards her plane.

Once she has that certificate in her hand, she will be entitled to apply for residency, as someone who can and is willing to do a job that needs doing and that the government has declared difficult to fill with a New Zealander. How ironic is it that, having reached that point, she has now been declared persona non grata and has been given two days to get out?

Perhaps this situation arises from a series of misunderstandings, about the efforts made by Switzer to recruit a New Zealander, how much it is paying, and how likely it is that a suitable New Zealander will present themselves, but it is difficult to accept that Immigration genuinely believes that renewing Ms Garcia's work visa a 10th time will deprive a New Zealander of a job. Why wasn't that the case 10 years ago? Nine years ago? Eight years ago? Why now?

Ms Garcia is of significantly greater value to her employer now, with the skills and qualifications she has gained, than she was a decade ago, when this same department issued her with her first work visa. Apart from the efforts she has made to better herself, and to lift the value she represents to her employer, over the last 10 years, what has changed?

Switzer has made a very good case for retaining Ms Garcia, so far to no avail, but surely common sense, not to say common decency, will prevail. As Ms Garcia says, she and her husband have proved themselves to be good citizens. They work hard, they pay their taxes, they are not a burden on society. They are giving, not taking.

She is doing a job for which Switzer has long had difficulty recruiting. She does it well, and desperately wants to continue doing it. Only a bureaucrat would understand why she should not be allowed to do that. Only a bureaucrat could argue that after a decade as an exemplary citizen, this woman is no longer wanted.

Immigration might not have an easy job, but it seems to have a penchant for picking on the wrong people. There must be thousands of immigrants who add little of value to this country, but Juliet Garcia is not one of them. She has not come here making promises.

She has walked the talk, as they say. She has done everything that could possibly be asked of her, and is giving her community excellent value. If Immigration has any decency at all, not to say intelligence, it will allow her to continue doing so.

- Northland Age

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