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Immigration NZ

Marvellous at marketing but poor at informing
Beautiful beaches, wide open spaces and sunsets to die for. Unspoilt nature for the lovers of the great outdoors or lazy summer days in the park with family and friends, lamb chops sizzling on the barbie. It’s scenarios like these that couldn’t be more idyllic and that have become most people’s idea of New Zealand as a Pacific paradise. Using photos and text that really make you want to go there, the New Zealand dream is skilfully sold to visitors in travel brochures and other marketing material. Tourism New Zealand is doing a marvellous job.

Immigration New Zealand (INZ), another Government agency, is no less professional in its attempt to portray an irresistible image of New Zealand. However, unlike the Government’s tourism arm that only wants to lure temporary visitors, INZ wants to entice people to move there for good.
Their targets are skilled immigrants from all over the world as well as Kiwis who have left and are needed back home to fill the gaps of a labour market that can’t seem to attract enough of the right talent or loses it soon after apprenticeship and graduation to Australia. Shouldn’t INZ feel a moral obligation to provide these people with quality and in-depth information beyond the marketing pitch of a tourism agency?

Pushing emotional buttons instead of providing full information

Set against a background of strong economic growth and the lowest unemployment rate in the developed world at the time, in late 2005 the New Zealand government launched an unprecedented campaign: New Zealand Now.
It was primarily aimed at Kiwi expats and tried to lure them back home. Involving Air New Zealand who offered free flights that could be won in a competition, and supported by a well orchestrated ad campaign, it was a masterpiece of marketing and public relations initially focused on expats in the UK, but not exclusively.

David Cunliffe, then Minister of Immigration, commissioned a poster campaign showing off the glory of New Zealand in the London tube and in ads on websites read by UK expats. It urged New Zealanders to “remember what it’s like back home“, playing on the homesickness of those far away and missing the lifestyle and their families.

His director of communications, Richard Ninness, is quoted in the Daily Mail as saying that the drive to attract skilled workers back home would become more important as an ageing population and shrinking workforce increased competition: “Skilled New Zealanders are going to be an increasing demand offshore. That means it’s important that we take new initiatives now to make sure that they know more about what’s good about being home.” INZ did a lot to let them know.

Second, more colourful and emotional INZ website added

Adding another website to its main one, INZ launched www.newzealandnow.govt.nz, a website promoting the country to prospective immigrants as well as to expats and their partners. It was packed with information from partnership visas to addresses of shippers and removers, from job services to retirement information.

Yes, they hadn’t forgotten to include an extra section on this relevant aspect of decision making. However, the only information presented was on KiwiSaver as well as US-, UK- and Australia-specific information how to transfer one’s retirement savings to New Zealand. Not a word on Section 70 and the direct deduction of overseas pensions. In the heat of the moment they must have simply forgotten about it…

The standard INZ website, www.immigration.govt.nz, has always been a very solid read, providing comprehensive information for just about every possible scenario a prospective immigrant might wish to research. Yet again, information on Section 70 and the direct deduction of overseas pensions was missing there, too. Not intentionally, of course...

It took another two years until this omission was rectified. In its last Pension Review the Ministry of Social Development notes that Work and Income (WINZ) and Immigration New Zealand (INZ) have recently, in 2007, amended their websites and printed material to better inform prospective immigrants of the policy. So let’s look at their websites.

INZ: Not winning any laurels

A search of the INZ website, the most important and most widely used information resource for immigrants, brings up a range of related information, such as the age and residency requirement as well as tax implications. There is also one well-concealed hint, masking as tax information: “Overseas Pensions: If you're a New Zealand tax resident and receive either an overseas social security or private pension or life insurance annuity, these will be subject to taxation. The following links will direct you to the appropriate sections of the IRD website.”

For those really keen to find out more about the finer points of New Zealand tax law at this early stage, the information is there and, oh – by the way – also some other rather surprising news: “Generally, if you are entitled to a New Zealand benefit or pension, Work and Income will pay you the difference between your New Zealand entitlement and the amount of your overseas pension entitlement, if any.” (Form IR258 Overseas social security pensions). This is a clear message in plain English. But it should be on the INZ website, not only on the IRD website.

The art of hiding inconvenient truths in links

It is obvious that INZ is not interested to volunteer this not so pleasant yet relevant pension information to potential immigrants. But, of course, it can’t be blamed for withholding it. After all it is there. Buried in some links, easy to miss with no prior knowledge of its existence and that it must be hidden somewhere.

So was the website amended to better inform prospective immigrants? It was amended, and the information could be called included although this should rather read: secluded. In any case it is neither prominently placed nor does it inform the way it should.

And how about the New Zealand Now website? It lives up to its name, especially the last bit, now: the content is still as it was then. Nothing in the way of information on Section 70 was added although one must assume the website continues to be an official INZ marketing tool for potential immigrants. If they simply never got round to doing it, the time is now.

WINZ: Brownie points for spelling it out clearly

WINZ, however, must be credited for making the information on Section 70 available in such a way that it can’t be missed or misinterpreted. On their Overseas Pensions page, they say:

“If you've lived overseas you need to tell us, as you may be entitled to overseas government pensions or benefits. You need to apply for these as the amount you're entitled to is likely to be deducted from your New Zealand Superannuation.” This is followed by detailed background information and explanations in plain English. It just beggars the question why it took them over a decade to make this openly public.

Unfortunately their application forms still leave a lot to be desired (see also: WINZ). And as the generation who didn’t grow up with the internet still mostly relies on printed materials, they are left out of the information loop.

In conclusion: while INZ’s information policy was worse pre-2007, it still isn’t good. The Government and especially INZ should certainly do better. If they were as keen to provide relevant pension information as they seem to be deliberately withholding it, they would really do a great service to those they are trying to entice to come.