Tuesday, 4 June 2013

SG2NZ Chapter 1: Our Journey to New Zealand

Time flies and in a blink of an eye, it's been more than a year since we moved to New Zealand. In the past year, we've been asked on numerous occasions how the relocation process was like. So, I thought it might be a good idea to share our journey and for anyone out there thinking of a similar move, this might be worth reading.
It all started in 2010 when there was a campaign run by Immigration New Zealand (INZ) attracting Singaporeans to work and live in New Zealand. We were always fascinated with the idea of working and living abroad, ever since we spent a good three months away from home in Australia together. From the campaign, New Zealand promised a better work and life balance and we just thought why not? Still, migration was a big move and we haven't been to New Zealand before, so we were very keen to experience the culture ourselves before making any decision. We booked flights for a holiday in New Zealand, spent two weeks exploring and embracing the culture and absorbing every minute of our time there. It was all good.

Sunset in Spring
Prior to our New Zealand holiday, we attended a seminar run by an independent immigration agency held in Singapore. We managed to speak with an immigration consultant to figure out our options. Because of what I do, we concluded that the best approach for us moving forward was to apply via the Skilled Migrant Category with me as the primary applicant, as my occupation was on the Long Term Skill Shortage List (LTSSL).

From then on, we were presented with two options. Option A - Apply through an immigration agent who will charge you a five figure fee but handle all your paper work and prepare you for the interview process (more about this later in the entry). Or Option B - Apply directly on the INZ website, paying only the compulsory application fees but handle all our paper work and prepare for the interview by ourselves. Being the adventurous (cheapskate or practical) us, we decided on the latter. And so it began.

Summer Stand Up Paddle Boarding
The Expression of Interest (EOI), is an online application form that processes your application against a set of criteria like your education, age, character, work experiences, language spoken etc, and scores it against a points systems. The minimum score required for an EOI to be placed into a pool for consideration is 100. Every fortnight, a predetermined number of EOI are picked from the order of highest score. Unpicked EOI remain in the pool for up to three months before being removed. Our score of 130 was selected within two weeks. We were now invited to apply for New Zealand Residency under the skilled migrants scheme.

The Invitation to Apply (ITA), is a set of application forms sent to you from an INZ office. Our ITA was processed by the Bangkok office. Unlike the EOI which can be completed online, the ITA required us to send over copies of a list of supporting documents to validate the information we provided in our EOI. We had to provide our passports, education and marriage certificates, as well as employment letters, phone and utility bills. I also remember us making countless trips to the lawyer's office to get our documents stamped, going to the Police headquarters at Cantonment Complex to get proof of us being good citizens and undergoing a full medical check up including X-rays and blood tests. We were given 3 months to gather all the required documents. Our advice will be to start early and not leave things to the last minute. Certain steps like the health checks and police certificate will require processing time.

Autumn Evening

After submitting our ITA in February 2011, we were at the stage we call the waiting game. A Case Officer (CO) will now be assigned to process our application. From now on, he/she will be the main point of contact for all matters related to our application. The CO will go through all the supporting documents and decide if we are who we say we are. This might include reference checks with any previous schools or companies included in our application. Our application from this point in time was taken over by the Shanghai branch. We call it the waiting game because there is a wide variation of known processing times before the next stage, also the final stage - the interview. We've known cases whereby applications have been processed for over a year, while others took only about 6 months. Ours took 7 months. Our interview was scheduled for September 2011.

There are three outcomes from this final interview stage. Outcome A - New Zealand Residence visa issued. Outcome B - Work to Residence (WTR) visa issued. Outcome C - Application for residence rejected. C is rare, A is less common and B is the more likely outcome, especially for applicants who do not have an offer of employment in New Zealand.  The difference between NZ residence visa and the WTR visa is that the WTR comes with a 1 year validity period. The 1 year period is for the applicant to arrive and land a job. Once he/she has successfully done so, he/she can then apply for NZ residence. Else, the WTR will expire and the applicant will have to undergo the entire application process again.

Ohakune, Winter 2012
Preparing for the interview is probably where an immigration agent earns most of his paycheck. While there is not much added value getting through all the paper work, tips for the interview can go a long way. Thanks to the internet, we managed to get very good tips from the good people at ENZ forum, people who have gone through a similar process before. The waiting period for our results were nerve wrecking times. Two months after our interview, we got our results. I remember my heart skipping a beat when I received the notification on my email. Accessing it from my mobile phone and scrolling to the section of the document on the tiny screen were the longest seconds I've ever known. When I finally got there, it read Approved in Principle. My eyes lit up, there was glee and a spring formed in my step. Yes, we did it! We have been issued New Zealand residency. It was the best possible outcome.

The final step was to mail our physical passports to INZ  and have our visas stamped. All in all, from the time we submitted our EOI to the time we received our residence visas, it took almost fourteen months.

We had a year's grace to arrive in New Zealand from the moment our visas were issued and kick start our new life adventure. With the sparkling blue stickers now on our passports, it certainly didn't take us long to decide to uproot and take the leap of faith onto New Zealand shores.

Sunset during Winter
For Chapter 2: Having Faith and Roof Over Head , click here

For more Singaporean Guide on Moving to NZ (SG2NZ), click here

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