Migrants helped out by skilled advisers

CECILE MEIER
Last updated 05:00 28/06/2014

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Mike and Tammy Bell, of consultancy company New Zealand Immigration (NZI), are not afraid to put in an 18-hour day to sort out their clients' work visas and skilled migrant residence applications.

Once, a Swedish family of six realised the medical certificates they had brought from their homeland were expiring the next day. The Bells managed to complete an emergency application, saving the family more than $1000 in lost medical fees.

Migrants often face last-minute deportation because they missed a document or made a little mistake in their application, Mike says. Emergency situations require quick action, often during evenings and weekends.

The approach has paid off, with the small business becoming the largest immigration consultancy in the South Island in just two years, and 90 per cent of their customers coming through referrals. NZI turned over more than $150,000 in 2013, and the Bells expect the figure to double for 2014.

The couple started the business in mid-2012 with a retail space in Worcester St so that migrant workers could "walk in and get advice during their lunch break". They soon had to hire two more immigration advisers, and employed another one this year.

The Bells say they have to work 70-hour weeks on average to meet demand.

"We can sleep when we're dead," Tammy jokes.

They plan to hire more staff to reduce their workload, but remain cautious. "We're managing our growth carefully to make sure we don't fall over," Mike says.

Growing slowly means turning down many clients as the need for immigration advice is rising. The number of construction-specific visas doubled from the September 2013 quarter to the March 2014 quarter, with 859 construction-specific work visa arrivals in Canterbury (out of a total 1583 visas), up from 416 (847 total) in the September quarter, statistics show.

"Every migrant eventually meets a bump in the road," says Mike.

Some only need half an hour to understand how to process their application. Where possible, Mike says he tries to help people do the work themselves. Others are in complex situations that can stretch to 18 months.

Most of NZI's clients are from Europe, South Africa and South America. The Bells are migrant themselves. They left London for New Zealand in 2000 "with no job, no house, no return ticket, and three kids", Tammy says.

Moving to a new country means taking risks, Mike says. The pair noticed a need for migrant support around 2008 and volunteered their time to create a migrant centre. The centre ran for three years but was not financially sustainable long-term. The need for migrant support, however, was still there, and the Bells created a business out of it. "We took a chance and got a loan," Mike says.

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About 80 per cent of NZI's clients work in the rebuild, with critical shortages for jobs including glaziers, project managers, carpenters, tilers, electricians and painters.

"They work long hours in demanding jobs and just want to sign the forms and leave the rest to us," Mike says.

- The Press

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