So far, so good So change it?

Last updated 05:00 28/11/2013

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Immigration New Zealand says the national Settlement Support programme to help migrants is delivering what it set out to deliver and there's a high level of satisfaction among its clients, but that this simply does not suffice.

It turns out we need to be requiring so much more than achieving yesterday's goals and people-pleasing. INZ's focus has shifted, see?

A review has found this programme is not as responsive, flexible, efficient and well-integrated with INZ as it should be. And client satisfaction notwithstanding, service delivery across the 18 contracted providers throughout the country is in fact "varied".

So here come big changes, with a replacement model lined up to take effect from next July.

More in anger than in sorrow, Venture Southland has heaped hot criticisms on the new plan. Given that Venture would be losing its existing southern contract, and a fulltime Southland-based co-ordinator, a degree of self-interest might initially be suspected.

However, it's not just Venture going crook. Expressions of concern from other, essentially volunteer, agencies and organisations in Southland give, at very least, cause for unease.

As Venture tells it, a necessarily up-close-and-personal service is being replaced by something more remote, urban-centric, and disconnected from vulnerable migrants, particularly dairy workers who are living largely in isolation.

And these new faces are far from supremely confident advocates on their own behalf. More than 850 of those the present Southland co-ordinator, Eirlys Beverley-Stone, is dealing with have English as a second language.

Venture's enterprise and strategic projects group manager Steve Canny says what we're really being presented with is a withdrawal of services. He says someone would likely cover the whole Southland region one day a week.

All of which sounds hardly satisfactory. But INZ casts it differently. It says resources for new migrants - and their employers - are not being taken away.

There wouldn't just be a centrally managed contact centre, website and resources. Nor would its own "retention specialists" be working in isolation.

They would have the responsibility to maintain and build on existing network knowledge. Presumably that would be the local settlement networks that have been operating for the past seven years.

What's more, a new face-to-face service would be purchased and "embedded" in the local networks.

INZ says instead of having 18 face-to-face services nationwide, its model would provide up to 30. The contact centre would potentially be 24/7 instead of the "variable" phone service now provided.

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Engagement with employers would similarly be more consistent, we're assured.

Oh, and here's another small thing. So minor we hesitate to raise it. The present model, among its many disappointments, is "not financially sustainable".

Not that we should assume the agenda here is simply cutbacks. The new model would provide "broadened reach and delivery through existing budgets".

Venture is brandishing its own alternative to the new model. We'd wager Venture will be thanked for its interest, at this late date, reminded that it was consulted (at least to INZ's satisfaction) previously, and will then be invited to run along.

Unless, of course, this becomes an issue that generates sufficient political heat that ministerial discomfort results.

Migrant southerners have not, as a group, proven anxious to be seen as troublemakers. But they should be encouraged to speak out on their own behalf, raising questions and making challenges publicly.

They have a legitimate voice.

- The Southland Times

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