Episode 128 — Willy Sussman — Work Permits in New Zealand


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Episode 128 — Willy Sussman — Work Permits in New Zealand

Hey, everyone!

This is Allan McKay. Welcome to Episode 128! I’m speaking with Willy Sussman who is a major authority on anything to do with immigrating to New Zealand. I’m really excited for this Episode!


I’ve been going around the world and interviewing immigration attorneys:

– Work Permits in the U.S.: allanmckay.com/52/

– Working Visas Worldwide: allanmckay.com/54/

– Catherine Sas — Work Visas in Canada: allanmckay.com/83/

– Philip Trott — UK Immigration Lawyer: allanmckay.com/109/


These are the countries that are heavy in visual effects and games. I’ve tried to cover the basis of top places that I can. I would love to cover Europe, Australia and Japan. A lot of us are lost when it comes to working / immigrating to another country. There is a lot of things you can be doing now that would make your immigration easier.

This Episode is a goldmine of information. New Zealand is one of those hidden places everyone wants to go to. I want to thank Willy for being so thorough during the Episode and after the general election in New Zealand.

If you have any follow-up questions, feel free to leave a comment in the notes or on iTunes.

Let’s dive in!



I. [-[1:09:39] I have a new website coming out in March 2018. With this comes a lot of new content. I’ve been able to dive deep into building this new home for my content. It’s going to have a lot of content, guides on the following subjects:

– How to Build a Reel;

– The Latest Hardware Guides;

– VFX Rates;

– Tutorials in Max, Houdini;

– And much more!

This will be a place to learn to treat your art as a business, learn how to negotiate and find a lot of free content.

II. [-[1:07:28] Next Episode, I will be interviewing Jason Martin who is the Creature Lead in Doom. After that, I will be interviewing Marc Rienzo who is a VFX Sup for Marvel. Coming up, I have an Episode with Director Ryan Connolly and lots of other impressive artists.



Willy Sussman is one of the leading Immigration Attorneys in New Zealand and a Partner at Bell Gully, a full-service firm with offices in Auckland and Wellington. He has assisted many of New Zealand’s most notable clients to obtain Visas and Permanent Residence in New Zealand, including employees for Weta. Willy also advises clients on other matters like taxation.

The Legal 500 Asia Pacific 2018 and Chambers Asia Pacific 2018 have both named Willy as a leading individual for tax. World Tax 2015 has named him as a leading tax practitioner for both large corporations and private clients.

In this Episode, Willy discusses the categories of Work and Residence Visas (including for spouses), requirements and restrictions for each category — and provides valuable advice on how to pursue employment and approach Immigration of New Zealand.


Willy Sussman’s Profile on Bell Gully’s Website: https://www.bellgully.com/our-people/willy-sussman

Willy Sussman on the Legal 500: https://www.legal500.com/firms/30314/offices/30200/lawyers/74881

New Zealand Immigration: https://www.immigration.govt.nz/new-zealand-visas

Skill Shortage List Checker: http://skillshortages.immigration.govt.nz

Essential Skills Details Announced: https://www.immigration.govt.nz/about-us/media-centre/news-notifications/smc-and-essential-skills-policy-details/essential-skills-details


[-[1:06:28] Allan: I just want to say thank you again for doing this. And if you could just introduce yourself and Bell Gully; and give a brief overview of what you, guys, do and the type of clients that you have.

Willy: Sure. Thanks for inviting me to talk to you! My name is Willy Sussman. I’m a Partner with Bell Gully. It is a very old and well-established firm that has offices in Auckland and in Wellington. We’re a full-service firm which means that we do everything for our clients: from immigration, to taxes, to structuring their affairs, to borrowing money, to structuring loans and corporate structures, or overseas offices; to establishing of trusts; and if they need litigation, we have that department as well. We have a wide variety of clients. In our immigration practice we work with high net-worth clients. We act for many companies, with their employees dealing with immigration to New Zealand; and individuals who may have had some challenges with immigrating to New Zealand. So we do quite a wide variety of work.

[-[1:04:50] Allan: That’s really awesome! I’ve had a little bit of experience with a lot of immigration firms. They don’t have much experience with taxation or accounting. So it’s cool that you have such a 360-degree set of skills. Anyone who travels that landscape, they have to bring in so many parties. It sounds that you’re able to help them in every area. One thing we’ve discussed are current events in New Zealand. With a country that’s growing so rapidly, there is a lot of change. What are some of the changes you’ve experienced recently?

Willy: Quite right, Allan! In the last couple of months, there has been substantial change. In the near future, we expect further change. New Zealand was a country that for many years experienced a brain drain. Brain drain was primary to our neighbor Australia. We’ve seen a reversal of that, with New Zealand’s fortune outshining our neighbor. We had New Zealanders returning and new arrivals [coming in]. That gave rise to a chronic housing shortage. Housing shortage led to housing inflation and lack of affordable housing. Foreigners were buying out our houses and our children might become a generation of renters. We have a lot of foreign buyers and there was a lot of pressure on New Zealand and its resources.

At the same time, there is a recognition that New Zealand is an importer of human capital. It was thought of before as a paradise far from the world’s problems, a safe haven. Money that came into New Zealand tended to stay. And there have been revisions on who could buy land here and what type of land you could buy. We now have a new government of minority parties and a lot of promises have been made. One of the promises was about building 10,000 new homes. There is also talk about non-residents not being able to buy existing houses. (They might have to buy land and build new houses.) On the other hand, immigration has already peaked. New Zealand remains well-known: for Weta, Peter Jackson, Lord of the Rings, James Cameron. It remains a favored destination for people to come here temporarily or stay permanently.

[-[1:00:01] Allan: There is a lot of moving parts that you’ve mentioned. How has it affected things overall?

Willy: Life continues and applications continue to come in and get processed. But we’re going through a period of uncertainty. The policy that has been described in election manifestos now needs to be put into practice.

[-[59:25] Allan: When there is a lot of growth, there is always going to be disruption where things need to adjust, as well as people’s reaction. If you’re used to having a smaller population and you have a lot of foreigners coming in, there is going to be a bit of resistance. What was the population, let’s say, 5 years ago in comparison to now. How drastically has it expanded?

Willy: That’s an interesting question. The population has grown substantially. Two things have happened, I think:

– One, the the population in general has grown.

– The other thing is that population has been concentrated in the big cities, in particular in Auckland.

So we have a movement from the country areas into the cities. We have congestion in our roading system. We have infrastructure that’s straining at the seams. We had a move to some of the provincial areas because people can’t afford housing in the urban areas. It’s proposed that we’re going to have a fuel tax in the Auckland area, for example. I think the greater Auckland is now at 1.5 million people. Predictions are that it’s going to grow by another half a million, I think, in the next ten years. So there is big growth and pressure on resources!

[-[57:00] Allan: On a smaller scale, I just moved from Los Angeles to Portland. Portland is right in the middle between Vancouver and LA. Vancouver is the capitol of visual effects and it sounds really similar in terms of the adjustment period. A lot of people don’t have much experience understanding of work Visas. With Weta and some game and tv studios, there are people who are migrating to New Zealand to work in film. Do you want to shed a little of light on that process?

Willy: Certainly! There are many categories.

I. Holiday Visas: At the one extreme, people would be coming in on holiday and getting a Visa on arrival. The next category would be people who would apply for a Visa prior to arriving for a holiday. Those Visas would not entitle people to work in New Zealand. People should not arrive on a Holiday Visa expecting to work because they would be seriously repercussions in terms of blocking them from coming in the future. I would strongly advise people against coming in for a holiday and attempting to work.

II. Specific Purpose Visas: These are Visas issue on arrival or applied for. There are Visas applicants who come here for a specific purpose, to undertake a specific task.

III. Essential Skills Visas: For the people who have essential skills and come in under the Essential Skills Visa, the important point to know that this Visa entitles you to work — but it does not allow you to stay in New Zealand permanently. 

IV. Work to Residence, Skilled Migrant and Investor Visas: The next category of Visas would be Work to Residence Visa or a Skilled Migrant Visa, or an Investor Visa (which required a 3 or 10 million dollars of investment money). On those Visas, you can apply for citizenship once you’ve been here for a prescribed amount of time. You don’t apply for those from outside the country.

[-[52:14] Allan: So the Essential Skills and the Specific Purpose, what is the difference between those and what are the requirements?


I. Let’s deal with Specific Purpose first because it’s probably easier. This Visa is job or project specific. If someone had a need to commission a plant in New Zealand — where someone was needed in New Zealand to work equipment and there was a real scarcity of people with that talent — they might have someone do the job or to help commission the project. Once the project is completed, the Visa ends. (You can, of course, extend it if the project extends.) The employer would have to show that the person has the skills required for that project and that could include people like performers and their crew. It’s limited to the task that they’re needed for.

II. In terms of the Essential Skills Visas, it is more complicated. There is a published list called Skills that New Zealand Considers Essential (http://skillshortages.immigration.govt.nz). These are things we’re short of. This list changes as the landscape changes. The list is not geographically limited. It is employer specific: You would come in to work for Weta, for example, and you couldn’t change jobs halfway through. It is on a points based system and the qualifications that are considered essential need to be stated by the employer. The particular skill is given a ranking according to the ANZSCO rating which is a system jointly administrated by both New Zealand and Australia. Each job is given a rating in regards to the skills and experiences that are needed. One may get a job for 3-5 years if one is at the high end skills and pay scale.

There is another important point: The employer would have to show that they’ve advertised for that skill and had no luck in finding somebody local. And the advertising requirements are pretty strict. They need to show that there is no New Zealander presently available who might readily be trained to do the task.

[-[47:48] Allan: I’m glad you’ve mentioned that. That’s a valuable thing to understand. Typically, when an employer is looking to hire someone and their requirements appear high, it’s because their requirements need to fit the criteria established by the government of that country. You need to point out that no one else can qualify to do what you do. If you’re coming in, you’re technically taking a citizen’s job. It is one of those things. 

Willy: In a growing country like New Zealand there tends to be a constant shortage of skills as new industries develop.

[-[45:49] Allan: With the Skilled Migrant, that’s more of a specialty Visa. I’m assuming that’s not as easy to get and is more for people who are at the top of their industry. What are the differences between the Essential Skills and the Skilled Migrant Visas?

Willy: I think a couple of things are important. The Essential Skills and Specific Purpose Visas are task / project driven and time limited. Whereas the Work to Residence and the Skilled Migrant are both Visas that entitle the holder to work and are designed with the intention that the holder would be entitled to remain in New Zealand indefinitely. We’ll come back to the Work to Resident Visa.

The Skilled Migrant Visa is a Visa that takes into account both the qualifications of the person, their work experience and their age. If one has a job offer — and especially if the job is in an area where there is a skill shortage — if the offer is outside of Auckland (one gets more points if one has a partner who has qualifications that are regarded in short supply as well) — one goes through a process of expressing an interest. It’s a short form application that describes one’s case. If one accumulates sufficient points from that application, one might be invited to apply.

If you have skills, experience and a job offer — and if you think you can get to the number of points needed — then you might lodge the expression of interest and see where your expression of interest is drawn from the pool. You lodge that expression of interest and every two weeks a decision is drawn. Your application stays in the pool either until you’re selected or until the application stays in the pool for 6 months. The pass mark is 160 points. That points level is calculated by identifying past applicants. That number of points will fluctuate as there are more applicant with higher level skills applying or fewer applicants.

The important point to mention here is: The expression of interest doesn’t require one to submit evidence of everything that one is claiming points for. So theoretically one can lodge the expression of interest claiming they’ve had experience they didn’t have. If one was drawn and one couldn’t instantiate the claims made, one would go nowhere and it couldn’t be frowned upon if one had wasted the Immigration time. That’s an important point.

[-[41:11] Allan: So how do you mean? Are there repercussions for claiming credentials you don’t actually have?

Willy: You’d lose any money you submitted with your expression of interest and you would be declined. When you were to apply again, a question would be asked if you ever been declined. You would have to answer yes. If you answer no, that could have even more repercussions. Digging a hole for yourself is a subject on its own. Applying for a Visa is an important thing. Being honest and transparent is essential; and if in doubt, overstate the details that might be required. What you don’t want is to have to answer questions later about why you hadn’t mentioned these things.

[-[39:32] Allan: How long typically does the process take to acquire a Visa? I understand that might vary on the type of Visas. But in general, from sending your application, how long can one expect to wait before they’re approved?

Willy: Just a typical lawyer comment: The fine print reads that everything on your application is perfect and there are no blemishes. On that note, there are some people would adopt an attitude that New Zealand is a small island in the Pacific, so the application is “good enough”. That, I assure you, is not the case! New Zealand is very thorough in reviewing applications. To answer your question:

– For the Essential Skills Visa, especially given that your skills are needed urgently, you would get approved within 6 weeks.

– A Specific Purpose Visa may take a week or two shorter than that.

– A Skilled Migrant Visa is in a different category. It would entitle one to remain in New Zealand indefinitely. That one could take anywhere between 9 months up to a year.

– There is Work to Residence Visa. That can be obtained in about a month. The Work to Residence Visa is granted for 30 months and entitles one to come to New Zealand to work. After 24 months, one can apply for it to be commuted to a Residence Visa. The criteria for this Visa are very prescriptive and it could be difficult to apply for.  There are three categories that are relevant:

A. Either the person is on a long term skills shortage list.

B. Or, that one has a specific talent. The description of talent one needs to be considered to have an exceptional talent in the field of art, culture or sport. Immigration of New Zealand needs to be satisfied that the person has an international reputation and a record of excellence in that declared field. And that the applicant will continue to practice in that field, as well as that the applicant’s presence will enhance New Zealand’s accomplishments. One could get a Visa in about a month and it would lead to the right to remain in New Zealand permanently. (There is a 55 year threshold for this Visa. And one has to be earning at least 55,000 in New Zealand dollars a year.)

C. Or, that one is working for so called a Credited Employer.

[-[34:54] Allan: That’s great! From there, that could lead to Citizenship, correct?

Willy: Citizenship is a slightly different animal. Citizenship requires one to have been lawfully a Resident in New Zealand for 5 consecutive years; where for each of those 5 years, one has been present for at least for 240 days.

[-[34:06] Allan: In terms of actual credentials, does having a degree help your chances? Does having experience weigh against a degree? The U.S. still relies on more formal qualifications. For New Zealand, does that have more clout than, say, awards?

Willy: Well, I think it really is a question of which particular category of a Visa [one is applying for]. For example, if one was coming in under the Work to Residence Visa, one had particular talent. That talent could be just recognized as the world leader in that field. On the other hand, under the Skilled Migrant Visa, there are more points potentially awarded to qualification than to work experience. I just did a quick added up of those points and the tally is that one would get 160 points for qualification; for work experience one would get 75. It’s tipped slightly in favor of qualifications.

[-[31:57] Allan: That’s good to know! In terms of other areas, what are some of the typical things one should start looking into, for an eventual Visa. Is it good to start tracking any publications and awards, anything of significance? Are there certain things you could do to increase your chances?

Willy: That’s a good question and to some extend a double edged sword. In terms of accumulating evidence of your expertise, it’s important but they probably go to where on the ANZSCO Code one could slot oneself — rather than something to include in your application. All of those attributes and achievements are more important in securing the job offer which will be vital in terms of some categories and points.

There is a bit of a catch 22. Age is a factor for which points are given. One’s health is another category. Younger people are healthier. There is also an age cut-off for some categories. In terms of the Skilled Migrant Visa, between the ages of 22-39 one gets 30 points; 40-44 one gets 20 points; 45-49 10 points. By the time you turn 50, you get 5 points. While you have more time to accumulate experience and qualifications, you’re going backwards on the points for age (and there is a medical side of things). It’s important to get accolades early and apply soon. 

– One thing we haven’t spoken about is health clearance: If one is going to be in New Zealand for 12 months or more, one is required to have a medical. That’s important to make sure one isn’t going to be a drain on New Zealand’s resources. If one is declined on health grounds, with limited exceptions, one can apply for a medical waiver. It’s a case to prove that the risk of cost associated is smaller than the benefit they’re going to bring. 

– If one is going to be here for 2 years or more, one needs to get police clearances from the country of one’s citizenship. Again, I can’t overemphasize the importance of absolute transparency. If you had a problem in the past, deal with it by making it known. Try to provide contexts (how you were young at the time and you’ve changed, or whatever).

[-[26:42] Allan: Absolutely! It’s better to be candid, especially when you’re dealing with governments. I’d been chatting with the Department of Homeland Security. If there is a misconception about something, you don’t have a chance to defend yourself and the facts will speak against you. In terms of the Commonwealth, are there advantages for being in the Commonwealth?

Willy: There is no preference given to people from the Commonwealth nor is there any disadvantage for being from any particular country. Australia is in a different category. Australians have a right to work and live in New Zealand.

[-[24:15] Allan: So you could just hop on the plane and start working in New Zealand on Monday? 

Willy: That’s right.

[-[24:09] Allan: How do taxes work? Do you pay them in both countries?

Willy: Taxes are an interesting one. Some countries tax on a source basis, some countries tax based on a residence basis. New Zealand taxes based on a residence basis. Once you’re a taxed resident in New Zealand, you’re taxable on your worldwide income. When you cease to be a taxed resident, you would not be taxable on any of your income unless the source of your income is from New Zealand — then you would be taxed on that.

If you’re doing work in New Zealand or making money off the land, you’re eligible for New Zealand tax. I mentioned the term “taxed resident”: You will be one from the first day within any period of the 365 days during which in aggregate you were here for 180 days or more. So effectively it is a test which looks back to the first day of the 12-month period. You’d also be a taxed resident if you have a permanent home in New Zealand. All of that is subject to if’s and buts:

– If you’re from a country that has a tax treaty with New Zealand, the double tax treaty may change the outcome.

– If you’re a taxed resident in two countries — and you pay taxes in two countries — then it’s likely you’ll be given a credit for the tax paid in the other jurisdiction.

There is a 92-grace period given to people who come to work for a foreign employer. You wouldn’t be taxable on that. If you come to New Zealand for the first time in 10 years, from the first day you’d become a taxed resident, you have a 48 month period during which you would be cast as a transitional resident and you would be taxable only on personal services income. So there is a number of layers one needs to look at and plan for, when weighing tax consequences.

[-[20:48] Allan: One thing I wanted to mention the double tax treaties. What are the countries that qualify for that?

Willy: There are many countries with which New Zealand has treaties. Certainly, the U.S. as well as with Australia, U.K. and many countries in Europe.

[-[20:23] Allan: What about spousal Visas if you’re coming over to work? Obviously, [in] the U.S., typically your partner isn’t able to work even though you’re are. For New Zealand, if you come over and you’re married, is your spouse able to work as well?

Willy: Yes. Under the Skilled Migrant Visa, your spouse would be a secondary applicant. An important point is:

– New Zealand has adopted an approach that’s really accepting of spouses in all categories. Same sex marriages are totally recognized. To be married, one needn’t have “married” as long as they’re living together in a genuine, stable relationship.

– NOTE: When one looks at an ability to come to New Zealand, the person who was looking to be a primary applicant may be better off being the secondary applicant because their spouse may have more points. 

Under the Skilled Migrant Visa, there is definitely no issue with the spouse working. Looking at the other categories, it would depend on the category you’re in. More often than not, a spouse is able to get a Visa.

[-[18:27] Allan: That’s good to know: If your partner is a doctor or a builder, that might work in your favor.

Willy: Absolutely! Just one thing to keep in mind: Where there are criteria that need to be satisfied after arrival — you must remain in New Zealand for a period of time — that requirement will be posed on the principal applicant. The secondary applicant will fail if the primary applicant doesn’t do what’s required of them. For example, if the primary separates from the secondary applicant, as much as the secondary applicant may want to stay — they fail, as I said.

[-[16:58] Allan: For someone in that situation, if they want to stay they need to qualify themselves. Do they need to reach out to a firm like yours, or would they have to leave the country?

Willy: Generally, they would need to apply when they’re outside of New Zealand. There might be some exceptions.

[-[16:09] Allan: I understand. What happens if you lose your job? How long do you have to leave the country? What’s the exit process like? Are there any options to extend your stay?

Willy: There is no prescribed time limit of how long you have, but you would be well advised not to wait too long. There are some Visas that are employer specific. Under the Skilled Migrant Visa, if that job disappeared, I think you’d have a challenge finding someone else to take over in a short period of time, given they need to have advertised and proved that no one was available. Whereas the Work to Residences Visa is based on talent and would not be employer specific. Under the Skilled Migrant Visa, out of the 160 points that you need, 50 would be tied to the employment.

Some of the important points are:

– Thoroughness;

– Comprehensiveness;

– Transparency;

– And communication.

Don’t wait for the authorities to come to you. Tell them you’ve lost your job and how settled you are. Don’t wait for them to come knocking.

[-[13:32] Allan: I’ve got a couple of quick questions. Weta and Lord of the Rings have made an impact on New Zealand. When Weta started, it would fluctuate up to a 1,000 employees. How much has that impacted the immigration policy?

Willy: It’s a hard question to answer. I would say Immigration in New Zealand is very conscious of Weta and its reputation; as well as the fact that it helps keep the country on people’s mind. They wouldn’t get special treatment, but if an application came in for someone going to work at Weta, there would be no question about whether it’s a credible organization or whether it would need their talent. It continues to have an impact on immigration because they’re important to New Zealand.

[-[11:38] Allan: What would happen if someone got denied? What’s the next step after the denial?

Willy: What usually happens the application is lodged. It’s unusual to find that the next piece of correspondence is that it’s been denied. Instead, it’s usually one identified the focal PPI (Potential Prejudicial Information). For example, the degree that you claim to have comes from an organization we aren’t able to identify. “Can you please give us more information about this established?” At that point, if you aren’t seeing a lawyer, you might want to. If it is declined, it depends on the reason why. There is an obligation on the Immigration of New Zealand to act with having regarded the rules of the Natural Justice. There needs to be a degree of transparency, there needs to be evidence that you stated your case and they listened to you. There are different avenue depending on the reasons for the decline.

[-[09:22] Allan: Good to know! For a lot of clients that reach out, have you had any clients how they’ve apply for work and brought up the whole immigration subject? Obviously, there are good and bad ways to go about it.

Willy: You’re talking about the correspondence between the applicant and the employer?

[-[08:07] Allan: Yes. I wonder if you have any good examples about how some people have handled that in the past. I do imagine for some employers it might sound a lot scarier than it needs to be. 

Willy: I’d be honest with you. I haven’t had much experience with people being frightened off by the system. They’ve already dealt with potential employees. I think that the system may appear overwhelming when one first looks at the paperwork and the evidence that needs to be produced. It’s always good to to use legal services, but it’s not impossible to do it yourself. But you do want to pay attention to every detail. In terms of guiding people through it, if in doubt ask and over answer. Communicate, communicate, communicate! Whether it be with a potential employer or the Immigration of New Zealand.

[-[05:40] Allan: What would be some of the advantages of going to a firm like yours when getting support? The way I look at immigration is like brain surgery — you probably don’t want to do it yourself.

Willy: A good question! Certainly, you will save yourself money if you do it yourself. But you may stress about your answers compromising the outcome. It may cause delays because you haven’t provided the right material. Have you disclosed everything? All of these are reasons to use a good advisor. Not all advisors who are equal. Some are more competent than others. There is a wide variation! The best way to answer your question is: Get good advice, choose your advisor carefully and cut down on the cost of that advisor by doing as much of the hard work yourself. Make sure to send all the information in the right order and form when the advisor asks for material. There are so many things you could do to cut down the cost by making your advisor’s life easier.

[-[02:15] Allan: For anyone who wants to contact you, how would they go about that?

Willy: Through the website is fine. Or feel free to drop me an email or a call. You can find all of my information on our website: https://www.bellgully.com/our-people/willy-sussman.

[-[01:46] Allan: Thank you again for doing this interview!

Willy: My pleasure! Thank you very much!


Thank you again, Willy, for taking the time to chat. I hope you got a lot from this. If you have a question, please shoot me an email.

I will be back next Episode with Jason Martin.

If you want to get on the inner circle VIP list, please sign up on allanmckay.com/inside. This is typically where I put all of the free information and videos, guides, etc.

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