Part 7: Overseas applicants

Inquiry into the Plumbers, Gasfitters, and Drainlayers Board: Follow-up report.

Under the Act, the Board has the power to prescribe the minimum standards for registration for both certifying and licensed plumbers, gasfitters, and drainlayers. The Board has the discretion to recognise any overseas qualification, certificate, registration, or licence as satisfying a minimum standard for registration. We describe this in more detail in paragraph 7.30 of our 2010 report.

In 2010, we reported that:

  • the Board was not using its discretion to recognise overseas qualifications as satisfying a particular minimum standard for registration;
  • the Board had acted unlawfully in refusing to consider registering overseas applicants at the craftsman (now certifying) level; and
  • it was unclear whether the Board had legal powers to issue provisional licences to overseas applicants in the way that they were proposing.

Summary of progress

Our original inquiry was driven partly by the number of complaints by migrants that they were being unfairly treated by the Board. The Board has apologised to many of these people under the historical complaints process, although some remain dissatisfied with the remedies offered.

After our limited follow-up work on this matter, we are satisfied that the majority of the problems we reported on in 2010 have been resolved.

In 2010, we made two recommendations about overseas applicants. Figure 7 summarises the progress against these recommendations, with further detailed findings in paragraphs 7.6-7.19.

Figure 7
The Board's progress in addressing recommendations 11 and 12

We recommended that the Plumbers, Gasfitters, and Drainlayers Board:Progress by the end of 2013Relevant paragraphs in this report
11 … review its policies for registering well-qualified and experienced plumbers and gasfitters migrating to New Zealand to ensure that its current policies give appropriate effect to its statutory discretion and to ensure that New Zealand makes the best use of the skills of such immigrants. Complete 7.6-7.19
12 … clarify whether it can issue provisional licences to overseas plumbers, gasfitters, and drainlayers before they apply for registration. Complete 7.13

Policies and licences

Our follow-up work on overseas applicants was limited because we did not review the files of tradespeople. We looked at decisions that the Board had made over 18 months granting or refusing registration and licences to overseas applicants. We reviewed complaints sent to the Board from overseas applicants, and regularly scanned social media targeted at migrants, particularly internet bulletin boards (forums). We did not pick up any current or recent problems about poor treatment of overseas applicants with respect to licensing and registration.

We were concerned when we started our follow-up work that the Board's website lacked information for overseas applicants. The information on the website applied only to trans-Tasman arrangements. However, a detailed guide for other tradespeople with overseas qualifications was posted on the website in February 2014.

The Board's view is that the standards applying to overseas-trained applicants should be neither higher nor lower than those that apply to applicants who were trained in New Zealand.

The Board set the minimum standards of registration for those applicants who apply on the basis of an overseas qualification, and published these as amendments to the registration Gazette notices in May 2013. Applications are permitted at both the licensed and certifying levels of registration.

The Board no longer operates the Immigrant Qualification Assessment System (IQAS) that it used in 2010. Qualified overseas tradesperson now apply to NZQA for an International Qualifications Assessment (IQA).

The IQA assesses whether the applicant's qualification is equivalent to, or greater than, the same qualification at level 4 on the New Zealand qualifications framework. Many migrants from other trades and professions use this process when they are seeking employment in New Zealand. Immigration New Zealand requires an IQA for some types of visa.

IQAs can also be sought by people with overseas qualifications who may have been in New Zealand for some time, for employment purposes. Again, this is similar to other skilled professions. We consider that putting the evaluation of qualifications in the hands of an expert body is a step forward from the process we saw in 2009.

With an IQA, and some other documentation, an overseas tradesperson is able to apply for registration, which is now in two stages. The Board can issue a provisional licence while it is considering that application. This is different from what we found in 2010, whereby an overseas person could not apply for registration until they had passed the Board's exam. The provisional licence allows overseas applicants to work under supervision while they satisfy the minimum terms for registration.

To complete the registration process at the licensed level, the tradesperson still needs to pass the Board's exam. Those seeking direct entry at certifying status need to do an advanced proficiency assessment (APA). Applicants need to be in New Zealand to do the APA. Fees for the APA process are:

  • overseas advanced proficiency application $690;
  • overseas advanced proficiency assessment $2,300 (maximum); and
  • overseas advanced proficiency materials $1,500 (maximum).

We understand that the Board's expectation is that a person who wants to get authorisation to do sanitary plumbing, gasfitting, or drainlaying applies in keeping with standard registration and licensing requirements. However, section 52 of the Act offers an alternative to the APA where the Board can exercise judgement about an individual applicant's case.

Section 52 allows the Board to grant exemptions from complying with the minimum standards of registration that tradespeople must meet to be registered, receive a practising licence for the first time, or renew their practising licence. The Board can add terms and conditions as it sees fit to a section 52 exemption. It can also refuse to grant the exemption.

The guide for overseas applicants has no reference to section 52 exemptions. In the interests of transparency, we think that the Board should include more information about its policy on these exemptions in its guidance for overseas applicants. A section 52 application costs $300.

We think that it is important that the option of applying for a section 52 exemption is clarified in the guide to avoid misunderstanding or the perception that standards are different for overseas applicants, and because the costs of an APA are high (see paragraph 7.14).

We note that the Board's November 2013 review of the Provisional Licences Policy indicates an intention to interview overseas applicants as part of the decision-making process. This seems reasonable. We suggest that these interviews should be structured, and applicants should know – before the interview – what is being assessed. It would be good practice to electronically record these conversations to control quality, if this can be achieved at an acceptable cost. This should ensure that the Board can show fair treatment of applicants.

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