While we hear much talk about "brain drains" - talented people fleeing overseas for more money or better career prospects - the reality is that many others are still coming to this country. These include Kiwis returning home, laden with valuable international experience, and immigrants often rich in skills.
O'Brien says his agency, Enterprise, receives 20 or more emails a day from countries as varied as Malaysia, India, Pakistan and China. "We advertise internationally on the web and in publications like NZ News UK," he says.
When a CV arrives online, Enterprise vets them, looking particularly for candidates with "rare, deep" skills.
If a candidate is suitable, they will be interviewed over the phone by a consultant. References are then checked, with the permission of the candidate, after which there is a second telephone interview, this time with the client/employer. If that goes successfully, the candidate is then asked to come to New Zealand and have a final interview, face to face with the employer.
"It's very seldom you get a job over the phone," says O'Brien. And while he notes that only 5% to 10% of applicants make this stage, "the interview would have to be pretty much an absolute shambles for them not to get the job after flying here".
The next step
What's the next step for an immigrant? The candidate goes to the immigration department and applies for a work permit or a residency permit. The job offer gives the candidate five extra points under our immigration system, which pretty much ensures the residency or work permit is granted. Work permits can be processed in a day, especially in rare skill areas like IT, says O'Brien, adding that residency doesn't take long either.
Immigration, it seems, is less strict now on proving there are no Kiwis to do the work before granting work permits. "There is a general understanding on the part of immigration as to what skills are rare now," he says.
O'Brien says he does not know of any of his clients flying over and being refused a permit or visa. "Because to go through this process, people have to have very rare skills and very deep skills," he says. Once the visa arrives, a candidate can start work.
A personal view
This is a process I am familiar with, though for me, as a journalist, it wasn't as speedy or as easy.
Early in 1997, realising I needed a job offer to gain enough points to gain residency, I employed a UK-based employment and immigration consultancy that charged around $10,000. They had staff in Auckland and Wellington and their job was to scan the papers to try and find me a job. I had hoped I could fly over with a job to go to.
Once, I had an interview with an Auckland tabloid at 6am. Not being a morning person I was not my best, and was unsuccessful.
The recruitment consultancy advised me that if I was serious I had better fly over, which I did in January 1998. I had already given up my "proper" job by this stage and was simply "temping".
Two interviews were lined up for me, but the Auckland power crisis was in full swing, and at the inteviews I was told the firms could not offer permanent work (and those five valuable points) until it was over. Eventually, funds started running low, and I ended up finding my own job, way out in the provinces.
It took three months for my residency application to be processed in Auckland, even though all the stuff was there - birth certificates, medical certificates, qualifications, signed statements from lawyers, etc, etc - all neatly gathered by the immigration consultancy. Only then could I legally start work.
Was it worth spending the money on the consultancy? Perhaps not; they failed to find me a job. But here I am, so maybe it was, who knows? It's just that journalism skills aren't the greatest need.
Marriage an option
Friends with similar-level qualifications, though in different professions, applied for New Zealand residency in the UK some months before me.
They applied as partners and you get an extra point for having a partner/de facto. Even without job offers, they made it through a "pool" process of marginal cases and arrived just weeks before me.
Another Pommy friend became engaged to a Wellington woman and trained as a teacher in the UK, gaining skills New Zealand wants. They are now happily married and living in Lower Hutt.
When you have legally been in New Zealand three years you can apply for citizenship, which for me and some friends is just weeks away.
See also ... and how Kiwis can fly away