With Alert Level 2 now in effect, Immigration New Zealand (INZ) has announced new immigration instructions around visa prioritisation. INZ processing capacity has been limited since the country was put in lockdown at Alert Level 4. Alert Level 3 saw incremental improvement and now, as more staff go back to work (up to 70% of Immigration Officers), residence class visa applications will resume processing, and will be prioritised alongside some temporary class applications.

To date, the INZ priority has been to focus its limited resources on implementing the Epidemic Management Notice and pushing through applications from individuals who have a critical purpose for coming to New Zealand. From today, INZ processing efforts will be expanded as follows:

 

Residence Applications

Priority will be given where the applicant is in New Zealand. For onshore applications priority will be given as below:

  • For Skilled Migrant Category (SMC), priority will be given to applications with job offers where:
    • Applicants have an hourly rate equivalent to or higher than twice the median wage (currently $51.00 per hour or an annual salary of $106,080 or more);
    • Applicants hold current occupational registration where registration is required by immigration instructions.
  • For Residence from Work Category applications (Talent (Accredited Employer), Talent (Arts, Culture and Sport), South Island Contribution, Religious Worker and Long Term Skill Shortage List), priority will be given to:
    • Applications which include a job offer with an hourly rate equivalent to or higher than twice the median wage (currently $51.00 per hour or an annual salary of $106,080 or more);
    • Applications which include a job offer which requires occupational registration where occupational registration is required by immigration instructions.
  • Second priority will be given to residence class visa applications where the applicant is out of New Zealand.

 

Temporary Entry Class Applications

  • Priority will be given to applications for critical workers to support the Government response to COVID-19 and for other temporary visa applicants that are in New Zealand.
  • For Essential Skills work visa applications, Immigration instructions require INZ to consider a range of factors, including the need to help New Zealand businesses provide their services, while protecting the employment opportunities for New Zealanders.
  • For an Essential Skills work visa to be granted, INZ must be satisfied that at the time the application is assessed there are no New Zealanders available to do the work being offered.

 

As the situation develops, international travel restrictions ease and domestic labour market conditions adjust, prioritisation criteria may also change. The Immigration (COVID-19 Response) Amendment Bill 2020 is making its way through the House, and will have a huge impact on immigration policy once it receives Royal Assent and takes effect. In the meantime, Immigration Officers have discretion to prioritise other applications when it is considered necessary to do so.

Though onshore offices have reopened, offshore offices remain closed, and delays can still be expected. The National Area Documentation Office (NaDO) has also reopened, with some staff working onsite. Given that processing capacity, though improved, is still limited, INZ encourage applicants to apply online for eligible visas.

If you are putting together a visa application for one of these newly prioritised categories, we strongly suggest that you seek professional advice. Contact Pathways today to speak with a licensed immigration adviser.

On 24 February 2020, the remuneration or pay rate thresholds for the Skilled Migrant Category Resident Visa (SMC) and the Essential Skills Work Visa will increase. Based on the New Zealand median salary and wage rate (which has increased 2% since last year from NZD $25 per hour to NZD $25.50 per hour), the thresholds are updated annually.

The following tables, based on information released by Immigration New Zealand (INZ) on 19 December 2019, set out the changes and the relevant dates.

Hourly rates for SMC applicants, in order to be awarded points for skilled employment:

ANZSCO Level From 24 February 2020

 

Between 26 November 2018 and 23 February 2020
1, 2 or 3 NZD $25.50 or more per hour (NZD $53,040 per year) NZD $25.00 or more per hour (NZD $52,000 per year)
4 or 5 NZD $38.25 or more per hour (NZD $79,560 per year) NZD $37.50 or more per hour (NZD $78,000 per year)
4 or 5 *occupations treated as exceptions (read more about the ANZSCO changes) NZD $25.50 per hour (NZD $53,040 per year)

 

High Salary Bonus points NZD $51.00 or more per hour (NZD $106,080 per year) NZD $50.00 or more per hour (NZD $104,000 per year)

 

Hourly rates for Essential Skills applicants:

Skill band ANZSCO Level From 24 February 2020

 

Between 26 November 2018 and 23 February 2020
Mid-skilled 1, 2 or 3 NZD $21.68 or more per hour (NZD $45,094 per year) NZD $21.25 or more per hour (NZD $44,200 per year)
Mid-skilled 4 or 5 *occupations treated as exceptions NZD $25.50 per hour (NZD $53,040 per year)
Higher-skilled any NZD $38.25 or more per hour (NZD $79,560 per year) NZD $37.50 or more per hour (NZD $78,000 per year)
Lower-skilled any NZD $21.67 or less per hour (NZD $45,074 per year), will be lower-skilled NZD $21.24 or less per hour (NZD $44,179 per year)
Lower-skilled 4 or 5 NZD $38.24 or less per hour (NZD $79,539 per year) NZD $37.49 or less per hour (NZD $77,979 per year)

 

All work visa applications received on or after 24 February will be assessed using the new threshold. If your application for an Essential Skills Work Visa is received before 24 February 2020, it will be assessed using the old thresholds. However, if you already hold a visa and are applying for a further visa, the conditions or duration of your next visa could be different.

If your Expression of Interest (EOI) was selected before 24 February 2020 and you were invited to apply after 24 February 2020, the old remuneration thresholds apply when you apply for residence under the Skilled Migrant Category.

To discuss these changes and how they may relate to your personal circumstances, contact Pathways NZ to speak with a licensed immigration adviser.

Section 161(1)(a) of the Immigration Act 2009 states that if a person who has held their Resident Visa for less than 2 years is convicted of an offence for which the court has the power to impose a custodial sentence of 3 months or more, the offender becomes liable for deportation.

The liability for deportation is not triggered by the actual sentence handed down but rather by the maximum sentence that the court has the power to impose. This catches many people out as offences such as careless or dangerous driving, or driving with excess breath alcohol, fall under this category. Whilst these offences are usually punished with a fine and suspension of the offender’s driving licence for 6 months, the fact that the court CAN impose a custodial sentence of 3 months makes section 161 apply.

For more serious offences where a custodial sentence is imposed, Immigration New Zealand (‘INZ’) is generally notified by the Department of Corrections. A custodial sentence includes imprisonment, home detention and periodic detention.

In cases where no custodial sentence has been imposed, INZ will normally only become aware of the conviction and consequential deportation liability when the individual applies for their Permanent Resident Visa (‘PRV’). This is because the applicable INZ 1175 application form requires the applicant to declare their convictions. Upon INZ confirming the conviction the applicant’s file will be transferred to the INZ Resolutions team and the applicant will be notified of their liability for deportation in due course.

An individual may consider not applying for their PRV so as not to flag their deportation liability to INZ. However, consideration must be given to the fact that the deportation liability stands for 10 years from the date of conviction unless it is cancelled by the INZ Resolutions team or the Minister of Immigration. Therefore by not applying for a PRV the individual would be unable to travel during the liability period, or would be unable to re-enter New Zealand as a resident if they left NZ. Having outstanding deportation liability also prevents a person from applying for NZ citizenship. The recommended course of action in most cases would therefore be to lodge the PRV application and to address the deportation liability robustly once contacted by INZ Resolutions. This way the applicant (although unable to qualify for a PRV) would be able to obtain further travel conditions on their Resident Visa enabling them to travel in and out of NZ while the deportation liability issue is resolved.

The INZ Resolutions team will officially notify a resident who is liable for deportation and will give them the opportunity to present their case against deportation by completing a detailed questionnaire and providing additional supporting information and documentation. Either senior immigration officers within the INZ Resolutions team or the Minister of Immigration personally, will make the determination to either cancel, suspend or enforce the deportation liability.

  • Cancellation of the deportation liability will remove the liability for deportation and enable the resident to apply for a PRV.
  • Suspension of the deportation liability can be imposed for a period not exceeding 5 years. If deportation liability is suspended, it will be cancelled after the suspension period has elapsed provided that none of the terms and conditions imposed on the Resident Visa holder during the suspension period are breached. Normally the suspension would be subject to the Resident Visa holder not committing an offence of any type during the suspension period. Deportation liability can be reactivated however if any of the suspension terms and conditions are breached during the suspension period.
  • Enforcement of the deportation liability would result in the Resident Visa holder being deported unless they are able to lodge a successful appeal with the Immigration and Protection Tribunal (‘IPT’) on humanitarian grounds. Such an appeal must be made within 28 days of being issued the official Deportation Liability Notice (‘DLN’) by INZ. The IPT appeal process for residents facing deportation for criminal offending can take 1-2 years. The appeal format is an oral hearing conducted either at court or at the IPT’s offices.

In our experience, convictions at the lower level of offending are unlikely to result in deportation liability enforcement provided that the Resident Visa holder has the assistance of a suitably qualified and experienced immigration professional. Conversely, avoiding or ignoring the problem will not make it go away and could have a detrimental impact on the Resident Visa holder’s future in NZ. Therefore, the sooner we know that you have a problem the better.