The New Zealand Government’s new KiwiBuild scheme will see changes to immigration settings in order to help the construction and housing sector to attract overseas skilled workers.

The government’s response to New Zealand’s shortage of affordable housing is the new KiwiBuild scheme which will see the construction of 100,000 starter homes for first home buyers over the next ten years, with half of those new houses earmarked for the Auckland region.

The Ministry for Business, Innovation and Employment (MBIE) projected in late 2017 that there could be a potential shortfall of approximately 30,000 workers to meet increasing demand in housing and infrastructure, with this number likely to rise as a result of the KiwiBuild initiative. The shortage affects all skills categories in the construction sector but particular growth is expected in the demand for plumbers, electricians, builders, civil engineers and project managers.

The proposed changes, which are expected to come in to force late 2018 or early 2019, include three key components.

The first is a dedicated KiwiBuild Skills Shortage List. This list will identify specific roles for which the immigration process will be streamlined. The list will expand on the innovations introduced in the Canterbury Skills Shortage List, which was brought in after the Christchurch earthquake to help with the city’s rebuild.

For roles included on the KiwiBuild Skills Shortage List, an employer may not need to prove to Immigration New Zealand that they have made a genuine attempt to employ a New Zealand citizen or resident visa holder for the position.

The second component of the change will provide advantages for companies who have proven standards as good employers in the construction sector. Employer accreditation or pre-approval should see faster processing and greater simplicity in visa applications.

Employers will be able to benefit from this streamlined process if they reach high standards of health and safety, have good business practices and can demonstrate good employment conditions, pay, training, skills development and pastoral care.

For employers who comply with the pre-approval criteria this will offer greater opportunities to plan their workforce and hire overseas workers to meet the expected demand.

During periods of skills shortage there is often concern around the risk of exploitation of migrant workers through lower wages and poor working conditions. The third component of the proposed changes will put in place steps to minimise that risk by introducing specific requirements for labour hire companies, establishing a mandatory accreditation scheme to cover third party arrangements.

This Immigration New Zealand accreditation is likely to require labour hire companies to pay workers at least the market rate and offer terms and conditions equivalent to the hire company’s other employees, as well as ensuring equity across all employees’ terms and conditions. The accreditation may also see hire companies having to meet the upfront costs of worker recruitment.

Hire companies will also likely be responsible for ensuring that contracted third parties uphold good practices in the workplace.  Failure to comply with this and any of the new proposed changes could mean that Immigration New Zealand could cancel the hire company’s accreditation and the benefits that go with it.

The Government may also consider the option that work visas issued under the KiwiBuild Skills Shortage list may have more flexible conditions and could, for example, require the worker just to work in their specific role and not restrict the worker to a particular employer or location.

Recruiting to meet periods of high demand and maintaining legal and ethical obligations in employing migrant staff can be complex. We recommend that employers begin this process with the benefit of professional advice and assistance on visa matters from an experienced Licenced Immigration Adviser or Immigration Lawyer.

The Pathways New Zealand team will be monitoring progress on these proposals and will confirm the final details of the changes once they are announced.

Recently announced changes to the essential skills in demand lists have seen the surprise removal of several occupations in the farming sector. Assistant Herd manager and Herd Manager will be removed from the immediate skills shortage list from 30 May 2016. This will lead to increased challenges for farmers to renew the work visas for existing staff and retain valued skills on farm, it will also affect those looking to replace or increase on farm skills.

For occupations on the skills shortage list employers do not need to advertise the job and satisfy INZ that there are no New Zealanders available, as long as the person they wish to offer the job to can evidence the prescribed qualification and or work experience relevant to the role. Now with the removal of these key roles of Assistant Herd and Herd Manager, employers will need to evidence “genuine attempts” to recruit New Zealanders through advertising and a Skills Match Report check through WINZ.

These changes will take away the certainty that farmers have benefited from to date assured that they could easily retain the valued skills of foreign workers essential for the running of their farm operations and for the workers themselves many of whom have held work visas for many years a greater level of uncertainty as to their future in New Zealand.

The changes will come into effect from 30 May 2016 for the new dairy season, all work visa applications submitted before this date should be assessed under the current ISSL rules, it is therefore essential for work visa holders to lodge their new work visa applications in plenty of time so that they can be assessed and decided before the cut off date. This is or particular importance for those who may be changing jobs where they will not have the benefits of an interim visa that allows them to continue working whilst their application is decided.

For anyone who has a work visa expiring after 30 May 2016 serious consideration should be given to applying for a new work visa before these changes come in to place and protect the option to secure a new work visa now rather than the heightened risk of satisfying a labour market test in the future. Of course it all depends on exactly when their visa is due to expire and whether the employer is willing to offer a longer term contract.

Currently work visas for these positions are typically issued for 2 years but given the duration that a work visa is issued for is discretionary we may find that closer to the cut off of the change that we will see this reduced to 12 months. The longer that an employer is prepared to offer an employment contract for, and ideally this will be permanent, then this will help securing a longer term work visa.

For anyone who may be affected by these changes we strongly suggest to take professional advice at the earliest opportunity so they can receive appropriate guidance and form a plan to move forward.

In mid-October, a woman was arrested in relation to fraud involving multiple work visa applications submitted by Filipino farm workers in the dairy industry. The woman, who has interim name suppression, initially had three charges laid against her but when she appeared for a second time in the Hamilton District Court on Tuesday, the 17th of November, those charges substantially increased and she is now facing a total of 284 immigration charges. It is not clear at this stage if the number of charges is an indication of the affected individuals or applications, but it does clearly demonstrate the scale of offending. She has been remanded on bail without plea until her next appearance in Court in December.

Since the arrest was made, Immigration Minister Michael Woodhouse has announced new rules for Filipino dairy workers who may have provided “incorrect” information relating to qualifications and work experience with their previous visa applications, but otherwise met normal work visa requirements. The amended immigration instructions allow further work visas to be granted to those workers who admit they have provided incorrect information previously. Immigration New Zealand (INZ) have identified which of the current applications the woman in question had a hand in, and isolated these from other applications of a similar type.

In light of this, there have been active movements in the processing of visa applications that had been caught up in the investigation, with the backlog being worked through and a large number have already been approved. Unfortunately for others where there has been a direct link to the case they have been declined. Only recently, 10 Filipino dairy workers failed to get their new visas and are now facing deportation.

The amendment to the immigration instructions to “accommodate” the current situation is very much a temporary measure due to the timing of the issue, during the busiest time of the dairy season. Given the recent work visa approvals as well as declines, it is our view that INZ is not providing a “clean slate” rather INZ is prepared to “overlook” or give benefit of the doubt to the applicant this once, provided no further false and/or misleading information is given in future visa applications.

A future challenge for anyone involved in a case such as this will be when they apply for residence. At the residence stage application forms have more robust declarations regarding an applicant’s previous immigration history and whether they have previously provided false or misleading information or documentation. It is highly likely any applicant involved in this case will require to go through a character waiver assessment and cannot be certain of a positive outcome considering the seriousness with which INZ take such offending.

If you think you may have been affected by this case or another situation similar to this you should seek professional immigration advice immediately. The sooner you take action the better your chances to recover your situation.

Filipino Dairy farm workers have been experiencing significant delays in the processing of their work visa application over the last few months. Applications are being held by INZ and they will not commit to a timeframe for processing, which is already well beyond the standard 25 working days target. In some cases they have been under process for 4 months or longer which is fast becoming a major cause of disruption and concern within the dairy farming community at a peak time of the season.

For those workers renewing their visas to continue working in the same role for the same employer they at least have the security that they will be issued an interim visa with work conditions which will allow them to continue working whilst their new visa application is being processed, however for those changing roles and or employers, their interim visa will only grant them visitor conditions and consequently they cannot work. This of course not only creates a skills gap for farm owners at a peak time, but also leaves the workers unable to earn an income and struggling financially.

The delays have been caused due to a major fraud investigation being undertaken by INZ. Whilst this investigation has been underway all applications for Filipino dairy farm works have been put on hold.
The investigation involves the alleged provision of fraudulent documents such as qualifications and work references with work visa applications. INZ began a formal investigation in March 2015 which has uncovered more widespread concerns of false and misleading information. In light of this, INZ has taken on a more in-depth verification process which has led to the ongoing delays.

As a result of this investigation, a woman has been arrested recently and will be charged in relation to the suspected fraud, however concerns about the potential scale of the alleged offending are still unknown. It is likely there will be further charges laid against her and possibly further arrests.
This is a stark reminder that it is never acceptable to provide false or misleading information or withhold material information to INZ through the visa application process. Not only does this raise serious concerns about an applicant’s character for future visa applications, but it may also mean a liability for deportation.

This case also emphasizes that applicants must seek professional assistance if they do not feel confident about applying for their visas on their own or are unsure of anything they are being told or requested to do by an employment broker or agent. If seeking a third party’s help, make sure that the person is qualified to give immigration advice . The Immigration Advisers Authority publishes a list of Licensed Immigration Advisers on their website as well as their contact details. The Immigration Contact Centre is also a good source of information for any queries relating to policy and application requirements.

We hope this also serves a reminder to other applicants that if an agent tells you to pay them a significant amount of money and they will “take care of the rest” to secure a job for you, this promise is probably too good to be true. If an applicant is suitably qualified and has the work experience required for the role, then there should be no need to inflate their qualifications or work experience.

In the meantime, INZ wants to reassure employers that the current immigration status of dairy workers onshore is being preserved by the grant of interim visas. We are hopeful that the issue surrounding Filipino farm workers will be resolved soon, and as stated by INZ Assistant General Manager Peter Elms’ that INZ investigations will continue to target those who benefited from the fraud rather than the workers themselves.