An epidemic notice has been issued under the Epidemic Preparedness Act 2006, in effect from Thursday 2 April 2020. This means temporary visa holders whose visas were due to expire between 1 April 2020 and 9 July 2020, will receive an automatic visa extension.

Pathways’ physical offices are now closed, but our immigration advisers will still be available to assist with your visa matters and enquiries.

All Pathways’ staff are now working from home as per our Government’s directive. However you will not notice any change as all telephone calls and emails will be received and responded to exactly as they would be normally. Visa enquiries and visa application work and lodgements will also continue as normal. The only difference is that our Hamilton and Wellington offices are not open to the public but, if you must deliver documents, please telephone and suitable arrangements will be made.

The whole world is impacted by the recent outbreak of COVID-19 and our top priority is the health and wellbeing of our wonderful country and especially of all of our staff and clients.

These changes will not compromise our ability to continue to deliver the high quality, trusted and expert immigration services for which Pathways is reputed. Most of our work, including visa applications, is able to be undertaken by phone, video conference and email and it is not actually necessary to meet in person (although in normal circumstances this is always our preference).

Our hearts and thoughts are with those people and businesses that have been affected by this worldwide outbreak and we strongly urge everyone in New Zealand to follow the Government guidelines to do what they can to minimise the impact to our country.

Stay safe and look after yourself and those around you, in particular those who are most vulnerable. 

More information about coronavirus, including how to self-isolate, is available on the Ministry of Health website.

The uncertainty around coronavirus intensifies uncertainty for New Zealand work visa holders.

Residence Visa applicants face continued wait times, as Immigration New Zealand (INZ) struggles to get through lodged applications. The problem is exacerbated by the lack of clear Government direction on aspects of immigration policy, and this uncertainty is likely to persist until after this year’s election.

Three years ago, there were about 150,000 people in New Zealand on all types of work visas and about 50,000 people a year were being approved for residence. Today there are almost 300,000 people – six percent of New Zealand’s population – now holding work visas and only 35,000 people a year are being approved for residence.

The number of people, under all categories, who can be approved for residence is determined by the New Zealand Residence Programme which is the name the Government gives to the number of people able to be approved for residence in any period. The most recent Residence Programme ran for the 18-month period ending 31 December 2019 and allowed for between 50,000 and 60,000 people to be approved for residence during that timeframe.

The Government has yet to decide on the Residence Programme numbers from the beginning of 2020 and this has left Immigration New Zealand in the difficult position of having to manage its residence application processing without any Government guidance or targets. This Government indecision is likely an outcome of the competing (and perhaps discordant) priorities within the coalition Government, intensified by election year politicking. However, even if a new Residence Programme is introduced in the near future, the number of residence approvals is highly unlikely to see an increase over the previous Programme number. In all likelihood, the number will be the same or reduced.

It is an understandable consequence of the high number of people now holding work visas, that a greater number of people can now qualify for residence and have lodged their residence applications. This has resulted in a greater number of mainly Skilled Migrant Category (SMC) and Residence-from-work (RFW) residence applications in the queue. This increase in residence applications, together with the limitations imposed by the previous Residence Programme, and now the lack of any Programme, has rendered INZ unable to process residence applications in a timely and transparent manner.

Late last year, media reports (extrapolating from INZ figures) stated that the number of days it took for 75 percent of resident visas to be processed had increased by 76 days. This was despite INZ hiring 177 more staff. High staff turnover and the diverting of Immigration Officers away from residence processing to undertake the increased volume and urgency associated with work visa applications (at historically high levels), has not helped to relieve the significant pressure on residence visa processing times.

The outcome is that there are SMC applications lodged in December 2018 that are still waiting for allocation to an Immigration Officer and, at the end of January 2020, there were some 25,600 people with SMC applications and over 4,100 people with RFW applications in the residence queue. This number of people, in just these two residence categories, is sufficient to almost fill the expected annual Residence Programme from applications already on hand – and yet even more residence applications are being lodged daily.

INZ will have received a high, and increasing, level of enquiries from frustrated and anxious applicants regarding what is happening with their application and, in response, INZ has now published new criteria for which residence applications will prioritised for processing:

  1. SMC applications with job offers, with priority given to applicants:
    a. with a pay rate equivalent to $51.00 per hour or more
    b. who have jobs for which Immigration Instructions require occupational registration
  2. All business categories (Investor & Entrepreneur)
  3. RFW (Talent/ Accredited Employer, Religious Worker, Long Term Skills Shortage), with priority given to applicants:
    a. with a pay rate equivalent to $51.00 per hour or more
    b. who have jobs for which Immigration Instructions require occupational registration

Family category applications also now have particular criteria for being prioritised.

In essence, the now published priority criteria simply puts on paper what has actually been happening in practice over the past six months as INZ has been grappling with how to manage the increased application numbers in the absence of any clear Government directive. We do not see that much will now change in regard to processing times for most applications except for the increased transparency, and the heightened expectations of those applicants who can meet the priority criteria.

It should be appreciated that the updated priority criteria will neither reduce the current backlog nor will it defuse the fundamental tensions in the immigration system. These tensions have yet to fully play out and we see the above changes as, very much, an interim measure while INZ and the Government decide on more long term and definitive solutions to manage residence numbers and application processing.

In the meantime, if you meet the eligibility criteria for a Residence Visa, applying now will at least place your application in the queue for processing. Once in the queue, immigration instructions in effect at the time you submitted your application will continue to apply to that application. This can afford some measure of protection against the yet-to-be-announced changes to immigration policy and the uncertainty and indecision symptomatic of an election year.

If you wish to apply for a Residence Visa and would like to discuss your options, contact Pathways NZ to speak with a licensed immigration adviser.

Changes to the skill level of 44 occupations in ANZSCO has opened the door to SMC Residence pathway for people in previously low skilled roles.

A new version of the Australian and New Zealand Standard Classification of Occupations (ANZSCO) has been announcedCoinciding with ANZSCO version 1.3 (to be released 5 November 2019)are amendments to Immigration Instructionsin effect as of 29 October 2019. These changes have immediate and significant consequences for  SMC residence  and Essential Skills work visa applicants.  

Until mid-2020, when INZ’s earlier announced change  that the ANZSCO will no longer be used to assess temporary work visas INZ Announcement – comes into force, INZ will continue to use ANZSCO version 1.2 for the purposes of deciding visa applications. However, this is not the case for every ANZSCO occupation. 

 Some occupations have been ‘upgraded’, from a skill level 4 or 5 in ANZSCO version 1.2, to a skill level 1-3 in version 1.3. These occupations, listed in the table below, will be treated as exceptions.  

 

ANZSCO code and occupation 
421111 Child Care Worker 

421112 Family Day Care Worker 

421114 Out of School Hours Care Worker 

422116 Teachers’ Aide 

423411 Child or Youth Residential Care Assistant 

423413 Refuge Worker 

451111 Beauty Therapist 

451412 Tour Guide 

451612 Travel Consultant 

451811 Civil Celebrant 

452211 Bungy Jump Master 

452212 Fishing Guide 

452213 Hunting Guide 

452214 Mountain or Glacier Guide 

452215 Outdoor Adventure Instructor 

452216 Trekking Guide 

452217 Whitewater Rafting Guide 

452299 Outdoor Adventure Guides nec 

551211 Bookkeeper 

552111 Bank Worker 

552211 Credit or Loans Officer 

711211 Industrial Spraypainter 

711311 Paper Products Machine Operator 

711313 Sawmilling Operator 

711611 Sewing Machinist 

711711 Footwear Production Machine Operator 

711712 Hide and Skin Processing Machine Operator 

711713 Knitting Machine Operator 

711714 Textile Dyeing and Finishing Machine Operator 

711715 Weaving Machine Operator 

711716 Yarn Carding and Spinning Machine Operator 

711799 Textile and Footwear Production Machine Operators nec 

712111 Crane, Hoist or Lift Operator 

712916 Paper and Pulp Mill Operator 

712921 Waste Water or Water Plant Operator 

721112 Logging Plant Operator 

721913 Paving Plant Operator 

731311 Train Driver 

821711 Construction Rigger 

423313 Personal Care Assistant 

452311 Diving Instructor (Open Water) 

591212 Import-Export Clerk 

599611 Insurance Investigator 

599612 Insurance Loss Adjuster 

Applications made before mid-2020: 

  •  If your occupation is on the list of exceptions and your pay is above the New Zealand median income (currently $25, soon to be $25.50), INZ will use ANZSCO Version 1.3 to assess your application.  
  •  If your occupation is on the list of exceptions, but your pay is below the New Zealand median income, INZ will use ANZSCO version 1.2 to assess your application.  
  •  If you currently hold a work visa, the skill level of your job is unchanged.  

 Applications made after mid-2020: 

  •  For the Essential Skills Work Visa (Temporary Work Visa), ANZSCO will not be used to assess whether an applicant is in skilled employmentInstead, skill level will be determined by a remuneration threshold linked to the median wage. 
  •  For the Skilled Migrant Category Resident VisaINZ will use ANZSCO Version 1.3 to assess the skill level of an applicant’s job. 

 Immigration New Zealand are yet to provide specifics about the immigration procedures that are planned for next year. However, if you are working in one of the excepted occupations and would like further information, we recommend you speak to a licensed immigration advisor. Contact Pathways NZ for a free preliminary assessment. 

 

Last week the Minister of Immigration announced changes to how employer-assisted work visas would be applied for in the future.

These changes will take up to 18 months to be designed and implemented, and will see six current work visa categories replaced by one single category. They will also result in employers having more direct responsibility for the work visa process and costs rather than the visa applicant. The Government’s view is that it is the employer who is benefiting from the migrant worker so they should be more involved in, and responsible for, the visa process.

In fact what has been announced are really just high level “signposts” of what the Government is intending to introduce in the future and the nuts and bolts policy detail will follow later. It is this detail which will determine if, how and when these policy changes will actually be implemented.

However one key and immediate change is the increase in the accredited employer work-to-residence annual salary threshold from $55,000 to $79,560. This change is effective very soon from 7 October and existing accredited employers should urgently review whether to support any employees with a work-to-residence work visa application before this date. For many workers the current employer accreditation is the only pathway they have to obtain residence and to live permanently in New Zealand. Once the changes are fully rolled out this salary threshold will increase further to a level equivalent to twice the New Zealand median wage (ie; the salary threshold will increase to over $106,000 pa). Those who don’t meet this threshold will only ever be able to stay temporarily in New Zealand and once their children complete secondary school the family will either leave New Zealand or their children will need to return to their home country for further education.

There are about 54,000 workers on employer-assisted work visas out of a total of around 235,000 work visa holders now in New Zealand.  The majority of work visas are “open” work visas issued under the working holiday, partnership or graduate student visa categories. Employer-assisted work visas are those that are generally issued once an employer has demonstrated through labour market tests that there are no suitable local employees available, together with those work visas issued under the accredited employer and various skill shortage lists.

The changes will see;

  • The introduction of a “gateway framework” which will comprise three stages (gateways);

Stage 1 – An Employer Check
It will be mandatory for all employers, including those with an existing accreditation, to be accredited under the new regime before they can hire any migrant on a work visa.

Three categories of accreditation are proposed comprising standard accreditation, labour hire accreditation and premium or high-volume accreditation. Due to the large number of employers requiring accreditation we envisage the standard accreditation will comprise a relatively low level process and so long as an employer has nothing adverse recorded against them this process should not be unduly onerous. Only the high-volume accreditation will have the work-to-residence option as per the existing employer accreditation regime and then only for highly paid employees earning twice the median income. High volume accredited employers will be required to provide significant support and assistance to their migrant workers.

Indications are that the annual cost of standard employer accreditation will be around $600 and high-volume and labour hire accreditation will be around $2,000. It will be compulsory for those employers who employ 6 or more work visa holders in a year to hold the high-volume accreditation status. The original Cabinet briefing paper indicated that initial accreditation would be for 12 months and standard and labour hire accreditation would then need to be annually renewed, while the high volume accreditation would be renewed two yearly. Given the fact that some 16,000 employers are currently employing migrants on employer-assisted work visas this mandatory accreditation is set to contribute over $10 million a year to the Immigration New Zealand coffers.

Stage 2 – A  Job Check
The normal labour market checks will apply except if the role is:

  • On the Regional Skill Shortage List
  • A higher-paid job in a provincial area (ie; NZ median pay rate or higher)
  • Covered within an industry sector agreement
  • Remunerated with a salary of $101,046 pa or more

Stage 3 – An Applicant Check
The applicant check is the last stage and involves an assessment of the applicant’s identity, character, health and suitability to undertake the offered role.

  • The present requirement for low-skilled work visa holders to leave New Zealand for one year after holding a low-skilled work visa for three years is to remain. However these workers will have their ability to be accompanied to New Zealand by their families reinstated. Subject to the final policy details partners may be eligible for partnership-based visitor visas and their school aged children may apply for student visas provided (currently) the worker is earning more than $43,323 pa.
  • Introducing industry sector agreements with the residential aged care and meat processing sectors to be negotiated towards the end of 2020 with dairy farming, forestry, transport and tourism/hospitality to follow. Sector agreements will include a workforce plan to show how the sector plans to place more New Zealanders in jobs and details about how migrant workers will be employed in the sector. Employers who are recruiting migrants for occupations covered by a sector agreement must still be accredited, and comply with the sector agreement if their workers are to be paid below the median wage.
  • Replacing the existing reference to skill bands (low/mid/high) with a simplified pay classification system. Basically, jobs that are paid at or above the median wage (currently $25 per hour) will be defined as higher-paid jobs and those paid below this level will be defined as lower-paid jobs. Migrant workers who are working in provincial areas in a higher-paid job (ie; $25 ph) will not have to undergo any labour market testing. This change will also remove the longstanding reliance on the ANZSCO for job classification.

The Government is promoting these changes on the basis it will help fill skill shortages, reduce migrant exploitation and improve conditions for New Zealand workers.

In reality the changes will do little to combat migrant exploitation as only law-abiding employers will promote themselves through the accreditation process and pay the Government $10 million for this privilege. Those less scrupulous employers still have some 180,000 work visa holders with open work visas to ply their trade on and this is where the majority of migrant exploitation will continue to occur. The reality is that there are few checks and balances of employers and migrant workers because of the open work visa status of these workers.

The long lead in time (18 months) for these changes is disappointing especially when the original Cabinet paper stated the first two sector agreements would be implemented by January 2020 and the new gateway model would be fully implemented by June 2020. We are now looking at sector agreements being negotiated at the end of 2020 and implementation of all the announced changes sometime in 2021.  A great deal can happen in this time and which can lead to significant changes in what is currently proposed.  It is difficult to understand why sector agreements cannot be expedited now as it would seem that this is something the Government should, at least, have a keen interest in promoting given the current and significant workforce shortfall in the aged care and hospitality industries in particular.

We suspect the delays are as much about Immigration New Zealand’s resource limitations as they are about the Government’s reticence to commit to the finer details of what is proposed and to actually make it happen. Next year’s General Election may also be a factor in the revised timing.

Apart from the forthcoming salary threshold increase for existing accredited employer work-to-residence visa applications our view is that employers and workers should just get on with business and work with the visa categories and challenges we have now. Employers should also take care to avoid any employment disputes or Labour Inspectorate involvement in their businesses as this is something which could count against them with the new accreditation and could, potentially, result in them not being able to employ migrants in the future.

Yes, work visa changes may be coming but what will happen in 18 months – who knows?

To discuss these proposed changes, or any immigration matter, please contact a Licensed Immigration Adviser at Pathways.

From Monday 10 June Pathways will be working from our new office location on Level 2, 586 Victoria Street, Hamilton CBD, this is just a stones throw from our previous office in Bryce Street.

We look forward to welcoming you to our new office

See you soon.

For directions to the office see our contact us page or use this link

Salary thresholds for Skilled Migrant Residence and Essential Skills Work Visas have increased as from 15 January 2018.

In August 2017, INZ made changes to the Skilled Migrant Category and Essential Skills Work Visas were implemented, aimed to:

  • ensure New Zealand is attracting migrants who bring the most economic benefits to New Zealand and to improve the skill composition of people gaining residence under the Skilled Migrant Category
  • strike the right balance between ensuring New Zealanders are at the front of the queue for jobs while preserving access to the temporary migrant skills necessary for New Zealand’s continued economic growth.

These changes included introducing salary thresholds to both categories, with the aim of improving the assessment of skill and value to New Zealand.

From 15 January 2018, the following changes will occur in the Skilled Migrant Category:

Threshold Prior to 15 January From 15 January
Threshold for skilled employment in an occupation at ANZSCO 1-3 $23.49 per hour or above (or the equivalent annual salary) $24.29 per hour or above (or the equivalent annual salary)
Threshold for skilled employment in an occupation at ANZSCO 4-5, or which is not included in ANZSCO $35.24 per hour or above (or the equivalent annual salary) $36.44 per hour or above (or the equivalent annual salary)
Threshold to earn bonus points $46.98 per hour or above (or the equivalent annual salary) $48.58 per hour or above (or the equivalent annual salary)

From 15 January 2018, the following changes will occur in Essential Skills work visa category:

Threshold Prior to 15 January From 15 January
Threshold for mid-skilled employment in an occupation at ANZSCO 1-3 $19.97 per hour or above (or the equivalent annual salary) $20.65 per hour or above (or the equivalent annual salary)
Threshold for higher skilled employment in any occupation (including those at ANZSCO 4-5) $35.24 per hour or above (or the equivalent annual salary) $36.44 per hour or above (or the equivalent annual salary)

INZ have provided the following FAQ to explain why these changes have been made and how they may affect a person, now or in the future

Why are these changes occurring now?

The thresholds are indexed against the New Zealand median income. As previously announced, salary requirements are to be updated at the end of each calendar year based on New Zealand income data (which is released in September). This year the changes have been delayed until January to give employers and migrants enough time to adjust to the new thresholds.


What if I am a current Essential Skills work visa holder and my job does not meet the new threshold? What if I’m an employer and one of my staff hold a current visa but their wage does not meet the new threshold?

Visas that people already hold will not be affected. Changes to the income thresholds will not affect the duration or conditions of visas that have already been granted.

A new application made on or after 15 January will be assessed against the new threshold. This may mean the conditions or visa duration of the next visa could be different.  For example a chef paid $20 an hour would currently be considered mid-skilled, as the occupation is ANZSCO level 2 and the pay is above the existing threshold of $19.97. However if he applied for a further visa after 15 January he would be considered low skilled, unless his pay increased to above the new threshold of $20.65.


What if I apply or applied for a work visa under Essential Skills before 15 January 2018, but my application is not decided by then?  Will Immigration New Zealand assess my skill level based on the old thresholds or the new ones?

If your application was received by INZ before 15 January 2018, the old thresholds will be used to assess your application and determine your visa application.


If I am an employer who has already advertised and prepared to support an Essential Skills work visa, but the person cannot get his application in before 15 January 2018, what happens then?

If an application is received and accepted after 15 January 2018, the new thresholds will apply, even if (for example) the employment agreement has been signed prior to 15 January 2018.


What happens if I was invited to apply for the Skilled Migrant Category under the old thresholds?

The salary thresholds against which you will be assessed are the thresholds in place on the date your expression of interest (EOI) was selected from the Pool, if that selection results in an invitation to apply.  For example, if your EOI was selected on 10 January 2018 and you were invited to apply on 20 January 2018, the old salary thresholds will apply, even though you weren’t invited to apply until after the new thresholds were introduced.

Salary thresholds will continue to be reviewed annually in November/December once the annual national salary statistics have been published. INZ’s salary thresholds are based upon the national average salary. As salaries continue to trend upwards it is forecast that the salary threshold will in turn follow the same trend.

When planning a future residence or work visa application consideration should be given to the potential for such movements in salary threshold which may affect your eligibility to apply or the conditions of the visa issued.

We strongly recommend seeking the advice of a suitably experienced and qualified licensed immigration professional for your immigration requirements.

Significant and wide ranging changes to the skilled migrant category (SMC) have been announced and are due to become effective from August.

The NZ Government has announced a range of changes for what it says are “designed to better manage immigration and improve the labour market contribution of temporary and permanent migration.”

Two wage thresholds are being introduced for SMC residence applicants which will be used to determine whether employment is skilled for the purpose of granting points for any employment role. An equally significant change is that points for work experience will be increased but only work experience which is assessed as “skilled” can be relied upon. SMC points for age will increase for applicants aged 30-39 as the Government changes its focus from younger, recently graduated, applicants, to those who have more work experience and who can contribute more quickly and constructively to the workforce. Points will no longer be available for qualifications in areas of absolute skills shortage, future growth areas and for having close family living in New Zealand.

Those who will benefit from these changes include people:

  • Whose jobs are not currently recognised as being skilled and cannot currently rely on these jobs for a SMC residence application. The proposed changes will allow these jobs to be assessed as being skilled if they are paid at or above $73,299 per year (or $35.24 per hour).
  • Whose income is $97,719 per year (or $46.98 per hour) will be eligible for 20 bonus points.
  • Who are aged from 30 to 39 will be awarded 30 points for their age
  • Who have longer work experience and this is experience is in skilled roles
  • Who have recognised higher level qualifications at level 9 or 10 (Master’s degrees or Doctorates) who will be awarded 70 points.

Who will be disadvantaged by the policy changes?

  • People whose jobs are currently considered skilled but who are paid less than $48,859 per year (or $23.49 per hour) will not be able to claim points for skilled employment. This new wage threshold will affect many occupations but particularly Restaurant Managers, Chefs, Retail Managers and ICT Technicians which are the most popular occupations under the current SMC policy.
  • Younger people and recent graduates will be disadvantaged as they will unlikely be able to claim points for skilled work experience

It has yet to be confirmed but it is expected that the proposed changes will be introduced in mid August 2017. The last Expression of Interest (EOI) selection draw may therefore be on the 2nd or the 16th of August. It is our understanding that EOIs selected before the changes are implemented will have their residence applications processed under the current SMC policy. NB: an EOI cannot proceed until the principal applicant has met the English language requirement.

Anyone who is considering a SMC residence application should urgently seek professional advice from a Pathways Licensed Immigration Adviser to determine if they are eligible to apply for residence now and before the proposed policy changes are introduced.

Immigration New Zealand announced major changes to the Skilled Migrant Category (SMC) to take effect from 12 October.

These changes affect many prospective migrants and are part of an overall strategy to reduce, by 5,000 per year, the number of people who are granted New Zealand residence. The new planning range is for 85,000 to 95,000 people to obtain residence over the next two years of whom 50,500 to 57,500 people will obtain residence from the SMC and business categories.

Places under the SMC have been in very high demand and there have been concerns raised at the increasing number of places taken up by people with relatively low level qualifications and employment roles. The policy changes increase the points threshold required for applicants to become eligible to apply for SMC residence and implement more robust English language requirements, and how these are to be met.

Summary of key changes

  • Minimum points required for EOI selection has been increased from 140 to 160 and only EOI’s scoring 160 points or more will be selected for the foreseeable future. Previously applicants scoring 100 points, including points for skilled employment, were able to be selected.
  • New English Language evidence requirements;
    • citizenship of Canada, the Republic of Ireland, the United Kingdom or the United States of America provided the applicant has spent at least five years in work or education in one or more of those countries or Australia or New Zealand; or
    • a recognised qualification comparable to a New Zealand level 7 bachelor’s degree and gained in Australia, Canada, New Zealand, the Republic of Ireland, the United Kingdom or the United States of America as a result of study undertaken for at least two academic years in one or more of those countries; or
    • a recognised qualification comparable to a New Zealand qualification at level 8 or above and gained in Australia, Canada, New Zealand, the Republic of Ireland, the United Kingdom or the United States of America as a result of study undertaken for at least one academic year in one or more of those countries; otherwise
    • IELTS 6.5 mandatory requirement

Previously there was a wider range of options to evidence an applicant’s English language including working in skilled employment in New Zealand for one year. This option is no longer available and applicants who do not otherwise meet one of the above requirements must pass the IELTS test. Additional English test options will also be introduced from 21 November.

Applicants who already have Skilled Migrant Category residence applications under process or received their residence invitation before 12 October, and are yet to submit their application, will not be affected by the changes.

For many prospective applicants the main challenge will be to achieve the required 160 points for their EOI to be selected and in this regard the 30 bonus points available for employment outside of Auckland are likely to prove pivotal. The new English language requirement may also prove a difficult hurdle for many applicants.

More policy changes are expected in November to further fine tune the SMC policy. It is possible these changes may include the introduction of additional points criteria to recognise applicants in high level employment roles who would otherwise not be able to achieve the 160 points. It is also possible changes may be made to employment roles such as retail and restaurant manager, and chef, which Immigration New Zealand have identified as being “over-weighted” in SMC statistics.

Immigration policy changes always result in a great deal of uncertainty and misinformation and obtaining professional advice from a Licensed Immigration Adviser is timely and appropriate in this situation.