The Immigration Minister has announced major changes to post-study work visa rights for international students. This comes after the consultation process undertaken in June this year which received over 2000 public submissions. The changes will take effect from 26 November 2018.

According to the government the intention of the changes is to ensure that international students coming to New Zealand gain in demand skills to help fuel economic growth, to incentivise study and subsequent settlement in the regions and help reduce the risk of migrant exploitation. In his press release the Minister stated that

  • These new immigration settings will better match the skills that people study in New Zealand with the skills that employers need to grow their businesses.
  • Our changes will support the attraction of international students studying at higher levels of study, and those who undertake high quality sub-degree courses that deliver the skills needed in our growing economy.
  • The changes preserve a pathway to residence for people with the skills and qualifications New Zealand needs.
  • They also provide time-limited incentives for students to study and work in the regions, boosting regional education providers and supporting our aims to lift regional investment and productivity.
  • We understand that regional providers need time to transition. To support that transition, students who study sub-degree courses outside Auckland will be entitled to a two-year open work visa if they complete their qualification by December 2021.
  • The changes will take effect in November 2018, with grand-parenting provisions that mean that international students who are currently in New Zealand will be better off as a result of these changes.
  • The removal of employer-assisted post-study work rights at all levels will help reduce the risk of migrant exploitation, and better protect New Zealand’s international reputation.

The key change is the removal of the 24 month employer assisted post-study work visa, which previously required a person to have a job offer relevant to their New Zealand qualification. Under the new rules all post-study work visas will come with open work rights and will not require the support of an employment offer or employer. This is effectively an extension of the current post-study work  open visa , and visas will be issued for between 12 to 36 months depending upon the level of course studied and the geographical location of study.

The grand-parenting provision provides maximum benefits to current international students who will be eligible for a 36 month open post-study work visa regardless of the level of their studies. In addition current post-study open work visa holders will be eligible for up to a further 24 months open post study work visa.

Whilst removal of the requirement to have a job offer will in theory take away the risk of exploitation at that juncture the government seem to have completely missed the point as to the overall goal and motivation of the student, which is in most cases to obtain New Zealand residence. For most the pathway to achieve this is through the Skilled Migrant Category (SMC) for which they need an offer of or current skilled employment. So with the greater prize being residence for which a person needs an offer of skilled employment, where exactly is the risk of exploitation? Nothing has actually been removed, and,  if anything it will be heighted. There is also the real possibility that exploitation will now be greater as those more unscrupulous employers can now demand longer working hours and pay wages in cash without any employment documentation checks being required.

So who do the changes effect – and how? They fall into 3 particular groups.

Existing student visa holders

This table applies if, on 8 August 2018, you hold a student visa or your student visa application has been accepted for processing by Immigration New Zealand.

If you’re currently studying in New Zealand towards a… And… Then on successful completion of your qualification(s) from 26 November 2018 you may be eligible for a…
Level 7 Bachelor’s degree or above You study that qualification for at least 30 weeks in New Zealand Three-year open work visa
Non-degree Level 7 qualification You study that qualification for at least 30 weeks in New Zealand Three-year open work visa
One qualification at Level 4-6 You study that qualification for at least 60 weeks in New Zealand Three-year open work visa
Two qualifications at Levels 4-6 You study each qualification for 30 weeks in New Zealand (60 weeks in total) and the second qualification is at a higher level than the first Three-year open work visa

This group are the biggest winners of the changes as regardless of the course level or subject matter if you are a current international student in New Zealand you will now be eligible for a 3 year open work visa following course completion. This should provide more than sufficient time to find suitable skilled employment and potentially apply for residence.

 

Existing post-study work visa holders

The following table applies if you hold a post-study work visa on 8 August 2018, or are granted a post-study work visa when these changes come into effect on 26 November 2018.

If you hold a… Then from 26 November 2018, you may be eligible…
One-year open post-study work visa For a further two-year open work visa
Two-year employer-assisted post-study work visa To have the job and employer stated on your work visa removed, so you do not have to contact Immigration New Zealand if you change jobs or employers in the future. If you prefer, you can choose to keep your visa as it is.

Another group that on the whole should benefit tremendously with extended open work conditions. However there will be a reasonable number of people who currently hold the one year open post-study work visa which visa expires before 26 November that will still be dependent upon securing a relevant job offer to their New Zealand qualification and applying for the employer assisted post-study work visa. These people will still be at risk of finding suitable employment and be at the mercy of INZ’s assessment of the relevance of the employment to their studies. This has been an area of contention over the past 2 years with statistics suggesting that INZ had toughened its decision making criteria, making it harder to obtain such a post-study work visa. It remains to be seen whether, given the up an coming changes, that INZ may “soften” its decision making for those affected over the coming months.

 

 New student visa applicants

This table applies if, on 9 August 2018, you do not hold a student visa and you have not had a student visa application accepted for processing by Immigration New Zealand.

If you’re planning to study towards the following qualification(s)… And… Then on successful completion of your qualification(s) you may be eligible for a…
Level  7 Bachelor’s degree qualification or higher You study that qualification for at least 30 weeks in New Zealand Three-year open post-study work visa
Level 7 Graduate Diploma You study that qualification for at least 30 weeks in New Zealand One-year open post-study work visa, if you study in Auckland, and one additional year if you are working towards registration with a professional or trade body
Two-year open post-study work visa, if you study outside Auckland (excluding distance learning)*
Other non-degree Level 7 qualification You study that qualification for at least 30 weeks in New Zealand One-year open post-study work visa, if you study in Auckland
Two-year open post-study work visa, if you study outside Auckland (excluding distance learning)*
One qualification at Level 4-6 of a two-year duration You study that qualification for at least 60 weeks in New Zealand One-year open post-study work visa, if you study in Auckland
Two-year open post-study work visa, if you study outside Auckland (excluding distance learning)*
Two qualifications at Levels 4-6 You study each qualification for 30 weeks in New Zealand (60 weeks in total) and the second qualification is at a higher level than the first One-year open post-study work visa, if you study in Auckland
Two-year open post-study work visa, if you study outside Auckland (excluding distance learning)*

*To qualify for this, you must have successfully completed your qualification(s) by 31 December 2021. If you complete your qualification(s) after that date, you may be eligible for a one-year open post-study work visa, and one additional year if you are a Graduate Diploma graduate and you are working towards registration with a professional or trade body.

This is the sharp end of the changes and will clearly effect future student’s decisions of what to study and what will be in many cases, the decision to study at all in New Zealand. The government estimates between 1800 and 6000 potential students will chose not to study in New Zealand, whilst that number is debatable it is very clear that the private training education providers and the thousands of people employed by them will be most effected, and particularly those in Auckland.

What is confusing is the Minister states that the changes will better match the skills that people study with the skills that employers need to grow their business. This would clearly indicate a correlation with the qualification requirements stated on the Immediate (ISSL) and Long Term Skills Shortage lists (LTSSL) yet of the 32 occupation groups on the LTSSL 10 require a Graduate Diploma qualification or Diploma’s at level 5 or 6. The ISSL has 57 occupation groups of which 37 require a qualification from level 4 up to Graduate Diploma, so exactly how this will help these employers we are unsure. Surely it would have made sense to extend the 3 year open work visa for any level of qualification that was on one of the skills shortage lists as these are the skills that are acknowledged as being in demand.

What we don’t know yet

There is no detail at this stage as to what occupations will relate to the additional year of open post-study work visa  where an individual has studied a Graduate Diploma and is working towards professional or trade registration. It remains to be determined whether this directly relates to those occupations listed under skilled migrant instructions as requiring occupational registration or will be widened to include other occupations where professional registration or accreditation can be obtained such as Accountants.

It is also unclear at this stage as to what will happen if a person chooses to go back to further study after holding a post-study work visa. Currently individuals are eligible for a post study open work visa if they have completed a second higher qualification that is either a New Zealand bachelor degree or post-graduate qualification and have studied that qualification in New Zealand for at least 30 weeks. Alternatively if upon graduating they have a job offer relevant to their qualification they can apply for the post-study employer assisted work visa. Given the post-study employer assisted work visa will no longer be available there will clearly need to be a change of instructions but no information has been released yet to confirm what these changes will be.

In summary the 3 year open post-study work visa is a very attractive option for degree and postgraduate students and will certainly make these courses, which are predominantly undertaken at Universities, very attractive to market to international students. The transitional visa options for exiting students and for those holding post-study work visas is also very generous and accommodating. However polytechnics and private training establishments (PTE) will be significantly disadvantaged over time as their courses become “less attractive” given the post-study visa outcomes which will apply to these courses.

We have a real concern that the open work visa will see many of these visa holders resorting to self-employment (eg; Uber drivers) and undertaking cash work as there is now no immediate or direct compunction on them to enter into lawful, documented, employment. In fact there is a real prospect that their visa situation will lead to greater exploitation due to the lack of oversight of what they will be doing and what any employer is requiring of them.

In summary these changes are very good for the University sector and will definitely deliver, in time, on the Government’s objective for international students to study higher level, better quality, courses and to deliver better outcomes for New Zealand. The downside is the significant impact on the polytechnic and PTE sectors and the problems we see which will develop initially with the holders of the 3 year post-study work visas who may not now be sufficiently motivated to seek credible long term work.

Should you have any concerns over your current of future visa eligibility options do not hesitate to contact the team and Pathways.

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.

Last year some 24,000 work visas were approved for a wide range of migrant trades workers. The demand for skilled workers from overseas to fill New Zealand’s skill shortages, and the forthcoming KiwiBuild requirements, is growing. However, while the numbers of work visas is increasing the pathway for these work visa holders to live and work permanently in New Zealand is getting harder. There are challenges ahead for employers to attract and retain their migrant workers.

In the most recent immigration year to June 2018, some 24,000 overseas workers were approved for work visas under the general category of Technicians and Trades Workers. This number is a 6,000, or 33%, increase over the previous year.

While there were 230,000 work visas approved in total during this year, only 4,000 more than in the previous year, some 145,000 of these work visa approvals were not recorded against any particular occupation. These work visas most likely relate to working holiday, graduate student and various partnership categories which all result in the issue of (open) work visas allowing work in any occupation.

Within the Technicians and Trade Workers category the following occupations had most visas issued last year – carpenter/joiner (2850), motor/diesel mechanic (1050), telecommunications technician (850), scaffolder (700), metal fabricator (675), fitter/turner and fitter/welder (650), steel fixer (575), electrician (460), welder (380), mechanical engineering technician (340), plasterer (300), painter (290), panelbeater (270), sheet metal trades worker (220), brick layer (200), plumber (190) and metal machinist (165).

A number of the open work visa holders will also work in the trade sector so the above figures are indicative only. This situation will become more unclear if the current Government proposal to provide graduating international students with 3 year open work visas is implemented, and if work visas issued under the KiwiBuild programme only designate an occupation and not a specific employer (which may happen). In such instances, the holders of these particular work visas will potentially be more transient as their visas will not tie them to any specific employer. The move towards more accommodating work visas is partly promulgated by the Government’s concern with migrant exploitation and wanting migrant workers to be “less obligated” to some employers.

It is interesting to note that only 1,967 Skilled Migrant Category (SMC) residence applications were approved for Technicians and Trade Workers which is less than half the 4,090 approved in the previous year. When compared to the total number of work visas holders, the small number who have successfully transitioned to SMC residence may be surprising given the skilled employment roles these people have. However this reduction is a direct consequence of the changes made by the previous Government in 2017 which introduced an English test requirement and an arbitrary pay threshold (currently $24.29 ph) for SMC residence applicants. Previously SMC applicants could meet the English requirement through being employed in New Zealand for 12 months and there was no mandatory pay threshold. Although it is understood the current Government is “unconvinced” that the pay threshold is an appropriate mechanism for SMC residence, there is no current priority to effect any change in this regard.

These policy changes have seen the total number of SMC residence approvals reduce from 12,106 applications in the previous year to 8,419 last year (representing 17,000 people). The Skilled Migrant Category is the main category within the New Zealand Residence Programme with around 60% of all residence applicants coming from this and the business categories. The Residence Programme is set every two years and in the two year period to 30 June 2018 the programme was set at between 85,000 and 95,000 people. In fact, only 38,000 people were actually approved for residence in the 2017/2018 year, down on the 47,600 people approved the year before.

To meet the SMC English requirement, applicants’ must achieve an IELTS score of 6.5, or the equivalent in one of the other acceptable English tests. This is a high standard given that the same score, in the IELTS academic version, is required for international students to enter into postgraduate study in New Zealand.

Those workers who cannot meet the English requirement are still able, currently, to transition to residence if they hold a work-to-residence work visa under the Long Term Skills Shortage (LTSSL) policy or are working for an Immigration New Zealand accredited employer. These work visas are issued for 30 months and enable the holder to apply for residence after working in a specified role for a designated employer after 24 months. The catch is the pay rate for the accredited employer role must be at least $55,000 pa based on a 40 hour work week ($26.45 ph). The Government is now reviewing the accredited employer policy with the likely outcome that the pay threshold will be significantly increased – potentially to around $70,000 pa ($33.65 ph). If this happens it will mean that this pathway to residence for many skilled trades workers will be lost and the reason for many employers to become INZ accredited will be negated. Given the current Government’s focus on the regions and attracting migrants to work and settle out of Auckland there is a case to be made for the pay threshold applying to work-to-residence applicants under the accredited employer policy to be lower in the regions so that this pathway to residence can still be viable to attract and retain workers – perhaps $70,000 in Auckland and $60,000 out of Auckland?

There is still an option for those workers holding a work visa issued under the LTSSL work-to-residence instructions to later obtain residence as the current pay threshold for this remains at $45,000 pa. However, most of the roles on the LTSSL require applicants to hold qualifications which are assessed as equivalent to particular New Zealand qualifications and this is often not the case, or the process to establish such equivalence is expensive and time consuming. In reality these qualifications can be quite old and of little current relevance and it is the more recent, relevant, work experience which is of primary interest to the New Zealand employer and the basis on which they are generally offered their trade-related work role. It would be helpful if the LTSSL was revised to place greater emphasis on recent work experience rather than on qualifications as this is really what, in most cases, matters to employers.

The accredited employer and the LTSSL work-to-residence policies do not have any English language requirement.

The situation now is that, of the 24,000 people approved for work visas as Technicians and Trades Workers in the past year, together with those previously approved and still holding work visas, the majority are now (or will soon be) unlikely to have any immediate pathway to residence. This situation has implications for those employers with a significant, or key migrant workforce as they will need to carefully consider how this will impact on their ability to attract and retain such migrant employees. It can be an expensive and time-consuming process to firstly identify, and then facilitate workers to travel from across the world to come and work in New Zealand. Many workers will, understandably, only make this commitment if they can have security about their long term future here. If employers cannot provide this long term security, the reality is that their migrant workers may become unsettled and be more easily motivated to move to higher paying employers or leave New Zealand for other work opportunities offshore or back in their home country.

While a number of migrant workers do move between countries for work, many (if not most) will have considered the potential to obtain New Zealand residence as one of factors which influenced their decision to come to New Zealand. For these workers, employers can consider several options to help keep these workers motivated and retain their services for the long(er) term if they do not have a current pathway to residence.

Firstly, there is the option of providing English language assistance and support. This will enable workers to improve their language skills, make any communications more efficient, reduce misunderstanding and mistakes in the workplace, and help develop their self-confidence and social networks. Progressing migrant workers English skills can lead them to achieving the English language requirement to apply for residence under the Skilled Migrant residence category and will genuinely help with their successful integration into New Zealand society.

Secondly, employers can assist and support their workers to achieve recognised New Zealand qualifications. This can enable them to become eligible for Skilled Migrant Category qualification points, which may also open the option for a work-to-residence work visa under LTSSL instructions. Supporting migrant workers to attain New Zealand qualifications can also promote greater employer loyalty and commitment to the employer.

Workers who are accompanied to New Zealand by their family are generally more settled and better placed to manage the transition – although care is needed that any expectation they may have about what is possible for their future in New Zealand is feasible and well founded.

With continuing skills shortages and KiwiBuild on the horizon, New Zealand employers need to be increasingly aware of what motivates their migrant workers to come and stay. Employers would be wise to think about what they can do to secure their services, and commitment, for the long term, ensuring their investment in their migrant workforce is maximised. It is always helpful to begin this process with the benefit of professional advice and assistance on visa matters from an experienced Licenced Immigration Adviser or Immigration Lawyer.

Article provided by Richard Howard, Managing Director of Pathways to New Zealand Ltd – New Zealand’s second largest immigration consultancy business with 13 Licenced Immigration Advisers based in its Hamilton and Wellington Offices.

During June the Government opened up consultation on proposed changes to post-study work visa categories. Immigration Minister Iain Lees-Galloway intends that the proposed changes will help eliminate or reduce migrant exploitation and will encourage international students to study higher quality courses and courses which will lead to employment roles in the areas which New Zealand needs.

If introduced, the proposed changes would see the removal of the post-study employer-assisted 2 year work visa and the introduction of a three-year post-study open work visa for degree level 7 and higher qualifications. All students studying below Level 7 would only be entitled to a one-year post-study open work visa and only if their qualification required at least 2 years of study. In addition, visa eligibility for accompanying families of students would be tightened with only partners and children of students studying level 8 or 9 qualifications in an area of long term skill shortage being entitled to partner work, and dependent child student, visas.

The Government is right to focus on student worker and migrant exploitation as such exploitation is now endemic in New Zealand – however the proposed changes, in our view, would do little to remedy this situation. The pathway many international students take to study in New Zealand is fraught with exploitation, largely due to dishonest Education Agents not acting in the best interests of their student clients and misleading students as to their course and future visa entitlements. Agents often enrol students in low level and inappropriate courses, and at particular institutions, based on the commissions they can earn and with little regard to the student’s best interests and long term future. This is where many problems begin and the Government must now look closely at requiring all student visa advisers to be licensed and regulated by the Immigration Advisers Authority.

Once a student has completed their course and gained their post-study work visa, they currently face the challenge of obtaining employment relevant to their qualification within a 12 month period. For many such visa holders, securing relevant employment can also create a pathway to residency. This pressure to find suitable employment to extend their visa can often lead to a person being forced to take up an employment role on terms dictated by the employer and which have little regard to New Zealand employment law. Currently, the only practical option for a migrant worker in an exploitative situation like this is to find new employment and then to change their visa to this new employment. However, the reality is that very often in these situations the visa holder is unable to find new employment and has no choice but to remain being exploited in their existing role. Additionally, migrants are often fearful of reporting unscrupulous employers to Immigration New Zealand as this will directly impact their work situation and can lead to losing their job and work visa and place them in a very difficult situation having no job and no visa to allow work. These people and their families have invested many tens of thousands of dollars in their education in New Zealand and need to work to repay this debt.

If the Government is serious about stamping out migrant exploitation it must introduce more effective processes to identify exploitative employers and take proactive action against these employers. A constructive first step would be to introduce a suitable interim “visa solution” for visa holders who were being exploited so they can be more willing to speak out and to provide key employer information without having the worry of their own visa situation to protect.

While the proposal for a 3 year open work visa after graduation will take initial pressure off the requirement to obtain employment for visa purposes the potential effect will be that many of these visa holders will resort to self-employment (eg; Uber drivers) and undertaking cash work as there is no immediate compunction on them to enter into lawful, documented, employment. In fact there is a real prospect that their visa situation will directly lead to greater exploitation due to the lack of oversight of what they will be doing and what any employer is requiring of them.

The pressure will go on again when it comes to the end of the open work visa term when the visa holder does require a particular employment role to support a new work visa or a residence application. Due to the extended passing of time to get to this juncture the likelihood is that these people will be subjected to, and open to, a much greater level of potential exploitation that what otherwise would be the case.

In addition the 3 year work visa will provide the time and opportunity for visa holders to pursue other avenues to stay in New Zealand including establishing their own businesses and forming partnership relationships, and to focus on these avenues to obtain residence. We do not believe these outcomes provide the best benefit to New Zealand and do not make use of their New Zealand qualifications.

Our view is that is that consideration should be given to the introduction of a work-to-residence pathway for student graduates. This could work similar to the existing WTR schemes whereby an applicant must work in a certain job for 2 years and can then directly apply for residence. This scheme would operate like an internship and would encourage both graduate students and employers to invest in a longer term employment relationship – and would see graduate students appropriately motivated to progress their careers rather than sitting around for 3 years until they have to do something.

It would be naive to believe that many international students coming to study here are not significantly motivated by the prospect of working in New Zealand and gaining residence in the future. Of the two main student markets, India and China, the vast majority choose New Zealand to study because of the prospect to pathway to residence. This motivation of immigration policy settings cannot be downplayed or ignored as without it the international education industry, New Zealand’s 5th biggest export earner,  will stall and likely retreat.

The reality of this situation must be accepted, and students should be encouraged by policy settings to study in the courses that will lead to employment in roles which will benefit New Zealand and which will deliver the residence outcome to the student. Any changes to the existing post-study visas should therefore seek to protect students from exploitation, whilst enabling and pro-actively encouraging them to seek career focused employment roles which are in demand in New Zealand and which can advance their future residence eligibility. This begins with the student choosing better-quality and focused courses which can then lead to better quality student outcomes and employment prospects.

There is nothing at all wrong with the existence of a study-to-residence pathway. Such a pathway enables relatively young, New Zealand qualified people who have good English and local friends and connections, and who have already assimilated to New Zealand, to build upon this very sound foundation and to become the New Zealanders of the future. We just need the immigration settings that will first attract the students we want, and which will protect them from exploitation, and then encourage them to stay and to provide the skills New Zealand needs so we can realise this future together. Our view is that the proposed policy changes correctly identify the issues but are very much formulated in reaction to the current situation and do not recognise the consequences of what the changes will promulgate. Our preference is for more forward thinking and constructive policies that will deliver the preferred long term outcomes for the benefit of New Zealand, and of the student.

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.

INZ has recently completed its annual review of two of the Skills Shortage Lists – the Long Term Skill Shortage List (LTSSL) and the Immediate Skill Shortage List (ISSL) and announced a number of changes.

The Skills Shortage Lists are regularly reviewed to ensure they meet the changing needs of employers in the labour market, whilst protecting the opportunities for New Zealanders. As part of the reviews, information is gathered from submissions made by external stakeholders and this is considered alongside economic, labour market, immigration and other relevant data.

If an occupation is on a shortage list, work visa applications for positions in that occupation from suitably qualified and experienced migrants are not subject to an individual labour market test. A labour market test requires that an employer must demonstrate that no suitable New Zealanders are available to fill a job vacancy.

Long Term Skill Shortage List (LTSSL)

The LTSSL contains occupations that have been identified as having as sustained and ongoing shortage of skilled workers throughout New Zealand.

The outcomes of the review of the LTSSL are to:

Remove five occupations

  • Anaesthetist
  • Forest Scientist
  • Pathologist
  • Petroleum Engineer
  • Renal Medicine Specialist

Retain two occupations that were included in the review

  • Chemical Engineer
  • Materials Engineer

Submissions to add four occupations (Hairdresser, Motorcycle Mechanic, Registered Nurse (Mental Health), and Sports Coach or Instructor) to the LTSSL have been declined.

Immediate Skill Shortage List

The ISSL contains occupations that have an immediate shortage of skilled workers either throughout New Zealand or in certain regions.

The outcomes of the review of the ISSL are to:

Add 12 occupations

  • Accountant (General) (a)
  • Carpenter (b)
  • Carpenter and Joiner (b)
  • Fibrous Plasterer (b)
  • Joiner (b)
  • Midwife (b)
  • Motor Mechanic (General) (b)
  • Panel beater (b)
  • Roof Plumber (c)
  • Roof Tiler (c)
  • Solid Plasterer (b)
  • Vehicle Painter (b)

(a) only for the Auckland/Upper North Island, Wellington and Canterbury/Upper South Island regions
(b) for all regions of New Zealand
(c) only for the Auckland/Upper North Island, Waikato/Bay of Plenty, Canterbury/Upper South Island and Otago/Southland regions

Remove five occupations

  • Dental Technician
  • Dentist
  • Medical Laboratory Technician (Phlebotomy and Histology Technicians)
  • Pharmacy Technician
  • Poultry Farmer

Retain five occupations that were included in the review

  • Cardiologist
  • Ophthalmologist
  • Metal Casting Trades Worker (Foundry Moulder)
  • Registered Nurse (Aged Care)
  • Resident Medical Officer

Submissions to add Hair or Beauty Salon Manager to the ISSL have been declined.

When changes will take effect?

The Skills Shortage List changes will take effect in February 2018.  INZ have advised that further work is currently being carried out to review the requirements which migrants need to satisfy to apply for a work visa using the skill shortage lists. This includes a review of qualifications in association with the New Zealand Qualifications Authority, and some other changes to ensure that the requirements for using the lists are appropriate for the shortages.

If an occupation is not on a skill shortage list there are still various possible visa options a person can pursue depending upon the individual circumstances which can include:

Essential Skills Work Visa – subject to an employer demonstrating that they have tried to recruit New Zealanders for the position and been unsuccessful

Talent (Accredited Employer) Work Visa – subject to an offer of employment from an accredited employer

Skilled Migrant Category – a residence pathway subject to meeting the point’s criteria

The Canterbury Skills and Employment Hub – for certain occupations in the Canterbury region

Before making an application it is strongly advised to seek the guidance of a suitably qualified and experienced immigration professional.

There is general apprehension in the market regarding the stance of the new Labour-led Government, and the influence the coalition partner New Zealand First will have given its public stance against general immigration.

However, early signs are reassuring with Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern quickly moving to confirm the Labour immigration policy will hold sway over that of New Zealand First. Fundamentally, this means the main focus will be on reducing the current annual net migration of just over 70,000 to between 40,000 and 50,000 people.

Net migration is currently a simple measure arising from information obtained from the airport arrival and departure cards for travellers who are either departing for 12 months or longer or intending to stay for 12 months or longer. It is not a measure of people obtaining residence to live permanently in New Zealand.

It is quite possible that the new Government will be able to achieve the required reduction in net migration without any major policy changes.

The current net migration is already trending downwards and this trend will very likely continue more strongly in the coming years for the following reasons:

  • The resetting of the Skilled Migrant Category (the main residence category) in August, has significantly raised the qualifying threshold with the number of eligible applicants reducing by 40%. This higher threshold will see less people coming to New Zealand with the expectation they can qualify for residence.
  • Less NZers returning home – this group of people are typically motivated by economic outlook and stability, and they may now choose to remain where they are for the time being.
  • More NZers will now consider relocating to Australia – historically, this has always been a popular option for NZers, but the comparative economic performance of the two countries has seen this trend reversed in recent years. This trend now looks like it will slowly return to normal.
  • The new Government has signalled a crackdown on education institutions offering low quality courses to attract international students and has also signalled that policy changes will be made to restrict some work rights for particular international students. Providing the agent networks accurately convey these “signals”, the outcome will be a significant reduction in students coming to New Zealand, and in particular those from India. The Government’s plans to remove points within the Skilled Migrant residence category for applicants who have studied or worked in New Zealand will further “dis-incentivise” international students to choose studying in New Zealand as a pathway to residence.
  • Lastly, the perception that the new Government is getting tough on immigration will naturally influence the decision making of prospective workers, students and migrants who will now consider alternative countries that they perceive as being more “immigration friendly”.

The above factors alone are expected to directly lead to the reduction in the net migration the new Government has indicated – and this may happen a lot quicker than expected. There will also be ramifications arising from these factors, including a huge shakedown of the international education sector, which may well lead to school closures and job losses. The Auckland property market may also be influenced, particularly by reduced demand from returning NZers and those NZers selling to relocate to Australia.

It appears that work visas for low-skilled workers will be most at risk under the new Government. However, the NZ First Leader and now Deputy Prime Minister Winston Peters, has clearly indicated that employers in the regions requiring workers who contribute to “productive industries’ will still be able to rely on work visa holders for these roles – such as farm workers.

There were indications in the lead up to the election that the Labour Government will re-open the parent residence category in some form, but this would seem completely contrary to the stance of NZ First on parent immigration. Parent residence policy settings are a particularly difficult challenge and it will be very interesting to see how the coalition partners deal with this challenge.

The Government also plans to introduce an Exceptional Skills visa for “people with exceptional skills and talents that will enrich New Zealand society (not just the economy) to gain residency”. This appears to be a very niche policy and it is unclear whether this will replace the existing Global Impact Visa which seems to share a similar objective.

For business investors, the new Government has signalled an intention to increase the minimum investment required from $3 million to $5 million for the Investor Visa, and from $10 million to $15 million for the Investor Plus visa. The required investment terms will also be doubled to 6 and 8 years respectively, and applicants will be denied residence until completion of their investment term – contrary to the current situation. Given the fact that the current investor policy is relatively new and is already performing poorly (compared with the previous policy) the raising of the thresholds as proposed will effectively kill off the investor policies. On the other hand the additional proposal to establish a Government-sponsored infrastructure bond investment for investor applicants has considerable merit – but only if the underlying investor immigration policies are conducive to actually attracting investors in the first place!

There are early signs that the new Government may take a more empathetic and humane approach than the previous Government when considering individual immigration situations and the difficult circumstances people and families can find themselves in. Such an approach should be welcomed as the existing regime has become overly bureaucratic and inwards-facing, and has lost the ability to assess, comprehend and properly value the human context of immigration.

Having been in the immigration industry for 25 years, we at Pathways have seen many Governments and immigration policies (and Immigration Ministers!) come and go and we are very much looking forward to the challenges that will be presented by the new Government. Ultimately, quality immigration advice, gained from many years of experience, will be the key to understanding and overcoming these challenges.

Pharmacy Technicians are in demand and is a role that can provide a viable pathway to permanent residence in New Zealand

If you are offered a position of Pharmacy Technician in New Zealand, you may have a bright future to work and live here permanently. The occupation of Pharmacy Technician is included on the Immediate Skill Shortage List which recognises there is current shortage of such skills in New Zealand.

How to become a Pharmacy Technician in New Zealand

To become a Pharmacy Technician and undertake basic dispensary work you need to have a New Zealand Certificate in Pharmacy (Pharmacy Technician (Level 4)) which is the minimum requirement to work in New Zealand as a Pharmacy Technician.

To become a fully qualified pharmacy technician you need to have a New Zealand Certificate in Pharmacy – Pharmacy Technician (Level 5).

You can qualify in one of three ways:

  • Part-time distance study through Open Polytechnic of New Zealand, while you do paid work of at least 20 hours a week in a community or hospital pharmacy as a Pharmacy Assistant or Trainee Pharmacy Technician. To complete a New Zealand Certificate in Pharmacy (Pharmacy Technician) Level 4, you need to complete 115 credits. For each credit, it is about 10 hours of study.
  • Full-time study for around 70 weeks to complete a Certificate in Pharmacy Technician Level 5

Trainee Pharmacy Technicians usually earn $36,000 to $42,000 per year and a qualified Pharmacy Technician can earn from $42,000 to $56,000 per year.

An opportunity for overseas Pharmacy Technician

If you are an overseas qualified and experienced Pharmacy Technician it is possible for you to be accepted to study for the New Zealand Certificate in Pharmacy – Pharmacy Technician (Level 4) course if you are also offered employment as a Trainee Pharmacy Technician or Pharmacy Assistant.

Alternatively you can enrol as an international student in the Level 5 programme and on graduation be entitled to the 12 month open job search work visa to help you in finding a suitable Pharmacy Technician job – with some 88% of graduates are successful in obtaining such employment.

Employment as a Pharmacy Technician on a pay rate of $24.29 per hour or more can be acceptable for a Skilled Migrant Category Residence application if an applicant can also achieve the required SMC points.

Contact a Pathways adviser now for detailed information and a FREE preliminary assessment!

A major shake up of essential skills work visa instructions is due to affect thousands of current work visa holders and their employers from the end of August.

The government has just confirmed the main details of the changes to essential skills work visa instructions which will be effective from 28 August. The changes will mostly affect those in lower skilled roles and will now limited the period of time they can remain in New Zealand before an enforced stand-down period and restricting their ability to support partnership and dependent visa applications.

Under the new rules, similarly to the SMC changes salary bands have been introduced that will determine whether an applicant is considered Low, Mid or Higher Skilled. The salary band’s are set based upon national median earnings.

  • Higher skilled individuals can be working in an ANZSCO occupation regardless of ANZSCO skills level and must have a minimum salary of more than $35.24ph and may be issued a work visa for up to 5 years in duration.
  • Mid-Skilled individuals  only applies to ANZSCO occupations skill level 1,2 and 3 with a salary of between $19.99 and $35.24ph, they be granted a work visa up to 3 years in duration.
  • Lower skilled individuals applies to ANZSCO occupations skill level 1,2 and 3 with a salary less than $19.99ph and ANZSCO occupations skill level 4 and 5 with a salary under $35.24, they will be granted a work visa up to 1 year in duration.

Changes to Lower Skilled Work Visa Holders

There are two significant changes that will affect lower skilled work visa holders.

  • They will only be able to work for a maximum of 3 years in lower skilled roles before they are required to spend 12 months outside of New Zealand before they can be granted a further lower skilled work visa.
  • They will no longer be able to support partnership work visas nor student visas for dependents as domestic students. Accompanying family members will be required to be eligible in their own right for essential skills or fee paying student respectively.  They will be able to access short term visitor visas.

Transitional instructions for those already in New Zealand holding Work Visas

A transitional policy has been put in place to protect those people and their families who are already in New Zealand and hold work visas that will be classified as lower skilled.

  • The 3 year period will not be retrospectively applied. It will begin from the time the next lower skilled visa is issued.
  • Accompanying family members already in New Zealand will be eligible for visas that have the same rights and conditions as those they currently hold and when the changes are implemented for the period of time that the main applicant remains lawfully in New Zealand. This means accompanying partners who hold work visas will be eligible for further partnership work visas for up to a further 3 years, and accompanying dependents  student visas with domestic student for the same period.
Further Review of Policy

A further review of the policy along with associated graduate work visa policy will take place later this year. It has been indicated that the review will look into whether there is a need for more specific regional and/or industry sector application of policy to recognise the variances that exist. The review will also attempt to better classify those roles that exist but do not have a clear ANZSCO occupation and how these should be treated to fit in the salary matrix. There will also be a review of graduate work visa instructions in respect to the ability of these visa holders to support accompanying family members.

It is always highly recommended professional advice is obtained from a licensed immigration adviser to best determine how these or any other policy changes may affect a person’s current immigration situation and future visa pathways.

The Skilled Migrant Category (SMC) is the main residence category and makes up over 50% of New Zealand’s residence programme.  In April the Government announced a number of changes to the SMC and these will take effect from 28 August 2017. Expressions of Interest under the existing policy, the first stage of a SMC application, were stopped on 19 July and from this time, and until the new policy takes effect, it has not been possible to begin a new SMC application.

A key change of the new SMC policy is the introduction of salary thresholds to, in part, determine if employment is “skilled”. These salary thresholds are indexed to the New Zealand median income of $48,859 and will be reviewed every year. Employment roles which are classified as ANZSCO (Australia & New Zealand Standard Classification of Occupations) skill level 1, 2 or 3 roles must have a salary of $48,859 in order to be able to be awarded SMC points. This salary equates to $23.49 per hour for a 40 hour work week.

For all other employment roles which are not at ANZSCO skill level 1,2 or 3 the salary must be $73,299 or $35.24 per hour.

If the employment is for at least 30 hours per week and at, or above, the mentioned hourly rates, then this is acceptable.

There will also be bonus points for applicants who earn over $97,718 per year.

It is expected that INZ will closely investigate those applicants who will have had recent significant pay increases which have resulted in their salary rising to the above thresholds to confirm these increases were genuine and merited.

More SMC points will be available for greater work experience. However this work experience must be assessed as being skilled work experience requiring, most likely, that this experience be consistent with ANZSCO skill level 1,2 or 3 roles. This requirement is expected to prove one of the more contentious and challenging changes as it will significantly disadvantage younger applicants and recent graduates whose work experience is less likely to be assessed as being skilled.

The changes will also result in applicants aged 30-39 years, and those with postgraduate qualifications, to be able to claim more points (than currently).

A number of points criteria from the existing SMC policy will be removed including those relating to close family in New Zealand, points associated with Identified Future Growth Area and for qualifications in an area of absolute skills shortage. The additional points offered for skilled employment outside of Auckland will remain but the points available for New Zealand work experience will be limited to 12 months only.

INZ will need to allow some time, after 28 August, for applicants who have EOIs currently sitting in the EOI pool to review and edit their EOIs according to the policy changes and for new EOIs to be submitted under the new policy. For this reason we do not expect to see the next EOI selection draw until at least 6 September and probably 13 September. While applicants only need to claim 100 points for their EOI to be submitted into the pool the passmark has been retained at 160 points since October 2016. It is expected the Government may initially keep this same passmark and wait and see the level of EOIs which are able to be selected. There will be a build up of EOIs due to the 2 month closure and due to the group of applicants who are immediately eligible under the new points criteria, however the expectation is that the passmark will need to reduce from 160 points in the future in order for the residence programme target to be met.

It is always highly recommended professional advice is obtained from a licensed immigration adviser to best determine how these or any other policy changes may affect a person’s current immigration situation and future visa pathways.