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.

Immigration New Zealand (INZ) are forcefully clamping down on those people that have or are suspected to have used an unlicensed immigration advisers to assist with the preparation of their visa application, this is most notable in India where there has been a significant increase in visa declines especially for spouses of student visa holders.

The issue seems to stem from the many thousands of education agents who can legally advise students and assist with their student visa applications, however unless they are licensed, of which only a handful are,they are not permitted to provide advise or assistance to any accompanying family members. Unfortunately many of the agents are offering to assist the family members by providing advice to complete the applications but trying to hide this by not declaring their provision of assistance on the application forms, which is a legal requirement.

As per section 9 of the Immigration Advisers Licensing Act 2007, INZ will not accept applications from unlicensed advisers, but equally INZ requires all applicants to make a truthful declaration on their form. These agents advise the applicants to use their own contact details in the application form and declaring in the forms not to have received any immigration advice with their cases . So not only have applicants taken advice from an unlicensed adviser they have also made a false declaration on their form, which creates an immediate and potential insurmountable character issue for the applicant, most likely to result in the application being declined.

Recently INZ Delhi has declined many partnership applications which were lodged subsequent to approval of student visas to the spouses of these applicants. During the applicant interview, INZ has been asking these applicants whether they took help from any adviser to fill the forms and preparing the documentation for their applications. This becomes a catch 22 for the applicants as if they say no and INZ believe they have then they will have lied in the interview, and if they say yes then INZ will take issue they lied on the form. Most of these applications are being declined on character grounds. Under section 342 of the immigration Act 2009, it is an offence to provide false and misleading information in support of any application or a request for a visa or entry permission.

It is a timely reminder to all potential migrants to New Zealand, and especially those in India, to take a more cautious approach towards their future and being more diligent as to whom they engage with to represent or advise on their immigration requirements. To date these unlicensed advisers/agents have managed to avoid any legal action against them since they are not representing the clients in any formal capacity however, it is the client whose future remains at stake and they are often oblivious of the nature of the risk they undertake by involving unauthorised people in their cases and being complicit in trying to mislead INZ.

The current licensing scheme is under review and we expect the Immigration Advisers Authority will be taking greater steps to clamp down on overseas unlicensed advisers. In the interim it is applicant’s responsibility to make sure they only use licensed advisers in support for their applications.

On 24 October NZQA introduced new rules for English language requirements for international students from certain countries, this is known as Rule 18.

Students applying for student visas from countries that have a student visa decline rate of more than 20% must now provide an external English language test result, such as IELTS, as evidence of their English language competency. New Zealand tertiary institutions can no longer rely upon their own internal English language assessment processes and can only issue an offer of place once a prospective student’s English language capability has been evidenced by an independently verifiable and credible external entity.

India is currently one of the main source countries of international students to New Zealand and falls firmly in to this category. According to INZ statistics, in the financial year 2014-2015 of 32,068 applications received from Indian students 11,207 or 35% were declined, and for the current financial year 2015-2016 the decline rate has increased to 52 % with 5,148 declined visas from 9,259 student visa applications.

Under the old policy the English requirements could be satisfied through the education institutes’ internal English language system or if the students have previously completed their primary or secondary studies in English. Though meeting English requirements has always been compulsory with guidelines in place, Private Training Establishments (PTEs) were heavily relying on their internal English assessment system, and New Zealand was incorrectly being promoted as ‘ NO IELTS required’ country in south Asian markets. This level of self-regulation within the private sector has been highlighted as a conflict of interest with major concerns that the guidelines have been too loosely applied or even overlooked, accordingly NZQA and INZ have decided to take appropriate action.

The regulations are in place to ensure that prospective students have a suitable level of English to comprehend their course work and be successful in their studies. Institutions rightly should have a duty of care before taking a student’s money to be confident that they will achieve the learning outcomes required. New Zealand has been at risk of being considered a “soft touch” for students to gain entry with agents selling dreams of studying to residence. The reality for many though is that they either struggle in their studies or only achieve lower level qualifications and have little chance of finding suitable skilled employment to facilitate and application for residence through the skilled migrant category. The exercise results in no more than a major cost to the family with little or nothing to show for it on top of shattered dreams.

Despite the high level of declined visas, India has emerged as a major source country for international students and is growing year on year. INZ Mumbai received record breaking number of student visa applications from this market in October unsurprisingly just before the new policy was going to be implemented. In our opinion this spike in numbers is no coincidence and clearly shows the extent of the problem and why these changes were so important.

Whilst export education is a vital source of revenue to the New Zealand economy it is also important that the quality standards are maintained and improved. International students are more than just a revenue stream, the right quality of students are also the building blocks to New Zealand’s future and fundamental to the economic growth of the country.

If you are considering studying in New Zealand please take the advice of a suitably qualified professional licensed immigration adviser.

A recent INZ newsletter has highlighted the concerns they have for families taking on high levels of debt to fund their children s’ education overseas, such as New Zealand, and the increasing risk that the students will be exploited in the workplace as families apply pressure to send money home to pay off their debts.

The concerns are mostly focused on students from Asia and in particular India. Whilst it is very common for families to mortgage their land or property to fund their children’s education overseas the concerns are leveled at those who are most desperate to send their children overseas but are stretching themselves beyond their means to achieve this. In turn the student is immediately under pressure to find work and send money home to help pay off these debts.

The consequence of this pressure is two fold, firstly the student may be encouraged or feel obligated to work more than their permitted 20 hours a week, thus breaching their visa conditions which in turn can cause character concerns for future visa applications. In working more than the permitted time they are also committing less time to their studies, which in turn can lead to issues with study outcomes. Failing papers and not completing the course could see the student heading home with nothing more than a big debt to pay off.

The second concern is in their desperation to find work they may find themselves working for unscrupulous employers who expect them to work longer hours than permitted and generally for cash at well under the minimum salary requirements. These employers are generally from within their own ethnic community who feed off the desperation the students have to send money home. Whilst the situation is deplorable the reality is that it unfortunately happens far too often.

The applicants need to understand that INZ issues student visas for the exclusive purpose of study and the work right given on a student visas is a privilege and not a means for students to rely on these to earn their maintenance funds. It is their or their sponsors’ responsibility to ensure that they are suitably funded for their duration of study for their living expenses.

In issuing their warning INZ is doing so with a duty of care for the well-being of prospective international students. It is appreciated that export education makes a significant contribution to the New Zealand economy and this is forecast to grow, but this should not be at the cost of individuals entering into mountains of unmanageable debt and falling foul to the ruthless exploitation of some employers.

Whilst many families strive to send their children to study overseas with the hope of permanent migration and a better life they should obtain appropriate professional advice first so they can make a balanced and informed decision. It is important that students considering coming to New Zealand wisely assess if their families have suitable means to sponsor their studies without them needing to rely on their work rights. Desperation to work is likely to have an impact on their performance in studies as well as they become more vulnerable to work place exploitation.

In July 2015 the immigration minister announced a package of immigration measures aimed at improving the spread of investment and skilled workers across New Zealand.

Whilst current skilled migrant instructions incentivise migrants with 10 bonus points if their employment is outside of the Auckland region it has been recognised that this needs to be improved to address the issues being faced.

The issues are two fold, firstly Auckland itself has historically been a very popular city for migrants to settle, this has put pressure on infrastructure and resources with many economic commentators stating this as the fuel for the skyrocketing house market in Auckland. This is balanced with employers in the regions outside of Auckland struggling to find sufficient suitably skilled workers to meet their business demands and as a consequence not realising their potential for growth.

The government has introduced a number of measures to address all of these issues and in particular are encouraging both migrant entrepreneurs and skilled workers to settle outside of Auckland and contribute to the economic growth of the regions.

From 1 November applicants under the skilled migrant category will be able to claim 30 points for an offer of, or current skilled employment outside of the Auckland region, this is an increase of 20 points.

Whilst this may seem generous on the surface the reality is that very few applicants actually need to rely upon the current 10 bonus points as they can achieve the required 100 points with a combination of their age, qualification and or work experience and the offer of skilled employment. This is particularly relevant as most principal applicants are under the age of 40 and can maximise their points for age.

We do however see that this change will be extremely beneficial for a particular group of potential migrants. Where we see the points increase being materially beneficial is for those migrants in the older age bracket of 50+ where they do not have formal qualifications and rely upon work experience alone. Currently a 50 year old applicant with an offer of skilled employment and 10+ years of relevant work experience may only get to 85 points or 95 points if the employment is outside of Auckland (assuming they have no previous New Zealand work experience or close family in New Zealand). Potentially New Zealand is missing out on this skilled individual from contributing to economic growth for another 15+ years of their working life. With the new points system their points will increase to 115 and therefore opening the door for them to migrate and contribute.

As with any benefit of this type there will be conditions to which they must adhere and we believe that this is only reasonable. For those granted residence based upon an offer of skilled employment or current skilled employment where they have worked in the role for less than 3 months they are required to remain working outside of the Auckland region for a period of 12 months. Their resident visa will include Section 49 conditions to enforce this. The points for employment outside of Auckland are automatically applied, there is no option not to claim the 30 points, therefore all applications for employment outside Auckland will be subject to Section 49 conditions unless the exemption previously described applies.

As everyone s situation is different and unique to them, if you are considering migrating we would encourage you to seek professional advice from an experienced professional and determine how these changes may benefit you.