Immigration New Zealand (INZ) have announced extensions for some residence applicants who have received an Invitation to Apply (ITA).

If you:

  • submitted an Expression of Interest (EOI) for a Skilled Migrant Category (SMC) residence visa, or
  • submitted an EOI for an Investor 2 residence visa, and
  • received an ITA between 1 November 2019 and 15 April 2020

–then you now have an additional six months to submit your residence application.

The normal timeframe to submit an application after receiving an EOI is four months. With the additional six months, the new time allowance is a total of 10 months from the date of the ITA. This extension is an acknowledgement of the significant difficulties applicants have been experiencing in compiling the required documents and information to lodge their residence application.

The Immigration (COVID-19 Response) Amendment Bill 2020, which was passed last week, offered some hope that the Government would exercise its new powers to waive some mandatory document requirements. It appears that a different approach is being taken. Though this extension of time is good news, it strongly suggests that INZ will be unlikely to waive any lodgement requirements pertaining to mandatory documents as it should now be possible to organise these in the extended time being given.

This new move may also enable INZ to stagger their processing of residence applications. The huge queue of unprocessed applications has been a cause of distress for some time now. The global crisis and COVID-19 lockdown have exacerbated this problem, setting back INZ workforce capabilities and slowing down the processing timeframes even further. By allowing applicants more time to submit, INZ are also potentially allowing themselves more time to process applications.

Regardless of this extension, it remains our strong recommendation that all residence applicants submit their applications as soon as possible. Do not delay an application because there is more time.  The processing queue is only getting longer. Applications are prioritised according to new COVID-19 prioritisation criteria. After taking account of these priorities all other applications are assessed in date order of lodgement.

If you would like help with your residence application, or you are having difficulties compiling your residence application documents, please contact Pathways to speak with a Licensed Immigration Adviser.

*Update: this Bill has now been through the select committee process and was passed on 15 May 2020. The Bill has been modified and now contains explicit safeguards designed to ensure that the new powers cannot be used to materially disadvantage the class of visa holders concerned. Exactly what the Government will do with these powers is yet to be announced.*

 

The Immigration (COVID-19 Response) Amendment Bill 2020, introduced to Parliament this week, is intended to give the Government greater flexibility and capacity  to respond to the immigration challenges posed by the COVID-19 outbreak.

The powers set out in the Bill are specifically for the purposes of addressing the COVID-19 outbreak and because the powers proposed are extraordinary, and only for a specified purpose, the powers are time-limited. It is expected the Bill will pass into law by 15 May 2020.

The eight powers the Government is proposing to introduce into the Immigration Act 2009, are:

  • the power to impose, vary or cancel conditions for classes of temporary entry class visa holders
  • the power to vary or cancel conditions for classes of resident class visa holders
  • the power to extend the expiry dates of visas for classes of people
  • the power to grant visas to individuals and classes of people in the absence of an application
  • the power to waive any regulatory requirements for certain classes of application
  • the power to waive the requirement to obtain a transit visa
  • the power to suspend the ability to make applications for visas or submit Expressions of Interest in applying for visas by classes of people, and
  • the power to revoke the entry permission of people who arrive either on private aircraft or marine vessels (to align them with people who arrive on commercial flights, who can already be refused entry).

There are several reasons for the Government to introduce this legislation with urgency.

There are some 350,000 temporary visa holders now in New Zealand who cannot travel home, and this situation may last for some time. Immigration New Zealand already has long visa processing queues and has had, and will continue to have for the foreseeable future, significantly reduced visa processing capability. Immigration New Zealand has a significant visa bottle-neck that is only going to get worse and something needs to be done to address this.

The legislation will enable large numbers of visa holders and applicants to have their visa situations addressed unilaterally, which is a much quicker, more efficient and cost-effective method than having to deal with many thousands of individual visa applications. And, in order for the processing queues not to keep getting longer, the Bill looks likely to stop some new visa applications, potentially visitor and work visas, from being lodged for offshore applicants. This makes sense as these people are currently unable to enter the country anyway until border restrictions are eased.

This Bill is a necessary step to enable swift changes to immigration settings during this extraordinary time and represents a genuine attempt by government to help migrants who are currently in a vulnerable and uncertain visa situation. Our understanding is that these powers will be used for the benefit of migrants, and not to their detriment, and on this basis Pathways’ generally welcomes the legislation – subject as always to the policy detail.

It is not clear at this stage exactly what these powers will mean for particular visa holders or applicants however we have formed the following preliminary views based on our reading of the situation. It should be appreciated that these are only our views on potential outcomes of this Bill at this time and readers should form their own views on what the Bill will mean for them.

The power to impose, vary or cancel conditions for classes of temporary entry class visa holders

Our view is that this power is intended to relax employment conditions and to allow the redeployment of migrant workers to a different employer or location. We are hopeful that this could lead to open work visas conditions for existing work visa holders or, at least, more flexible work visa conditions – possibly for up to 6 months or longer.

Many work visa holders have either lost their jobs or have had their wages and/or work hours reduced, all of which means they are technically in breach of their visa conditions. Varying the work visa conditions could, and should, at least alleviate these current visa breaches. This would be good news for employers also who are equally desperate for stability at this time.

This power could be used to “revisit” already approved offshore work visas which were approved on the basis of labour market conditions at that time. The labour market is now changing and the job may no longer be available or it can now be filled by a New Zealander. Offshore low-skilled work visa holders would appear to be most at risk here.

It is hoped that this opportunity is taken to also address the situation with work-to-residence visa holders whose remuneration has fallen below the policy threshold through no fault of their own.

The power to vary or cancel conditions for classes of resident class visa holders           

Our view is that this power should extend the timeframe in which an offshore resident visa holder has to enter New Zealand for the first time – as these people cannot currently enter New Zealand and are at risk of losing their resident visa status.

The power to cancel resident visa conditions most likely relates to Section 49 of the Immigration Act and could be applied to those conditions which require visa holders to work in specific employment for 3 or 12 months. It could potentially also be applied to Investor Residence visa holders who are required to spend a designated number of days in New Zealand but have been unable to do so due to travel restrictions.

It is interesting that in the introduction of the Bill mention was made of the 20,000 Skilled Migrant Resident visa holders who obtained residence since April 2018. There is no obvious reason to mention this unless thought is being given to using the Bill’s powers to, potentially, extend the travel conditions of Resident Visa holders or even transition these holders to permanent residence.

The practical application of this power remains to be seen.

The power to extend the expiry dates of visas for classes of people

This proposed power could be used to address the situation where an approved visa holder is unable to enter New Zealand by the first-entry date stipulated by their visa. However, this still does not get these people through the border and any extension will need to be aligned with some relaxation of the current border restrictions and we do not know as yet when this will happen.

Another potential application could be to provide a further extension to temporary visa holders in New Zealand, if travel restrictions remain and people cannot access flights to get home. In early April Immigration New Zealand was able to unilaterally extend the temporary visas of some 85,000 visa holders in New Zealand whose visas were expiring between 2 April 2020 and 9 July 2020. All these people had their visas extended to 25 September and this action was enabled under the Epidemic Management Notice issued by the Government. It is pragmatic and cost effective for the Government to manage significant numbers and types of visas in this manner and in conjunction with its COVID-19 management and planning.

The power to grant visas to individuals and classes of people in the absence of an application

This power affords flexibility to accommodate unusual or urgent situations. A specific intention of this power is to allow the grant of visas to persons who are unable to submit an application, for example, due to sickness.

The power to waive any regulatory requirements for certain classes of application        

This would allow INZ to waive mandatory application requirements which may be difficult to meet in the current circumstances. Such requirements could include immigration medicals, police certificates and other mandatory documents which simply cannot be obtained at present. The question remains whether an applicant’s SMC Invitation to Apply (ITA) expiry date will be extended. If the expiry date is not extended can the application be accepted for lodgment with an automatic waiver for particular lodgment requirements or will each applicant need to first obtain a waiver approval from INZ?

The power to suspend the ability to make applications for visas or submit Expressions of Interest in applying for visas by classes of people

The apparent purpose of this power is to stop applicants from lodging new applications. The main reason for this potential outcome is that INZ does not have visa processing capability currently and it does not wish to see the visa queue grow further until it has this capability – which may not be for some time.  This power also accommodates the situation that offshore applicants are not able to actually travel to New Zealand and there is no point in them making visa applications until the border is opened to allow their entry.

There are many possible applications of this power, and the full extent of it is not clear.

In the immediate short term, it could be that INZ will not accept any new visitor visa applications or low skilled work visa applications from offshore applicants. EOI draws for SMC and Parent Category visas have already been suspended, and it is likely, under this power, that EOI submissions could cease to be accepted in these categories for up to 3 months (at a time). Again there is no point in allowing an EOI to proceed to a residence invitation if an applicant cannot provide the mandatory application documents.

We expect that Investor 2 Category EOIs will be unaffected given the clear need for economic stimulation in the wake of COVID-19.

Until more information becomes available, it is not certain exactly what the implications of these proposed powers will be on immigration policy and visa processing but there is no doubt they will be significant and far-reaching – and in the main, will address the current uncertainties of many visa holders.

One thing we do know is that there will be huge financial implications for Immigration New Zealand. It would have lost $20 million or more in foregone application fees from its temporary visa extension action in April and this is likely to rise substantially with actions resulting from this new Bill.

The focus of the Bill is largely on the temporary visa situation, which is understandable. The pity is that there are some 20,000+ residence applications sitting in the queue to be processed. These are for individuals and families whose lives are on hold waiting for the long term security a resident visa will give them to plan and get on with their lives in New Zealand. This empowerment to buy a home and to actually spend money to build their future is exactly the type of impetus New Zealand needs at this time to get the economy moving.  Alas this may be just a bridge too far!

Information about the Select Committee process, including a copy of the Bill is available on the New Zealand Parliament website.

If you would like to discuss what these proposed powers could mean for you and your immigration journey, please contact Pathways to speak with a licensed immigration adviser.

 

Temporary migrant workers and international students, who are already employed in essential services, are now able to vary some of the conditions of their visa. This loosening of visa requirements is intended to make it easier for essential businesses and services to operate during the COVID-19 response. It will allow essential businesses and service providers to maintain their labour pool during a time when new recruitment is very difficult.

INZ have announced that effective from 16 April, 2020:

Work visa holders with employer-specific work visas already employed in essential services will be able to vary their hours and be redeployed to do other roles within their current workplace. They can also perform their current role in a different workplace to help essential businesses keep operating while New Zealand remains at Alert Level 3 or 4 and for six weeks after that.

International students who are already employed in an essential services role will be able to work longer hours for their current employer while New Zealand remains at Alert Level 3 or 4 and for six weeks following. Students who are employed in an essential services role and wish to work more than 20 hours must still meet their study requirements and should discuss their plans with their education provider.

All standard employment law requirements continue to apply to any amendments to an employee’s conditions of work.

Interim visa holders are not able to change their visa conditions under this new special policy.

If you are either a work visa holder or an international student currently employed in an essential services role, you may apply for a Variation of Conditions. There are no fees or levies required to make this application to INZ. However, if you would like professional assistance to apply for a VOC, or would like to discuss these changes in further detail, we recommend you seek licensed immigration advice. Pathways’ staff are working from home while New Zealand is at Alert Levels 3 and 4. Please contact us to speak with one of our advisers today.

More information about Alert Levels 3 and 4 is available at the Government’s official COVID-19 website.

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.

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.

For applicants who wish to establish, or purchase, and operate a business in New Zealand the Entrepreneur Work Visa (EWV) is the appropriate visa. This visa enables an applicant to be self- employed in a specific business and can provide a future pathway to residence under the Entrepreneur Residence Visa (ERV).

Applicants should only consider the Entrepreneur visa pathway if they have a successful business, or high level management background, and if their planned business is one which can contribute to New Zealand’s economic growth through innovation, export development or high growth. A business which cannot evidence these outcomes is unlikely to satisfy the policy criteria.

Applications require a detailed, well researched and viable business plan and a minimum business investment of NZ$100,000 is required, although this may be waived for certain businesses in science, ICT or some other high value, high growth sectors. The business objectives set out in the plan must be achieved in order for an applicant to later be eligible for residence.

The EWV is points based with points awarded under a range of criteria including for age, business experience, new employment creation, capital investment, business location etc and a minimum of 120 points must be achieved. From 1 November 2015 the following policy changes apply:

• The points for businesses located outside of Auckland will increase from 20 to 40 points, and
• The required business investment will be able to include funds for working capital to be used within the business

These are both significant and welcomed policy changes. The NZ Government has signaled that it wishes to attract more migrants to settle outside of Auckland, mainly because of the pressure on Auckland housing. The increase in points for a business to be located outside of Auckland equates to an applicant having to invest $200,000 less, or to create 2 fewer jobs, than what previously would have been required. We believe this change will certainly encourage prospective EWV applicants to consider business opportunities outside of Auckland.

Also, previously EWV applicants could only claim points for actual business capital investment (ie; fixed assets) with no recognition of the additional working capital needed to be invested for the business to actually operate. Pathways, together with other industry leaders, made representations to Immigration NZ at the time the policy was introduced in March 2014 to point out this significant and unreasonable policy shortcoming. While it is pleasing to see this change has now been effected it is disappointing that it has taken so long. However there are still a number of other “shortcomings” with the Entrepreneur policies which are of concern, such as the definition of business profitability and the transition of existing business visa holders to residence, which remain to be addressed.

The Entrepreneur visa remains the most challenging of all New Zealand visa categories and prospective applicants are strongly encouraged to seek professional guidance before deciding on this option.