New work visa changes – the clock is ticking…14 May 2021

The heads-up on the new Accredited Employer Work Visa

On 1 November 2021, Immigration New Zealand (INZ) will introduce the Accredited Employer Work Visa (AEWV): a single work visa to replace six of the existing work visas categories.

Whether you are an employer or a migrant worker, the Accredited Employer Work Visa will impact you. Talk with a Pathways Licensed Immigration Adviser today to find out what the AEWV means for you, and how you can best position yourself ahead of these changes. The finer details are still being worked on by INZ but, from what we know and understand, the AEWV is likely to work as follows.

What is the Accredited Employer Work Visa?

The AEWV is an employer led visa process, as opposed to the current work visa regime which is mainly led by the migrant applicants. It includes an Employer Accreditation process which is the first stage of a three-stage application process.

The AEWV is designed to simplify the employer-assisted work visa application process, better address the skill shortages in New Zealand, and provide migrant workers with better, and more supportive and compliant, working conditions.

On 1 November, the AEWV will replace the following work visas:
• Essential Skills Work Visa
• Essential Skills Work Visa – Approval in Principle
• Talent (Accredited Employer) Work Visa
• Long Term Skills Shortage List Work Visa
• Silver Fern Job Search Visa
• Silver Fern Practical Experience Visa.

Accredited Employer Work Visas will be issued for either 12 months or 3 years, depending on policy criteria.

No other work visa categories will change so employees holding, for example, partnership or post-study work visas are not impacted.

What do the changes mean for employers?

Applying for the new Employer Accreditation
From 1 November 2021 all employers must first be accredited in order to employ a migrant worker for the new AEWV.

There are three types of employer accreditation:
Standard – for employers with up to 5 AEWV workers.
High volume – for employers with 6 or more AEWV workers.
Other – for labour hire and franchise employers.

Following approval, accreditation will initially be given for 12 months. After that, accreditation can be renewed for 24 months for Standard and High-volume employers, with annual renewals for labour hire and franchise employer accreditation.

The AEWV is a three-stage visa application process
The new application process consists of the:
1. Employer check
2. Job check
3. Migrant worker check.

INZ fees are payable at each check stage. Further information about the fees will be available in August 2021.

Stage One: Employer check
This replaces the previous accreditations for Approval in Principle (Essential Skills), Talent Accredited Employer, and Labour Hire Employers (Essential Skills).

A successful employer check will result in the employer being granted accreditation status. It is understood the Standard Accreditation will be largely automated with the focus being on the employer having a history of employer and visa compliance. The High Volume accreditation will be much more involved and is expected to require evidence of specific migrant worker support and a commitment to increasing the wages and working conditions for all staff. The accreditation process for labour hire/franchise employers is expected to additionally focus on addressing migrant exploitation in the workplace.

Employer accreditation applications can begin to be made from late-September in anticipation of the 1 November implementation date. As there will be a high volume of employer applications it is reasonable to expect significant processing delays.

NB: Employers will not be required to obtain the new employer accreditation until they need to employ a new migrant worker, or renew an existing employee’s visa, on an AEWV. Employees on existing work visas do not trigger the requirement to obtain the new employer accreditation – this only applies to workers applying for the AEWV.

Our advice to employers, and migrant workers, is for those who have work visas expiring in the next 12 months to apply now for new work visas under the current scheme. This will postpone the need to apply for the new AEWV employer accreditation and avoid the expected processing delays when the new policy comes into effect.

The employer check must be made, and paid for, by the employer.

Stage Two: Job check
This check relates to the job and is to ensure the pay rate being offered is at the market rate, that the terms and conditions of the role comply with New Zealand employment law, and that the employer has made a genuine attempt to recruit New Zealanders for the role and before offering the role to a migrant worker.

The employer also needs to pay for the job check.

Stage Three: Migrant worker check
This stage is where the migrant worker applies for the AEWV visa. The worker has to meet INZ’s health, character and credential requirements in order for the AEWV to be granted.

The employer or the worker needs to pay for this check.

What this could mean for employers and for the work-to-residence pathway

We expect that there will still be a work-to-residence pathway under the new scheme, but the pay threshold will be set at double the median wage – which would currently equate to $106,080 per annum.

For employers who are accredited under the current regime we advise that this accreditation is urgently used, in the limited time available, to transition any eligible migrant employees onto work-to-residence work visas now, and before the new regime takes effect. Otherwise, employees currently being paid between $79,560 and $106,080 will lose their opportunity to secure their (possibly only) pathway to New Zealand residence.

At this time of real uncertainty, and with the Skilled Migrant residence category currently suspended, all migrant employees will be looking at every opportunity to secure their future in New Zealand by transitioning to a work-to-residence work visa before 1 November. Employers must be cognisant of the fact that this will, in some situations, mean that a worker will change their employment to a currently accredited employer purely because this employer can facilitate their future New Zealand residence.

Applications for employer accreditation under the current accreditation can still be made up to 30 June 2021. This provides a limited opportunity for an employer to gain such accreditation and to transition any eligible migrant workers, on a salary of $79,560 or more, to work-to-residence visas before 1 November.

What do the changes mean for migrant workers?

For migrant workers who want to apply for a work-to-residence work visa
If a worker earns $79,560 or more per annum (for a 40-hour work week), and works for a currently accredited employer, they can protect their pathway to residence if they apply for a work-to-residence work visa under the current scheme.

Some workers who satisfy the requirements for a Long Term Skills Shortage (LTSSL) work visa may also be eligible for a work-to-residence work visa under this category and which does not require the employer to be accredited. This application type is also being replaced on 1 November.

For migrant workers already on a work-to-residence visa
INZ have not yet confirmed how existing work-to-residence work visa holders will transition to residence after 1 November. However, we are confident this pathway will be protected when the policy changes are finally detailed.

Timeline to prepare for the changes

• Employers and their migrant workers who have visas expiring in the next 12 months should apply, in our opinion, for new work visas now.
• Currently accredited employers should transition any eligible employees (who are paid $79,560 or more) onto work-to-residence work visas to secure their pathway to residence.

30 June 2021
• Last day to apply for accreditation for Talent (Accredited Employer) Work Visa/Work-to-residence work visas under the current regime.

• INZ have previously advised that the median pay (for immigration policy purposes) will remain at $25.50 per hour to “at least July” when it will increase to $27.00 per hour. Essential Skills work visa holders should consider applying for new work visas before this increase to obtain a new 3-year work visa.

Late September
• Applications for the new employer accreditation can commence.

31 October 2021
• Last day to apply for any of the work visa types being discontinued – including the work-to-residence work visas. New essential skills work visas should be made by this date also.

1 November 2021
• New Accredited Employer Work Visa accreditation and regime begins.

Don’t delay. Get in touch with us today to learn more about the Accredited Employer Work Visa and what this means for you!