Seat belts on – the immigration landscape is changing.18 Nov 2020

Quite rightly the Government’s immigration focus over the past seven months has been on “border control” and with the myriad of challenges this has delivered, particularly in regard to who is able to cross the border and why. During this period Immigration policy settings changed frequently, and sometimes several times a week, in response to what this dynamic situation demanded.

Now that we have more visibility regarding COVID and border management, and a Government with a clear 3-year mandate, what can employers expect in the immigration space moving forward?

Firstly, COVID has presented a unique opportunity for an “across-the-board” immigration reset. New visa applications from offshore have largely been suspended, as has (effectively) the main skilled migrant residence category, and many existing visa holders have not been able to re-enter New Zealand. Large numbers of temporary visa holders have left New Zealand and returned to their home counties. As a consequence we now have a situation where the Government is much more “in control” of the immigration space and, with ongoing border restrictions being the norm for the foreseeable future, the Government can take its time to formulate a range of new policy settings which it considers will best “strike the right balance to support our recovery, fairness and opportunity”. We expect this to translate to higher thresholds for the skilled migrant, work-to-residence and partnership residence categories sometime in the next 6 months.

We do know is that work has continued on the work visa changes the Government signalled over a year ago. These changes will see all the employer-assisted work visa categories rolled up into one visa category and will require every employer who is employing such migrant workers to be formally accredited with Immigration New Zealand. To gain such accreditation a business must (among other things) be in a sound financial position, have compliant workplace practices and be prepared to assist and support their migrant workers to settle into the community. Employers who employ 5 or more migrant workers are required to have a higher level of accreditation which will additionally require them to commit to improving work pay and conditions and to training and upskilling New Zealanders. These changes, which are expected to be introduced mid- 2021, will markedly change the work visa landscape and require all employers to take much greater responsibility for all aspects of their migrant workforce, including management of the visa process.

New Zealand was already facing a skills shortage when COVID hit and this situation has not gone away. Many of our client companies are desperately short of the skills they need to grow their businesses and to respond to current demand, and while we are able to get some workers across the border the threshold is currently set very high. This “balancing act” of what visa holders take priority over others, given the available quarantine capacity, will be employers main challenge for some time.

The only certainty is change, and we have experienced plenty of change in the immigration space in 2020 – and 2021 will be no different!

Link: Page 12 of Waikato Business News October/November 2020 Volume 28: Issue 10 2020