Skilled Migrant and Parent Category resident visa EOI selections deferred21 Oct 2020

What happens next? – not much for a while!

The Minister of Immigration has announced that selections of Expressions of Interest (EOI) for residence under the Skilled Migrant Category (SMC) and Parent Category, will be deferred for a further six months , extending the deferral that took effect from April of this year .

This amendment to immigration instructions is the first visa policy announcement following the recent New Zealand election, in the lead up to which, political parties avoided putting forward any comprehensive immigration policies. Many observers noted the distinct lack of national discussion and political debate on the topic, particularly around concrete priority setting. Now however, we can expect a significant reformulation of policy. Indeed, the six-month extension to the deferral of EOI draws indicates extensive work will be undertaken to both plan and implement major changes to the above residence categories, and probably all other residence categories. But this waiting game will require patience!

There are a number of options available to the Labour Government in this arena. They may reinforce the current regime which has SMC and Residence-from-Work (RFW) applications prioritised for allocation if the Principal Applicant is onshore and:
• is paid twice the median wage or higher, or
• works in an occupation where registration is required by immigration instructions and holds that registration.

It is possible that the SMC policy could be amended to simply equate high paid work with high skilled work, in much the same way as the Essential Skills work visa policy has been amended to this effect. This current focus on high-pay may have reflected the demands of NZ First in the previous Government so a “rethink” of this approach may be on the cards.

However the focus on applicants who require professional registration to work in their roles has real merit especially when this applies to a number of skill shortage areas such as doctors, nurses, teachers, veterinarians, medical laboratory technicians and also many trades workers like electricians and plumbers (and immigration advisors!). Our view is that any policy changes are likely to benefit applicants working in these roles.

The number of SMC points for an Expression of Interest to be selected from the EOI pool has been, prior to the selection suspension, set at 160. According to information released by INZ, of the 4,434 EOI applications in the pool as at 6 October 2020, around a quarter of these (1,058), have claimed exactly 160 points and any selection points increase would result in these EOIs not being selected. Interesting there were also 239 EOIs in the pool with less that 160 points and which could never be selected! The selection mark allows INZ to manage the numbers of residence approvals in line with the Government’s target – described as the New Zealand Residence Programme (NZRP).

The Parent Category is also likely to receive an overhaul, but it may be a welcome one. The very high remuneration threshold expected of supporting child/ren (which started at NZ$106,080 for one child supporting one parent) could be reduced, now that the Labour Government is not beholden to their previous coalition partners. There is also an argument that parents in New Zealand could be prioritised.

We can now also be hopeful about receiving clarity and certainty around the NZRP. At present, there is no official update to the programme – which formally sets the number of residence places available to be filled by visa applicants within an 18 month period. The previous NZRP Planning Range was set at 50,000 to 60,000 residence approvals (i.e. people) for the period from 1 July 2018 – 31 December 2019. In the absence of an updated Planning Range, Immigration New Zealand (INZ) has, since returning to work after lockdown, been working to the same volume and are processing residence applications to achieve 50,000 to 60,000 residence approvals between 1 January 2020 and 30 June 2021.

Even with the deferral of EOI draws, significantly decreased capacity of INZ offices during the national lockdown, lack of flights, stringent border restrictions and other consequences of the global pandemic, since the beginning of the 2020, 21,984 people have been approved residence in New Zealand. Of these 12,363 are SMC or RFW principal or secondary applicants with the balance being mainly partnership residence. INZ have communicated that the total number of SMC and RFW applications currently accepted for processing and on hand, as at 6 October 2020, is 16,642 and with an average of around 2.5 people per application this number of applications equates to over 40,000 people. Keeping in mind that a large proportion of resident visas approved are partnership and dependent visas, it would appear that the current NZRP planning range that INZ are working towards can easily be met from partnership applications and the already lodged residence applications. As a consequence the present “on-hold” status of EOI selections is likely to remain in place for some time – potentially to mid-2021 when the new immigration year begins.

It is often said that migrants and prospective migrants are constantly caught ‘in between’ – between countries and between official statuses. It is likely that for those seeking to settle in New Zealand, this kind of uncertainty and ambiguity will persist for at least a little while longer. This deferral extension announcement may be disheartening for some. However, as Massey University sociologist Paul Spoonley put it to RNZ earlier this month, whatever happens, “Immigration in some form is going to have to be part of our re-build.” We are optimistic that concrete policy steps will be taken and announced in the near future that will set the path of New Zealand’s immigration plan.

If you would like to discuss your residence options in the current environment, please do not hesitate to contact Pathways today to speak with a licensed immigration adviser. Let’s Talk!