Temporary Work Visas extended – and other short-term changes to visa settings8 Jul 2020

This week the Government has announced changes to temporary work visa settings:

  1. All existing employer-assisted temporary work visas for people who are in New Zealand and whose visas are due to expire from 10 July to 31 December 2020, will be extended by six months.
  2. The introduction of the 12 month stand down period for workers who have been holding low-skilled work visas for 3 years has been delayed by 6 months.
  3. The duration of all new low-skilled Essential Skills work visas has been reduced from 12 months to 6 months, to mitigate future labour market risks.

These announcements result from the Government powers bestowed under the Immigration (COVID-19 Response) Amendment Act 2020. These changes have been made in direct response to COVID-19 and its continuing impact on New Zealand. The devastating impact of coronavirus is felt by all in New Zealand; these changes acknowledge that temporary work visa holders and local businesses are under significant pressure and facing great uncertainty. The Government has stated that these measures ‘will allow employers to maintain their existing workforce for an extended period of time, while ensuring opportunities for New Zealanders are not negatively impacted in the short and longer-term.’

Extension to existing employer-assisted temporary work visas

This visa extension applies to onshore employer-assisted work visas due to expire between 10 July and 31 December 2020 (inclusive). It is automatic (for most visa holders), and will extend the original visa expiry date by 6 months. All other visa conditions will remain the same, including the occupation, employer and location.

This extension also applies to work visa holders whose visas had already been extended to 25 September 2020 under the Epidemic Management Notice.

Employers wishing to employ a migrant, either for the first time, or in a new role, are still required to apply for a new visa, and to complete the required job advertising and labour market test. Employer consultation with the Ministry for Social Development (MSD) is still required for low-skilled roles.

Approximately 16,500 Essential Skills and Work to Residence and Sec 61 work visa holders who are in New Zealand, are expected to receive this extension and should be directly advised of the extension in the next few days. It appears holders of Specific Purpose Work Visas are not included.

12 month stand down period for low-skilled work visa holders delayed

‘Stand down’ refers to the requirement that workers who have held low-skilled Essential Skills work visas for 3 years, must leave New Zealand for 12 months before they are eligible to be granted a new low-skilled work visa. This stand down requirement which would have begun from August has now been delayed.

Those work visa holders who would be subject to the stand down between August 2020 and the end of December 2020, are now able to remain here and work for the same employer in the same occupation and location for up to a further six months. This aligns with the visa extension described above.

If a visa holder who would be subject to the stand down, changes to a new lower-paid Essential skills work visa, the stand down period will still apply.

This change is time-limited. From February 2021, any visa holders to whom a stand down period applies, will have to leave New Zealand for 12 months before they are again able to apply for a new lower-paid work visa.

It is understood about 600 workers are believed to be affected by this change.

Duration of all new low-skilled Essential Skills work visas reduced

All new low-skilled essential skills work visas will now have a duration of six months, reduced from 12 months. This applies to any applications made after 10 July and will be in place for the next 18 months.

Applications received prior to 10 July will still be granted a 12 months visa if approved.

Other announcements

The Government has also confirmed that the rollout of their reforms to the employer-assisted temporary work visa system will go ahead as planned. These changes, announced last year, involve a ‘gateway’ system, more stringent labour market testing and prioritisation of higher-paid roles, and, most importantly, any employer who is employing any work visa holder must be accredited with Immigration New Zealand.

The first part of this reform process, which will be introduced from 27 July 2020, will see the Australian and New Zealand Standard Classification of Occupations (ANZSCO) no longer being used to determine whether a job is ‘skilled’. Instead whether a job is considered ‘skilled’ or not will be determined by the payrate. Basically, if the payrate is below the NZ medium payrate of $25.50 per hour then the role will be assessed as ‘low-skilled’ and any work visa approved will only be for a 6 months term. If the payrate is above $25.50 per hour the role can be assessed as ‘skilled’ and the work visa can be issued for 3 years.

All roles, unless they are on one of the skills shortage lists, will still require employers to evidence they have made genuine efforts to recruit and/or train a New Zealand citizen or resident for the role, and work visas for low-skilled roles will also require the support of MSD by way of a favourable Skills Match Report.

What now?

Workers who are paid between $21.68 and $25.50 per hour and who are in ANZSCO Skill Level 1, 2 or 3 roles should consider applying for a new ‘mid-skilled’ work visa now and before 27 July in order to potentially obtain a 3 year visa. This is because after 27 July their payrate may only qualify them for a ‘low-skilled’ work visa which can only result in a 6 month visa.

The complete details of these major policy announcements are not yet available. We expect more details in the coming days.

We understand that some of this news will come as a relief to many visa holders in New Zealand. But we also understand that individuals will continue to have concerns about the ongoing uncertainty around their visa status in the long-term. If you have any questions that you would like to discuss, Pathways’ team of Licensed Immigration Advisers is available to help. Let’s Talk!