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The New Zealand economy is undergoing a dramatic shift because of COVID-19, and the labour market is in the midst of massive upheaval. Jobs and businesses have already been lost, with some sectors – like hospitality and tourism – hit harder than others. Not just migrant workers, but local New Zealand workers are finding themselves suddenly unemployed. As a consequence, New Zealand immigration policy is, and will continue to be affected. Essential Skills work visa applicants should be aware – there will be even greater scrutiny around labour market tests from now on.

According to immigration instructions, to approve an Essential Skills work visa, an immigration officer must be satisfied that there are no New Zealand citizens or residents available, or trainable, to do the job the applicant is being employed to do. To establish this, a sponsoring employer must first make a genuine attempt to attract and recruit a suitable New Zealand citizen or resident for the role.

The requisite recruitment process includes broadly advertising the position to attract local workers. As well as the content of a job advertisement, and the manner in which a job is advertised, immigration officers are instructed that they may take many things into consideration when assessing whether a suitable New Zealander is available for the job which may include any advice from Work and Income, industry stakeholders and unions.

Given increasing unemployment, it is more likely that suitable local workers will be found as a result of this process. In any case, INZ will require more rigorous testing because of the expectation that there is a larger pool of available local workers. An objective of the Essential Skills policy is to not displace domestic workers from employment opportunities. If an employer claims that no suitable New Zealand applicants were found, they will be expected to explain why and to provide appropriate evidence. Further – if an employer claims that no reasonably trainable New Zealand applicants were found – they will be expected to provide evidence for that as well. For jobs aligned with an ANZSCO Level 5 position, it is automatically assumed that an employer is able to train a New Zealand citizen or resident for the role.

In addition to the requirement that no New Zealanders are available to fill the position, an immigration officer must also be satisfied that the employment being offered is sustainable. They must be sure that the position – on the basis of which an employee applies for a work visa – is one that an employer actually needs filled, and can financially afford. INZ looks for things like whether the employing business has suffered major losses, whether the business is in debt, the size of the business and whether there are opportunities for expansion. In a post-coronavirus climate, New Zealand businesses, many of which have seen reductions in revenues, will have a harder time proving that they can realistically afford to hire migrant workers. A greater level of stringency will be applied to checking on the employer’s business situation.

INZ have provided further guidance to immigration officers during this time. Under normal circumstances, the labour market can be assumed to remain relatively static between an employer’s attempt to recruit a New Zealander, and the time at which an immigration officer assesses the subsequent work visa application. However, the COVID-19 lockdown, and travel restrictions to New Zealand have caused much faster movement in the labour market.

Unemployment rates have risen in a short time. StatsNZ has reported that the unemployment rate rose 0.2 percent over the last quarter and is currently the highest it has been since December 2018. According to Government communications, the number of people receiving Jobseeker Support has, at the beginning of May, increased to 184,404. At the same time, 1,720,008 people are associated with paid applications under the Wage Subsidy Scheme.

All of this contributes to making the labour market test more problematic. Coronavirus and its effects mean that an already complicated visa process has become even moreso. It is strongly recommended that if you are seeking to make a work visa application it is in your interests to seek professional advice. Pathways staff are available to help with any queries you have. Contact us today to speak with a licensed immigration adviser.

With Alert Level 2 now in effect, Immigration New Zealand (INZ) has announced new immigration instructions around visa prioritisation. INZ processing capacity has been limited since the country was put in lockdown at Alert Level 4. Alert Level 3 saw incremental improvement and now, as more staff go back to work (up to 70% of Immigration Officers), residence class visa applications will resume processing, and will be prioritised alongside some temporary class applications.

To date, the INZ priority has been to focus its limited resources on implementing the Epidemic Management Notice and pushing through applications from individuals who have a critical purpose for coming to New Zealand. From today, INZ processing efforts will be expanded as follows:

 

Residence Applications

Priority will be given where the applicant is in New Zealand. For onshore applications priority will be given as below:

  • For Skilled Migrant Category (SMC), priority will be given to applications with job offers where:
    • Applicants have an hourly rate equivalent to or higher than twice the median wage (currently $51.00 per hour or an annual salary of $106,080 or more);
    • Applicants hold current occupational registration where registration is required by immigration instructions.
  • For Residence from Work Category applications (Talent (Accredited Employer), Talent (Arts, Culture and Sport), South Island Contribution, Religious Worker and Long Term Skill Shortage List), priority will be given to:
    • Applications which include a job offer with an hourly rate equivalent to or higher than twice the median wage (currently $51.00 per hour or an annual salary of $106,080 or more);
    • Applications which include a job offer which requires occupational registration where occupational registration is required by immigration instructions.
  • Second priority will be given to residence class visa applications where the applicant is out of New Zealand.

 

Temporary Entry Class Applications

  • Priority will be given to applications for critical workers to support the Government response to COVID-19 and for other temporary visa applicants that are in New Zealand.
  • For Essential Skills work visa applications, Immigration instructions require INZ to consider a range of factors, including the need to help New Zealand businesses provide their services, while protecting the employment opportunities for New Zealanders.
  • For an Essential Skills work visa to be granted, INZ must be satisfied that at the time the application is assessed there are no New Zealanders available to do the work being offered.

 

As the situation develops, international travel restrictions ease and domestic labour market conditions adjust, prioritisation criteria may also change. The Immigration (COVID-19 Response) Amendment Bill 2020 is making its way through the House, and will have a huge impact on immigration policy once it receives Royal Assent and takes effect. In the meantime, Immigration Officers have discretion to prioritise other applications when it is considered necessary to do so.

Though onshore offices have reopened, offshore offices remain closed, and delays can still be expected. The National Area Documentation Office (NaDO) has also reopened, with some staff working onsite. Given that processing capacity, though improved, is still limited, INZ encourage applicants to apply online for eligible visas.

If you are putting together a visa application for one of these newly prioritised categories, we strongly suggest that you seek professional advice. Contact Pathways today to speak with a licensed immigration adviser.

On 24 February 2020, the remuneration or pay rate thresholds for the Skilled Migrant Category Resident Visa (SMC) and the Essential Skills Work Visa will increase. Based on the New Zealand median salary and wage rate (which has increased 2% since last year from NZD $25 per hour to NZD $25.50 per hour), the thresholds are updated annually.

The following tables, based on information released by Immigration New Zealand (INZ) on 19 December 2019, set out the changes and the relevant dates.

Hourly rates for SMC applicants, in order to be awarded points for skilled employment:

ANZSCO Level From 24 February 2020

 

Between 26 November 2018 and 23 February 2020
1, 2 or 3 NZD $25.50 or more per hour (NZD $53,040 per year) NZD $25.00 or more per hour (NZD $52,000 per year)
4 or 5 NZD $38.25 or more per hour (NZD $79,560 per year) NZD $37.50 or more per hour (NZD $78,000 per year)
4 or 5 *occupations treated as exceptions (read more about the ANZSCO changes) NZD $25.50 per hour (NZD $53,040 per year)

 

High Salary Bonus points NZD $51.00 or more per hour (NZD $106,080 per year) NZD $50.00 or more per hour (NZD $104,000 per year)

 

Hourly rates for Essential Skills applicants:

Skill band ANZSCO Level From 24 February 2020

 

Between 26 November 2018 and 23 February 2020
Mid-skilled 1, 2 or 3 NZD $21.68 or more per hour (NZD $45,094 per year) NZD $21.25 or more per hour (NZD $44,200 per year)
Mid-skilled 4 or 5 *occupations treated as exceptions NZD $25.50 per hour (NZD $53,040 per year)
Higher-skilled any NZD $38.25 or more per hour (NZD $79,560 per year) NZD $37.50 or more per hour (NZD $78,000 per year)
Lower-skilled any NZD $21.67 or less per hour (NZD $45,074 per year), will be lower-skilled NZD $21.24 or less per hour (NZD $44,179 per year)
Lower-skilled 4 or 5 NZD $38.24 or less per hour (NZD $79,539 per year) NZD $37.49 or less per hour (NZD $77,979 per year)

 

All work visa applications received on or after 24 February will be assessed using the new threshold. If your application for an Essential Skills Work Visa is received before 24 February 2020, it will be assessed using the old thresholds. However, if you already hold a visa and are applying for a further visa, the conditions or duration of your next visa could be different.

If your Expression of Interest (EOI) was selected before 24 February 2020 and you were invited to apply after 24 February 2020, the old remuneration thresholds apply when you apply for residence under the Skilled Migrant Category.

To discuss these changes and how they may relate to your personal circumstances, contact Pathways NZ to speak with a licensed immigration adviser.

Becoming a Residential Care Officer is one possible pathway to live and work in New Zealand.

An offer of employment as a Residential Care Officer may make you eligible to apply for an Essential Skills Work Visa – subject to an employer demonstrating that they have tried to recruit New Zealanders for the position and have been unsuccessful.

Employment as a Residential Care Officer could also allow you to claim points under the Skilled Migrant Category (SMC) Resident Visa – provided you have sufficient total points to meet the requirements of this points-based resident visa.

What is a Residential Care Officer?

Residential Care Officer is one of the jobs listed by the Australia & New Zealand Standard Classification of Occupations (ANZSCO). The ANZSCO lists the jobs recognized by Immigration New Zealand for visa application purposes. The ANZSCO also lists the Skill Level of each job, which is important information for deciding which visa types an applicant may qualify for. A Residential Care Officer role has a Skill Level of 2.

According to the ANZSCO description, a Residential Care Officer “[p]rovides care and supervision for children or disabled persons in group housing or institutional care.” The ANZSCO also lists the tasks a Residential Care Officer performs as follows:

  • assessing clients’ needs and planning, developing and implementing educational, training and support programs
  • interviewing clients and assessing the nature and extent of difficulties
  • monitoring and reporting on the progress of clients
  • referring clients to agencies that can provide additional help
  • supporting families and providing education and care for children and disabled persons in adult service units, group housing and government institutions

 

How do you know if you are a Residential Care Officer?

Meeting the standards required of an ANZSCO occupation is not dependant on your job title. Your official job title might be “Residential Care Officer” on your employment contract, but that does not necessarily mean you meet the ANZSCO requirements of the role. Conversely, though your official job title might be completely different from “Residential Care Officer”, you may still meet the ANZSCO requirements. More important than your job title, and even more important than your written job description, are the tasks and duties that you actually perform in your role and how these are able to be evidenced.

Unlike other roles in the care sector, Residential Care Officers are not primarily engaged in looking after the day to day needs of patients and clients. Instead they have strategic and long-term oversight of client care. In this way, Residential Care Officer roles differ from roles like that of Personal Care Assistant, Nursing Support Worker or Aged or Disabled Carer, and carry a higher ANZSCO Skill Level. However, Immigration New Zealand (INZ) has shown a tendency to assume roles in the fields of care and welfare, are primarily about personal caregiving. This is why it is important to provide very credible and well-documented evidence in support of an application, proving that you routinely perform the relevant ANZSCO tasks, as core components of your daily work. Recent decisions of the Immigration & Protection Tribunal (IPT) confirm the critical importance of evidence that specifically addresses the Residential Care Officer tasks listed by the ANZSCO.

If you currently work, or plan to work, as a Residential Care Officer, there are a number of immigration pathways to New Zealand potentially available to you. Before making an application it is strongly advised that you seek the guidance of a licensed immigration advisor. Contact Pathways NZ for more detailed information and a free preliminary assessment.

Proposed Work Visa changes will affect New Zealand Racing industry with the large number of trackwork riders holding work visas to work in New Zealand likely be negatively impacted by the changes scheduled for mid August.

 “The Ministry of Business, Innovation and Employment (MBIE) is consulting on proposed changes to temporary work visa settings, through the Essential Skills visa policy. The changes aim to ensure that settlement expectations are clear for temporary labour migrants and that the settings enable access to migrant labour where there is genuine need.

 We are consulting on the following proposals:

  • Using wage or salary information to help determine the skill level and visa conditions of Essential Skills migrants.
  • Reinforcing the temporary nature of the visa and managing the settlement expectations of Essential Skills migrants where they have no pathway to residence.
  • Reinforcing that Essential Skills visas may only be granted for the period for which the employment is offered.”

The Government has proposed changes to Essentials Skills work visas which can be  viewed at – http://www.mbie.govt.nz/info-services/immigration/consultations/proposed-changes-to-immigration-policy-settings-suite-of-proposed-changes-essential-skills-visa/discussion-document.pdf

In summary the Government proposes to use wage or salary information to help determine the skill level, visa eligibility and conditions of Essential Skills work visa applicants.

Apprentice jockey work visas are not impacted on by the proposed changes as these visas are not processed under Essential Skills work visa instructions.

However work visas issued for trackwork riders, jockeys, horse trainers, stable hands, stud grooms and any other stable staff are likely to be caught by the proposed changes.

Cabinet has agreed, in principle, to introduce pay levels to categorise employment into the three skill levels (lower, mid and higher) and it will be these pay levels which will determine visa eligibility, the visa term and visa entitlements in the future.

 

Proposed Essential Skills skill levels and associated visa conditions
Skill level Remuneration thresholds   ANZSCO Visa length Children & partner
Higher-skilled $35.24+ per hour And 1/2/3/4/5 Up to 5 years Yes
Mid-skilled $23.49 – $35.24 per hour And 1/2/3 Up to 3 years Yes
Lower-skilled $15.75 – $23.49 per hour And 1/2/3 Up to 1 year No
$15.75 – $35.24 per hour And 1/2/3

 

The key issue is that any work visa applicant whose pay rate is below $23.49 per hour would be considered to be “lower skilled” and will only be issued a work visa for 1 year. Assuming the situation remains that no New Zealanders are available to fill, or to be readily trained for the role, then the work visa can continue to be renewed every year to a maximum of 3 years.

Once a “lower-skilled” worker has reached the maximum duration of time (3 years) allowed on a “lower-skilled” Essential Skills work visa, there would be a stand-down period where they must spend one year outside of New Zealand before they are able to apply for another “lower-skilled” Essential Skills work visa. However they are able to apply for another type of work visa such as a partnership or student visa, or a “mid-skilled” work visa if their pay is $23.49 per hour or higher and thereby they can continue to remain in New Zealand. The 3 years will begin from the date any new “lower skilled” work visa is issued after the introduction of the new policy and any previous time on a work visa is not counted as part of the 3 years.

Trackwork riders, jockeys, Stallion Masters and Stud Grooms are all roles (with some geographical limitations) on the current Immigration New Zealand Immediate Skill Shortage List (ISSL). This means that these roles are accepted as being a skill shortage and the roles do not need to be advertised. The fact that trackwork riders and stud grooms are currently shown on the ISSL as being classified as “jockey” and “horse trainer” (skill level 3 roles)  is misleading and designed to suit the purposes of the current policy settings. This matter will need to be addressed if trackwork riders in particular are to remain eligible for even “lower skilled” work visas.

Additionally industry employers need to be particularly aware of the importance of keeping time and wage records and that these must accurately record their employee’s work hours. This is because of the nature and irregularity of work hours in the industry and the increased focus Immigration New Zealand now has on ensuring migrant workers are paid correctly. Because many horse industry employees are paid a set wage each week and which is at, or close to, the legal minimum wage (currently $15.75 per hour) any additional hours worked can very easily result in the hourly rate falling below the legal minimum wage – which will lead to problems with the visa application and for the employer involved.

There are additional implications for the family members of “lower skilled” work visa holders. Currently the partners of work visa holders can obtain partnership work visas and their children can be issued student visas to allow study as domestic students up to completion of secondary school. Under the proposed changes the family members of “lower skilled” work visa holders will need to obtain a visa in their own right and not as the partner/child of a work visa holder. This is a major change which will significantly impact on work visa holders who have their family with them in New Zealand, or are anticipating their family members joining them in the future.

It is important that work visa holders who have visas expiring over the next 12 months consider applying for new work visas before the policy changes are due to take effect in mid August in order to get the maximum time allowed under the current policy settings. It is similarly important that any family members now in New Zealand holding visas issued on the basis of the family relationship also extend their visas as long as possible under the current policies.

Pathways acts for many of New Zealand’s leading horse trainers with their staffing visa requirements.

For expert immigration advice contact a pathways Licensed Immigration Adviser.

Recently announced changes to the essential skills in demand lists have seen the surprise removal of several occupations in the farming sector. Assistant Herd manager and Herd Manager will be removed from the immediate skills shortage list from 30 May 2016. This will lead to increased challenges for farmers to renew the work visas for existing staff and retain valued skills on farm, it will also affect those looking to replace or increase on farm skills.

For occupations on the skills shortage list employers do not need to advertise the job and satisfy INZ that there are no New Zealanders available, as long as the person they wish to offer the job to can evidence the prescribed qualification and or work experience relevant to the role. Now with the removal of these key roles of Assistant Herd and Herd Manager, employers will need to evidence “genuine attempts” to recruit New Zealanders through advertising and a Skills Match Report check through WINZ.

These changes will take away the certainty that farmers have benefited from to date assured that they could easily retain the valued skills of foreign workers essential for the running of their farm operations and for the workers themselves many of whom have held work visas for many years a greater level of uncertainty as to their future in New Zealand.

The changes will come into effect from 30 May 2016 for the new dairy season, all work visa applications submitted before this date should be assessed under the current ISSL rules, it is therefore essential for work visa holders to lodge their new work visa applications in plenty of time so that they can be assessed and decided before the cut off date. This is or particular importance for those who may be changing jobs where they will not have the benefits of an interim visa that allows them to continue working whilst their application is decided.

For anyone who has a work visa expiring after 30 May 2016 serious consideration should be given to applying for a new work visa before these changes come in to place and protect the option to secure a new work visa now rather than the heightened risk of satisfying a labour market test in the future. Of course it all depends on exactly when their visa is due to expire and whether the employer is willing to offer a longer term contract.

Currently work visas for these positions are typically issued for 2 years but given the duration that a work visa is issued for is discretionary we may find that closer to the cut off of the change that we will see this reduced to 12 months. The longer that an employer is prepared to offer an employment contract for, and ideally this will be permanent, then this will help securing a longer term work visa.

For anyone who may be affected by these changes we strongly suggest to take professional advice at the earliest opportunity so they can receive appropriate guidance and form a plan to move forward.