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From 18 June 2020, partners and dependents of New Zealand citizens and residents, who have been separated from their New Zealand-resident relatives, may travel to New Zealand unaccompanied by their New Zealand citizen or resident partners. Because of coronavirus, New Zealand’s border restrictions have been very strict, with exemptions only made for those travelling here for critical purposes. Until now, relatives of New Zealand citizens and residents have only been able to enter the country, if travelling with their New Zealand partner or parent. Indications have been that this will be only the first of such policies, designed to make it easier for people with existing visas to enter New Zealand if they have found themselves stuck overseas.

Also starting today, the criteria for ‘other essential workers’ have changed, allowing ‘high value workers on projects of national or regional significance’. INZ have advised of the scenarios in which an ‘other essential worker’ may be regarded as an exception to the border closure.

For a short-term role (less than six months):

  • The worker must have unique experience and technical or specialist skills that are not obtainable in New Zealand, or
  • The work must be significant in terms of a major infrastructure project, or event of national or regional importance, or government approved programme, or in support of a government-to-government agreement, or have significant benefit to the national or regional economy, and
  • The role must be time critical (e.g. if the person does not come to New Zealand, the project, work or event will cease or be severely compromised, or significant costs will be incurred),

For a longer-term role (more than six months), the worker must:

  • meet one of the short-term criteria, and
  • earn twice the median salary (as an indicator of high skills), or
  • have a role that is essential for the completion or continuation of science programmes under a government funded or partially government-funded contract, including research and development exchanges and partnerships.
  • have a role that is essential for the delivery or execution of a government approved event, or programme that is of major significance to New Zealand.

This relaxing of border closure rules is reflective of New Zealand’s success in combatting COVID-19 to date. Following the passing of the Immigration (COVID-19 Response) Amendment Act 2020 last month, policy changes which progressively open the border for certain categories of people have been anticipated.

Though these particular changes are only now taking effect, Cabinet agreed to these adjustments last week. At that time, Immigration Minister Iain Lees-Galloway spoke with media to indicate the cautious easing of restrictions was likely to continue. He stated that the next group to be addressed was likely to be temporary visa holders, ordinarily resident in New Zealand, who have been unable to return here during the coronavirus outbreak. This group is estimated to comprise around 10,000 people. Particularly in the minds of policy makers, are those offshore temporary visa holders who have lived in New Zealand for a long time, who have secure jobs, and family and future residence prospects here. We were also hopeful that the Government may also turn their attention to first-time resident visa holders.

However, it is possible that with the three new cases of COVID-19 confirmed this week, two as a result of mismanaged quarantining at the border, the Government may now be more reticent to relax the rules around who can enter the country, as well as why they do so, and how they do so. We were expecting announcements on a regular basis as to further relaxation of border restrictions, but the Government’s new priority may now shift to restoring confidence in border safeguards and the managed isolation process.

As well as the integrity of managed isolation protocols and the availability of quarantine places (3,200 – or 250 people a day), immigration policy also continues to be dependent on New Zealand’s broader COVID-19 situation, the country’s economic stability and labour market conditions.

It is difficult to know when newer, or recently approved, work visa holders will be allowed to enter New Zealand and this may not be for a considerable length of time. Even when this occurs, holders of already-approved work visas are very likely to have to undergo an updated labour market check. Indeed, we are already seeing instances of this. Work visa applications of New Zealand-based applicants, lodged prior to the lockdown, are only now beginning to be processed. As part of their assessment, INZ are requesting that the relevant job be re-advertised, to confirm there are no New Zealand citizens or residents now available and suitable to take up the role. Given the rise in COVID-19-related unemployment, in several of these cases it has indeed transpired that New Zealanders are now available to do the job – meaning the work visa application has been unable to be progressed.

In any case, strict border restrictions will remain in place for an extended time and, at present, it is not possible to predict exactly what will happen next. However, we remain optimistic that border restrictions will continue to be responsibly relaxed. If you fall into one of the new categories of exemption or would like to discuss your immigration options with a Licensed Immigration Adviser, contact Pathways today.

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.

An epidemic notice has been issued under the Epidemic Preparedness Act 2006, in effect from Thursday 2 April 2020. This means temporary visa holders whose visas were due to expire between 1 April 2020 and 9 July 2020, will receive an automatic visa extension.

Pathways’ physical offices will remain closed during Alert Level 3, but our immigration advisers will still be available to assist with your visa matters and enquiries.

All Pathways’ staff have been working from home under the Alert Level 4 lockdown, as per our Government’s directive. We will continue working from home under Alert Level 3, which begins at 11.59pm on Monday 27 April. All telephone calls and emails to Pathways have been, and will continue to be received and responded to exactly as they would be normally. Visa enquiries and visa application work and lodgements continues as normal. The only difference is that our Hamilton and Wellington offices are not open to the public but, if you must deliver documents, please telephone and suitable arrangements will be made.

The whole world is impacted by the outbreak of COVID-19 and our top priority is the health and wellbeing of our wonderful country and especially of all of our staff and clients.

These changes will not compromise our ability to continue to deliver the high quality, trusted and expert immigration services for which Pathways is reputed. Most of our work, including visa applications, is able to be undertaken by phone, video conference and email and it is not actually necessary to meet in person (although in normal circumstances this is always our preference).

Our hearts and thoughts are with those people and businesses that have been affected by this worldwide outbreak and we strongly urge everyone in New Zealand to follow the Government guidelines to do what they can to minimise the impact to our country.

Stay safe and look after yourself and those around you, in particular those who are most vulnerable. 

More information about coronavirus, including how to self-isolate, is available on the Ministry of Health website.

More information about Alert Levels 3 and 4 is available on the Government’s official COVID-19 website.

A major shake up of essential skills work visa instructions is due to affect thousands of current work visa holders and their employers from the end of August.

The government has just confirmed the main details of the changes to essential skills work visa instructions which will be effective from 28 August. The changes will mostly affect those in lower skilled roles and will now limited the period of time they can remain in New Zealand before an enforced stand-down period and restricting their ability to support partnership and dependent visa applications.

Under the new rules, similarly to the SMC changes salary bands have been introduced that will determine whether an applicant is considered Low, Mid or Higher Skilled. The salary band’s are set based upon national median earnings.

  • Higher skilled individuals can be working in an ANZSCO occupation regardless of ANZSCO skills level and must have a minimum salary of more than $35.24ph and may be issued a work visa for up to 5 years in duration.
  • Mid-Skilled individuals  only applies to ANZSCO occupations skill level 1,2 and 3 with a salary of between $19.99 and $35.24ph, they be granted a work visa up to 3 years in duration.
  • Lower skilled individuals applies to ANZSCO occupations skill level 1,2 and 3 with a salary less than $19.99ph and ANZSCO occupations skill level 4 and 5 with a salary under $35.24, they will be granted a work visa up to 1 year in duration.

Changes to Lower Skilled Work Visa Holders

There are two significant changes that will affect lower skilled work visa holders.

  • They will only be able to work for a maximum of 3 years in lower skilled roles before they are required to spend 12 months outside of New Zealand before they can be granted a further lower skilled work visa.
  • They will no longer be able to support partnership work visas nor student visas for dependents as domestic students. Accompanying family members will be required to be eligible in their own right for essential skills or fee paying student respectively.  They will be able to access short term visitor visas.

Transitional instructions for those already in New Zealand holding Work Visas

A transitional policy has been put in place to protect those people and their families who are already in New Zealand and hold work visas that will be classified as lower skilled.

  • The 3 year period will not be retrospectively applied. It will begin from the time the next lower skilled visa is issued.
  • Accompanying family members already in New Zealand will be eligible for visas that have the same rights and conditions as those they currently hold and when the changes are implemented for the period of time that the main applicant remains lawfully in New Zealand. This means accompanying partners who hold work visas will be eligible for further partnership work visas for up to a further 3 years, and accompanying dependents  student visas with domestic student for the same period.
Further Review of Policy

A further review of the policy along with associated graduate work visa policy will take place later this year. It has been indicated that the review will look into whether there is a need for more specific regional and/or industry sector application of policy to recognise the variances that exist. The review will also attempt to better classify those roles that exist but do not have a clear ANZSCO occupation and how these should be treated to fit in the salary matrix. There will also be a review of graduate work visa instructions in respect to the ability of these visa holders to support accompanying family members.

It is always highly recommended professional advice is obtained from a licensed immigration adviser to best determine how these or any other policy changes may affect a person’s current immigration situation and future visa pathways.

The Skilled Migrant Category (SMC) is the main residence category and makes up over 50% of New Zealand’s residence programme.  In April the Government announced a number of changes to the SMC and these will take effect from 28 August 2017. Expressions of Interest under the existing policy, the first stage of a SMC application, were stopped on 19 July and from this time, and until the new policy takes effect, it has not been possible to begin a new SMC application.

A key change of the new SMC policy is the introduction of salary thresholds to, in part, determine if employment is “skilled”. These salary thresholds are indexed to the New Zealand median income of $48,859 and will be reviewed every year. Employment roles which are classified as ANZSCO (Australia & New Zealand Standard Classification of Occupations) skill level 1, 2 or 3 roles must have a salary of $48,859 in order to be able to be awarded SMC points. This salary equates to $23.49 per hour for a 40 hour work week.

For all other employment roles which are not at ANZSCO skill level 1,2 or 3 the salary must be $73,299 or $35.24 per hour.

If the employment is for at least 30 hours per week and at, or above, the mentioned hourly rates, then this is acceptable.

There will also be bonus points for applicants who earn over $97,718 per year.

It is expected that INZ will closely investigate those applicants who will have had recent significant pay increases which have resulted in their salary rising to the above thresholds to confirm these increases were genuine and merited.

More SMC points will be available for greater work experience. However this work experience must be assessed as being skilled work experience requiring, most likely, that this experience be consistent with ANZSCO skill level 1,2 or 3 roles. This requirement is expected to prove one of the more contentious and challenging changes as it will significantly disadvantage younger applicants and recent graduates whose work experience is less likely to be assessed as being skilled.

The changes will also result in applicants aged 30-39 years, and those with postgraduate qualifications, to be able to claim more points (than currently).

A number of points criteria from the existing SMC policy will be removed including those relating to close family in New Zealand, points associated with Identified Future Growth Area and for qualifications in an area of absolute skills shortage. The additional points offered for skilled employment outside of Auckland will remain but the points available for New Zealand work experience will be limited to 12 months only.

INZ will need to allow some time, after 28 August, for applicants who have EOIs currently sitting in the EOI pool to review and edit their EOIs according to the policy changes and for new EOIs to be submitted under the new policy. For this reason we do not expect to see the next EOI selection draw until at least 6 September and probably 13 September. While applicants only need to claim 100 points for their EOI to be submitted into the pool the passmark has been retained at 160 points since October 2016. It is expected the Government may initially keep this same passmark and wait and see the level of EOIs which are able to be selected. There will be a build up of EOIs due to the 2 month closure and due to the group of applicants who are immediately eligible under the new points criteria, however the expectation is that the passmark will need to reduce from 160 points in the future in order for the residence programme target to be met.

It is always highly recommended professional advice is obtained from a licensed immigration adviser to best determine how these or any other policy changes may affect a person’s current immigration situation and future visa pathways.

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.

Significant and wide ranging changes to the skilled migrant category (SMC) have been announced and are due to become effective from August.

The NZ Government has announced a range of changes for what it says are “designed to better manage immigration and improve the labour market contribution of temporary and permanent migration.”

Two wage thresholds are being introduced for SMC residence applicants which will be used to determine whether employment is skilled for the purpose of granting points for any employment role. An equally significant change is that points for work experience will be increased but only work experience which is assessed as “skilled” can be relied upon. SMC points for age will increase for applicants aged 30-39 as the Government changes its focus from younger, recently graduated, applicants, to those who have more work experience and who can contribute more quickly and constructively to the workforce. Points will no longer be available for qualifications in areas of absolute skills shortage, future growth areas and for having close family living in New Zealand.

Those who will benefit from these changes include people:

  • Whose jobs are not currently recognised as being skilled and cannot currently rely on these jobs for a SMC residence application. The proposed changes will allow these jobs to be assessed as being skilled if they are paid at or above $73,299 per year (or $35.24 per hour).
  • Whose income is $97,719 per year (or $46.98 per hour) will be eligible for 20 bonus points.
  • Who are aged from 30 to 39 will be awarded 30 points for their age
  • Who have longer work experience and this is experience is in skilled roles
  • Who have recognised higher level qualifications at level 9 or 10 (Master’s degrees or Doctorates) who will be awarded 70 points.

Who will be disadvantaged by the policy changes?

  • People whose jobs are currently considered skilled but who are paid less than $48,859 per year (or $23.49 per hour) will not be able to claim points for skilled employment. This new wage threshold will affect many occupations but particularly Restaurant Managers, Chefs, Retail Managers and ICT Technicians which are the most popular occupations under the current SMC policy.
  • Younger people and recent graduates will be disadvantaged as they will unlikely be able to claim points for skilled work experience

It has yet to be confirmed but it is expected that the proposed changes will be introduced in mid August 2017. The last Expression of Interest (EOI) selection draw may therefore be on the 2nd or the 16th of August. It is our understanding that EOIs selected before the changes are implemented will have their residence applications processed under the current SMC policy. NB: an EOI cannot proceed until the principal applicant has met the English language requirement.

Anyone who is considering a SMC residence application should urgently seek professional advice from a Pathways Licensed Immigration Adviser to determine if they are eligible to apply for residence now and before the proposed policy changes are introduced.