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Immigration New Zealand (INZ) have announced extensions for some residence applicants who have received an Invitation to Apply (ITA).

If you:

  • submitted an Expression of Interest (EOI) for a Skilled Migrant Category (SMC) residence visa, or
  • submitted an EOI for an Investor 2 residence visa, and
  • received an ITA between 1 November 2019 and 15 April 2020

–then you now have an additional six months to submit your residence application.

The normal timeframe to submit an application after receiving an EOI is four months. With the additional six months, the new time allowance is a total of 10 months from the date of the ITA. This extension is an acknowledgement of the significant difficulties applicants have been experiencing in compiling the required documents and information to lodge their residence application.

The Immigration (COVID-19 Response) Amendment Bill 2020, which was passed last week, offered some hope that the Government would exercise its new powers to waive some mandatory document requirements. It appears that a different approach is being taken. Though this extension of time is good news, it strongly suggests that INZ will be unlikely to waive any lodgement requirements pertaining to mandatory documents as it should now be possible to organise these in the extended time being given.

This new move may also enable INZ to stagger their processing of residence applications. The huge queue of unprocessed applications has been a cause of distress for some time now. The global crisis and COVID-19 lockdown have exacerbated this problem, setting back INZ workforce capabilities and slowing down the processing timeframes even further. By allowing applicants more time to submit, INZ are also potentially allowing themselves more time to process applications.

Regardless of this extension, it remains our strong recommendation that all residence applicants submit their applications as soon as possible. Do not delay an application because there is more time.  The processing queue is only getting longer. Applications are prioritised according to new COVID-19 prioritisation criteria. After taking account of these priorities all other applications are assessed in date order of lodgement.

If you would like help with your residence application, or you are having difficulties compiling your residence application documents, please contact Pathways 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.

*Update: this Bill has now been through the select committee process and was passed on 15 May 2020. The Bill has been modified and now contains explicit safeguards designed to ensure that the new powers cannot be used to materially disadvantage the class of visa holders concerned. Exactly what the Government will do with these powers is yet to be announced.*

 

The Immigration (COVID-19 Response) Amendment Bill 2020, introduced to Parliament this week, is intended to give the Government greater flexibility and capacity  to respond to the immigration challenges posed by the COVID-19 outbreak.

The powers set out in the Bill are specifically for the purposes of addressing the COVID-19 outbreak and because the powers proposed are extraordinary, and only for a specified purpose, the powers are time-limited. It is expected the Bill will pass into law by 15 May 2020.

The eight powers the Government is proposing to introduce into the Immigration Act 2009, are:

  • the power to impose, vary or cancel conditions for classes of temporary entry class visa holders
  • the power to vary or cancel conditions for classes of resident class visa holders
  • the power to extend the expiry dates of visas for classes of people
  • the power to grant visas to individuals and classes of people in the absence of an application
  • the power to waive any regulatory requirements for certain classes of application
  • the power to waive the requirement to obtain a transit visa
  • the power to suspend the ability to make applications for visas or submit Expressions of Interest in applying for visas by classes of people, and
  • the power to revoke the entry permission of people who arrive either on private aircraft or marine vessels (to align them with people who arrive on commercial flights, who can already be refused entry).

There are several reasons for the Government to introduce this legislation with urgency.

There are some 350,000 temporary visa holders now in New Zealand who cannot travel home, and this situation may last for some time. Immigration New Zealand already has long visa processing queues and has had, and will continue to have for the foreseeable future, significantly reduced visa processing capability. Immigration New Zealand has a significant visa bottle-neck that is only going to get worse and something needs to be done to address this.

The legislation will enable large numbers of visa holders and applicants to have their visa situations addressed unilaterally, which is a much quicker, more efficient and cost-effective method than having to deal with many thousands of individual visa applications. And, in order for the processing queues not to keep getting longer, the Bill looks likely to stop some new visa applications, potentially visitor and work visas, from being lodged for offshore applicants. This makes sense as these people are currently unable to enter the country anyway until border restrictions are eased.

This Bill is a necessary step to enable swift changes to immigration settings during this extraordinary time and represents a genuine attempt by government to help migrants who are currently in a vulnerable and uncertain visa situation. Our understanding is that these powers will be used for the benefit of migrants, and not to their detriment, and on this basis Pathways’ generally welcomes the legislation – subject as always to the policy detail.

It is not clear at this stage exactly what these powers will mean for particular visa holders or applicants however we have formed the following preliminary views based on our reading of the situation. It should be appreciated that these are only our views on potential outcomes of this Bill at this time and readers should form their own views on what the Bill will mean for them.

The power to impose, vary or cancel conditions for classes of temporary entry class visa holders

Our view is that this power is intended to relax employment conditions and to allow the redeployment of migrant workers to a different employer or location. We are hopeful that this could lead to open work visas conditions for existing work visa holders or, at least, more flexible work visa conditions – possibly for up to 6 months or longer.

Many work visa holders have either lost their jobs or have had their wages and/or work hours reduced, all of which means they are technically in breach of their visa conditions. Varying the work visa conditions could, and should, at least alleviate these current visa breaches. This would be good news for employers also who are equally desperate for stability at this time.

This power could be used to “revisit” already approved offshore work visas which were approved on the basis of labour market conditions at that time. The labour market is now changing and the job may no longer be available or it can now be filled by a New Zealander. Offshore low-skilled work visa holders would appear to be most at risk here.

It is hoped that this opportunity is taken to also address the situation with work-to-residence visa holders whose remuneration has fallen below the policy threshold through no fault of their own.

The power to vary or cancel conditions for classes of resident class visa holders           

Our view is that this power should extend the timeframe in which an offshore resident visa holder has to enter New Zealand for the first time – as these people cannot currently enter New Zealand and are at risk of losing their resident visa status.

The power to cancel resident visa conditions most likely relates to Section 49 of the Immigration Act and could be applied to those conditions which require visa holders to work in specific employment for 3 or 12 months. It could potentially also be applied to Investor Residence visa holders who are required to spend a designated number of days in New Zealand but have been unable to do so due to travel restrictions.

It is interesting that in the introduction of the Bill mention was made of the 20,000 Skilled Migrant Resident visa holders who obtained residence since April 2018. There is no obvious reason to mention this unless thought is being given to using the Bill’s powers to, potentially, extend the travel conditions of Resident Visa holders or even transition these holders to permanent residence.

The practical application of this power remains to be seen.

The power to extend the expiry dates of visas for classes of people

This proposed power could be used to address the situation where an approved visa holder is unable to enter New Zealand by the first-entry date stipulated by their visa. However, this still does not get these people through the border and any extension will need to be aligned with some relaxation of the current border restrictions and we do not know as yet when this will happen.

Another potential application could be to provide a further extension to temporary visa holders in New Zealand, if travel restrictions remain and people cannot access flights to get home. In early April Immigration New Zealand was able to unilaterally extend the temporary visas of some 85,000 visa holders in New Zealand whose visas were expiring between 2 April 2020 and 9 July 2020. All these people had their visas extended to 25 September and this action was enabled under the Epidemic Management Notice issued by the Government. It is pragmatic and cost effective for the Government to manage significant numbers and types of visas in this manner and in conjunction with its COVID-19 management and planning.

The power to grant visas to individuals and classes of people in the absence of an application

This power affords flexibility to accommodate unusual or urgent situations. A specific intention of this power is to allow the grant of visas to persons who are unable to submit an application, for example, due to sickness.

The power to waive any regulatory requirements for certain classes of application        

This would allow INZ to waive mandatory application requirements which may be difficult to meet in the current circumstances. Such requirements could include immigration medicals, police certificates and other mandatory documents which simply cannot be obtained at present. The question remains whether an applicant’s SMC Invitation to Apply (ITA) expiry date will be extended. If the expiry date is not extended can the application be accepted for lodgment with an automatic waiver for particular lodgment requirements or will each applicant need to first obtain a waiver approval from INZ?

The power to suspend the ability to make applications for visas or submit Expressions of Interest in applying for visas by classes of people

The apparent purpose of this power is to stop applicants from lodging new applications. The main reason for this potential outcome is that INZ does not have visa processing capability currently and it does not wish to see the visa queue grow further until it has this capability – which may not be for some time.  This power also accommodates the situation that offshore applicants are not able to actually travel to New Zealand and there is no point in them making visa applications until the border is opened to allow their entry.

There are many possible applications of this power, and the full extent of it is not clear.

In the immediate short term, it could be that INZ will not accept any new visitor visa applications or low skilled work visa applications from offshore applicants. EOI draws for SMC and Parent Category visas have already been suspended, and it is likely, under this power, that EOI submissions could cease to be accepted in these categories for up to 3 months (at a time). Again there is no point in allowing an EOI to proceed to a residence invitation if an applicant cannot provide the mandatory application documents.

We expect that Investor 2 Category EOIs will be unaffected given the clear need for economic stimulation in the wake of COVID-19.

Until more information becomes available, it is not certain exactly what the implications of these proposed powers will be on immigration policy and visa processing but there is no doubt they will be significant and far-reaching – and in the main, will address the current uncertainties of many visa holders.

One thing we do know is that there will be huge financial implications for Immigration New Zealand. It would have lost $20 million or more in foregone application fees from its temporary visa extension action in April and this is likely to rise substantially with actions resulting from this new Bill.

The focus of the Bill is largely on the temporary visa situation, which is understandable. The pity is that there are some 20,000+ residence applications sitting in the queue to be processed. These are for individuals and families whose lives are on hold waiting for the long term security a resident visa will give them to plan and get on with their lives in New Zealand. This empowerment to buy a home and to actually spend money to build their future is exactly the type of impetus New Zealand needs at this time to get the economy moving.  Alas this may be just a bridge too far!

Information about the Select Committee process, including a copy of the Bill is available on the New Zealand Parliament website.

If you would like to discuss what these proposed powers could mean for you and your immigration journey, please contact Pathways to speak with a licensed immigration adviser.

 

INZ have announced the deferral of Expression of Interest (EOI) selections for Skilled Migrant Category and Parent Category residence visas. This decision, a consequence of the coronavirus outbreak, is a temporary measure. INZ have stated that this situation will be reassessed as the COVID-19 situation continues to unfold.

This decision has been made for a number of reasons:

  • INZ’s visa processing capabilities are significantly reduced, and all available resources are being put towards essential services visa applications.
  • Obtaining the necessary documents and evidence to make an application for one of the relevant residence visas is very difficult at this time.
  • To mitigate risks to public health, the Government wishes to discourage travel while New Zealand is at a heightened COVID-19 alert level.
  • There are currently severe restrictions on entry to New Zealand.
  • It is in the interests of fairness to discourage applications that are currently unable to be processed.

The coronavirus outbreak has caused global upheaval, and this inevitably means that immigration policy is majorly impacted. While this deferral decision will be disappointing for many, it is a necessary decision, commensurate with the Government’s other changes to immigration policy, and New Zealand’s broader COVID-19 pandemic response.

Skilled Migrant Category

The Skilled Migrant Category (SMC) selections usually take place fortnightly, but is now one of the visa categories put on hold. Prior to the COVID-19 crisis, there had been a lot of public discussion about the growing queue of residence visa applicants, waiting to have their applications processed by INZ.

It is very unfortunate that SMC applicants will have to wait even longer for a residence visa outcome. However, given the state of affairs – and the fact that INZ simply do not have staff available to manage the selection of EOIs, or the Invitation to Apply (ITA) – it is understandable that these applicants have been asked to endure a further wait. Indeed, continuing to select EOIs from the SMC pool when there is no capability to process them, would only exacerbate the problem and create an even longer queue.

Parent Category

The now-deferred draw, which was scheduled for May, would have been the first selection from the Parent Category EOI pool. Parent Category applicants have weathered many difficulties in their visa journeys so far. The new Parent Category policy, which set a high eligibility threshold for applicants, has only been in force since February. Prior to that, the category had been closed for three years. Again, this deferral decision is very disappointing to those who have submitted an EOI in this category, but given the truly extraordinary circumstances, this decision seems inevitable.

What now?

While no EOI draws for SMC and Parent Category visas are happening at this time, INZ have stressed that it is a temporary measure. These draws will reopen. If you are interested in making an application for either of these residence categories, it is a good idea to obtain professional advice now, so that you have time to assess your options and plan for your future.

If you would like to do this, please contact Pathways for a free initial consultation. All of our Licensed Immigration Advisers are working from home during the national lockdown and are available to assist you with your immigration questions.

The uncertainty around coronavirus intensifies uncertainty for New Zealand work visa holders.

Residence Visa applicants face continued wait times, as Immigration New Zealand (INZ) struggles to get through lodged applications. The problem is exacerbated by the lack of clear Government direction on aspects of immigration policy, and this uncertainty is likely to persist until after this year’s election.

Three years ago, there were about 150,000 people in New Zealand on all types of work visas and about 50,000 people a year were being approved for residence. Today there are almost 300,000 people – six percent of New Zealand’s population – now holding work visas and only 35,000 people a year are being approved for residence.

The number of people, under all categories, who can be approved for residence is determined by the New Zealand Residence Programme which is the name the Government gives to the number of people able to be approved for residence in any period. The most recent Residence Programme ran for the 18-month period ending 31 December 2019 and allowed for between 50,000 and 60,000 people to be approved for residence during that timeframe.

The Government has yet to decide on the Residence Programme numbers from the beginning of 2020 and this has left Immigration New Zealand in the difficult position of having to manage its residence application processing without any Government guidance or targets. This Government indecision is likely an outcome of the competing (and perhaps discordant) priorities within the coalition Government, intensified by election year politicking. However, even if a new Residence Programme is introduced in the near future, the number of residence approvals is highly unlikely to see an increase over the previous Programme number. In all likelihood, the number will be the same or reduced.

It is an understandable consequence of the high number of people now holding work visas, that a greater number of people can now qualify for residence and have lodged their residence applications. This has resulted in a greater number of mainly Skilled Migrant Category (SMC) and Residence-from-work (RFW) residence applications in the queue. This increase in residence applications, together with the limitations imposed by the previous Residence Programme, and now the lack of any Programme, has rendered INZ unable to process residence applications in a timely and transparent manner.

Late last year, media reports (extrapolating from INZ figures) stated that the number of days it took for 75 percent of resident visas to be processed had increased by 76 days. This was despite INZ hiring 177 more staff. High staff turnover and the diverting of Immigration Officers away from residence processing to undertake the increased volume and urgency associated with work visa applications (at historically high levels), has not helped to relieve the significant pressure on residence visa processing times.

The outcome is that there are SMC applications lodged in December 2018 that are still waiting for allocation to an Immigration Officer and, at the end of January 2020, there were some 25,600 people with SMC applications and over 4,100 people with RFW applications in the residence queue. This number of people, in just these two residence categories, is sufficient to almost fill the expected annual Residence Programme from applications already on hand – and yet even more residence applications are being lodged daily.

INZ will have received a high, and increasing, level of enquiries from frustrated and anxious applicants regarding what is happening with their application and, in response, INZ has now published new criteria for which residence applications will prioritised for processing:

  1. SMC applications with job offers, with priority given to applicants:
    a. with a pay rate equivalent to $51.00 per hour or more
    b. who have jobs for which Immigration Instructions require occupational registration
  2. All business categories (Investor & Entrepreneur)
  3. RFW (Talent/ Accredited Employer, Religious Worker, Long Term Skills Shortage), with priority given to applicants:
    a. with a pay rate equivalent to $51.00 per hour or more
    b. who have jobs for which Immigration Instructions require occupational registration

Family category applications also now have particular criteria for being prioritised.

In essence, the now published priority criteria simply puts on paper what has actually been happening in practice over the past six months as INZ has been grappling with how to manage the increased application numbers in the absence of any clear Government directive. We do not see that much will now change in regard to processing times for most applications except for the increased transparency, and the heightened expectations of those applicants who can meet the priority criteria.

It should be appreciated that the updated priority criteria will neither reduce the current backlog nor will it defuse the fundamental tensions in the immigration system. These tensions have yet to fully play out and we see the above changes as, very much, an interim measure while INZ and the Government decide on more long term and definitive solutions to manage residence numbers and application processing.

In the meantime, if you meet the eligibility criteria for a Residence Visa, applying now will at least place your application in the queue for processing. Once in the queue, immigration instructions in effect at the time you submitted your application will continue to apply to that application. This can afford some measure of protection against the yet-to-be-announced changes to immigration policy and the uncertainty and indecision symptomatic of an election year.

If you wish to apply for a Residence Visa and would like to discuss your options, contact Pathways NZ 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.

The New Zealand Government’s new KiwiBuild scheme will see changes to immigration settings in order to help the construction and housing sector to attract overseas skilled workers.

The government’s response to New Zealand’s shortage of affordable housing is the new KiwiBuild scheme which will see the construction of 100,000 starter homes for first home buyers over the next ten years, with half of those new houses earmarked for the Auckland region.

The Ministry for Business, Innovation and Employment (MBIE) projected in late 2017 that there could be a potential shortfall of approximately 30,000 workers to meet increasing demand in housing and infrastructure, with this number likely to rise as a result of the KiwiBuild initiative. The shortage affects all skills categories in the construction sector but particular growth is expected in the demand for plumbers, electricians, builders, civil engineers and project managers.

The proposed changes, which are expected to come in to force late 2018 or early 2019, include three key components.

The first is a dedicated KiwiBuild Skills Shortage List. This list will identify specific roles for which the immigration process will be streamlined. The list will expand on the innovations introduced in the Canterbury Skills Shortage List, which was brought in after the Christchurch earthquake to help with the city’s rebuild.

For roles included on the KiwiBuild Skills Shortage List, an employer may not need to prove to Immigration New Zealand that they have made a genuine attempt to employ a New Zealand citizen or resident visa holder for the position.

The second component of the change will provide advantages for companies who have proven standards as good employers in the construction sector. Employer accreditation or pre-approval should see faster processing and greater simplicity in visa applications.

Employers will be able to benefit from this streamlined process if they reach high standards of health and safety, have good business practices and can demonstrate good employment conditions, pay, training, skills development and pastoral care.

For employers who comply with the pre-approval criteria this will offer greater opportunities to plan their workforce and hire overseas workers to meet the expected demand.

During periods of skills shortage there is often concern around the risk of exploitation of migrant workers through lower wages and poor working conditions. The third component of the proposed changes will put in place steps to minimise that risk by introducing specific requirements for labour hire companies, establishing a mandatory accreditation scheme to cover third party arrangements.

This Immigration New Zealand accreditation is likely to require labour hire companies to pay workers at least the market rate and offer terms and conditions equivalent to the hire company’s other employees, as well as ensuring equity across all employees’ terms and conditions. The accreditation may also see hire companies having to meet the upfront costs of worker recruitment.

Hire companies will also likely be responsible for ensuring that contracted third parties uphold good practices in the workplace.  Failure to comply with this and any of the new proposed changes could mean that Immigration New Zealand could cancel the hire company’s accreditation and the benefits that go with it.

The Government may also consider the option that work visas issued under the KiwiBuild Skills Shortage list may have more flexible conditions and could, for example, require the worker just to work in their specific role and not restrict the worker to a particular employer or location.

Recruiting to meet periods of high demand and maintaining legal and ethical obligations in employing migrant staff can be complex. We recommend that employers begin this process with the benefit of professional advice and assistance on visa matters from an experienced Licenced Immigration Adviser or Immigration Lawyer.

The Pathways New Zealand team will be monitoring progress on these proposals and will confirm the final details of the changes once they are announced.

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.