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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.

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.

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.

Immigration New Zealand’s recent change to increase the Skilled Migrant Category (SMC) passmark to 160 points has left many prospective applicants questioning how they will ever meet this new higher passmark. Hairdressers are particularly affected by this change.

There are some 350 hairdressers in New Zealand holding work visas and many of these people will have been planning to obtain New Zealand residence. Although these hairdressers will be able to claim points for skilled employment most will not now be able to reach the 160 points unless they can also claim points for a recognised qualification.

Experienced hairdressers who lack formal qualifications have the option to gain a New Zealand qualification, based on their skills and experience, through the New Zealand Hair and Beauty Industry Training Organisation (HITO). Hairdressers who are favourably assessed by the HITO can be awarded a New Zealand qualification. If this qualification is a level 4 New Zealand Certificate or National Certificate, or a higher qualification, then this qualification can contribute qualification points towards their SMC residence application. This process is called QbyE – qualification by experience.

For migrant hairdressers, gaining a recognised level 4 or higher New Zealand qualification, can contribute 40 points to their SMC points total and this can mean the difference between being eligible to apply for residence or remaining on work visas and having to find another pathway towards residence. For example: a 35-year-old hairdresser with 5 years of experience, who has been working in New Zealand for a year and has employment as a hairdresser outside of Auckland may claim around 125 SMC points (it is possible other points could be claimed). The additional 40 points awarded for a recognised NZ hairdressing qualification would mean this hairdresser would achieve the new SMC points threshold of 160.

Another significant recent change to the SMC policy was the introduction of more stringent English language requirements. Applicants who are not citizens of the UK, Ireland, Canada or USA must now evidence their English by undertaking one of several English language tests available.

More SMC policy changes will be introduced in 2017 which are expected to be increasingly targeted at the skill sets the Government wishes to attract and retain in New Zealand. It is possible these changes may further contribute to the challenges hairdressers face in obtaining residence.

The recent changes to the SMC residence category are indeed “challenging” and this is especially the case for particular employment roles such as hairdressers. While the process to obtain New Zealand residence has become more difficult this goal is still possible if hairdressers are able to claim SMC qualification points and can meet the English standard. However they and their employers will need to be proactive in this endeavour as the current opportunity may not be available from around mid-2017 when the further significant SMC policy changes are due to be introduced.

For expert immigration advice contact a Pathways Licenced Immigration Adviser.

Immigration New Zealand announced major changes to the Skilled Migrant Category (SMC) to take effect from 12 October.

These changes affect many prospective migrants and are part of an overall strategy to reduce, by 5,000 per year, the number of people who are granted New Zealand residence. The new planning range is for 85,000 to 95,000 people to obtain residence over the next two years of whom 50,500 to 57,500 people will obtain residence from the SMC and business categories.

Places under the SMC have been in very high demand and there have been concerns raised at the increasing number of places taken up by people with relatively low level qualifications and employment roles. The policy changes increase the points threshold required for applicants to become eligible to apply for SMC residence and implement more robust English language requirements, and how these are to be met.

Summary of key changes

  • Minimum points required for EOI selection has been increased from 140 to 160 and only EOI’s scoring 160 points or more will be selected for the foreseeable future. Previously applicants scoring 100 points, including points for skilled employment, were able to be selected.
  • New English Language evidence requirements;
    • citizenship of Canada, the Republic of Ireland, the United Kingdom or the United States of America provided the applicant has spent at least five years in work or education in one or more of those countries or Australia or New Zealand; or
    • a recognised qualification comparable to a New Zealand level 7 bachelor’s degree and gained in Australia, Canada, New Zealand, the Republic of Ireland, the United Kingdom or the United States of America as a result of study undertaken for at least two academic years in one or more of those countries; or
    • a recognised qualification comparable to a New Zealand qualification at level 8 or above and gained in Australia, Canada, New Zealand, the Republic of Ireland, the United Kingdom or the United States of America as a result of study undertaken for at least one academic year in one or more of those countries; otherwise
    • IELTS 6.5 mandatory requirement

Previously there was a wider range of options to evidence an applicant’s English language including working in skilled employment in New Zealand for one year. This option is no longer available and applicants who do not otherwise meet one of the above requirements must pass the IELTS test. Additional English test options will also be introduced from 21 November.

Applicants who already have Skilled Migrant Category residence applications under process or received their residence invitation before 12 October, and are yet to submit their application, will not be affected by the changes.

For many prospective applicants the main challenge will be to achieve the required 160 points for their EOI to be selected and in this regard the 30 bonus points available for employment outside of Auckland are likely to prove pivotal. The new English language requirement may also prove a difficult hurdle for many applicants.

More policy changes are expected in November to further fine tune the SMC policy. It is possible these changes may include the introduction of additional points criteria to recognise applicants in high level employment roles who would otherwise not be able to achieve the 160 points. It is also possible changes may be made to employment roles such as retail and restaurant manager, and chef, which Immigration New Zealand have identified as being “over-weighted” in SMC statistics.

Immigration policy changes always result in a great deal of uncertainty and misinformation and obtaining professional advice from a Licensed Immigration Adviser is timely and appropriate in this situation.