Posts

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.

 

Temporary migrant workers and international students, who are already employed in essential services, are now able to vary some of the conditions of their visa. This loosening of visa requirements is intended to make it easier for essential businesses and services to operate during the COVID-19 response. It will allow essential businesses and service providers to maintain their labour pool during a time when new recruitment is very difficult.

INZ have announced that effective from 16 April, 2020:

Work visa holders with employer-specific work visas already employed in essential services will be able to vary their hours and be redeployed to do other roles within their current workplace. They can also perform their current role in a different workplace to help essential businesses keep operating while New Zealand remains at Alert Level 3 or 4 and for six weeks after that.

International students who are already employed in an essential services role will be able to work longer hours for their current employer while New Zealand remains at Alert Level 3 or 4 and for six weeks following. Students who are employed in an essential services role and wish to work more than 20 hours must still meet their study requirements and should discuss their plans with their education provider.

All standard employment law requirements continue to apply to any amendments to an employee’s conditions of work.

Interim visa holders are not able to change their visa conditions under this new special policy.

If you are either a work visa holder or an international student currently employed in an essential services role, you may apply for a Variation of Conditions. There are no fees or levies required to make this application to INZ. However, if you would like professional assistance to apply for a VOC, or would like to discuss these changes in further detail, we recommend you seek licensed immigration advice. Pathways’ staff are working from home while New Zealand is at Alert Levels 3 and 4. Please contact us to speak with one of our advisers today.

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

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.

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.

INZ have released the new immigration instructions for the Parent Category visa, coming into effect on 24 February 2020. These new instructions are the formalisation and finalisation of changes announced on 7 October 2019, and they impose a much higher income requirement on New Zealand resident or citizen children, who are seeking to sponsor a parent for residence.

Summary of the major changes

As already revealed in last year’s announcement, the former two-tier system for the Parent Category visa has been removed, taking away multiple options for establishing financial eligibility. Previously you could meet the requirements by transferring $500,000 to New Zealand, or having enough lifetime income, or through being sponsored by a New Zealand resident or citizen child (and their partner), provided they had sufficient income, either individually or jointly.

Under the new policy a parent is only able to be sponsored by their New Zealand resident or citizen child and only if the annual taxable income of that child, or their annual taxable joint income if relying on the child and the child’s partner’s income, is at or above the below approximate levels. The new financial requirements are based on a median salary (currently NZ$53,040) and will be reviewed each year:

Child sponsoring one parent NZ$106,080

(2 times the median salary)

Child sponsoring two parents NZ$159,120

(3 times the median salary)

If the sponsoring child is also relying on their partner’s income for the sponsorship:

Child and partner sponsoring one parent NZ$159,120

(3 times the median salary)

Child and partner sponsoring two parents total income NZ$212,160

(4 times the median salary)

If sponsoring more than two parents, then the income required is higher again – and even higher if a sponsor already has ongoing sponsorship obligations with other parents who have obtained residence under the Parent Category.

The sponsor’s income needs to be at the levels set out above for 2 out of the 3 years prior to receiving an Invitation to Apply (ITA) for residence, and this income can only be evidenced by tax statements from the Inland Revenue Department (IRD).

The sponsorship period, to which the adult child (and their partner) must agree, will be formally aligned with the New Zealand Superannuation residency eligibility requirement. Currently, this period is 10 years.

Only 1,000 residence places per year will be available under the Parent Category visa. This represents 1,000 parents per year only. A parent couple would be considered to take two of the available places.

Further details of the new policy

Now that the new Parent Category visa policy has been released in full, there are further details of which potential applicants should be aware. Applicants will need to satisfy family relationship and sponsorship requirements, as well as English language, health and character requirements.

Sponsorship requirements

Prior to the changes, the immigration instructions allowed a parent to make an application based on the single income of either their sponsoring child or their child’s partner. According to the new policy, to make an application based on a single income, only the sponsoring child’s income will be considered. The income of a sponsoring child’s partner can only be taken into account when making an application based on joint income. This means that even if a couple is living on a single income, where the sponsoring child does not generate their own income, the higher joint income threshold will apply to the visa application.

As discussed above, income requirements are based on the New Zealand median income for each year. The period over which a sponsor’s or sponsors’ income will be calculated and assessed is the three years ending on the last day of the month prior to the date the applicant/s were invited to apply. The median income is that in effect on the last day of each year of the three years for which the sponsor’s income is to be assessed. This means for example, that if the Invitation to Apply (ITA) is issued in May 2020, the median income in place on 30 April 2020 is what applies to that one-year income period. The relevant median income for the preceding year would be as at 30 April 2019, and as at 30 April 2018 for the year before that.

Family relationship requirements

Provided each applicant meets the family relationship requirements (and all other requirements), and the sponsor meets the significant income requirements, stacked for each applicant, there is no limit to the number of parent visas one person can sponsor. This is especially relevant for blended families, where both biological parents and stepparents may meet the family relationship criteria.

Potential applicants with complex family situations may find the new instructions especially difficult to navigate, and we advise that you consult a licensed immigration adviser if you would like more understanding of how the changes may apply to you and your family.

English language requirements

Applicants are required to meet a minimum standard of English, or to pre-purchase English for Speakers of Other Languages tuition to the specified level.

There are a variety of ways that an applicant may demonstrate their English ability is of the necessary level. If appropriate evidence is provided, applicant’s personal circumstances can establish their English language ability. These circumstances may include the country in which they live or have predominantly lived, whether their family members speak English, the nature of their employment or of their qualifications. They may also meet language requirements by achieving acceptable English language test results.

Instead of meeting the minimum standard of English, an applicant may pre-purchase ESOL tuition from the Tertiary Education Commission (TEC) by paying the required charge to INZ (who collect this charge on behalf of TEC). The applicant must also sign the ESOL Agreement with TEC and return it to INZ before a resident visa can be granted.

Existing EOIs in the queue under the Parent Category

If you submitted an EOI (Expression of Interest) for the Parent Category visa, prior to it being closed, there are a couple of options available to you, depending on your situation. If you meet the requirements for the new version of the visa, you are able to update your EOI to reflect that your circumstances conform to the new criteria for the category. If you do not update your existing EOI, the information contained in it will be used as is and assessed against the new instructions.

If you know that you do not meet the new requirements, you can withdraw your EOI and apply for a refund of the EOI fee. If the withdrawal is not completed by the time of the May selection draw, the refund option will no longer be available.

Both courses of action involve filling out and returning specific forms to INZ, available on their website.

If you choose not to withdraw your EOI, it will be placed in a new queue, by order of the date it was originally received by INZ. If your EOI is declined, you will not receive a refund of the EOI fee.

Next steps

The Parent Category visa has been closed since 2016, causing much heartache to New Zealanders unable to bring their parents here to live. The overhauled category has also been the subject of intense public discussion since its announcement last year. The estimated number of EOIs sitting in the pool is 4,500 (representing approximately 6,500 people). We anticipate that only around 10% of those will meet the very onerous, new financial requirements. However, even though people’s ability to apply is curtailed by the policy, the number of applicants is further limited by capping the number of visas on offer at 1,000 per year. Many families will have to continue to wait, or choose to go elsewhere.

This policy does at least provide one avenue, albeit a very narrow one, for family reunification. However, as this is a new policy, we can expect teething problems. It may be that further clarification and information will come to light once INZ starts selecting EOIs and processing applications.

This blog post is not immigration advice; it is intended only to provide a summary of the new Parent Category visa option. If you would like to find out more about the new Parent Category visa and whether you may be eligible to apply, please do not hesitate to contact Pathways NZ.

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.

The immigration Minister announced today the Government has decided to reopen the Parent resident visa category in early February 2020 with new requirements. The first selection is scheduled for May 2020. In the meantime, the category will temporarily close from today, 7 October 2019. This means that INZ will not accept expressions of interest (EOIs) from this date.

When the category reopens, 1,000 residence places will be available annually under the category.

Other changes from the current Parent resident visa criteria include:

  • Tier Two of the category will be removed
  • the settlement funds and the guaranteed lifetime income financial eligibility criteria will be removed
  • the new financial requirements for the Parent resident visa can only be met through the income of the sponsor and their partner. Here are the new financial requirements based on a median salary of NZ$53,040:
Expected income thresholds
1 sponsor for 1 parent NZD $106,080 2 times the median salary
1 sponsor for 2 parents NZD $159,120 3 times the median salary
Sponsor and partner  for 1 parent NZD $159,120 3 times the median salary
Sponsor and partner for 2 parents NZD $212,160 4 times the median salary
Guaranteed lifetime income of 1 applicant or for a couple Not available in new parent category
Settlement funds Not available in new parent category
  • sponsors will be required to provide evidence of their annual income through Inland Revenue tax statements, and that they’ve met it for two out of the three years before the application is lodged, and
  • the sponsorship period will be formally aligned with the New Zealand Superannuation residency eligibility requirement.

 Existing EOIs in the queue under the Parent Category

People with EOIs in the system will be emailed to inform them of the changes and invited to either update their EOI or withdraw it. People who withdraw their EOI will be eligible for a fee refund.

When the Parent Category reopens, EOIs will be selected in date order based on the date INZ originally received them (regardless of whether they were submitted under Tier One or Tier Two).

It is estimated that more than 5000 EOI’s are sitting in the pool with the likelihood that at least 80-90% of these will not qualify under the new rules, and will be a bitter pill to swallow considering many have been waiting for such a long period of time. The offer of a refund will be little consolation for the loss of the opportunity of family reunification.

Today’s announcement bears the hallmarks of the challenges face by a coalition government. It has been clear for some time that the Labour party is family orientated and wanted to reopen the category but will have received significant push back with NZ First who effectively pressured the previous National Government into placing a temporary hold on the category in the first place. Increasing the required minimum salary for sponsors to the levels announced will no doubt have been at the direction of or to appease NZ First to ensure the numbers of eligible applicants was as low as possible, their compromise in allowing the category to reopen. There has already been significant condemnation sighting the elitist and unfair nature of the changes, this could certainly not bode well for Labour within the all important migrant electorate in the coming election year.

Conversely for those that do qualify, there will be great relief that there is now light at the end of the tunnel and they can finally make future plans for their parents, the uncertainty of the last 3 years has left so many families in limbo. What isn’t quantifiable is how many highly skilled migrants has New Zealand lost over the last 3 years whilst the category was closed. either those already working in New Zealand that have decided to leave or those who chose not to come at all. At least there is now clarity for all to make informed decisions for their families futures.

If you wish to find out more about this category and your potential eligibility please do not hesitate to get in contact with me [email protected]

During June the Government opened up consultation on proposed changes to post-study work visa categories. Immigration Minister Iain Lees-Galloway intends that the proposed changes will help eliminate or reduce migrant exploitation and will encourage international students to study higher quality courses and courses which will lead to employment roles in the areas which New Zealand needs.

If introduced, the proposed changes would see the removal of the post-study employer-assisted 2 year work visa and the introduction of a three-year post-study open work visa for degree level 7 and higher qualifications. All students studying below Level 7 would only be entitled to a one-year post-study open work visa and only if their qualification required at least 2 years of study. In addition, visa eligibility for accompanying families of students would be tightened with only partners and children of students studying level 8 or 9 qualifications in an area of long term skill shortage being entitled to partner work, and dependent child student, visas.

The Government is right to focus on student worker and migrant exploitation as such exploitation is now endemic in New Zealand – however the proposed changes, in our view, would do little to remedy this situation. The pathway many international students take to study in New Zealand is fraught with exploitation, largely due to dishonest Education Agents not acting in the best interests of their student clients and misleading students as to their course and future visa entitlements. Agents often enrol students in low level and inappropriate courses, and at particular institutions, based on the commissions they can earn and with little regard to the student’s best interests and long term future. This is where many problems begin and the Government must now look closely at requiring all student visa advisers to be licensed and regulated by the Immigration Advisers Authority.

Once a student has completed their course and gained their post-study work visa, they currently face the challenge of obtaining employment relevant to their qualification within a 12 month period. For many such visa holders, securing relevant employment can also create a pathway to residency. This pressure to find suitable employment to extend their visa can often lead to a person being forced to take up an employment role on terms dictated by the employer and which have little regard to New Zealand employment law. Currently, the only practical option for a migrant worker in an exploitative situation like this is to find new employment and then to change their visa to this new employment. However, the reality is that very often in these situations the visa holder is unable to find new employment and has no choice but to remain being exploited in their existing role. Additionally, migrants are often fearful of reporting unscrupulous employers to Immigration New Zealand as this will directly impact their work situation and can lead to losing their job and work visa and place them in a very difficult situation having no job and no visa to allow work. These people and their families have invested many tens of thousands of dollars in their education in New Zealand and need to work to repay this debt.

If the Government is serious about stamping out migrant exploitation it must introduce more effective processes to identify exploitative employers and take proactive action against these employers. A constructive first step would be to introduce a suitable interim “visa solution” for visa holders who were being exploited so they can be more willing to speak out and to provide key employer information without having the worry of their own visa situation to protect.

While the proposal for a 3 year open work visa after graduation will take initial pressure off the requirement to obtain employment for visa purposes the potential effect will be that many of these visa holders will resort to self-employment (eg; Uber drivers) and undertaking cash work as there is no immediate compunction on them to enter into lawful, documented, employment. In fact there is a real prospect that their visa situation will directly lead to greater exploitation due to the lack of oversight of what they will be doing and what any employer is requiring of them.

The pressure will go on again when it comes to the end of the open work visa term when the visa holder does require a particular employment role to support a new work visa or a residence application. Due to the extended passing of time to get to this juncture the likelihood is that these people will be subjected to, and open to, a much greater level of potential exploitation that what otherwise would be the case.

In addition the 3 year work visa will provide the time and opportunity for visa holders to pursue other avenues to stay in New Zealand including establishing their own businesses and forming partnership relationships, and to focus on these avenues to obtain residence. We do not believe these outcomes provide the best benefit to New Zealand and do not make use of their New Zealand qualifications.

Our view is that is that consideration should be given to the introduction of a work-to-residence pathway for student graduates. This could work similar to the existing WTR schemes whereby an applicant must work in a certain job for 2 years and can then directly apply for residence. This scheme would operate like an internship and would encourage both graduate students and employers to invest in a longer term employment relationship – and would see graduate students appropriately motivated to progress their careers rather than sitting around for 3 years until they have to do something.

It would be naive to believe that many international students coming to study here are not significantly motivated by the prospect of working in New Zealand and gaining residence in the future. Of the two main student markets, India and China, the vast majority choose New Zealand to study because of the prospect to pathway to residence. This motivation of immigration policy settings cannot be downplayed or ignored as without it the international education industry, New Zealand’s 5th biggest export earner,  will stall and likely retreat.

The reality of this situation must be accepted, and students should be encouraged by policy settings to study in the courses that will lead to employment in roles which will benefit New Zealand and which will deliver the residence outcome to the student. Any changes to the existing post-study visas should therefore seek to protect students from exploitation, whilst enabling and pro-actively encouraging them to seek career focused employment roles which are in demand in New Zealand and which can advance their future residence eligibility. This begins with the student choosing better-quality and focused courses which can then lead to better quality student outcomes and employment prospects.

There is nothing at all wrong with the existence of a study-to-residence pathway. Such a pathway enables relatively young, New Zealand qualified people who have good English and local friends and connections, and who have already assimilated to New Zealand, to build upon this very sound foundation and to become the New Zealanders of the future. We just need the immigration settings that will first attract the students we want, and which will protect them from exploitation, and then encourage them to stay and to provide the skills New Zealand needs so we can realise this future together. Our view is that the proposed policy changes correctly identify the issues but are very much formulated in reaction to the current situation and do not recognise the consequences of what the changes will promulgate. Our preference is for more forward thinking and constructive policies that will deliver the preferred long term outcomes for the benefit of New Zealand, and of the student.