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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.

Last year some 24,000 work visas were approved for a wide range of migrant trades workers. The demand for skilled workers from overseas to fill New Zealand’s skill shortages, and the forthcoming KiwiBuild requirements, is growing. However, while the numbers of work visas is increasing the pathway for these work visa holders to live and work permanently in New Zealand is getting harder. There are challenges ahead for employers to attract and retain their migrant workers.

In the most recent immigration year to June 2018, some 24,000 overseas workers were approved for work visas under the general category of Technicians and Trades Workers. This number is a 6,000, or 33%, increase over the previous year.

While there were 230,000 work visas approved in total during this year, only 4,000 more than in the previous year, some 145,000 of these work visa approvals were not recorded against any particular occupation. These work visas most likely relate to working holiday, graduate student and various partnership categories which all result in the issue of (open) work visas allowing work in any occupation.

Within the Technicians and Trade Workers category the following occupations had most visas issued last year – carpenter/joiner (2850), motor/diesel mechanic (1050), telecommunications technician (850), scaffolder (700), metal fabricator (675), fitter/turner and fitter/welder (650), steel fixer (575), electrician (460), welder (380), mechanical engineering technician (340), plasterer (300), painter (290), panelbeater (270), sheet metal trades worker (220), brick layer (200), plumber (190) and metal machinist (165).

A number of the open work visa holders will also work in the trade sector so the above figures are indicative only. This situation will become more unclear if the current Government proposal to provide graduating international students with 3 year open work visas is implemented, and if work visas issued under the KiwiBuild programme only designate an occupation and not a specific employer (which may happen). In such instances, the holders of these particular work visas will potentially be more transient as their visas will not tie them to any specific employer. The move towards more accommodating work visas is partly promulgated by the Government’s concern with migrant exploitation and wanting migrant workers to be “less obligated” to some employers.

It is interesting to note that only 1,967 Skilled Migrant Category (SMC) residence applications were approved for Technicians and Trade Workers which is less than half the 4,090 approved in the previous year. When compared to the total number of work visas holders, the small number who have successfully transitioned to SMC residence may be surprising given the skilled employment roles these people have. However this reduction is a direct consequence of the changes made by the previous Government in 2017 which introduced an English test requirement and an arbitrary pay threshold (currently $24.29 ph) for SMC residence applicants. Previously SMC applicants could meet the English requirement through being employed in New Zealand for 12 months and there was no mandatory pay threshold. Although it is understood the current Government is “unconvinced” that the pay threshold is an appropriate mechanism for SMC residence, there is no current priority to effect any change in this regard.

These policy changes have seen the total number of SMC residence approvals reduce from 12,106 applications in the previous year to 8,419 last year (representing 17,000 people). The Skilled Migrant Category is the main category within the New Zealand Residence Programme with around 60% of all residence applicants coming from this and the business categories. The Residence Programme is set every two years and in the two year period to 30 June 2018 the programme was set at between 85,000 and 95,000 people. In fact, only 38,000 people were actually approved for residence in the 2017/2018 year, down on the 47,600 people approved the year before.

To meet the SMC English requirement, applicants’ must achieve an IELTS score of 6.5, or the equivalent in one of the other acceptable English tests. This is a high standard given that the same score, in the IELTS academic version, is required for international students to enter into postgraduate study in New Zealand.

Those workers who cannot meet the English requirement are still able, currently, to transition to residence if they hold a work-to-residence work visa under the Long Term Skills Shortage (LTSSL) policy or are working for an Immigration New Zealand accredited employer. These work visas are issued for 30 months and enable the holder to apply for residence after working in a specified role for a designated employer after 24 months. The catch is the pay rate for the accredited employer role must be at least $55,000 pa based on a 40 hour work week ($26.45 ph). The Government is now reviewing the accredited employer policy with the likely outcome that the pay threshold will be significantly increased – potentially to around $70,000 pa ($33.65 ph). If this happens it will mean that this pathway to residence for many skilled trades workers will be lost and the reason for many employers to become INZ accredited will be negated. Given the current Government’s focus on the regions and attracting migrants to work and settle out of Auckland there is a case to be made for the pay threshold applying to work-to-residence applicants under the accredited employer policy to be lower in the regions so that this pathway to residence can still be viable to attract and retain workers – perhaps $70,000 in Auckland and $60,000 out of Auckland?

There is still an option for those workers holding a work visa issued under the LTSSL work-to-residence instructions to later obtain residence as the current pay threshold for this remains at $45,000 pa. However, most of the roles on the LTSSL require applicants to hold qualifications which are assessed as equivalent to particular New Zealand qualifications and this is often not the case, or the process to establish such equivalence is expensive and time consuming. In reality these qualifications can be quite old and of little current relevance and it is the more recent, relevant, work experience which is of primary interest to the New Zealand employer and the basis on which they are generally offered their trade-related work role. It would be helpful if the LTSSL was revised to place greater emphasis on recent work experience rather than on qualifications as this is really what, in most cases, matters to employers.

The accredited employer and the LTSSL work-to-residence policies do not have any English language requirement.

The situation now is that, of the 24,000 people approved for work visas as Technicians and Trades Workers in the past year, together with those previously approved and still holding work visas, the majority are now (or will soon be) unlikely to have any immediate pathway to residence. This situation has implications for those employers with a significant, or key migrant workforce as they will need to carefully consider how this will impact on their ability to attract and retain such migrant employees. It can be an expensive and time-consuming process to firstly identify, and then facilitate workers to travel from across the world to come and work in New Zealand. Many workers will, understandably, only make this commitment if they can have security about their long term future here. If employers cannot provide this long term security, the reality is that their migrant workers may become unsettled and be more easily motivated to move to higher paying employers or leave New Zealand for other work opportunities offshore or back in their home country.

While a number of migrant workers do move between countries for work, many (if not most) will have considered the potential to obtain New Zealand residence as one of factors which influenced their decision to come to New Zealand. For these workers, employers can consider several options to help keep these workers motivated and retain their services for the long(er) term if they do not have a current pathway to residence.

Firstly, there is the option of providing English language assistance and support. This will enable workers to improve their language skills, make any communications more efficient, reduce misunderstanding and mistakes in the workplace, and help develop their self-confidence and social networks. Progressing migrant workers English skills can lead them to achieving the English language requirement to apply for residence under the Skilled Migrant residence category and will genuinely help with their successful integration into New Zealand society.

Secondly, employers can assist and support their workers to achieve recognised New Zealand qualifications. This can enable them to become eligible for Skilled Migrant Category qualification points, which may also open the option for a work-to-residence work visa under LTSSL instructions. Supporting migrant workers to attain New Zealand qualifications can also promote greater employer loyalty and commitment to the employer.

Workers who are accompanied to New Zealand by their family are generally more settled and better placed to manage the transition – although care is needed that any expectation they may have about what is possible for their future in New Zealand is feasible and well founded.

With continuing skills shortages and KiwiBuild on the horizon, New Zealand employers need to be increasingly aware of what motivates their migrant workers to come and stay. Employers would be wise to think about what they can do to secure their services, and commitment, for the long term, ensuring their investment in their migrant workforce is maximised. It is always helpful to begin this process with the benefit of professional advice and assistance on visa matters from an experienced Licenced Immigration Adviser or Immigration Lawyer.

Article provided by Richard Howard, Managing Director of Pathways to New Zealand Ltd – New Zealand’s second largest immigration consultancy business with 13 Licenced Immigration Advisers based in its Hamilton and Wellington Offices.

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.

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.

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

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

 We are consulting on the following proposals:

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

For expert immigration advice contact a pathways Licensed Immigration Adviser.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Filipino Dairy farm workers have been experiencing significant delays in the processing of their work visa application over the last few months. Applications are being held by INZ and they will not commit to a timeframe for processing, which is already well beyond the standard 25 working days target. In some cases they have been under process for 4 months or longer which is fast becoming a major cause of disruption and concern within the dairy farming community at a peak time of the season.

For those workers renewing their visas to continue working in the same role for the same employer they at least have the security that they will be issued an interim visa with work conditions which will allow them to continue working whilst their new visa application is being processed, however for those changing roles and or employers, their interim visa will only grant them visitor conditions and consequently they cannot work. This of course not only creates a skills gap for farm owners at a peak time, but also leaves the workers unable to earn an income and struggling financially.

The delays have been caused due to a major fraud investigation being undertaken by INZ. Whilst this investigation has been underway all applications for Filipino dairy farm works have been put on hold.
The investigation involves the alleged provision of fraudulent documents such as qualifications and work references with work visa applications. INZ began a formal investigation in March 2015 which has uncovered more widespread concerns of false and misleading information. In light of this, INZ has taken on a more in-depth verification process which has led to the ongoing delays.

As a result of this investigation, a woman has been arrested recently and will be charged in relation to the suspected fraud, however concerns about the potential scale of the alleged offending are still unknown. It is likely there will be further charges laid against her and possibly further arrests.
This is a stark reminder that it is never acceptable to provide false or misleading information or withhold material information to INZ through the visa application process. Not only does this raise serious concerns about an applicant’s character for future visa applications, but it may also mean a liability for deportation.

This case also emphasizes that applicants must seek professional assistance if they do not feel confident about applying for their visas on their own or are unsure of anything they are being told or requested to do by an employment broker or agent. If seeking a third party’s help, make sure that the person is qualified to give immigration advice . The Immigration Advisers Authority publishes a list of Licensed Immigration Advisers on their website as well as their contact details. The Immigration Contact Centre is also a good source of information for any queries relating to policy and application requirements.

We hope this also serves a reminder to other applicants that if an agent tells you to pay them a significant amount of money and they will “take care of the rest” to secure a job for you, this promise is probably too good to be true. If an applicant is suitably qualified and has the work experience required for the role, then there should be no need to inflate their qualifications or work experience.

In the meantime, INZ wants to reassure employers that the current immigration status of dairy workers onshore is being preserved by the grant of interim visas. We are hopeful that the issue surrounding Filipino farm workers will be resolved soon, and as stated by INZ Assistant General Manager Peter Elms’ that INZ investigations will continue to target those who benefited from the fraud rather than the workers themselves.