A new Minister

Prior to the October 2023 election National’s immigration spokesperson Erica Stanford was very proactive in pointing out failures of the Accredited Employer Work Visa especially around migrant exploitation. On 27 November Hon Erica Stanford became the Immigration Minister.  The immigration industry, advisors and lawyers have generally welcomed her as a minister who is genuinely interested in the portfolio. 

Associate ministers

The Minister sets the policy settings but individual cases that fall outside of established Immigration Policy, some humanitarian cases, residence deportation and recommendations for residence as an exception from the Immigration and Protection Tribunal go to the Associate Minister.

Unusually, two Associate Ministers have been appointed:

  • National’s Chris Penk and 
  • New Zealand First’s Casey Costello.

During the lengthy caretaker period and while the new associates find their feet the Delegated Decision Makers will make most decisions on behalf of the Associate Minister: these are senior immigration New Zealand managers whose decisions are “calibrated” to be similar to what the Minister would decide. It is unclear whether the “calibration” will change with the new associate ministers. It remains to be seen whether more decisions will go directly to the associate ministers and how these will be divided between them.

End of Labour’s revolving door of ministers?

Towards the end of the Labour government’s term both portfolios changed multiple times, to the extent that on one call we made, Parliamentary staff could not recollect who that week’s associate Immigration Minister was! Stability is important. If the above team is able to stay in office throughout the coming term it should help the quality of decision-making.

Accredited employer work visas

There are many changes set up by Labour that are already in process and it is unclear how many of these the coalition government would want to change and can practically change in the short term: pre-election talk of abolishing the accredited employer work visa has turned into a “review” in the coalition agreements. For example:

    • Accredited employer work visas linked to a specific employer: most parties have agreed that tying employees to one employer increases the risk of worker exploitation.
      Horror stories of fraud continue to emerge. Processing has gone from a “wave through” to snail’s pace as INZ scrambles to respond.
    • The incoming government will review this category, but major changes would require significant work by officials. Some of our employer clients have also expressed concern at spending a great deal of time and cost in recruiting, job checking and appointing new staff which they cannot pass on or bond staff to pay only to have the staff member poached by another employer once onshore. On the other hand, we also get calls from desperate workers living in overcrowded houses whose jobs ceased to exist when they arrived.
    • Most work visas linked to Median wage. Currently this is $29.66 (except for a few industry agreements) but it is set to increase again in February 2024. Employers complain of needing to pay their non-citizen/resident staff above the level of existing staff. The incoming government has pledged to change this. This has been particularly problematic for some of our larger employer clients who have hundreds or thousands of workers on collective agreements which they would need to adjust. Recently partners were added to this requirement although they are not required to work full-time hours. The new coalition government will remove the median wage requirement and make it easier for family members to work. It is unclear whether this can be put in place before February.
    • Other related policies in the coalition agreement include the establishment of an essential worker workforce mechanism to plan and manage long-term labour shortages, better recognition of overseas medical qualifications and improved risk management and verification. Many of our applicants would say that risk management and verification is high but of course there have been well-publicised gaps. It is unclear whether this will be some kind of repeat of New Zealand’s first’s Immigration Profiling Group with extreme vetting. 

A compliance approach

The coalition agreement stresses the need for strict immigration compliance We are already hearing reports of an uptick in compliance and deportation action. It would not be surprising for this to continue under the incoming government.

Parent Visa

The coalition agreement confirms the establishment of a five-year renewable parent category visa, conditional on covering healthcare costs, with consideration of a public healthcare levy. It remains to be seen if the healthcare levy would be similar to the Australian assurance of support scheme which requires bonds of up to $10,000. Again, it is unclear how long implementation of this entirely new visa category will take.

Fees: The sting in the tail

A little publicised newsroom article on 31 August 2023 “National wants migrants to pay to play” outlined National’s plan to increase application fees to 90% of Australia equivalent fees. https://newsroom.co.nz/2023/08/31/national-wants-migrants-to-pay-to-play/

Honourable Nicola Willis, incoming finance minister has confirmed that immigration fees will be reviewed particularly in view of the overseas buyer exemption not going ahead.

Assuming 90% parity with Australia there would be only modest increases for some visas such as visitors and working holidaymakers. 

Other applicants would face steep increases such as for Post study work visas which will increase from 700 to 1856, accredited employer work visas which will increase from 750 to $1425 and feepaying students from $375-$733.

By far the biggest increase would be partnership residence applications which would jump by 2752 to 8668 assuming New Zealand did not adopt the Australian per dependent child surcharge which could in many cases double this again. This is far beyond any form of cost recovery and risks being seen as using a captive market to subsidise other fees without regard to impacts on New Zealand partners and children.

RSE (much) more of the same

Recent reviews of the RSE: Recognised Seasonal Employer scheme (horticulture and viticulture) expressed concerns about accommodation standards and costs, lack of pathway to residence and impacts on the home countries around the Pacific. We have business clients in Pacific who have lost highly skilled staff paid at good local rates to these schemes. In Australia the equivalent scheme now provides for family members to be able to migrate and a pathway to residence.

To date the only announcement regarding the RSE schemes, as requested by farmers and orchard owners is that the numbers will be greatly increased.


Prior to the election National promise to reinvigorate student market by:

  • Fast track visa processing for international students who pay an additional fee.
  • Increase the hours international students are able to work each week from 20 to 24.
  • Expand work rights for international students and their partners to 
  • Diversify the countries students are drawn from 

It is unclear how many of these initiatives have been agreed to with the coalition partners. In the past allegations of job selling and fraud were rife particularly with the exempt student advisor industry. It remains to be seen if the commitment to stop fraud for work visa holders extends to students.

No amnesty

Labour made a last-gasp promise of amnesty for overstayers who had been here for 10 years or more during the election campaign. It looked highly unlikely, given the polls that it would ever have to  implement this policy. National has rejected any amnesty. 

However, there are major concerns about lack of transparency of discretionary decisions on requests from unlawful people under section 61. These have seen the Ministers workloads increase. 

It is particularly concerning that there are now children who have grown up effectively stateless since birthright citizenship was removed in January 2007 have now left school and are at risk of ongoing exploitation. They are not responsible for the overstaying of their parents. It seems that the same objections to “501” deportees who had been in Australia since an early age are not consistently applied to this group. It seems that we can recognise unfair processes across the Tasman but not on our own shores.

We have had adolescents who did not even know they were unlawful until they were invited to represent New Zealand at international sporting events. 

The section 61 system is literally a waste of time for long-term overstayers that just creates a refusal step before they go to the Associate Minister. The core problem is the misguided idea not to release reasons for decisions. We have seen examples of where secrecy has shielded bad habits such as ignoring worker exploitation and unlicensed immigration advice.

There are similar concerns around victims of domestic violence who no longer have a visa and genuine victims of natural disasters who cannot safely return. A real case-by-case system with transparent decision-making as is available when the same request goes to the Minister would be welcome.

How about investors?

Many of our clients would welcome improvements to categories such as entrepreneur and investor which has been turned inside out by the active investor plus category. There will be different views about the value of investment between the coalition partners and it is unclear yet whether there will be a comprehensive review of the active investor plus category.

We will continue to keep our clients informed as these changes evolve.

Every case is different. Contact our friendly team for advice in your case.