Changes to character rules pose risks for applicants and employers
September 27, 2019

Types of visas available to migrants: Big changes ahead

Are you prepared?

There are many different types of work visas. They generally fall into two types:

  1. Employer assisted.
  2. Others work visas such as graduate visas, partnership, working holiday, specific purpose and various specialist visas. These are not changing.

From 2021 the biggest changes in 10 years will reduce six categories of employer assisted visas to just one new temporary work visa. Not all the details have been provided but tougher checks on employers, higher salaries and more focus on specific gaps in regions and industries have been announced. This article is a basic introduction to those changes based on current information.

The current Essential Skills visa:

The main temporary visa that is currently available is an Essential Skills work visa.  This visa is available for workers who can demonstrate that the employer needs their skills where New Zealander’s residents or citizens visa holders are not available to do the work in question.  If the worker does not have a clearly recognised qualification or who are not on a skills shortages list, a labour market check is often required.  The employer must show that they have made efforts to recruit locals. Full time employment of at least 30 hours or more per week is required.

Skill levels are mainly determined by the ANZSCO: Australia and New Zealand Standard Classification of Occupations. The employee must show a close correlation between the ANZSCO description of the work and the actual job undertaken.

Currently skill levels are also determined by income bands.  The figures below are adjusted annually:

  • Lower skilled workers earning less than $21.25 per hour are limited to a 12 month visa and a maximum stay of 36 months. Followed by 12 months outside New Zealand.  They generally cannot bring dependents, however, this will change from mid-2020 where low-paid migrant workers will be able to support family visas but the 3 year time limit is staying.
  • Mid skilled workers paid $21.50 to $37.49 may apply for up to a 3 year visa, may renew their visa and may bring dependants.
  • Higher skilled workers earning $37.50 or more per hour may apply for visas up to 5 years are available provided all other requirements are met.

Like all other visas any stay of 12 months or more will require an e-medical certificate and police certificates.

Changes next year:

From mid 2020 Immigration New Zealand will no longer use these bands or ANZSCO but simply whether jobs pay at or below medium New Zealand wage.

From late 2020 workers in key industries that employer migrants will need to be employed in terms of sector agreements. Sometimes these will allow employment at below medium wage. Residential care and meat processing agreements have been concluded. These will be followed by:

  • dairy
  • forestry
  • road freight transport
  • tourism and hospitality.

The construction, and horticulture and viticulture sectors are also likely candidates. If you are in any of these sectors you need to know about the industry agreements.

Accredited employer: Talent and Approval in Principal

Some employers who have demonstrated a general need for overseas workers are accredited. Once approved accredited employers do not need to go through labour market checks for each individual employee that they recruit. Like all other employers they must show that their business is financially sustainable and that they comply with New Zealand employment laws.  There is a Black-list of employers who have been found to breach employment laws and who are not allowed to support overseas workers.

Accredited employment in some cases has a pathway to residence under the work to residence instructions. From 2021 the income required for new applicants to have a pathway to residence will be the twice the medium wage- over $100,000.

Changes in October 2019

Previously the minimum annual income for this required was $55,000 but from 7 October 2019 it is increasing to $79,560.  From 7th October 2019, employer accreditation will be limited to 24 months.

More changes from 2021!

From 2021 the above visas will be replaced by one temporary work visa. All employers will need to be accredited. Full details are yet to be announced. All employer assisted work visas will now require a 3 stage process of:

  1. An employer check — it will be mandatory for all employers, including those with an existing accreditation, to be accredited under the new application process before they can hire migrants on the new work visa.
  2. A job check — this will include checking that the job is paid in line with the New Zealand market rate and in most cases, will include a labour market test to ensure New Zealand workers are not available.
  3. A worker check — when the worker applies for a visa, they must show they meet our standard character, identity and health requirements, as well showing they have the skills to do the job they have been offered.

There will be easier tests for workers in regions which struggle to recruit enough workers in industries which regularly employ migrant workers.  In some cases the length of visa for a region of low labour supply will be 3 years compared with 1 year in larger cities.

As at September 2019 when this article was written full details of the changes were still to come.

There will be a transition for those already on work visas but renewing visas will be under the new rules. Those entitled to extend existing visas should consider doing so.

It is important to seek advice in making medium to long term decisions about employing non-residents.

We can help

Pacific Legal is an awarding winning immigration Law firm. We have many years’ experience in providing excellent services to employers and applicants seeking work visas. We will be providing regular updates through our blogs and on our website.

Please contact me via email (Richard.Small@pacificlegal.co.nz or office@pacificlegal.co.nz ) by phone 0800722 534 or through our website (www.pacificlegal.co.nz) for further information.  My colleagues Diana Bell, Senior Associate and Thomas Tran, Senior Solicitor are also very experienced in this area and would be delighted to assist. We provide initial free information to employers.

Richard Small
Richard Small
Director Pacific Legal Ltd