Government announces new work visa rules

Immigration Minister announces suite of changes to the employer-assisted temporary work visa process.

Minister of Immigration Iain Lees-Galloway has announced a raft of changes to the employer-assisted temporary work visa process, that is set to benefit some 25-30,000 businesses which have skills shortages.

Currently there are more than 54,000 workers on the main employer assisted work visa – the essential skills visa.

In December 2018 – March 2019, the government consulted on a number of changes to employer-assisted temporary work visa settings. A total of 947 submissions were received from the public during consultation.

Lees-Galloway said the new temporary work visa process is more streamlined and less complex replacing six visa categories with one temporary work visa, and it ensures there is an employer check, a job check and a worker check.

“The process allows us to ensure foreign workers are only recruited for genuine shortages, helps us reduce exploitation, and creates better connections between immigration, education and welfare systems.

“The employment and training of New Zealanders, where available, will always be the key priority which is why we are introducing more requirements and incentives for employers to employ and train more New Zealanders.”

Changes to the employer-assisted temporary work visa system include:

  • introducing a new employer-led visa framework that will drive the application process
  • negotiating and introducing sector agreements ensuring there is more planning for future workforce needs
  • reinstating the ability for lower-paid workers to bring their families to New Zealand
  • replacing existing skills bands with a simple remuneration threshold aligned to the median wage
  • strengthening the labour market test for lower-paid workers and removing it altogether for higher-paid jobs outside the main centres.

“The new framework will require all employers to be accredited and will give employers more certainty about their ability to hire a foreign worker earlier in the application process,” Iain Lees-Galloway says.

“It will also provide the foreign worker with more assurance about the employer they are coming to work for and the job they are coming to do.”

The minister said sector agreements will be targeted at sectors with high reliance on temporary foreign workers and will enable specific terms and conditions for recruiting foreign workers to be negotiated between the government and individual sectors.

“A regional approach to the labour market test will ensure that foreign workers are able to be recruited for genuine skill shortages in regions with lower numbers of New Zealanders available for work, while ensuring that the labour market is tested regularly in areas with higher availability of New Zealanders.

“Together, these changes represent a significant shift in the way our temporary work visa system operates. It will make the process of hiring a foreign worker easier and more straightforward. It will also provide more certainty for employers due to upfront checks, while also increasing expectations on employers to train and employ more New Zealanders.”

These changes are part of the government’s wider programme of workforce improvements, including the changes to vocational education and upcoming welfare reforms.

Lees-Galloway said the Regional Skills Leadership Groups will also play a key role in ensuring there is better planning and utilisation of the local labour market by coordinating labour market planning at a regional level.

Immigration changes a boost for regional NZ: BusinessNZ

BusinessNZ CEO Kirk Hope said regional New Zealand will benefit most from changes to employer-assisted visa settings.

“Industry welcomes the opportunity to work with officials on the detail of how the new processes can be implemented in a pragmatic way that will be efficient for both businesses and Immigration New Zealand.”

Hope said migrants are a vital part of the New Zealand workforce.

“This will be of significant benefit to the many businesses in the regions that can’t get the skills and people they need.

“For our major cities to build the infrastructure they need for growth, skills from overseas will still be needed. We need to make sure that all New Zealand businesses can access the skilled workforce they need.

“Businesses access migrants as a matter of need – we simply don’t have the number of people with the right skills in New Zealand to keep up with job growth, and this has now been a problem for several years with persistent skill shortages across many industries.”

Changes not all positive: NZAMI 

June Ranson, chair of the New Zealand Association for Migration and Investment (NZAMI), a leading voice in the immigration sector, said the changes are not all positive for employers or migrants.

“The devil is in the detail in this announcement. While there are some benefits, there are also negatives,” Ranson said.

“Employers who are currently known as Accredited Employers should know that from 7 October 2019, all job offers made to migrants to gain Work to Residence visas (Talent Visas) a salary of $79,560 or greater must be offered a 40 hour week, an increase from $55,000 per annum.

“Immigration NZ has indicated that this Work to Residence pathway through an Accredited Employer will be phased out in 2021.

“Currently, the existing six different temporary work visa pathways are being replaced with one. While this sounds wonderful, none of these temporary visas will lead to residence status unless the migrant has qualifications, experience and a salary that will allow them to meet the points required for Skilled Migrant Residence. For low skilled workers this will never happen unless they progress to higher salaries and experience.”

For a lower skilled worker who would earn below the medium threshold of $52,000, while now permitted to bring their partner and children to NZ, the partner would only be issued a visitor visa and the children allowed to attend public schools at domestic fees up to tertiary education, which then incurs international fees.

“The total period these migrants may stay without a significant pay rise will be three years, they then must leave NZ. This will impact on rest homes, restaurants, hospitality and all trades people unless significant pay increases are given.”

Ranson added what has not been made public at this stage is the intention that employers must undertake the Labour Market Test through Ministry of Social Development who will be reviewing the vacancy for comparing qualifications and experience, looking for substantial matches.

“The Ministry intends that employers will accept the people it puts forward unless the candidate fails to attend the interview or fails drug testing.

“While we have been informed that training and equipping MSD staff will take approximately 18 months to come into force, it is very hard on NZ employers who may be forced to employ staff they do not believe will fit their organisation.

“Every company is different and what we are being told is an indication that the Government is trying to run private businesses by forcing them to take on staff who do not fit the organisation.

“The latest changes may make administration easier for Immigration NZ, but it will not do so for the employers.”

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