Within the space of 24 hours, the Governments of both Australia and New Zealand have announced changes to their immigration policies. They claim to be addressing the needs of their respective labour markets, but there’s probably a bit of political self-interest in there as well.  It is instructive to see how different their responses have been to a global trend to “get real” on migration issues.

New Zealand – Tweaking and Tinkering?

Now, it is important to sort the facts from misreporting. While one article refers to the “skilled worker visa”, we need to distinguish between what’s happening with Residence and with Work Visas.


Some of my predictions in a post from September 2016 will be fulfilled when new policy comes into force in August this year.

The flagship of NZ migration is the Skilled Migrant Category (“SMC”) Residence policy. The changes are found here.

Features of the new game plan are:

  • For the first time, the salary paid in a job offer will determine whether the job can earn you points in a SMC application. Because the pass mark of 160 is so high, this is critical because almost everyone needs points from their job in order to apply. On the other hand, if your job was not on the “skilled” list but you are paid over $73K, you can now claim points where that was not possible before. Think: truck drivers.
  • Those in jobs paying over about $98K can claim bonus points too. This addresses a conundrum discussed at an industry-INZ consultation on the SMC which I attended last October: what to do about the high-paid, middle-aged, highly competent executive who never got a degree in her youth?
  • The balance is shifting toward rewarding work experience over mere qualifications – although extra points are also available for a Masters or Ph.D. Immigration policymakers were bothered by the flood of qualified but woefully inexperienced graduates of NZ export education flooding the queues of SMC applications – this was not what they had intended.
  • Bonus points will be cut back for those in the “future growth areas” of IT, creative industries and biotech.
  • And people will no longer be able to claim points for having relatives in NZ. This seems to run counter to the “settlement and contribution” criteria applied to SMC applications, as to the migrant’s ability to integrate into NZ society if they get Residence. Surely having family nearby would be an advantage, and encouraging people to come in who have this head-start would be a good equation as a matter of social policy.

The Opposition has, predictably, alleged that all of this is only a fiddling of the knobs, a pretence at action in order to gain votes for the upcoming Election. This, however, reflects a lack of practical understanding of how the policies work.  Some of the SMC changes appear to be subtle, but they will shut out whole slabs of the migrant market while opening the field for others.

Work Visas

Meanwhile, read about the Work Visa shakeup.  Unlike the SMC changes which are set to roll, the Work Visa review is a set of proposals which Immigration claims to be ready to consult on. As with the SMC scheme, they will put the final version into effect in August.

The same salary bands as for SMC will be used to determine whether people’s job offers are in “skilled” occupations for which Work Visas will be permitted. This could have a massive impact.  While the minimum threshold will be set at about $49K, our work is often with Work Visa applicants earning $35 – $45K, including those working for SMEs who say that they can’t afford to pay their managers or tech people more than that.  Again, though, your well-paid truck drivers could be back in with a chance.

Those who work in “lower skilled” jobs will only get Work Visas for 3 years. After that they must leave NZ for a stand down period, duration uncertain as yet.  As Bill Milnes just pointed out to me, think of the rest home carers who just won their fight for better pay.  That settlement may cost the Government $500 million a year because it subsidises the elder care industry. As so many caregivers are from countries such as the Philippines, is this an indirect way of tightening the fiscal strings?

And, critically, partners and children of people who get Work Visas for “lower skilled” jobs can only come in on Visitor’s Visas unless they themselves qualify for Work or Student Visas. Read: children must enrol as international students (and pay full fees).  This sets up an immigration class system.  The favoured ones who have the skilled jobs (as determined by Government) can bring the family in, perhaps plan for Residence down the track.  The underclass of the underskilled must think hard about whether to bring their families at all.  More to the point, they must consider whether to even make the journey themselves.

Now that is a problem. In many industries New Zealand relies upon migrant labour, often in the lower paying and semi-skilled jobs.  We can’t do without them.  New Zealanders don’t want to do those jobs – otherwise we wouldn’t have 139,000 unemployed.  The Government argues that it is getting real with migrants who may never have a chance to stay permanently. But many of them already know that.  They have come here nonetheless.  Making it less comfortable for them to be here may have two unintended consequences – starving key industries of manpower, and prompting social dislocation arising out of those who decide to stay here separated from their spouse and children.

Australia – Slamming the Door Shut

The Government will abolish the 457 (work) visa in a bid to get more Australians into the workforce. The 457 will be replaced with the completely new Temporary Skill Shortage (“TSS”) visa.

Changes are progressive – some are effective immediately, and 457 visas will be phased out entirely by March 2018.

There is also a move to tighten criteria for those applying for Australian permanent residence. This could have far-reaching consequences for some current 457 visa holders.

Are these changes likely to affect NZ visa holders?

We anticipate that when a 457 visa holder realises that her/his visa will not be renewed, the first place to look for an alternative will be NZ. We may find that those from countries in the Working Holiday schemes of both countries will cross the ditch; and visa applicants, especially those in lower-skilled positions, may face more competition for the jobs they want to use as a basis for their visas.

However, we may also see more skilled people, who no longer meet the Australian criteria for residence, looking to move long-term to NZ. This could be good for those businesses struggling to find skilled people in NZ, especially in those sectors which will probably be hit by the disincentives we mentioned just above.

Whether by accident or design, New Zealand is likely to benefit from the Australian moves. While Australia has taken a blunt, Trumpian “Aussies first” approach, NZ is fine-tuning in order to keep getting what the policymakers view as the good migrants.  The contrast between the two approaches is actually quite stark.

What should you do?

If you are wondering about how the above changes could affect your job or your visa prospects, seek professional advice well before your visa expires. The hard truth is that some people may not be able to renew their Work Visa on their current job, and others who planned on Skilled Migrant Residence have just been locked out.

On the other hand, opportunities for Residence may have opened up for well-paid, 30-something migrants with a solid work history. Those are the people we’d like to talk to.  They are also the people the NZ Government is apparently encouraging to stay.  Whether it really works out the way they hope for is yet to be seen.