On 17 September 2019, the government announced changes to work visas to be gradually implemented from October 2019 to mid-2021. The proposed changes will apply to both migrant workers and employers supporting work visa applications.

The government first introduced the proposal in its Consultation Discussion paper released in December 2018. The government consulted on a number of changes to the employer-assisted temporary work visa. According to the government press release on 17 September 2019, there was a total of 947 submissions received from the public during consultations.   Following this, the government released one of two cabinet papers to seek final agreement on the new approach to the employer-assisted visas and the proposed changes to be published on 7 October 2019.

The changes are said to decrease migrant exploitation and ensure New Zealanders are employed in preference to migrants.  Briefly, some of what has already come into effect were:

  • From 7 October 2019, applicants applying for an (Accredited Employer) Work Visa an accredited employer must earn a minimum base salary of $79,560 per annum (or $38.25 per hour);
  • From July 2020, we saw the removal of ANZSCO that Immigration NZ used to determine the job’s skill level for Essential Skills Work Visas. Instead, a job paid at above the current median wage (NZ$25.50) is “higher skilled”, while a wage below the median is “lower skilled”.

After mid-2021, the government will be introducing a new visa application system that requires employers to become accredited if they wish to hire a migrant worker.

There will be a new temporary work visa that would essentially replace the existing 6 work visas:

  • Essential Skills Work Visa
  • Essential Skills Work Visa — approved in principle
  • Talent (Accredited Employer) Work Visa
  • Long Term Skill Shortage List Work Visa
  • Silver Fern Job Search Visa (closed 7 October 2019)
  • Silver Fern Practical Experience Visa.

To become an Accredited Employer

The new visa changes have not been implemented yet; however; we will discuss how we expect the policy changes will be shaped, and how this new framework may impact your business.

Currently, becoming an accredited employer is a complex process that requires the employer to demonstrate they are in a sound financial position, have good human resource practices, good work practices and are committed to training and employing New Zealanders. Once the employer successfully secures an accreditation status, they can support applicants applying for a Talent (Accredited Employer) Work Visa. The accredited employer must pay the applicant a base salary of $79,560 per annum (or $38.25 per hour for a 40-hour week).

The changes are described as being employer-focused to manage migration exploitation and labour market risks.  There will be three checks or “gates” to pass before an employer can hire a migrant. These are:

1) The Employer Gate

Immigration decides whether employers are suitable to employ migrant workers. There will be two main accreditation levels:

  • standard accreditation — for employers who want to hire 5 or fewer migrant workers, and
  • high-volume accreditation — for employers who want to hire 6 or more migrant workers.

2) The Job Gate

The job on offer is reviewed to see if it pays the market rate, the terms and conditions comply with employment laws, and the employer has done a labour market test if they need to do so.

3) The Migrant Worker Gate

The migrant applies for the Work Visa. They must show that they meet Immigration NZ’s character and health requirements, and have the skills to do the job. If the first 2 gates are passed, this ought to be a straightforward process, so that the main burden of the application process is shifted squarely onto the employer.

Are you intending to hire migrant workers in the future?

The new process will place pressure on employers to look at what they are doing to train New Zealanders. Although we do not know the mechanics of the new accreditation process at this stage, there is reasonable information on what to expect from the documents released for consultation and the information provided by Immigration NZ.

The employer would still need to comply with all immigration and employment laws, have good workplace policies in place, and make genuine efforts to train and recruit New Zealand citizens/residents. Although this looks like the existing Accredited Employer scenario, it is likely that the application process will not be quite as onerous. One reason for this is that it is hard to see how Immigration NZ could handle the sheer number of “accreditation” applications required to pass the first gate. With 20,000 plus businesses lining up to get their ticket, the system will need to be much more streamlined than it is already, or risk grinding to an embarrassing halt before it has even started.

If you intend to hire migrant workers in the future, now is the time to think ahead and talk to us. We can provide advice on how to prepare your business to become an accredited employer once these changes roll out. We can also provide support to ensure your systems and processes are compliant with Immigration and employment laws.  

If you are not an accredited employer, you can also talk to us on how to become accredited before these changes roll out.