That’s really like asking what the weather will be like in Auckland tomorrow.  The new Labour-led coalition Government has only been in the chair for a few months, and the Minister himself has said little.  However, from a couple of sources I can suggest a few things that the Minister of Immigration and the Policy team could be focusing on this year.

Work Rights of International Students

Labour promised before the Election to cut net migration by 20-30,000.  The target of this drive is “long term” net migration – that is, people who stay for more than 12 months (which is not that long, really).  Because so many overseas students are coming in, putting the brakes on entry-and-stay is probably seen as an easy win.  Labour’s Manifesto on immigration policy proposes reducing the ability to get Student Visas, and rights to work (such as part-time employment while studying) for “low value courses” – although what that term means is not clear.

More critically, it promises to take away the open “job search” Work Visa option for lower-level qualifications, which probably means anything less than a degree or Level 7 course on the NZ Qualifications Framework.  This would have flow-on consequences for many, as it would make it harder for graduates to get job offers, that could in turn lead on to work qualifying for points in the Skilled Migrant Category Residence programme.

SMC Residence has already become more difficult to achieve owing to changes to the points system, including how past work experience is credited.  The numbers of applications going in were already going through the floor late last year – see our blog on this.  If the Government keeps turning off the tap, this could result in an overshoot which will not only reduce our ability to meet the New Zealand Residence Programme targets, but will only do harm to the large export education sector which keeps earning the country much-needed tax dollars.

Essential Skills Policy Review

A plan to adjust the settings on the major avenue for Work Visas, called Essential Skills, began with consultation in April 2017 and came into force in August.  It particularly hit those in jobs deemed to be “lower skilled”, either by the nature of the job or the salary paid.  The changes have been in place for 6 months.  Apparently the Minister has decided to leave in place the changes already made by the previous National administration.  However, “Phase 2” of National’s scheme has been shelved.  Instead, the new Government will zero in on:

  • the Labour Market Test which is used to work out if the job on offer can be filled by local people; and
  • the Accredited Employer Scheme, whereby businesses with accreditation are free to hire migrants at will.

They will apparently also look hard at how to better address labour shortages in the regions (i.e., outside Auckland!).

A strong motivator for this programme is likely to be the perception, again popping up in the Manifesto, that the Work Visa system is somehow being rorted by foreigners sneaking into lower-level jobs ahead of locals.  The classic example is retail and restaurant managers.  To characterise this as an abuse of the system is, however, somewhat simplistic.  First of all, for some time now Immigration staff themselves have been particularly tough on granting visas for these types of jobs.  It ain’t easy to get a visa to work as a carer in a rest home.  Secondly, employers keep telling us that local people don’t want to do the work.  If they did, then business owners wouldn’t put themselves through the grief of trying to support someone to succeed on a Work Visa application.

Family Residence

The Minister is seeking advice on the Parent, Partnership and Dependent Child policies.  As indicated in a recent blog by James Turner of this firm, the suspension of Parent Residence selections has created distress for families trying to get their older relatives to live with them.

Partnership Instructions have remained largely untouched for nearly 2 decades.  The test for what amounts to a “genuine and stable” relationship is tried and true, although sometimes difficult to meet.  Could a sea change be coming?  If it is, then it is likely to mean tougher rules, because a significant percentage of Residence Visas are issued to partners, and the policy is uncapped – that is, no ceiling on the numbers that can be approved.

Perhaps the Government will cap this policy.  Spouses and significant others might then wait for years to move up the pile to be invited to apply.  The social dislocation and disruption to families would not be pretty.  Or else a couple might have to prove they had lived together for a minimum of 12 months before the non-New Zealander could get a Work Visa.  At the moment, all we can do is speculate.

And What’s for Dessert?

Other things that the Minister has requested advice upon include:

  1. Combating migrant exploitation, particularly in the workplace.  While Immigration and the Labour Inspectorate have been given beefed-up powers to search shop floors and prosecute employers, they are under-resourced and seem to be selective about who they go for;
  2. Increasing the number of refugees accepted under the Quota programme to 1500.  While this would be laudable, and good PR for New Zealand internationally, certain minority players on the Coalition team might yet have something to say about it . . .;
  3. An avenue for accepting another class of refugee, who have so far hit a brick wall in getting recognition via the asylum and complementary protection system – victims of climate change from neighbouring countries such as Tuvalu.  Quite frankly, it’s about time we put our hand up to soften the humanitarian disaster which is only decades, if not years, away.

Whether any of these topics translate into action in the next 12 months remains to be seen.