All posts by Lucy Galbraith

How to get a New Zealand work visa

­­­­­­­­­How to get a New Zealand Work VisaIf you’re a skilled migrant applying for a New Zealand work visa, you may feel like the process is a job in itself. Navigating all of the visa requirements, conditions, documentation, evidence, categories, and costs can seem a daunting task.

We’ve made this checklist for you as an overview of the process of applying for a skilled migrant visa. However, we recommend you seek assistance from a licensed immigration practitioner when preparing your visa application form.

You can apply for a temporary working visa in New Zealand if you:

  • have a job offer from a New Zealand employer
  • are coming for a specific work-related purpose or event
  • have a partner already in New Zealand, and you want to join them and work
  • want to get on a working holiday (if you’re between 18 and 30), or
  • have completed higher level qualifications in New Zealand and want to work.

Visas that lead to permanent residence include the accredited employer, long-term skill shortage, entrepreneur work, Pacific access category, and religious worker visas. All visas are available for people who are 55 years old or younger.

If you want to apply for a work visa you will have to provide either evidence of a current full-time job or a job offer and be registered if your profession demands it. You can do this here.

Before you apply

  1. Make sure your job meets the minimum wage and salary threshold. These thresholds were changed in November 2018, so make sure you check our comprehensive list of the changes here.
  2. Check the ANZSCO code and skill level of the job; and check if the job is on a shortage list.
  3. Gather the employer’s documentation including the fully signed contract, you may also need the employer to show evidence that the job was advertised to the local market and could not be filled by an adequate candidate depending on whether Shortage List requirements are met.
  4. Have proof of your identity (with a valid passport and a photo of a yourself taken within the last six months) and good character (with police certificates from countries you’ve lived in for more than five years since you turned 17). You may also need to provide information about your health, by getting medical certificates or a chest x-ray from a doctor approved by Immigration New Zealand (INZ). All documents not in English, should be translated to English by a professional translator. An immigration adviser and/or immigration lawyer can help you navigate the process. If you are not sure who to ask, read our article Immigration adviser vs immigration lawyer – whose help do you need?
  5. Set up a New Zealand Government RealMe account to upload your digital documents for the online application.

Submitting the visa application

  1. Give your application the best chance of success by getting it checked by a licensed practitioner. Our 90-minute clinic (with immigration lawyer Aaron Martin) is the best way to ensure your New Zealand work visa application is approved.
  2. Submit your paper resident application within six months on the form provided by INZ. Fees and processing times will depend on your location and nationality. You can send your application by post or courier.
  3. If necessary, INZ may ask you for more information to grant you a fair chance to obtain your New Zealand work visa. INZ will let you know about your visa status as soon as it’s decided.

After getting the visa

  1. Once you have your work visa, apply for a tax record number, which you can do through the IRD. You’ll have to give this number to your employer once you have it and use it for all your tax matters.
  2. Be aware of your rights as an employee. Check out our article for all you need to know about migrant worker rights in New Zealand.

Once you have all of the above sorted, you will be well on your way to living and working as a skilled migrant in New Zealand.

The application process for a skilled migrant work visa is very expensive. To ensure the best chance of success we recommend you seek professional advice. Our 90-minute Immigration Clinic appointment is an excellent resource that is designed to help make sure you have all you need to succeed in your application. With over 22 years of experience as an immigration lawyer, Aaron can quickly check your application and let you know if you meet the requirements and have all the appropriate documentation. This can save you thousands of dollars.

Find out more about our 90-minute Immigration Clinic here.

If you’d like help with your skilled migrant visa application, or have any other queries, you can contact the office here.

 

Employer-assisted work visa changes proposed by Government

At the end of last year, the Government released a consultation paper for changes to the employer-assisted work visa. This is the class of work visa issued when the applicant has an offer of employment and the employer proves they cannot find a local to do the job. 

These changes will make it more complicated for an employer to recruit a skilled migrant if they don’t understand the new requirements. Employers in Hospitality, construction and IT services need to prepare themselves now, if they plan to recruit from the skilled migrant pool in the next 24 months.

Changes aim to create an employer-led simplified work visa system. Currently there are six work visa categories: essential skills, approval in principle, talent (accredited employer), work to residence – long term skill shortage list, and Silver Fern visas. The new framework will replace this multitude of application types, rules, and processes with a single pathway.

Conceptually the proposal amalgamates and transforms elements of the original six categories such as visa approval in principle, accredited employer processes, and labour market testing requirements.

Under the new proposals, no labour market testing would be needed for jobs that meet a higher pay threshold. This is similar to the current system of work-to-residence visas issued on the basis of an applicant having a job with accredited employers.

Labour market tests also would not be required for higher-skilled roles that are on regional skill shortage lists. As part of the proposals, new regional lists will be released in mid 2019. These are intended to be better tailored to the needs of the regions than is currently the case.

The new framework has three key parts:
1. The employer check

Employers who want to recruit staff from overseas will have to gain accreditation with Immigration New Zealand (INZ).

The accreditation process pre-clears an employer in terms of satisfying INZ that the employer:

  • is compliant with labour laws
  • has high-practice HR processes and policies and is financially stable to offer employment
  • has a commitment to increasing worker benefits/pay.

Employers will need to present evidence of financial performance, have a commitment to training and up-skilling, and show they put upward pressure on wages and conditions.

The type of accreditation will depend on the needs of the employer. The “standard” accreditation will last for 12 months and is intended for employers who wish to hire expatriate workers without offering a pathway to residence. The “premium” accreditation is for those who wish to offer a pathway to residence through employment with the company.

Obtaining accreditation (of whatever type) will be mandatory for all employers. Those who employ six or more expatriate workers within a 12-month period will be made to seek “premium” accreditation. For employers who employ five or fewer expat workers in a 12-month period, “premium” accreditation will be voluntarily.

2. The job check

This is the labour market test stage of the work visa process. Labour market tests will not be required for jobs above a certain wage threshold or on a regional skill shortage list.

All other roles will undergo labour market testing, where the employer will have to satisfy INZ they have made genuine attempts to recruit locally. But the proposal to increase the wage for the work-to-residence pathway for “premium” accredited employers to $78,000 or $37.50 per hour does seem high.

Given the restrictive nature of the requirements currently in force for the skilled migrant residence visa, the Government will need to ensure it does not create a “hole” whereby valuable workers cannot transition over to residence from work because of pay rate alone.

Employers will need to demonstrate they have training systems to achieve knowledge transfer from migrant workers to local staff and also show there are systems in place to avoid their business becoming dependent on migrant workers.

The expectations of bureaucracies can often be at odds with the reality of private-sector business in this area.

3. The migrant check

This is the actual visa application.

There is a suggestion that capability checks (the assessment of whether the visa applicant is suitably qualified to perform the job) should be undertaken by the employer. My intuitive response is that this is unlikely to happen, given concern within INZ about the potential for abuse.

INZ needs to understand that except for situations where there is abuse and collusion to commit a fraud in the border control area, businesses only hire people they believe can do the work and after they have conducted appropriate checks to ensure that is the case.

Of course, these checks may still result in mistakes being made and an employer hiring someone who has oversold their ability. But the 90-day trial under current employment law and the facilitation of visitor visas to those who are dismissed within that 90 days protects the integrity of the system in these cases.

A warning to employers to become accredited before it is too late.

If accreditation is mandatory, there will be a significant influx of applications into INZ. Businesses will want their applications processed quickly so they can recruit the talent they need in their organisation.

But INZ has had a large budgetary shortfall and is unable to process its current applications quickly due to high volumes. It does not have the resources to deal with more work.

This change represents a resource issue that will need to be addressed to make the process workable for employers, especially if the Government wants this process to be “employer-led”.

I advise any employer who knows that they will be recruiting skilled migrants to apply to become accredited now under the existing system and avoid the backlog at INZ that will come once the new visa criteria and processes are in place.

If you’d like to read more of Aaron’s thoughts on the Employer Assisted Work Visa, check out our previous blog: Employer assisted visas: addressing the unwritten trade-off…

If you’d like to discuss any of your immigration or visa concerns, get in touch with us here.

Migrant parent health insurance requirements would reduce taxpayer risk

Migrant parent health insurance requirements would reduce taxpayer risk

Recent headlines have announced that the New Zealand Government is close to making a decision on whether or not they will reopen the parent visa category. This decision will provide much needed clarity to the almost 6,000 people who have been waiting in anticipation since the category closed in 2016.

This article discusses the apprehension of some around the reopening of this category, and the positives associated with allowing migrant’s parents to make New Zealand their home.

The parent visa category, which may be reopened soon, is criticised as too costly to the taxpayer. But perhaps the problem lies in the policy settings that permit access to welfare and health services.

Pundits expect the Government will soon make a decision on whether to reopen the parent visa category.

The category, which allowed parents to join their adult children in New Zealand if they were a resident or citizen, was closed in late 2016 to clear a backlog of applications. Almost 6000 people have been in limbo for over two years at different stages in the process.

This decision will be tough for the Government, and tough for the Minister of Immigration, Iain Lees-Galloway.

The Minister knows there is a portion of the community who have migrated here and contributed to the country but feel unsettled because of separation from their parents.

When the child migrated those parents were probably young, healthy, and safe. But as decades pass and the children see their parents age, they instinctively want to protect and look after them. The parents are often alone without support in their home country, so the children want their parents here to make sure they are looked after.

There is also benefit for these migrants in having their parents with them in New Zealand. The parents can often provide substantial support to children juggling commitments to their own children and new careers, along with the pressures of settling in a new country.

On the flip-side, the Minister knows that old age brings a significant draw on Government systems, particularly health, disability services, and age care. And parents without English language ability require further support to be able to access health and social services.

The Minister also has a coalition partner with a vocal opposition to the parent category. If he reopens the category, he will have to “give that barking dog a bone”.

It seems right we should permit entry to those who had applied but were then put into limbo. They had a legitimate expectation of an outcome, and applied based on set and publicised criteria.

But some have called for the parent category to be closed based on anecdotal evidence of children bringing parents here and then leaving New Zealand taxpayers to look after them while they go overseas to presumably pursue economic opportunities.

This stance focuses on the costs of parental migration. There is a danger of seeing the cost of everything and the value of nothing.

Migrating parents do have value. As well as an economic benefit they also provide a social benefit that in my view has not been adequately researched or quantified. It is a significant benefit to society when grandparents can look after grandchildren and allow the parents of those grandchildren to work to improve the lot of the family unit. Migrating parents can add capital to their child’s endeavours toward buying a house or starting a business. This is economic development of a family that should be encouraged.

Many people complain that migrating parents cost too much to the taxpayer. But maybe the problem is the policy settings that permit access to welfare and health services?

The current Immigration Act already permits imposition of conditions on residence. Yet successive National and Labour Governments have refused to use it to require the holding of health insurance. And they have refused to permit Government hospitals to invoice those who have migrated under the parent category and who could afford such insurance.

Why? These actions would surely address the issues highlighted by critics of this policy.

We could also easily control access to state pensions when there is no record of beneficial investment or payment of tax. All it would take is some policy tweaks.

Why won’t the Government address the issues using mechanisms already available under the Immigration Act, and by adjusting other policy settings in health and welfare? Mankind put a man on the moon over half a century ago so don’t tell me this would be too hard!

 

If you have other questions regarding New Zealand Immigration Law, you can check out our Migrant Resource page here, or contact the office here.

New construction shortage list, unlikely to alleviate skill shortage…

New construction shortage list, unlikely to alleviate skill shortage…

The Government recently established the new Construction and Infrastructure Skill Shortage List (CISSL) to address the ongoing problem of short supply of construction workers in New Zealand. But the new list scheme is likely to be too rigid to be effective, and will put off the very migrant workers it claims to encourage.

The CISSL came into effect December 2018. It’s intended to increase the available skill base of construction workers so the Government can make good on its construction and infrastructure commitments, including the KiwiBuild project. It replaces and cancels the Canterbury Skill Shortage List and absorbs various construction roles from the Immediate Skill Shortage List.

The main drawback of the list is that it is overly prescriptive, with unduly specific qualification requirements.

In the new scheme, employers recruiting migrant workers to positions on the list will no longer need to show they have advertised the role locally in order for a work visa to be issued if:

  1. The duties of the job substantially match the Immigration New Zealand (INZ) description of the role
  2. The visa applicant has the qualifications and/or experience as stated on the list for that occupation
  3. The job is located in the region specified on the list.

For example, an employer looking to hire a stonemason will not have to advertise the role if the position description substantially matches INZ’s description for that job; the applicant has a qualification comparable to a New Zealand Level 4 qualification with a credit or knowledge requirement of the New Zealand Certificate in Capstone Masonry; and the job is in the Auckland region, the Upper North Island, or Canterbury.

However, if the role was in New Plymouth the employer would have to advertise the job locally before they could get a work visa for a new employee. And if the position was in Auckland but the visa applicant did not have the qualification, the employer would also have to advertise the role.

The qualification requirements add a new layer of messy complication to an already arduous visa assessment process. To obtain a visa, an applicant must now have an overseas qualification comparable to a New Zealand qualification. For example, a carpenter from overseas must show their qualification compares to a New Zealand Certificate in Carpentry (Level 4). Equivalence will be determined by a New Zealand Qualification Authority (NZQA) assessment of the overseas qualification. (The only exception is if the qualification is on an INZ list of those exempt from NZQA assessment.)

This NZQA assessment process will add time and cost to work visa applications. But it will provide a nice secondary income stream from the migration process directly to another government agency. In the old days this was known as “jobs for the boys”.

More frustratingly, the qualification requirements assume that overseas qualifications will have the same structure or content as New Zealand qualifications.

Take, for example, an employer who wants to hire a migrant to be a Site Foreman (Project Builder) in Canterbury. The visa applicant’s overseas qualification will need to be comparable to a New Zealand bachelor degree or a qualification that has the equivalent of 360 credits. Additionally, the qualification will have to have a major comparable to a New Zealand major in quantity survey in or construction economics.

How many New Zealand site foreman currently building in Canterbury have a bachelor degree with a major in quantity surveying or construction economics? And how many overseas qualifications in the building sector are going to be at bachelor level, with these specified majors?

If the Government was serious about addressing skill shortages in these particular sectors, the qualification requirement would reflect what matters most: the experience and ability of the applicant to perform the work. That is not measured by an academic qualification. Most employers in the sector are more concerned with the level of experience a candidate has and the competency that reflects.

In the occupations associated with the trades there is also a repeated emphasis on the applicant obtaining licensed building practitioner (LBP) status. Why would a migrant worker want to acquire LBP status and take on the personal liability under the Building Act for his or her employer’s projects?

Additionally, some positions on the list require that the applicant already has New Zealand experience. That seems curious. It indicates that for those roles the list cannot be used for first-time work visa applicants. Was the list intended to benefit only those renewing existing visas who are already working in a position on the list?

I believe the list’s overly specific qualification requirements are all about achieving a coalition-Government compromise. The list allows the Minister to appear to be doing something to address skill shortage issues but also panders to New Zealand First’s desire to limit immigration by introducing rules so restrictive many won’t be able to or won’t want to take advantage of it.

The list reeks of a solution developed by office workers with pointed leather shoes parked under a comfortable desk on a cold Wellington day. Perhaps if they had allowed those in hard hats and steel-capped safety boots to create the scheme it would identify in a more practical manner the skills (that is, the experience) employers need on the ground. Perhaps the result might not be so flaccid.

If you have any questions about these changes, or need help with another immigration issue, get in touch with us here.

Post-study visa changes: November updates

News and information on NZ post-study visas
New Zealand Post-study visa changes came into full effect November 26th 2018. We cover the changes and the implications for migrants and Kiwi employers.

Changes to post-study work visas came into effect yesterday. The most significant change, as discussed in our previous article “Employer Assisted Visas: addressing the unwritten trade off” is the removal of the employer’s company name on the visa. Open visas will take its place, a positive not only for migrants but for local employers as well.

The new visa categories are:

  • A three-year post-study open work visa for those who have completed a bachelor’s degree or higher qualification
  • A one-year post-study open work visa for those studying New Zealand Qualifications Framework level 4-6 and non-degree level 7 qualifications. An additional year is available for graduate diploma students who are working towards registration with a professional or trade body, and
  • A “time-bound” two-year post-study open work visa for students studying level 4-6 and non-degree level 7 qualifications outside Auckland (study must be completed before 2021).

To make sure current tertiary students and post-study work visa holders aren’t disadvantaged, Immigration New Zealand has also introduced the following.

  • Students who held a student visa or were in the process of applying for a student visa to study towards an eligible qualification as at 8 August 2018 can apply for a three-year post-study open work visa on completion of their qualification.
  • Students in this category who have previously had a one-year open post-study work visa can apply for a two-year post-study open work visa on completion of their qualification.
  • Those who currently hold a one-year post-study work visa can apply for a further two-year open post-study work visa.
  • Those who currently hold an Employer Assisted Work Visa can apply to vary the conditions of their visa and remove the occupation, employer, and location restrictions.

These changes will allow migrant students and graduates greater freedom to change jobs and compete on an even playing-field with local candidates. Much of the exploitation of migrants that we have seen in the news is due to the visa restrictions that tied migrants to one eligible employer in order to work and live in the country. Now that migrant workers are not dependent on one employer they are free to find a better role if work conditions and pay aren’t adequate. They will also have more freedom to move to roles more suited to their desired career.

The visa changes mean that future students will need to undertake courses of a much higher calibre to secure work rights after study. In accordance, the educational threshold for entry and the English standard of those coming to New Zealand will be higher. This is a clear benefit for employers as it will make for a greater selection of candidates with higher skill sets. The changes also mean employers do not need to be so involved in an employee’s post-study work visa process, which saves employers time and inconvenience.

All change comes with some uncertainty, but overall these changes will be of huge benefit to both migrants and local employers. Hopefully this will pave the way for other visa categories to be reviewed.

For a full list of changes, have a look at the Immigration New Zealand resource here.

If you want to talk about your post-study visa options, or have any other immigration law concerns, contact the NZIL office here.

Increase in work visa thresholds will only add to skilled labour crisis

New Zealand Work Visa

The skilled-labour crisis is about to get worse, thanks to increases in minimum wage rates for skilled migrant workers.

The Government-imposed increase in wage and salary thresholds will come into effect from November 26, for both the Essential Skills Work Visa and the Skilled Migrant Residence Visa.

This increase has major implications for both migrants and employers. The inflation is based on new calculations of the “average” wage rate in relation to an increase in the cost of living, demonstrating the insanity of pay rate being a proxy for skill.

In a free labour market, supply and demand are supposed to determine wage/salary rates. But in the labour market for migrant workers, the Government is directly influencing wages under the guise of pay being a proxy for skill level.

The metric is artificial and arbitrary. It’s designed to make things easier for bureaucrats to manage but has become an overly complex system with unintended and major consequences for migrant employees and employers alike.

Implications for employers:

The new thresholds will increase pressure on staffing costs for employers in the healthcare, trade, and hospitality sectors if they wish to keep migrants whose wage/salary sits below these thresholds.

Recently some healthcare workers managed to get a pay increase to $24.65 – partly based on the pay parity case brought by care worker Kristine Bartlett. This put some migrants in the healthcare sector within reach of residence.

The threshold increases mean this residence is no longer a realistic reality. This could mean a loss of valuable human resources for employers as these workers either give up, move into other sectors, or leave the country, tired of being stuck on what seems like an endless round of work visas with no end in sight.

These issues will also impact employers in the hospitality sector. Pathways to residence for occupations in this sector that are more junior will now prove more difficult. A survey of wage rates nationally showed they varied considerably across the regions, but on average a senior chef de partie earned about $45,000, well below the cut-off level. If these valuable employees have no potential to attain residence, we will lose them.

The new thresholds will also introduce difficult pay parity issues for employers. The new wage rates that migrants require as dictated by Government policy are out of kilter with market increases across the board. Employers will not be able to simply pay migrants the extra required without also raising the wages of their local workers. How could they justify this to the local staff? Any pay disparity will engender a level of upward wage pressure for everyone. Many employers are not in a position to be able to raise wages across the board.

Implications for migrants: 

Work Visa

Immigration New Zealand uses pay rates as part of the process of determining the skill level of a job. This determines the length of visa allocated and has flow-on impact for a migrant’s ability to bring family into New Zealand under this category.

Under the new rules:

  • For skill level 1-3 occupations you will need a pay rate of $21.25 to get a three-year work visa (up from $20.65)

  • For skill level 4 and 5 occupations you will need an hourly rate of $37.50 to secure a three-year visa (up from $36.44).

For example, a chef paid $21 an hour would currently be considered mid-skilled, and get a three-year visa. If the same person applies after 26 November, they will be considered low-skilled, and only get a one-year visa.

Residence

For residence purposes, the pay rates you need to have a job classified as skilled will increase from 26 November. If you are not being paid at least $25 for a ANZSCO skill level 1-3 role, the job won’t be considered skilled for visa purposes. The skilled remuneration threshold for ANZSCO skill level 4 and 5 occupations has also increased to $37.50 per hour. So, the minimum required salary threshold will be $52,000.

What will this mean in practice? Under the current rules, a person in a skill level 3 job (which includes many trades) who is paid, say, $24.50 per hour is regarded as in skilled employment and has a chance at residence. After 26 November, they will no longer be regarded as being in skilled employment and will lose that opportunity.

In addition, under the new rules, to get bonus points for an occupation with “high remuneration” you will need an hourly rate of $50.

 Macro considerations

How do you explain to a person that when they go to bed they are regarded as in skilled employment and eligible for residence, but when they wake up the job is not regarded as skilled employment?

How do you explain to somebody that when they go to bed they are eligible for a three-year work visa because their job is regarded as mid-skilled, but when they wake up they are only eligible for a one-year work visa because now their job is regarded as low-skilled?

Furthermore, how do you explain to employers that their staff will need a pay rise if you want to keep them?

In a time where employers are crying out for skilled migrants, these changes are an arbitrary and illogical hurdle against solving our skilled worker shortage. The changes also clearly demonstrate the lack of deep-thinking around implications of arbitrary measures of “scoring eligibility” used by Immigration New Zealand.

To see the full schedule of changes, click here. 

If you’re wondering how this will affect your current Employer Assisted Work Visa, contact NZIL

Work visa wage rate increase

 

Information about the increased wage threshold for NZ visas coming into effect Nov 26 2018

The Government-imposed increase in wage and salary thresholds will come into effect from November 26, for both the Essential Skills Work Visa and the Skilled Migrant Residence Visa.

This increase has major implications for both migrants and employers. The inflation is based on new calculations of the “average” wage rate in relation to an increase in the cost of living.

Here is the overview of the rate changes for each visa category affected:

Hourly rates from 26 November 2018

From 26 November 2018, we are making changes to what an applicant in the Skilled Migrant Category must earn.

Threshold Between 15 January 2018 and 25 November 2018 From 26 November 2018
Threshold for skilled employment in an occupation at ANZSCO 1-3 $24.29 per hour or above (or the equivalent annual salary) $25.00 per hour or above (or the equivalent annual salary)
Threshold for skilled employment in an occupation at ANZSCO 4-5, or which is not included in ANZSCO $36.44 per hour or above (or the equivalent annual salary) $37.50 per hour or above (or the equivalent annual salary)
Threshold to earn bonus points $48.58 per hour or above (or the equivalent annual salary) $50.00 per hour or above (or the equivalent annual salary)

 

After 26 November 2018, we are making changes to what an applicant in the Essential Skills work visa category must earn.

Threshold Between 15 January 2018 and 25 November 2018 From 26 November 2018
Threshold for mid-skilled employment in an occupation at ANZSCO 1-3 $20.65 per hour or above (or the equivalent annual salary) $21.25 per hour or above (or the equivalent annual salary)
Threshold for higher skilled employment in any occupation (including those at ANZSCO 4-5) $36.44 per hour or above (or the equivalent annual salary) $37.50 per hour or above (or the equivalent annual salary)

 

FAQs:

What if I am a current Essential Skills work visa holder and my job does not meet the new threshold? What if I’m an employer and one of my staff hold a current visa but their wage does not meet the new threshold?

Ans: Visas that people already hold will not be affected. Changes to the income thresholds will not affect the duration or conditions of visas that have already been granted.

If you apply for, or have applied for, an Essential Skills work visa and your application was received by INZ before 26 November 2018, the old thresholds will be used to assess your application and determine your visa application. Only new applications made on or after 26 November 2018 will be assessed against the new threshold.

This may mean the conditions or visa duration of the next visa could be different. For example, a chef paid $21 an hour would currently be considered mid-skilled, as the occupation is ANZSCO level 2 and the pay is above the existing threshold of $20.65. However, if they applied for a further visa after 26 November, they would be considered low skilled, unless their pay increased to above the new threshold of $21.25.

If I am an employer who has already advertised and prepared to support an Essential Skills work visa, but the person cannot get his application in before 26 November 2018, what happens then?

Ans: If an application is received and accepted after 26 November 2018, the new thresholds will apply, even if, for example, the employment agreement has been signed prior to 26 November 2018.

What happens if I was invited to apply for the Skilled Migrant Category under the old thresholds?

Ans: We will assess your application against the thresholds in place on the date your expression of interest (EOI) was selected from the Pool, if that selection results in an invitation to apply. For example, if your EOI was selected on 21 November and you were invited to apply before 30 November, the old remuneration thresholds will apply, even though you weren’t invited to apply until after the new thresholds were introduced.

If you are concerned about your visa status based on these changes, get in touch with our team here.

All you need to know about migrant worker rights in NZ

There has been a lot in the news recently about migrant employee exploitation, and there seems to be some common themes. As most migrant’s visas are tied to an employer they can often feel trapped, unable to report issues as their lives in New Zealand depend on the linked employer. So what kind of exploitation are migrant workers facing? And more importantly, what can they – even better, our Government – do about it?  We talk to the experts to find out.

Migrant workers in New Zealand face several unique challenges. To find out more we spoke with Aaron Martin of NZIL, employment lawyer Mark Donovan, and Anu Kaloti, founding member of the Migrant Workers Association. All work in areas that help migrants with issues of employment, and all have successfully dealt with many cases of exploitation.

Most major issues that migrant workers face involve exploitation. This usually means the employer is denying the employee their basic rights and entitlements. All New Zealand workers, whether residents or migrants, are entitled to certain rights. Read the full list of rights (in a variety of languages) here:

Employers must include these basic rights and entitlements in their written contract with an employee. But the rights aren’t always put into practice. A migrant on a work visa who wants to live in New Zealand relies on their employer to comply with the rules. Often visas restrict migrants to one particular employer, so a migrant’s fate may be dependent on that sole employer doing the right thing.

 

Migrants are particularly vulnerable to exploitation because if a migrant employee is dismissed or their employer is identified as non-compliant, the migrant’s visa can be revoked. Kaloti often hears of employers threatening migrant workers with “if you don’t do XYZ we’ll get your visa cancelled or report you to Immigration”. She specifies that it is not uncommon for migrants to be verbally and even physically abused.

So, what are the common issues migrant workers face? And what can they do?

1. Wages

Employers must pay migrants a wage specified by the salary band linked to their visa. This wage must be clearly stated on a written employment agreement that has been signed by both parties. Unfortunately, some employers are finding ways around this.

Kaloti explains that often the employer will deposit the correct pay into the employee’s account “so the paper trail is perfect”, only to later demand a portion of that pay be given back. Often this is justified by claiming the employee was in debt to previous loans or training costs. The paper trail is kept clean by asking for the payment in cash or as a bank transfer to a friend or colleague’s account that is then paid back to the employer.

Another common example is hiring migrants under a “two-for-one deal”. Kaloti and the Migrant Workers Association are currently working through such a case with a married couple. The wife is employed by an IT company, which has enabled her to get a work visa. But her employment is on the condition that her husband works for her employer’s other business, an orchard. The wife is receiving the correct salary specified by her visa conditions; the husband, however, doesn’t get paid at all.

If an employee raises these kinds of issues in a public arena, it usually just causes them more grief. “Getting a third party involved can be like putting a fox in a hen house,” Martin says. The Labour Inspectorate works directly with Immigration New Zealand. So, if you report your employer for wage exploitation and you’re in the process of applying for a visa, your case can be denied on the grounds of having a non-compliant employer. This is why, as Martin advises, employees in this situation “usually just shut up and carry on”.

2. Leave and breaks

There are many reports of migrant staff working unpaid overtime or being denied leave or rest breaks. It is easy for an employer to specify the correct hours on a contract, then fail to monitor overtime and keep correct records. Sometimes this can be credited to an overly “relaxed” approach on the employer’s part, but often cases are of a less innocent nature.

Employees can work double the time recorded by an employer but be forced to sign false records in fear of losing their job. Then, if they raise a dispute, the evidence is against them. Employees being denied leave and break entitlements have similar problems providing proof.

If there’s no evidence, it’s can be hard to put together a case. But Mark Donovan offers some reassurance: “Immigration New Zealand and the Labour Inspectorate are alert to the risks around these issues with migrant employers. If the evidence of the employee is only their word and the employer cannot produce any evidence to contradict them, they’re still often likely to be believed as they are putting their life in New Zealand on the line.”

3. Business sold or liquidated

Complications arise for an employee when a business their visa is tied to is sold or liquidated. Sometimes, depending on the conditions of the visa, an employee can apply for a variation. If not, the migrant must submit a completely new visa application.

If the employer has another business, they can offer the employee a new position or a transfer. Martin, having worked on at least four such cases, believes this is an easy fix. If you’re working under an Essential Skills visa, provided the role and the location don’t change, it is likely you will be able to simply apply for a variation. If the role is different or in a new location, Martin says: “Effectively the Work Visa holder has to find another job – but they’re still in a situation of being tied to that employer.”

If a business is getting liquidated, an employee can be out of work without any notice. In some cases, and legally in all cases where a business is sold, notice will be given as specified in the terms of the contract. Immigration New Zealand won’t enforce immediate deportation, but it is imperative employees contact them as soon as they know they’re facing unemployment. Immigration New Zealand can issue a Visitor Visa, which will give the employee up to nine months to find more work.

Unfortunately, many employers don’t want to hire a migrant on a Visitor Visa or an open visa that is due to expire. It can be hard to find an employer willing to work through the gamut of a work visa application, especially if it is only for a short-term role. While it is legal to look for work on a Visitor Visa, it is not legal to actively work. Both parties must be mindful that if a visa’s conditions are not honoured, there can be serious legal implications.

4. Unfair dismissal

Unfair dismissal includes failing to follow a fair and reasonable process, giving less notice than is stated on a written agreement, or failing to provide an adequate reason for dismissal.

Where there is an unfair dismissal, legal action can be taken provided the employee raises a personal grievance with their employer within 90 days of being dismissed. Often disputes of this nature are resolved between the parties in a confidential meeting convened by the Ministry of Business, Innovation and Employment, known as a “mediation”.

Although often straightforward, unfair dismissal cases still can pose a difficult situation for migrant employees. While waiting for a mediation date, or for their case to be considered by the Employment Relations Authority, they will lose their main source of income and no longer meet the visa criteria that keeps them in the country. In a lot of cases, the employer will also unlawfully hold onto the final pay owed to the employee. If the employer has enforced an instant dismissal, or is withholding payout entitlements, the employee is left with no means to pay their rent and basic living costs.

5. Dismissal within the 90-day trial period

Employment agreements can specify a trial period of 90 days or less that allows the employer to dismiss an employee within this period if they aren’t suited to the role. The trial period can be a fairly daunting time for any new worker. For migrants with work visas tied to their employer, it’s not just a job they might lose – it’s their future, and their family’s future, in New Zealand.

This is a hard issue to resolve, as the employer is within their legal rights to dismiss the employee within the period stated on the employment agreement, provided they meet the legal tests for imposing such a trial period. As Martin says: “If you’re dismissed within the 90-day trial period, there’s no way around it other than getting a new job with a new visa or obtaining a Visitor Visa.”

Donovan says that the condition attaching an employer to a work visa is creating many of these issues: “It allows the employer to say ‘Aha! You’re mine!’ and the employee is stuck, even if their wages aren’t getting paid.” Employees avoid seeking legal help or even joining a union from fear of losing their employer and the right to live and work in New Zealand.

Kaloti believes that to reduce exploitation, all work visas should be open. “Tying work visas to an employer is too harsh,” she says.

Martin disagrees that all work visas should be open, but strongly believes most exploitation could be remedied with a simple policy change. “When a migrant raises an issue or needs to leave their job due to exploitation, instead of issuing a Visitor Visa we should give them a 6-month open work visa so at least they can apply for other jobs on a better footing,” he says. A Visitor Visa gives a migrant more time in the country, but they can’t legally work. And the application process for a new work visa once they’ve found an employer can take some time. “The government says it’s trying to protect migrants from exploitation,” says Martin, “but they sadly don’t give a hell of a lot to assist people in those circumstances.”

It’s important that migrant employees know they have the same rights as a resident employee. If you’re a migrant employee and a dispute happens at work, the Citizens Advice Bureau is a good place to start for free advice. They will likely refer you to the Labour Inspectorate or, if it is a personal grievance, the Employment Relations Authority. Alternatively, an employment or immigration lawyer can provide individual support and legal advice.

Kaloti believes that more and more migrants are beginning to speak out about exploitation. Workers who are concerned about jeopardising their visa if they seek legal help could consider a union for support and advice. Kaloti recommends migrants join a union relative to their area of work or one of several unions specific to migrants such as the Migrant Workers Association of Aotearoa, Migrant Action Trust, or the Indian Workers Association.

For more information about resolving workplace issues, check out this Employment New Zealand resource page

If you need help with an Employment or work related issue, contact Mark Donovan here

If you need help with an immigration related issue, contact NZIL here

For a list of work unions available in New Zealand, have a look on the Trade Unions of New Zealand web page here.

Employer Assisted Visas: addressing the unwritten trade-off…

Employer Assisted Visas

Last month it was announced that changes are being made to the conditions of the Employer Assisted Work Visa. If Kiwi employers allow for it, these changes won’t only be a win for new migrant graduates, protecting them against exploitation, but for Kiwi employers as well.

Upcoming Immigration law changes in November mean holders of Employer Assisted Work Visas will no longer have to name their employer on their visa. Currently, when an employer is noted on a visa it is a condition of the visa that the holder remain in that employment with that employer for the duration of the visa.

This change will allow a new cohort of graduating international students to secure work rights for a three-year period to work for any employer.

This will give those seeking work experience relevant to their qualification a much greater chance in gaining meaningful employment that not only benefits them but also New Zealand. It will hopefully stop the gross under-utilisation of skill and talent we see where young international students who have completed good tertiary-level qualifications end up in jobs well below their skill level, often being paid very poorly.

Having a work visa that permits employment with any employer evens the playing field. These migrants can now fully participate in a free labour market and move to better positions commensurate with their skill level if new opportunities arise. This will prevent many becoming captive to unscrupulous employers who underpay for the skill level of the role being performed as some form of unwritten trade-off for supporting visa applications.

I hope this change will also encourage more New Zealand employers to consider hiring from this group of ambitious young professionals. Employers will hopefully no longer be frightened off by visa expiry dates and the perceived complexity of becoming involved in immigration matters.

If you’re wondering how this will affect your current Employer Assisted Work Visa, contact NZIL

If you’d like to read an Employer Assisted Work Visa success story, click here.

If you’d like to know other benefits of hiring a migrant, check out our last article.

For other migrant information check out our Migrant Resources.

If you’re thinking about hiring a migrant, read our Employer Checklist

Helping Businesses To Become Accredited

Recently, we assisted the nationwide horticulture business Zealandia to become an accredited employer. With over 200 staff they were facing constant skilled labour shortages, gaining employer accreditation is now saving them both time and money when they need to go offshore to recruit.

“I work for a horticulture business that employs over 200 staff. We’re considered to be a large horticulture business in an industry with a skill shortage. If we weren’t able to hire offshore staff, we’d be in big trouble.

Thanks to the assistance from Aaron, Zealandia is now an Immigration New Zealand Accredited Employer.
Gaining accreditation means we’ve almost completed the immigration process before we recruit. As long as our candidate fits the criteria, Immigration New Zealand has already given us preapproval. This means we don’t risk going through the whole expense of recruiting from overseas with the risk of not being able to have the selected candidate be successful from an immigration perspective.

We’ve been working with Aaron for years now. I really like how upfront and honest he is about whether a case is likely to be successful. I don’t think he likes coming second very much, and I get the feeling he doesn’t submit a case unless he’s pretty sure it will get across the line.

We’ve also experienced cases that were unsuccessful where Aaron went into bat for us because he believed the law had been interpreted wrong. He has had decisions overturned by challenging the decision-maker. As a lay-person, that’s exactly what you need from your immigration lawyer.

We have huge confidence in what Aaron says and we lean on him for advice. He’s a good man. We wouldn’t have achieved the success from an immigration perspective in our business without someone like him in our camp.”

 

Pedro Wylaars
General Manager, Zealandia Horticulture

 

Speak to us if you need help getting your business accredited with Immigration NZ.