Category Archives: Opinion

Since our team of immigration lawyers deal with complex cases every day, we post their informed opinions on the current immigration situation

Is it time for a new work visa category?

Is it time to create a new work visa NZNew Zealand is part of a global shortage of skilled workers. At the same time, there are thousands of skilled migrant contractors in the worldwide talent pool, that Kiwi employers can’t hire. Immigration law expert, Aaron Martin, believes an ideal solution to the issue would be to introduce a new visa category that enables skilled migrants to work as contractors not linked to a single employer.

 

Giving New Zealand flexibility to grow: a visa idea…

Aaron Martin of New Zealand Immigration Law understands “the nature of work is evolving with the constant changes in technology”. Employment is no longer as straightforward as it once was: fewer people are working for long durations with a single employer, and more people are taking up contracts that allow them flexibility with projects and clients, as well as places and times of work. The 9-5, Monday to Friday workweek is becoming less prevalent, and “agile” and remote working is becoming the norm.

Is it fair then, to expect our immigration policies to remain stagnant? The shift in work style is moving almost as rapidly as the advancement of technology. To get ahead, New Zealand is going to need a bit of help.

Both Martin and Lynn Crean, an IT-focused recruitment professional at Role recruitment, believe we need a new visa category to fit this new style of working. They believe a visa category for contractors would not only provide access to a wider range of skilled workers – allowing New Zealand to get up to speed in the digital arena – but offer better protection for migrant employees. They also emphasise a vast range of potential economic benefits for employers and New Zealand alike.

 

Benefits to New Zealand employers

A visa for contractors would bring several benefits for New Zealand employers. If employers were able to fill roles facing skill shortages with international candidates on a short-term contract there would be less admin, increased flexibility and choice, and, importantly, economic gains through value for money and future-proofing. Even companies interested in longer-term employees would see benefit, as this would, as Martin states “allow them to assess skill suitability and fit within the business before committing to a permanent hire.”

The ability to employ staff to suit the ebbs and flows of labour markets, or for projects that only require a short-term solution, is inarguably a huge benefit on its own. This goes for both low and high-skilled shortages, as the ability to hire for a specific project helps manage staffing costs associated with keeping up with these waves.

The nature of the visa would also mean getting more “bang-for-your-buck”. As Crean explains, contractors are hired on a higher rate, so they need to hit the ground running immediately. “This also means work gets done and deliverables and outcomes are easier to measure,” she says. “Companies can better manage their cashflow through controlling costs and working with the requirements of the business.”

Financially speaking, that’s not the only benefit. Being able to hire skilled migrants on a short-term basis, to either train existing staff or create innovative solutions and products (such as apps for large non-digital companies), is an effective way to keep up with global trends.

This is especially true in the arena of digital transformation, or “DX”. From a global point of view, New Zealand is seen as “quite open innovatively” but desperately behind when it comes to talent. Places such as Argentina, Ukraine, and the United Kingdom are streets ahead in terms of DX, and have adopted a heavy e-commerce economy. New Zealand talent simply can’t keep up with the skills and experience in these areas. Keeping up with these trends would keep us on the global playing field and allow us to work with the strong sense of innovation many New Zealanders value.

Digital transformation is global, and the skills New Zealand needs are also in high demand worldwide. This is potentially where the contractors’ visa would hold most value, as highly skilled candidates value flexibility. Martin explains that “employers would be able to connect with a wider professional network of candidates who want contract roles as opposed to permanent positions”, bringing huge amounts of opportunity to our country.

 

Benefits for migrants

Flexibility in terms of changing jobs isn’t just a benefit for migrants who have freedom of choice due to their sought-after skill set. It would also offer greater protection for migrants in compromising situations. Martin has previously discussed the overwhelming rate of exploitation against migrant workers in New Zealand. His belief is that a contractors’ visa could be a very effective solution to end this.

As discussed more deeply in his article All You Need to Know about Migrant Worker Rights in NZ, the same closed conditions that come with most visas to protect migrants are also making them extremely vulnerable. These conditions bind migrant workers to a specific employer, role, and location in order to hold a visa and live in the country. Unfortunately, the fear of being deported is being used by employers to manipulate workers, or is preventing them from reaching out. “The least free labour market place is in fact that of expatriate workers,” says Martin. “They cannot take their labour and move to another employer for better conditions or treatment because of the restrictions created by the immigration process.”

A free labour market is one that accommodates people who want flexible work arrangements in terms of hours, days, and locations. It is only natural to allow for more freedom for our valued migrant employees.

 

Benefits for New Zealand

You don’t have to look far to see that the nature of work is changing. More employees are benefiting from flexible places of work and times of work, and from not being held to one client or position. Contracting or freelancing is becoming more viable and popular among workers and employers. Globally, this freedom is quickly becoming the norm. Many companies, especially those that are larger or internationally recognised, are adopting this style of working. Going forward, it will be necessary to enable migrant workers to operate in a similar fashion, even if only to maintain a feeling of equality.

Many New Zealand companies are lagging in this area. As Crean explains, traditional business models, although still successful here, “would struggle to survive anywhere else in the world”. She uses e-commerce as a prime example. Amazon, the multibillion-dollar online marketplace, has viable competitors all over the world. “We have nothing even close to being structured like that logistically. Not even the niches.”

There’s no doubt that the ability to compete in the e-commerce sector would have a hugely positive impact for New Zealand’s economy. And we know that to get up to speed with other countries in this area we need to bring in talent who are already fluent in the industry. Short-term contracts could make for faster penetration of such markets – even if it these temporary hires were just to train existing staff or create strategies for moving forward. E-commerce is just one component of the digital era and Crean says New Zealand is “desperately behind”. We need to make some changes to keep up with the global rate of digital transformation and future-proof the country.

Martin understands why Immigration New Zealand (INZ) may have some concerns about the prospect of a contractors’ visa. It would mean there was no employer to hold accountable for breaches of immigration and labour laws. It would also increase the potential for non-residents to evade tax and leave the country. Martin believes, however, that introducing a short-term contractors visa would make INZ’s processes somewhat easier – if done correctly. The rules for a contractor worker visa would have to address these issues by stipulating that contracts have enforceable provisions.

He suggests:

  • The rate of pay to be at market. This will require INZ have access to good information from the employer sector and professional bodies.
  • As the visa holder would be a captured contractor, the contract’s provisions should mirror provisions relating to rest and breaks.
  • Like all contractors, hours of work should be flexible – if a contractor wishes to work 60 hours or over weekends in order to finish the work and contract early, they should be able to do this. This will mean the visa holder can complete the work sooner. The visa conditions should stipulate that if the contract ends sooner, the visa also expires. This would be reinforced by the exiting provisions of the Immigration Act, which creates a deportation liability in the event the basis on which the visa was issued no longer exists.

And furthermore, in terms of tax:

  • The conditions of the visa should also relate to tax compliance. Pay-day filing for contractors would assist in that regard, as would information sharing between Inland Revenue and INZ.
  • Tax compliance should be reviewed as part of renewal processes or applications.
  • Exit permissions could only be granted at the border if a tax certificate confirming compliance with tax payments was presented before boarding an outbound aircraft. Exit permissions of this type are not unusual.

To add further benefit, Crean believes that this visa category would help INZ pinpoint, define, and articulate the specific skill shortages and roles that need to be filled.

Martin and Crean believe that the benefits of a short-term contractors’ visa far outweigh the possible problems. The issues that may arise are likely to be easier dealt with than many of the problems we are facing now. Increased opportunities for New Zealand businesses, the chance to better protect migrant workers, and the considerable economic potential for the country as a whole, in Martin’s eyes, make this an easy decision.

If you’ve got questions about your visa, or would like to talk to Aaron, check out our migrant resources page 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.

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

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.

Bureaucratic insanity, the Immigration law that caused over-staying…

The introduction of interim visas was a welcomed change, but a major flaw in the process resulted in many people illegally overstaying in New Zealand, despite legitimately trying to follow the law. Recent changes have amended, but not without leaving a number of serious implications for migrants.

Immigration New Zealand’s own processes around Interim Visas have been increasing the number of over-stayers in New Zealand. Thank fully, Immigration New Zealand changed their policy on the 27th of August to address this issue.

Interim visas are what Australians sensibly call “bridging visas”. If Immigration New Zealand can’t make a decision on a new visa application before the applicant’s existing visa expires, it can issue an electronic interim visa to allow the applicant to stay in the country until the decision is made.

Prior to the introduction of interim visas, if your existing visa expired and Immigration New Zealand hadn’t decided on your application for a new one, you became an over-stayer. So Immigration New Zealand’s own timeliness in decision-making (or lack of timeliness) contributed to creating a pool of over-stayers.

Interim visas were intended to stop that problem. But there was a fundamental flaw in their operation: they expired the day after a decision was made on an application.

If you made a new application on 1 June, and your existing visa expired 1 July, the interim visa would start 2 July to allow you to stay here lawfully until a decision was made. But if Immigration New Zealand declined the new application after 1 July, your interim visa would end one day after that decision, making you an over-stayer.

That one day became crucial to many: you could use it to apply for reconsideration of the decline decision, or to reapply for the same visa.

Applications for reconsideration, however, required you to submit your passport to Immigration New Zealand along with the request for reconsideration. If your passport was held by Immigration New Zealand when the decision to decline the visa was made, you often wouldn’t get it back until three working days later. That meant you were unlawful in New Zealand, and being unlawful meant you lost the right of reconsideration.

Even if you had your passport, if the decision to decline your application was made late in the day on a Friday, by Monday when Immigration New Zealand opened to receive a reconsideration application, you were unlawful in New Zealand and therefore not allowed to apply for reconsideration.

This bureaucratic insanity meant many people legitimately trying to follow the law ended up illegally in New Zealand.

Even when people in this situation decided to leave New Zealand, the practical reality of packing up a life meant they would have a period of over-staying. This would then prejudice their ability to obtain visas offshore in order to return to New Zealand.

Think of all the things you need to do when moving countries: if you have rented a house, you need to give notice in accordance with the tenancy agreement. If you are in a job, you need to give notice in accordance with your employment agreement. You have to close bank accounts, sell cars, and sell personal possessions. You need to arrange accommodation back in your home country – which you may have not lived in sometimes for five years or more. All these things simply can’t be done in 24 hours.

For people who complied with the law, moved back overseas, and applied for a visa to re-enter, Immigration New Zealand would often consider any period of unlawful presence in New Zealand as a basis for claiming the applicant was non-compliant with visa rules and therefore should not be permitted to re-enter New Zealand. This decision was made for people who did not intend, want, or deliberately become over-stayers.

Finally, Immigration New Zealand has followed the Australian model and now the interim visa expires 21 days after a decision is made. This permits a practical window of opportunity for people to challenge a decision that may be incorrectly made. Or, alternatively, it gives them a realistic and practical period of time to leave New Zealand.

It is unfortunate that the change comes after so many people have had their immigration history destroyed by poor policy.

Worried about deportation? Have a look at our deportation page here.

If you have questions regarding the Interim Visa or any other recent policy changes, please contact us here.

For more migrant information and resources, have a look here.

Why NZ needs skilled migrants

NZ needs skilled migrants

Immigration is a hot topic in the news, stories highlighting an increase in migrant workers often brings a backlash from the public as there is a perception that skilled migrants are taking opportunities for lower pay that could be filled by a local workforce.

 So why does New Zealand have to recruit workers from overseas?

Immigration New Zealand’s website currently lists over 60 areas that immediately need skilled workers. These include IT, agriculture, education, the health sector, and trade and construction.

If the job is not in an area of skill shortage, and the visa applicant is not qualified as detailed in that list, current visa criteria requires companies to make significant attempts to fill vacancies with New Zealanders. And it goes without saying that companies would prefer to hire locally. As prominent immigration lawyer Aaron Martin says: “Why on earth would an employer go through the paperwork of a visa application process if they don’t have to?”

But, as the lengthy list of shortages shows, there just aren’t enough Kiwis with the required training and experience to fill the gaps. Talent is the single most important factor in the future prosperity of many industries, in fact the lack of available talent will be the greatest restriction in their growth.

Even in areas facing skill shortages, hires can take months or more. Catherine Clarke of Roam Creative, a leading digital product and innovation agency, told us: “It can take at least two to three months to fill a vacancy. Roam has been recruiting continually all year to fill roles including testers, designers, developers, and product managers. With perseverance and a strong employer brand, we’ve been lucky enough to source some amazing talent recently, but it is challenging as there simply aren’t enough skilled local candidates to cope with the growth of the IT industry in New Zealand.”

Roam recently set up an office in Sydney, but shortage of IT personnel is a problem there, too. With difficulty filling roles in New Zealand, and even stricter immigration laws in Australia, Clarke knows the vacancies won’t be filled quickly.

Crop production is another area on the immediate skill shortage list. Pedro Wylaars, National General Manager of Zealandia, has over 220 staff working to grow and supply millions of plants to commercial growers and garden centre businesses across the country. The company is always advertising for staff, and it struggles even to fill roles that offer on-the-job training.

It’s also a challenge for Zealandia to find New Zealanders with relevant tertiary qualifications. “The universities in New Zealand can’t fill up the horticulture papers,” says Wylaars. “And most of those students end up switching over to the agricultural sciences anyway.”

Wylaars says that if they couldn’t take on staff from other countries, they’d be “in big trouble”.

But aren’t migrants taking jobs from Kiwis who need work?

Both Roam and Zealandia are in industries on the skills shortage list, and are lucky enough to be able to recruit from overseas. But some people think these jobs should go to unemployed Kiwis.

Martin says this is a misconception of the realities of operating a business. “Some New Zealanders have a myopic view of the needs of New Zealand employers who are (often) trying to compete internationally” he says. “Some think ‘being a Kiwi’ is a qualification in itself that should put them first in terms of candidate selection”

Martin believes that employers should be able to choose staff who are the best fit for their company, with the best skills and the highest expertise. “If you miss out on a job to someone from overseas, it means you were not the best-qualified person, and you need to get out and upskill yourself. The best-skilled people get the jobs – it’s that simple”.

What benefits do migrants bring to jobs? 

It’s not just skills, training, and experience that migrants bring to roles; it’s a whole different ethos. Drive, ambition, energy, and a willingness to continuously upskill come as part of the package.

Martin credits this to one simple reason: “When you uproot yourself and family, and say good bye to your friends, your professional networks, and the comfort of a labour market that understands your skills, and you drop yourself into a completely foreign country, there’s no room for failure.”

Most migrant employees come from countries where there are several billion people. With intense competition for jobs and employment it’s necessary to adopt a strong work ethic to make yourself shine. New Zealand employers find this incredibly attractive. “It’s not a one-way equation,” says Martin. “It’s not as if migrants are the only ones benefitting – we actually get something that we need, too. It’s a two-way exchange. We get the benefit of their skill and experience. We get an opportunity to learn new things and that knowledge transfer benefits business and local employees.”

 Migrants also bring valuable diversity to the workplace. Roam, which creates apps and digital solutions across a variety of industries, finds this hugely beneficial. “Every product we build is designed with the user in mind. Migrants have been so valuable in bringing new insight and different perspectives when it comes to designing products for the user, which gives our Product teams a broader understanding of users on a global scale, empowering us to design products for the global market.”

The skills and experience migrants bring can also help take businesses up to another level. Wylaars experienced this first-hand when he employed an overseas candidate who is recognised globally as one of the top five in their field. “We thought we were already doing a pretty good job,” says Wylaars. “But this new employee has taken us two or three rungs further up the ladder – we’re now getting global attention for some our new techniques and processes.”

What benefits do migrants have on the economy?

Clarke says that areas experiencing skill shortages, such as IT, have become “candidate-driven job markets” where locals can demand high salaries. “In some cases, IT salaries have been driven up because of this,” she says.

High salaries obviously impact employers, with the cost usually passed onto clients. But the claim that migrant labour dampens wages is not the reality of employers experience.

Clarke states: “Our employees are hired for their expertise and their value to the business. Whether they were hired locally or overseas, this is irrelevant. It’s neither fair, nor sustainable to offer migrants lower pay as they’ll just move on to another job”.

International employees use their previous connections with overseas companies to help businesses grow, as well as create new businesses. This helps our overall economic growth. Migrants bring innovative concepts, methods and different perspectives with them from overseas.

“When you look at the net gain on economic activity of New Zealanders versus migrants, migrants perform well as their draw on publicly funds services is often low,” Martin says.

Migrants are less likely to claim benefits and, contrary to popular belief, actually create more jobs, mostly due to supply and demand. “As more migrants come into to the country we begin to see more smaller businesses established,” says Martin. “Migrants are often entrepreneurial and seek economic freedom and control over their own destiny by being self-employed. These new Kiwis create vital economic activity for our country.”

Looking for Immigration advice? If you have a concern about your visa or would like to speak to our expert immigration team for support with a migrant employee application, get in touch today.

Will the new KiwiBuild visa cut the mustard for migrant workers?

KiwiBuild visa changes

On the 27th of June the Government announced it is revising the KiwiBuild visa scheme and changing immigration settings to try to address New Zealand’s shortage in construction workers. But will these changes address the issues?

New Zealand as a destination is a difficult sell even for large construction companies. It takes a lot to get a builder from the UK to move to New Zealand, where the cost of living is high but the wages are not.

It’s even harder if you can’t offer that person the certainty of residence. If the potential talent that might be recruited using these schemes can’t get a residence visa, the ability of employers to attract that talent will be compromised.

Continue reading Will the new KiwiBuild visa cut the mustard for migrant workers?

Demand for labour vs work visa numbers – the Government’s rock and hard place

demand for labour

Demand for labour vs work visa numbers – the Government’s rock and hard place

It’s time to get real:

  • Auckland needs skilled labour
  • Employers in Auckland need to be able to retain staff.

The new budget will be announced on the 17th of May and one of the most critical issues facing the government is how they going to tackle the immigration limits they campaigned on setting, vs economic growth.

Continue reading Demand for labour vs work visa numbers – the Government’s rock and hard place

Stop the cynical political point scoring- its time to address the real issues…

Principle lawyer at NZIL  Aaron Martin, weighs in on the recent comments in the media from Michael Woodhouse about a suggested amnesty for illegal construction workers.

The criticism by National Party spokesman for Immigration, Michael Woodhouse, of the current Minister for possibly looking at an amnesty is cynical political points scoring of the worst order.

Continue reading Stop the cynical political point scoring- its time to address the real issues…