Immigration New Zealand has just shared details about the new application process for temporary work visa holders, confirming what we’ve known for the past two years: that migrant workers’ worst fears are being realised and that no special consideration for COVID is being given, so brace yourselves.
The changes, which come into effect from mid-2021, are intended to streamline the work visa system, ensure that New Zealanders are not being displaced from employment, and minimise the potential for migrant worker exploitation, but how these policies will play out in practice remains to be seen. As usual, INZ seems to be making changes to benefit itself bureaucratically at the expense of everyone else.
What are the changes?
Before an employer can hire a migrant worker, they will have to go through 3 checks:
- Employer check (mandatory accreditation status)
- Job check
- Migrant worker check
Sounds simple, right? But as anyone who has dealt with INZ knows, nothing is ever simple. The first two checks in particular involve issues around compliance, job sustainability, and labour market testing, all of which could potentially take months.
Accreditation will have 2 levels, standard (hiring 5 or fewer migrant workers) and high-volume (6 or more). This applies only workers you wish to hire on employer-assisted work visas. Once approved, employers remain accredited for 12 months, with some granted accreditation for 24 months at renewal.
Under this new “3-check system,” which is entirely employer-led, six visa types will be replaced with one:
- Essential Skills Work Visa
- Essential Skills Work Visa — approved in principle
- Talent (Accredited Employer) Work Visa
- Long Term Skill Shortage List Work Visa
- Silver Fern Job Search Visa (closed 7 October 2019)
- Silver Fern Practical Experience Visa
Similarly, the employer check will replace 3 current employer schemes:
- Approval in principle (AIP) before hiring workers on an Essential Skills Work Visa
- Accreditation as a Talent Accredited Employer
- Labour hire employer accreditation for Essential Skills work visas
The job check will confirm that the job pays the market rate, complies with employment laws, and satisfies a labour market test, where needed. Jobs paying 200% of the median wage or on a skills shortage list are exempt from the labour market test. This check is paid for by the employer.
The migrant worker check confirms that the applicant meets character, identity, and health requirements and has the skills to do the job. This may be paid for by the applicant or by the employer. Details on fees will be announced in early 2021.
What isn’t changing?
Visas holders paid below the median wage will still have to leave New Zealand for a 1-year stand-down period after 3 years of working here.
The new visa will still have employer, job, and location conditions attached that require the visa holder to get a variation of conditions or apply for a new visa to make any changes.
Current work visas remain valid until their expiry date if all employment conditions are met.
Why is INZ doing this?
The thinking is that by making accreditation compulsory, only quality employers with good HR practices will be permitted to hire migrant workers while all the bad eggs will be weeded out. But as we’ve already discussed, exploitation pertains to the treatment of people in the workplace, which happens after work visas have been issued. It’s got nothing to do with what’s written on pieces of paper, and it’s easy for employers to cheat the system, as exploitation is usually brought to light by whistle blowers, not administrative paperwork.
What is unclear is whether each of these processes must be completed before advancing to the next stage or whether they can be undertaken simultaneously. The lack of detail given leads me to assume that each check must be done one by one, which will make an already slow, cumbersome process even more so. It could potentially be months before applicants even get to lodge their application, given how complex the accreditation process is.
I don’t feel that the system needed to be changed this radically; I think it worked fine. Currently, you just apply for the work visa, decision made – done and dusted. Now accreditation status will have to be obtained, the job check, then finally the work visa. While the goal appears to be merging AIP, accreditation, and work visas into one streamlined application type, I don’t think it’s going to deliver the efficiencies they think it will.
What does this mean for migrants and employers?
We don’t yet know what will happen to employers; it’s all still up in the air, but there don’t seem to be any benefits for the employer sector. INZ is saying that the lower form of accreditation status will be easier to obtain, but when policies get operationalised and practices get brought into play, it’s never a simple process, complicated further still by the attitudes of INZ.
Employers need to be aware that the playing field is being changed dramatically and that they need to be up to scratch in order to even be on the field. For migrant workers, it’s going to mean more of the same: more uncertainty and more complexity. The suggestion is that they won’t be able to get further work visas, but INZ haven’t been explicit about that; we’ve been waiting and they keep saying it’s coming. They probably just haven’t sat around a table and made it all up yet!
It’s a brave new world, and we’ll only find out the problems after the systems have started and INZ have to make corrections on the hop. Employers need to make sure their houses are in order from an HR and labour law compliance perspective or they’re going to run into major problems. So check your policies, practices, and all aspects of your employment agreements and how they function on an HR level. If they are not up to date, seek assistance. NZIL can help businesses get accredited and put them in touch with strategic partners who specialise in HR policy and employment practices where needed.
Are you an employer looking to get accredited?
Contact NZIL to see how we can take the pain out of the process.