Immigration law changes ahead

How many migrants will be impacted by the proposed immigration law changes in 2017?

The government has set Immigration New Zealand the task of reducing the number of residence visas issued per year. The target for total migration is now 45,000, with 60% to come from the skilled and business streams. That’s about 27,000 people.

What impact has the EOI points change had so far?

Since the expressions of interest (EOI) points change from 140 to 160, the number of (EOIs) for the skilled migrant visa that have been selected has totalled 1684.

(Because most applications are for more than just one person, that’s about 3,270 people).

On average, 817 people per EOI selection are then invited to apply for residence.

There are 26 EOI draws per year. So, 817 x 26 draws means that, on average, 21,000 people per year would come through the border if all were approved.

If Immigration New Zealand maintains this current standard it will be on target to achieve the mandated total, dependent on the decline rate over the next 12 months.

Some in the industry are predicting that Immigration New Zealand will have to reduce the pass mark again. I doubt this will happen, as I believe Immigration New Zealand are on track to achieve the target.

The only unknown factor is what the decline rate will be of those residence applications coming from those selections.

Major changes to the immigration system for scoring points are often made each quarter. I predict that further changes are unlikely to start until 1 April, which is the beginning of the financial tax year. By this stage Immigration New Zealand will have 6 months of data with which to assess the impact of the points increase.

A consultation document was completed 30 October

The Ministry of Business, Innovation and Employment (MBIE) has just completed a public consultation on changes to the category that respond to concerns that the current system does not effectively prioritise migrants with the highest skill levels. The proposed changes would:

  • Introduce the use of salary levels to help define skilled employment
  • Strengthen the use of work experience to define skilled employment
  • Realign the points system to better recognise highly skilled migrants.

More than one third (35%) of current visa applications are lodged under the Skilled Migrant Category (SMC). The changes are likely to have a significant effect on migrants currently on student and work visas who are looking for permanent residency.

We calculate these proposed law changes will directly affect around 27,000 people currently in the NZ immigration system and hoping for a pathway to residency.

What does the pathway to residency currently look like?

In 2014/15, 21,165 people were approved through the SMC. This made up almost half of all residence approvals (49%).  This increase illustrates a flow-on effect to residence from the recent upward trend in Essential Skills (temporary) workers and the growth in Indian international students transitioning to residence.

In 2014/15, 43% of skilled principal migrants were former international students.

On average, one in six international students gained residence through a skilled migrant visa within five years after their first student visa.

By 30 June 2015, 18% of temporary workers had transitioned to residence three years after their first work visa.  Most (93%) of the 11,845 principal migrants approved for a Skilled/Business resident visa in 2014/15 previously held a temporary visa, with almost all of those visas being a work visa (96%).

India was the largest source country of skilled migrants (21%), followed by the Philippines (13%) and the United Kingdom (11%).

The issues faced under the current criteria

The rise in SMC migrants who work in lower-income occupations indicates that some jobs that meet the current definition of “skilled work” may not in fact be highly skilled.

In particular, it is not easy to differentiate between senior and junior roles (particularly in managerial positions).

There have also been examples of migrant workers in highly paid positions unable to use SMC because their job description matches a “low-skilled” occupation under the current criteria.

With the old process, migrants could get a post-study work visa that led to ‘promotion’ into a role that was claimed to be skilled employment. With the proposed stricter rules on what will count as post-study work experience, this may cease to be a viable avenue. I expect international students will be most affected by these changes. My advice to people on work visas or student visas is to find out now whether they will be eligible, before the law changes.

What this means

  • Under the proposed changes, skilled work experience and higher-level qualifications would be given greater preference in the points system.
  • Once the new points system is in place, a new points selection level (currently 160 points) may be set.
  • Submissions to the proposal closed on 30 October and are currently under review by the government.
  • Once the changes are made they are likely to be of immediate effect to all applications filed from that date forward.

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