New Rules Clarified for the One-off Residency Visa

INZ has just released the final details of the one-off 2021 residency visa criteria which clarifies eligibility for dependent children and offers more certainty for migrants.

Overall, I think it is a well thought-out and well-structured policy. The criteria, which shows Immigration NZ has listened and responded to cries for justice from migrants, will make it easier for migrants who have been in the country supporting NZ through COVID-19 to gain residency.

As a reminder, to be eligible for the one-off residency visa migrants need to meet one of these three criteria:

  • Settled criteria (have lived in New Zealand for the past three or more years),
  • Skilled criteria (earn at or above the median wage of $27 per hour), OR
  • Scarce criteria (work in a role on a scarce list).

Let’s take a closer look at the updates:

1. Settled criteria

The Settled criteria is the easiest for migrants to qualify for. Most applications should be able to demonstrate having lived and worked in New Zealand for over 821 days over the last three years. It is also stated that the time spent in New Zealand doesn’t need to be consecutive which is great news for those who may have taken a temporary contract in another county while uncertain what the future was going to be in New Zealand. See the full updated wording below:

 To be eligible under the ‘settled’ criteria, you must have lived in New Zealand for the past three or more years and

·        have arrived in New Zealand on or before 29 September 2018, and

·        have spent a minimum of 821 days in New Zealand between 29 September 2018 and 29 September 2021 (inclusive).

 The time spent in New Zealand does not need to be consecutive. There is no minimum amount within a calendar year. Most eligible work visa holders are expected to meet the ‘settled’ criteria. 

2. Skilled criteria

Provision has been made for flexibility in meeting the skilled/pay criteria if an applicant’s pay or hours were temporarily reduced due to the business being affected by COVID-19, which is great. See the full updated wording below:

To meet the skilled criteria, you must be paid the median wage of $27 per hour or more on 29 September 2021 and on the date you apply. Your job must be genuine full-time work for an average of at least 30 hours per week. If you are a self-employed contractor with a consistent history of contract work and a current contract you are eligible for the 2021 Resident Visa.

 Applying under the skilled criteria you will need to provide:

·        an employment agreement or a letter from your employer confirming the pay and hours,

·        a full bank statement or an Inland Revenue summary of income or payslips.

The documents must show you were paid at least $27 per hour, both on 29 September and on the date you apply. There is some flexibility if your pay or hours are temporarily reduced due to the business being affected by COVID-19 related restrictions.

 3. Scarce criteria

It’s excellent to see that there is transportability within the new system whereby people who may have qualified based on a job under the scarce list, can apply under the Skilled criteria if there’s been a subsequent change in circumstances since 29 September and vice versa. See the full updated wording below:

If you haven’t been here for three or more years and are not paid at least $27 per hour, you may be eligible under the ‘scarce’ criteria. To be eligible under this criteria, on 29 September 2021 you must work in a job on a scarce list.

 These are:

·        Jobs on the Long Term Skill Shortage List

·        Jobs requiring occupational registration in the health or education sector

·        Personal carer and other critical health workers

·        Specified primary sector jobs

 Applying under the ‘scarce’ criteria you need to be in genuine full-time work for an average of at least 30 hours per week. Applicants must also meet ‘scarce’ criteria at the time they apply. However, they may also change to meet ‘skilled’ criteria at the time of application instead. 

 4. Dependent children

The big news here is that INZ has made it easy for dependent children to gain residency, even if they have now left New Zealand, and ‘aged out’ of the previous criteria. This will be a welcome relief to the many parents who had to send their children off to university in other countries or have them sit here twiddling their thumbs not eligible for any visa class.

I welcome the change to instructions that will facilitate the entry of these children to New Zealand after the grant of residence if they are currently offshore.

The medical and police clearance requirements have also been simplified which will save time and money for applicants. See the full updated wording below:

Dependent children aged 25 and over that were included in a skilled residence or Expression of Interest (EOI) on or before 29 September cannot be included as a dependent child in a 2021 Resident Visa application. However, they can submit their own application as an attached document when they submit their online 2021 Resident Visa application. No additional fee will be charged for the child.

 They can be granted their own 2021 Resident visa if:

·            they meet standard health and character requirements, and 

·            a parent is granted a 2021 Resident Visa.  

 Dependent children overseas who are granted a 2021 Resident Visa are exempt from our border restrictions and may travel to New Zealand.

Some notes of caution:

There are some stringent rules designed defeat those who must apply in phase 2 (applying in March 2022) from applying in phase 1 group in December. The rules are clear – people who try to game the system in this way will get declined.

Although Immigration New Zealand have wanted this to be a simple and quick process, there is capacity for applications to be declined based on “insufficient evidence” of criteria being met. From experience, the issue of sufficient evidence is a problematic one and cases declined for this reason will make for some interesting appeal decisions.

Likewise, the Scarce lists still leave some ambiguity. Everything is classed by occupation and by reference to an occupation title. How are people assessed for comparability to the list when they believe they work in an occupation, but don’t have exactly the same job title as the Scarce list? It has the potential to drag people back to the difficult arguments around consistency with ANZSCO descriptions. We hope that proves not to be the case and that a pragmatic approach is taken. The implicit suggestion is reference back to past applications, but that may not provide a simple answer.

For those communities where arranged marriages are a customary, there is some disappointment in that spouses cannot be included if a couple have not lived together for 12 months. Those in that situation will need to plan what they need to do after residence to secure a visa for their spouse to come to New Zealand. It is going to require forethought and good planning and some hard practical decisions, especially if they must leave New Zealand after the grant of residence in order to live with their spouse for future applications for their partner. That could have downstream consequences on the resident Visa holder’s ability to secure permanent residence.

Another note of caution, work to residence Visa holders who have applied for residence already and qualify for permanent residence visa under the Residence from work category, will need to think very carefully about whether they forego that option now in favour of a quick decision under the 2021 Resident Visa rules.

All in all, the one-off visa is not only great news for migrants, but also for employers as the new residents will be able to be part of a stable New Zealand workforce which will be a great relief.

Note to the future residents – don’t forget how you have been treated by the current government when you get the right to vote!

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