Planning to hire migrant workers after November 2021? Time to prepare for becoming an accredited employer now

From November 2021, a business wishing to hire an employee who needs a work visa to be accredited first. Businesses seeking accreditation must demonstrate their “trustworthiness” across several areas, including labour law compliance, human resources, and worker training, benefits, and pay. Labour hire companies, who supply builders, will be subject to further requirements.

Accreditation is intended to streamline the visa process, better aligning the immigration, education, and welfare systems to decrease the likelihood of migrant exploitation. But does the change actually make the immigration system easier for employers and migrant workers to navigate, as the government is claiming? Not necessarily.

“There’s a lack of specific detail as to how the new system will work still. Despite them having been working on this for two years,” says immigration lawyer Aaron Martin of New Zealand Immigration Law. “We’re concerned that there won’t be sufficient resources in place to handle the demand for accreditation. We are concerned the three-step work visa process will prove to be cumbersome for employers.”

The underlying goal is to ensure that New Zealand employers have access to the skills and labour they need, hiring temporary workers for labour shortages but ensuring there is a commitment to hiring and training more New Zealanders. But as with all things Immigration New Zealand has a hand in, the accreditation process takes time. Even with the borders currently closed, INZ’s backlog is already overwhelming, so businesses that plan to hire an overseas worker in the next 24 months are advised to get ready for seeking accreditation status. We still do not know how INZ propose to deal with employees holding work visas and who are already employed but will need to apply for a new work visa if INZ has been able to process the employer’s accreditation status application in time.

What does this mean for employers who need to be accredited?

“I think a lot of small businesses will struggle to deal with the complexity of a mandatory accreditation regime,” says immigration lawyer Aaron Martin. “The current approach under the current accreditation regime is already quite restrictive, and a lot of the criteria especially around commitment to training and hiring local candidates and how they are approached will be carried forward to the new system. In fact, I think the process will be so onerous, I think there will be some businesses that actively try to find a way of avoiding it by only employing those who hold work visas that are not covered by this new system.”

Martin also doubts that accreditation will do anything to curb migrant worker exploitation: “Exploitation happens after a work visa is issued. The accreditation system assumes that exploitation is discovered once it happens, which it often isn’t, in practice. Because exploitation relates to employer conduct, until there is a whistle blower, any bad behaviour usually goes undocumented. So how would having achieved accreditation status protect against that?”

He also believes that the increased pressure on employers to train local workers is the product of a steadily eroding education system, resulting in school leavers, and even some university graduates, who are not work-ready.

“It’s also part of a historic underinvestment in the trades and trade training. We’ve seen consecutive governments try to push the responsibility of educating young people back onto the private sector. This is simply continuing that trend.

“My concern is that INZ currently discounts any training that relates to job performance, not acknowledging that this provides readily transferable skills, in many cases. People who have no experience and enter the workforce gain skills they never had before, even if it is a skill that ensures they can perform their job.”

When should your business become accredited?

The application process will start at the end of September.  Accreditation will then become a mandatory requirement from November 2021.

If you have any existing staff that will need a new work visa, or it is likely that the skills you are seeking will be found in someone who needs a work visa – plan to apply as soon as the new system becomes available.

Both Standard and High-Volume Employer Accreditation will initially last for 12 months – and then upon renewal, 24 months. Employers with Labour Hire Accreditation will need to renew this annually.

What does a business need to do to become accredited?

In order to grant Accreditation, Immigration New Zealand must be satisfied that an employer:

  1. Is in a sound financial position to determine if the employment is sustainable; and
  2. Has human resource policies and processes which are of a high standard; and
  3. Has good workplace practices, including a history of compliance with all immigration and employment New Zealand laws; and
  4. Has a demonstrable commitment to training New Zealand citizens or residence class visa holders (to ensure they are engaged in training and up-skilling New Zealanders and that they make up a significant part of their workforce)

You’ll need to be able show INZ that you meet all of the criteria to be eligible.

Aaron’s advice for employers

“Look hard at your training, revisit your HR practices and processes, and re-evaluate your pay scales if you already know that you can’t find the skills you need in the local labour market.”

Check also the level of diversity in the workplace in terms of pay parity between male and female staff performing the same work, the gender ratio and level of cultural diversity. Ask yourself whether the composition of employees demonstrates a bias in recruitment practices.

You’ll need proof that you actively comply with current employment standards and good workplace practices regarding safety and fair treatment, such as human resources documents and health and safety policies. You’ll also need up-to-date employment contracts that include recent law changes such as the 2020 Privacy Act and Parental Leave Scheme and Domestic Violence Leave.

To help you navigate the complex process of becoming an Accredited Employer, we’ve created a free resource, The NZIL Guide to Employer Accreditation. Inside, we explain the three categories of Employer Accreditation and how they work. Download your copy now so you can ensure you meet the criteria outlined by Immigration New Zealand. Bear in mind that if your application is rejected by INZ, you will need to wait a year before you can reapply.

To aid economic recovery from lockdown, the New Zealand government will face pressure to open the borders to workers sooner rather than later. Establish a smooth path for immigration now, and you’ll be ready to roll when they do – and able to operate without disruption in 2021.

Need advice on the best approach for getting your business accredited? NZIL can help you lodge a successful employer accreditation application that gets approved the first time. Contact us today!

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