Visa changes allow onshore migrants to fill labour shortages

On 20 December, Immigration Minister Kris Faafoi announced adjustments to visa settings that will allow migrant workers currently in New Zealand to stay and work here longer. Working Holiday visas are also being extended, and Immigration New Zealand will contact all eligible visa holders.

Currently, there are about 192,000 migrant workers in New Zealand, a similar number to a year ago. But this number would drop as their visas expire, and COVID-19 border restrictions limit the number of new workers who can come here, hence the changes.

“Our economy is bouncing back better than expected and we are seeing labour shortages across many industries,” says Faafoi.

“With the labour market outlook being more optimistic, we are implementing a range of changes to ensure the migrant workforce already in New Zealand can supplement employers’ efforts to recruit New Zealanders who have lost jobs due to COVID.

“The visa setting changes will run well into 2021, providing certainty for employers and workers. We will continue to watch closely how the labour market develops and whether further extensions are needed.”

What are the changes?

  • Six-month extension for employer-assisted work visa holders
  • Postponed stand-down period for low-paid Essential Skills visa holders
  • Retain 2019 median wage of $25.50 per hour for immigration settings until at least July 2021
  • Working Holiday visas extended by 6 months

INZ says their priority is still to help New Zealanders get jobs and encourages employers to continue longer-term workforce planning, training, and improving wages and conditions to attract local workers.

Employers must also prove that no New Zealanders are available before hiring new migrant employees.

What details do I need to know about the changes?

  • Employer-assisted work visa holders (and their partners and dependent children) who have a job and whose visas are expiring between January and July 2021 will have their visas automatically extended for another 6 months.
  • The stand-down period, where Essential Skills visa holders earning less than $25.50 per hour are required to leave New Zealand for 12 months after working here 3 years, will be postponed until January 2022.
  • INZ will continue to use the 2019 median wage of $25.50 per hour for immigration settings until at least July 2021, when it will rise to $27 per hour.
  • Working Holiday visas will be extended for 6 months, and restrictions on the maximum duration of work will be relaxed, allowing Working Holiday visa holders to continue working in any industry they choose, including horticulture and wine. They will no longer be transferred to a Supplementary Seasonal Employer work visa when their Working Holiday visa expires. Migrants already on an SSE visa will be able to continue working for the horticulture and wine sectors or apply for an Essential Skills visa if they find alternative work that meets the requirements.

Which work visas are affected?

Here is a list of all employer-assisted work visa types included in these changes:

  • Work to Residence
  • Special and skilled work visas for China, Indonesia, South Korea, the Philippines, and Vietnam
  • Special-category work visas for Japanese Interpreters and Thai Chefs
  • Employer-specific work visas granted under section 61 of the Immigration Act 2009
  • Religious workers
  • Fishing crew
  • Silver Fern Practical Experience

How many visa holders are currently in New Zealand?

As of December 2020, there are:

  • 189,000 temporary migrants with work rights
    • 83,000 on employer-assisted work visas (most will be extended)
    • 58,000 on other work visas, including post-study work (not affected) and working holiday visas (to be extended)
    • 43,000 partners of New Zealanders, workers, and students (some will be extended)
    • 5,000 workers under the Recognised Seasonal Employer scheme (not affected)
  • 42,000 students (some with work rights, not affected)
  • 31,000 visitors (not affected)

I’m an employer. How can I keep my migrant workers?

If employers can show that there are no New Zealanders available to fill a role, they can retain their onshore workforce when their visas reach the end of their extension. Workers on employer-assisted visas can renew them, and other migrants can obtain Essential Skills visas if they have a qualifying job offer of at least 30 hours per week.

Employers of low-paid migrant workers can avoid the stand-down period by paying above the median wage of $25.50.

The Ministry of Social Development has also made it easier for employers to see if New Zealanders are available for jobs by listing occupations and regions with a clear over or undersupply of New Zealanders on Job Seeker Support. Where occupations are on an undersupply list, an employer will not need a Skills Match Report to meet the labour market test.


Make an Appointment

Make an Appointment

Need immigration advice?

Feel free to call us with your concerns or make an appointment to see how we can work with you.

We have a fluent Mandarin speaker in our team if you need Chinese language assistance.

Case Review

Need a Review of your Case?

If your case is more complex, consider our 60-minute Immigration Clinic. In this one-on-one appointment with immigration lawyer Aaron Martin, you can talk through your specific issues and gain insight on the best approach.

Make an appointment or contact us to see how we can help.