Immigration News

Planning to hire migrant workers in 2021? Think about becoming an accredited employer now

In April 2019, the New Zealand government proposed a legal requirement that any business wishing to hire a migrant 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 verification.

While not compulsory until mid-2021, 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,” says immigration lawyer Aaron Martin of New Zealand Immigration Law. “There must be a proper consultation involving the industry. We’re concerned that there won’t be sufficient resources in place to handle the demand.”

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 only while 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 begin the process now, to ensure adequate processing time. Be aware that this includes staff already employed on a work visa; to renew that visa and continue employment, your company must be accredited.

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 is already quite restrictive, and I anticipate that a lot of the criteria and how they are approached will be carried forward to the new system. In fact, I think the process will be so onerous, it will prevent some businesses from doing it at all.”

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 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.”

Why should your business become accredited before it’s compulsory?

When accreditation becomes a requirement in 2021, the criteria will also be harder to meet as, post-COVID, the government will expect businesses to demonstrate they have a commitment to hiring locally and upskilling their existing workforce.

Under the current rules, businesses that are already accredited will have a two-year grace period before they need to reapply, to allow for transition to the new system, which will be introduced mid-2021. Businesses accredited under the new system, however, will be granted accreditation status for one year initially then have to reapply about nine months later, to accommodate the massive backlog INZ will be facing. From there, accreditation status will be granted for two years, assuming renewal is successful.

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.”

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.

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!