Changes to New Zealand Work Visas

In October 2019 Immigration New Zealand announced planned changes to how employers will be able to employ migrant workers under the new temporary work visa they propose to introduce in 2021. The first step will be for all employers to get accredited. This means Immigration New Zealand need to approve you to employ migrant workers.

We can help you to become an Accredited Employer

From 2021 an employer must be accredited to hire any migrant worker on the new temporary work visa. Accreditation to employ migrant workers is different from being a Talent Accredited Employer under the current rules.

Once an employer is accredited, they will be able to consider hiring migrant workers for job vacancies that meet Immigration NZ’s job check criteria. Workers suitable for these vacancies can apply for a temporary work visa.

I’m a business owner who needs accreditation to hire migrant workers. What do I need to do?

Some details, including the types of accreditation, have already been agreed while other details of the changes are still being worked on. There will be three levels of accreditation:

  • standard accreditation — for employers who hire between 1 and 5 migrant workers in a year
  • high-volume accreditation — for employers who hire 6 or more migrant workers in a year, and
  • labour hire employer accreditation.

Most employers will need standard accreditation.

Standard accreditation

To get standard accreditation you must:

  • not be on a non-compliant stand-down list — a list of employers who have broken employment law
  • comply with any relevant industry or regulatory standards
  • have no history of non-compliance in your dealings with Immigration New Zealand, and
  • be in a financially sustainable position.

High-volume and labour hire accreditation

As well as meeting the requirements for standard accreditation, high-volume employers will need to make commitments to:

  • training and upskilling New Zealanders, and
  • increasing wages and conditions for workers.

Labour hire companies will also be assessed for these commitments when they apply.

How long does accreditation last?

Standard and high-volume accreditation will last for 12 months initially and then 24 months upon renewal. Employers with labour hire employer accreditation will need to renew this every 12 months.

Immigration New Zealand is aiming to confirm details of how and when employers need to be accredited and what it will cost by March 2020. The details to be confirmed include:

  • how and when you will need to be accredited
  • how long the process will take
  • the cost
  • what evidence you need to provide as part of the application process, and
  • how we manage your accreditation status when you do not know how many workers you are going to employ in a year.

Immigration New Zealand will phase in accreditation so not all employers need to have accreditation on the same day.

What documentation will I need to provide?

From 2021, all employers wishing to employ migrant workers on the new temporary work visa will use a 3-step process.

  1. An employer check — it will be mandatory for all employers, including those with an existing accreditation, to be accredited under the new application process before they can hire migrants on the new work visa.
  2. A job check — this will include checking that the job is paid in line with the New Zealand market rate and, in some cases, will include a labour market test to ensure New Zealand workers are not available.
  3. A worker check — when the worker applies for a visa, they must show they meet our standard character, identity and health requirements, as well showing they have the skills to do the job they have been offered.

Can I still get an essential skills visa for migrant employees?

Up to the time the new system comes in to affect you will be able to seek this type of visa for employees.

Immigration New Zealand is replacing the essential skills visa from 2021. The new temporary work visa will replace six old temporary work visas. The visas that are being replaced are:

  • Essential Skills Work Visa
  • Essential Skills Work Visa — approved in principle
  • Talent (Accredited Employer) Work Visa
  • Long Term Skill Shortage List Work Visa
  • Silver Fern Job Search Visa, and
  • Silver Fern Practical Experience Visa.

In preparation of the new system being introduced, Immigration New Zealand stopped using ANZSCO to determine the skill band of a job and visa duration.

Skilled Band of a job (and visa duration) will based on what a migrant worker is being paid instead of skill bands. Using the median wage, currently $25.50 an hour, a worker can be:

  • low-skilled, if they are paid below the New Zealand median wage which qualifies for a 6 month visa*, or
  • high-skilled, if they are paid at or above the New Zealand median wage which qualifies for a 3 year work visa.

* This duration is mandated to stay in place until January 2022 at which point the duration will revert to the pre-COVID rule of 1-year duration for low skilled positions.

What happens to those on an old work visa when the new system starts in 2021?

For workers on a work visa that Immigration New Zealand are replacing, it will remain valid until it expires. To continue working for the same employer after that visa expires, workers will need to apply for the new temporary work visa or another visa they qualify for.

Those on a Talent (Accredited Employer) Work Visa or a Long Term Skill Shortage List Work Visa, can still apply for residence based on their current work visa.

The Silver Fern Practical Experience Visa will remain open for existing Silver Fern Job Search visa holders only.

Isn’t it more trouble than it’s worth to employ from overseas?

Employers in New Zealand harbour a few misconceptions about the process of recruiting staff from overseas.

One thing employers are concerned about is a fear of onerous sponsorship obligations. However, under the legislation, sponsorship is discretionary rather than mandatory.

Under the old law an organisation could not sponsor. That was changed in the 2009 Act however employers have often had a misunderstanding that they have to sponsor an application. They don’t.

You don’t need to sponsor your employee in order to hire them, and in fact it is very rare for a New Zealand employer to be asked to sponsor an employee’s work visa application.

Sponsorship is only requested if an Immigration New Zealand considers there is a risk associated with the visa applicant that needs management by sponsorship.

Worried about the paperwork?

Another worry that puts employers off recruiting from overseas is the fear the process will require a mountain of paperwork. Although essential documentation is certainly required, it ought to be easy to hand and standard for most businesses.

How long will the visa application take?

A work visa application can be put together relatively quickly, and usually takes 25 working days to be processed. The application can also be processed through Immigration New Zealand’s online system, which can facilitate very quick turnaround of anywhere between 48 hours to only a matter of a week.

When would I need help with my application?

There are 75 different types of work visas, with 11 categories that may be relevant to a prospective employer. The category an employer should use depends upon the circumstances necessitating the hire, or the circumstances of the employee or prospective employee. And each category has its own differing criteria and documentation requirements. It can be a minefield for people to negotiate the complexities of these requirements unaided.

Why might the visa be declined?

In instances where advertising for local job applicants is required, Immigration New Zealand can decline visa applications if it believes any of these apply:

  • The advertising was conducted in a manner intended to discourage or limit the ability of local candidates to apply or qualify for the role
  • The role was one for which a person could easily be trained
  • The advertising was clearly tailored to ensure that only the work visa applicant could meet the employer’s criteria for hire.

In line with the new legislation around remuneration bands, the visa may also be declined if:

  • The candidate’s existing visa was issued with remuneration conditions and that employee was not paid according to those conditions.

As part of the Ministry of Business, Innovation and Employment, Immigration New Zealand must also police labour laws in New Zealand. Consequently, work visas can also be declined if Immigration New Zealand:

  • Does not consider an employer to be compliant with labour laws
  • Does not consider an employer to be offering terms and conditions of employment (including pay rate) at market standard.

Can’t I just use my HR team to handle this?

The ability for people within HR teams to provide immigration advice is restricted by the requirement for those giving advice to hold a license, or to be exempted from holding a licence, to provide such advice. Simply telling a person how to answer a question on a form is considered immigration advice. And if such guidance is given in the absence of a licence (or an exemption from needing a licence) the person giving the advice risks 7 years in jail and/or a $100,000 fine.

The Immigration Advisers Authority has made it clear: just because you may be employed as an HR specialist within a company, you are not permitted to provide immigration advice to the company, to employees, or to prospective employees in the absence of a license (or an exemption from needing a licence).

Significant problems can also be caused by the failure of people in HR teams to understand how shortage lists work and how they interface with the criteria for the grant of a work visa.

At New Zealand Immigration Law we are here to solve those problems and avoid applications running into needless difficulty. We can also assist you to gain permission to recruit multiple workers into New Zealand with one application rather than several single applications. This will save you time and money.

Want to know more? Contact us, or read our employer checklist so you can see the documentation and process you will need to follow to employ a skilled migrant.

+64 (0) 9 869 2952
15 Fairlea Road, Te Atatu South, Auckland 0612