Essential Skills Work Visa

Want to live and work in New Zealand? If you have a certain skillset, you may qualify for the Essential Skills Work Visa. This guide explains the application process and what to expect.

What is an Essential Skills Work Visa?

This temporary visa category is for workers whose skills are in high demand in New Zealand but are not available locally. The Essential Skills Work Visa is valid for 6 months (until January 2022, when there will be further rules changes) or 3 years, depending on the skill level of the job.

You may apply for further visas once onshore, but applicants with visas based on low-skilled jobs may stay a total of 3 years before being required to leave New Zealand for 12 months, after which time they may apply for another work visa.

Please note: Due to COVID-19, applications for temporary visas from outside New Zealand are suspended until further notice, unless you are exempt. Get the latest updates from Immigration New Zealand’s news centre.

New rules to be aware of:

  • Jobs will no longer be classified under the Australian and New Zealand Standard Classification of Occupations (ANZSCO)
  • To determine visa duration, job offers will be judged solely on salary
  • All employers must be accredited by Immigration New Zealand before they can hire overseas workers

What are the criteria?

Applicants must have a full-time job offer from a New Zealand employer:

  • who has been unable to fill that position with a local worker
  • OR for a job that is on an Essential Skills in Demand (ESID) List

If applying under the first criteria, the employer must be able to demonstrate that attempts to recruit talent locally have failed.

The three ESID Lists are:

  • Long Term Skill Shortage List (LTSSL)
  • Regional Skill Shortage List (RSSL), which replaces the Immediate Skill Shortage List
  • Construction and Infrastructure Skill Shortage List (CISSL)

To find out if your skills are in demand, visit Immigration New Zealand’s Skill Shortage List Checker.

All applicants must:

  • Meet “good character” requirements – a police certificate from your country of origin is required
  • Meet “good health” requirements – a medical certificate from your country of origin is required
  • Provide evidence of work experience and qualifications for the job offered

What is the application process and how long does it take?

You may apply online or by post. To apply for an Essential Skills Work Visa, you need a job offer from an employer who can’t find someone with your skillset locally or an offer for a job that’s listed as an essential skill in demand (ESID).

As soon as you have a job offer, you should begin getting your documents in order, including work verification documents, evidence of qualifications, police clearances, and medical and X-ray certificates.

To apply, send your application, supporting documents, and application fees to Immigration New Zealand.

Generally speaking, 90 percent of Essential Skills Work Visa applications are completed within 84 days, though this category is currently closed due to COVID-19.

Pro tip: To reduce your processing time, make sure your application is error-free and includes complete information and all documentation as specified by INZ requirements. Not sure you’ve done it all correctly? Contact us to evaluate your case.

How much does the Essential Skills Visa application cost?

Application costs will vary, depending on your country of origin and what country you’re in when you apply for your visa. For example, Chinese nationals who are based in Auckland will pay $495 for their Essential Skills Visa application. Also bear in mind that you will have to pay for medical screenings, police records, and possibly translations.

There are no refunds if your application is declined. For country-specific information on application costs, visit INZ’s fees finder.

When to get help

If you’re considering applying for an Essential Skills Work Visa, you should seek legal advice at the outset. If your visa application is rejected, your fees will not be refunded, and you’ll have to start the entire process over from the beginning.

The Essential Skills category produces a significant number of unsuccessful applications due to applicants not fully understanding or completing the paperwork. What things do people most often get wrong on their Essential Skills Work Visa application?

Common reasons for rejection include:

  • An employer’s attempt to recruit locally may not be considered genuine or extensive enough
  • Employers don’t adequately explain the outcome of their recruitment search
  • Applicants may not be able to prove their ability to do the job at the level required
  • Job experience or skills achieved overseas may not match the criteria of the job application or fail to meet the standards required
  • Character requirements are not met
  • Health conditions

How we can assist

We can review your application and advise you on what evidence you should provide to build the best case. Employers are unlikely to hold a job open for you if you run into difficulty obtaining a visa, so it’s important that all documentation is accurate and up to date to ensure smooth processing for all parties involved.

In our experience, many applicants and employers misinterpret the rules set forth by INZ and fail to meet the requirements.


Want to learn more?

For information about other visa types, check out our Partnership Visa Guide and tips on how to navigate the New Zealand Immigration System.

If you want the best chance of success, don’t leave anything to chance. Engage professional assistance from NZIL and ensure you get it right the first time. Contact us today.

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