Skilled Migrant Visa

Are you a specialist or highly trained professional? Want to live in New Zealand? You could be eligible for a Skilled Migrant resident visa. This guide explains the application process and what to expect.

What is a Skilled Migrant Visa?

This resident visa category known as the SMC (Skilled Migrant Category) targets those with skills that the government has decided New Zealand needs for economic growth. If you’re granted residency with this visa, you will be able to live, work, and study in New Zealand indefinitely.

The SMC visa is a direct-to-residence pathway for skilled people who have job offers in New Zealand, meet age, English language requirements in addition to meeting the required skill threshold.
In October 2023 a simplified points system was established to set clear skills thresholds around qualification; registration (if required) or income from employment. This is consistent with the focus on granting residence to people who can meet medium-to long-term skill needs in New Zealand that are hard, or would take time, to fill from the domestic labour market.

What are the criteria?

Under the new simplified points system, applicants must have at least 6 points to be eligible for the SMC visa.

The points are allocated via a threshold outlined by Immigration New Zealand from one of the following three categories, with any deficit in the points total from these areas being gained from New Zealand work experience. Even if you get 6 points you must have a job offer and meet the English language requirements.

1. You get points from income

Your income while working in New Zealand may give you 3 to 6 points for your application depending on how far above the median wage your income or proposed job offer income is.
This means that highly skilled people in occupations where skills are primarily developed on-the-job, including many trades, can become eligible for residence without needing to meet any other formal skill measures. To gain points from your income, your job or job offer must be full-time (minimum of 30 hours per week) and with an accredited employer.
For example:

  • You can receive 3 points for payment 1.5 above the median wage
    You can receive 4 points for payments twice the median wage
    You can receive 6 points for payments three times the median wage.

2. You receive points for qualifications

You can attain between 3-6 points depending on your highest qualification level and its New Zealand Qualification Framework (NZQA) equivalent.
For example:

  • If you have a Level 10 Doctorate Degree, you can claim 6 points
    A Level 9 Master’s will allocate you 5 points
    Level 8 Bachelor’s Degree or Post Graduate Diploma will give you 4 points
    You can receive 3 points for a Level 8 Post Graduate Certificate or Level 7 Bachelor’s Degree

If you have a degree or qualification from outside New Zealand, you may need to have it assessed by NZQA. From October 2023, Immigration New Zealand will update their list of qualifications that need not be evaluated.

Please note: If you have a non-degree qualification at NZQA Level 7 or below, you will not be eligible to claim points for qualifications.

How are qualifications vs skills ascertained?

Qualifications can be gained in New Zealand or overseas. The New Zealand Qualifications Authority (NZQA) undertakes an International Qualification Assessment (IQA) to evaluate how qualifications gained overseas compare to New Zealand qualifications.

Points are awarded for the equivalent New Zealand level. Qualifications claimed under this skill category do not need to be directly relevant to a person’s role. Relevance can be difficult for Immigration New Zealand to assess, and this approach recognises that a person can often transfer skills gained through higher-level qualifications across a range of occupations.

3. You receive points for occupational registration in NZ

Applicants can use their occupational registration to claim points if they are on Immigration New Zealand’s list of eligible occupational registrations. Those who have more occupational training will be granted more points.

For example:

  • To be granted 6 points, a minimum of 6 years of training is required to gain registration.
    To be granted 5 points, a minimum of 5 years of training is required to gain registration.
    To be granted 4 points, a minimum of 4 years of training is required to gain registration.
    To be granted 3 points, a minimum of 2 years of training is required to gain registration.

This simplified process acknowledges that the registering body is well-placed to assess if people have the skills required to work in their New Zealand sector, meaning that Immigration New Zealand does not need to duplicate this assessment.

Can you combine points from different SMC categories?

Applicants can only claim points from 1 of the skill categories above (qualification, registration or income) that offer them the most points.

For example, you cannot combine your qualification points with your New Zealand occupational registration points. The more skill points a person claims in this sector, the shorter the period of work experience is required before you can apply for residence.

What if I don’t score 6 points from the 1-3 list above?

If you do not meet the 6-point threshold from your income, qualifications or occupational registration, you can get additional points via skilled work experience in New Zealand.

4. You can gain points from work experience

Applicants will be able to claim 1 point for each year of skilled work experience gained in New Zealand, up to a maximum of 3 points. The skilled work experience must be in a full-time job, with a minimum of 30 hours a week AND meet the wage threshold depending on the Australian and New Zealand Standard Classification of Occupations (ANZSCO) level of the job.

For example:

  • For skilled level 1-3 roles you need to be paid the median wage
    For skill level 4 and 5 roles you need to be paid 1.5 time the median wage.
    According to Immigration New Zealand, you can claim points for skilled work experience in New Zealand from:
    36 months during the 60 months before you apply if you are claiming 3 points
    24 months during the 48 months before you apply if you are claiming 2 points
    12 months during the 24 months before you apply if you are claiming 1 point

If you claim points under the Income classification then you must meet the same rate of pay for the period of work experience you are claiming points for.

Here is an example:

If you claimed 4 points for income at 2x median wage ($59.32 per hour) from your employment you will also need two years of New Zealand-based work experience to achieve the six points. The experience must have been paid at the same rate over the two years. In addition, you must also meet this income threshold for any work experience you declare in your application in order to make up the 6 points. As noted above, you must also meet the same income threshold stated for any work experience you declare in your application if you choose points from the Income skills category.

How is skilled work in New Zealand defined?

Skilled work in New Zealand demonstrates a commitment to New Zealand and the ability for someone to deploy their skills. The focus on skilled work in New Zealand means migrants can demonstrate a record of employment that Immigration New Zealand can verify. Overseas work experience can be indirectly recognised when a professional body has assessed it as part of professional registration or meeting the income threshold.

Although the new SMC aims to simplify the process for skilled migrants applying for residency in New Zealand, some of the requirements for the SMC will remain the same. Applicants will still be required to meet a minimum standard of English Language requirements. The applicant and any accompanying family must also continue to meet age, health, character and national security requirements.

Median Wage Changes
It is also good to be aware that the median wage in New Zealand is updated annually.

Skilled Migrant Category Interim Visa

Migrants who apply for the SMC whose current visa expires while their application is being processed, will be granted a Skilled Migrant Category Interim Visa. When granted, the eVisa will come into effect the day after your current temporary visa expires.

How long will it take to process my SMC application?

New Zealand Immigration state that straightforward applications that present all the required information and documentation will take approximately 6-8 weeks.

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.

How much does the Skilled Migrant Visa application cost?

The Skilled Migrant Resident Visa application fee is $4890. For the most current fees information, visit INZ’s Fees Finder.

Also bear in mind that you will have to pay for medical screenings, police records, and possibly translations. There will be no refunds if your application is declined.

With the costs being this substantial, it makes sense to get your application checked for eligibility by a professional. NZIL will ensure you have the best chance of success!

When to get help

The Skilled Migrant category produces a significant number of unsuccessful due to applicants not fully understanding or completing the paperwork. We know that inexperience and incomplete information will lead to a failed application.

Common mistakes applicants make include:

  • Adding points they do not qualify for
  • Incorrectly assessing their job or work experience as skilled when they don’t meet the criteria
  • Providing a generic job description that doesn’t adequately explain what their role is in a way that INZ can accept

With so much at stake, why risk getting it wrong by trying to do it yourself?

How we can assist

Our immigration law experts will review your case and offer you a clear pathway, helping you make the right decisions and apply under the correct criteria for the best chance of success.

We provide assistance in building your case and can also help you clarify your application to make it easier for Immigration New Zealand to make a decision about your suitability. Your dream of moving to New Zealand is too important to risk by making mistakes on your application. NZIL will make sure everything is correct and take the stress out of the process. Contact our team.

If you’ve established that you may be eligible to apply for a Skilled Migrant Visa and would like advice on lodging a successful application, get in touch with our team today.

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.