Recruitment of Skilled Migrants – Changes Commence from October 2019.
The one constant in the path of employing migrants in New Zealand is change.
Rules and requirements for migrant recruitment are continually evolving – as is always the case with young industries as they mature.
The line of maturation is steep in the case of skilled migrant recruitment – made more complex of course by the fact that the lives of people are directly impacted on every side of the equation. It’s more than a business transaction.
There are significantly more changes ahead, but the roadmap for 2020 has now been established and the overriding outcome of the immediate changes is simplification at the topmost level. There are of course regional complexities. This post is designed as a bird’s eye view of the shifts ahead.
Before we go into details, rest assured that visa applications already in the pipeline (including visa applications in the pipeline before 7 October) are not affected by the changes.
Immediate changes to employment of skilled migrants from 7 October 2019
- The most impactful change in the immediate future is that the threshold for applying for Work to Residence Visas (enabling the opportunity for your migrant employee to apply for NZ Residence after just two years on the WTR visa) has risen from $55,000 to a minimum of $79,560 per annum equivalent ($38.25 per hour if working more than a 40 hour week).
- Bearing in mind that employers may not pay above industry market rate, this is a significant change – effectively limiting the number of Work to Residence Visa applications and limiting the types of positions that could potentially be on these visa types.
- This does not mean that you can no longer employ migrants if your level of pay is less than the new threshold – it means you will need to apply under a different visa type, such as Essential Skills Visa – where you must provide evidence that you have advertised the position and made every effort to find employees in the local market. There will be increased focus on this factor from 2021, as the government seeks to provide employment to New Zealanders before employing migrants.
- The Silver Fern Visa, which was designed to encourage skilled people aged 20 – 35 to work short term in New Zealand will no longer be available, and these people will have to apply under other visa types if they wish to work in NZ.
- Employers who are not yet accredited will receive accreditation for only 24 months (as will be the case with applications for reaccreditation for already accredited employers).
- The deadline for mandatory employer accreditation has now been pushed out to 2021, but with the rolling changes, we recommend that you move forward as quickly as you can with accreditation if you have not already done so.
- Employers with accreditation applications pending approval will be subject to these changes for visa applications on or after 7 October, but visa applications prior to 7 October will be processed according to the present regulations, as will accreditation applications.
More changes to visas in 2020
The presently complex defining of skill bands is to be replaced by a straightforward definition based on wage level as compared to the national median.
From mid 2020, Essential Skills Visas will undergo changes as follows:
- Jobs paid at below the national median wage will be deemed low skilled work, while jobs paid at higher than the median will be deemed to be high skilled work – regardless of the industry. The median wage at the time of writing is $25 per hour based on a 40 hour week.
- The key difference in the processing of the application is the duration of visa available. Those paid below the median wage may only stay 12 months on a single visa and must leave New Zealand for a minimum of 12 months following three consecutive years of holding a low skilled work visa.
- Wages above the median will be eligible to apply for a three-year working visa and are able to renew their visa while still in NZ.
- Low skilled workers (or those earning below the median wage) will be allowed to bring partners or spouses and immediate family members to New Zealand, which has not previously been allowed. Partners/spouses will be issued visitor visas and may not work – UNLESS they have a job offer, in which case, they may apply for a working visa (standard trade tests and processes apply). Children will be issued student visas to attend school in New Zealand.
- Those skilled workers already in NZ or with visas in progress will not be impacted until their time of visa reapplication.
More changes ahead in 2021
From mid 2021 there will be a three step process as follows:
- The employer will require accreditation (and re-accreditation) under the new visa application process. All employer accreditations will require a 24 month reapplication thereafter.
- Two levels of accreditation will apply – those who employ up to five migrants per annum (standard accreditation) and those who employ more than five migrants per annum (high volume accreditation).
- Only employers with premium accreditation will be eligible to apply for Work to Residence Visas.
- Your job specification will be checked and approved when the rate of pay is in line with NZ industry standards. Market labour checks may be enforced in some cases to verify that there is a real shortage (as opposed to a fussy employer).
- The Candidate requires approval of character, health and that he or she has the required skill & experience to successfully manage the job.
The overall structure of visa application has been simplified enormously, with two main tiers of visa for skilled workers – those over the now increased Work to Residence Level and those below it, with each of those two levels having two main sub levels.
The only section that sits outside of the above is those businesses recruiting temporary workers, for whom there is a different set of regulations to be applied..
This should be easier for employers to navigate in general – but watch this space, as the complexities are sure to re-emerge and the process itself is an evolving process at both ends. If employers or managers of employers are spending more than 1.5 days per average month on recruitment of skilled migrants, outsourcing to an expert recruiter will be cost effective.