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Egg on Face but Sunny Side Up


I will be to the point.


We all know the Accredited Employer Work Visa has been in trouble. You'd have to be a very non-newsy type not to have seen story after story in the media for the last year. As professionals, we were blowing the whistle a year ago. It was in March that I was asked to present to the industry on the topic, with Immigration New Zealand present. The selling of visas and jobs was already erupting like a seething boil.


Fast forward to yesterday and the Public Services Commission has released its 80-page "Assurance Review of the Operation of the AEWV Scheme" Final Report. It found that:


  • With the opening of the borders post Covid in June 2022, and employers needing migrant labour, INZ introduced new operational settings to reduce visa processing times and respond to the extraordinary demand from employers.

  • These settings reduced the number of checks that immigration officers were required to do to maintain processing times.

  • INZ’s decision to change the settings, to address the immediate need for access to migrant workers, was reasonable in the circumstances.

  • INZ did not adequately assess the risk and impact of these changes to speed up processing times, against the increased risk of visa system abuse. 

  • The focus on meeting visa processing timeframes and volumes overrode risk considerations.

  • When INZ staff did raise concerns about the risks, leadership at INZ failed to pay adequate attention.

  • Between 27 July 2022 and 30 June 2023, the visa scheme was exposed to an increased risk of exploitation by unscrupulous agents or employers.

  • INZ has made, and continues to make, a number of changes to improve the administration of the work visa scheme service. 


For commentary (including my own) see this Radio New Zealand piece. I stand by my comment:


"I just want a system that is rational, functional, that I can stand proudly and say this is a really great system, by and large we get it right."

It will be argued for some time to come as to whether the Ministers share equal responsibility witih Immigration New Zealand. Paragraph 260 of the Report finds:


Despite senior INZ and MBIE officials having provided numerous verbal briefings to Ministers regarding the administration of AEWV and the risks associated with introduction of General Instructions, no documentary evidence of the same exists. As such, it is not possible for the Review to conclude the extent to which Ministers were advised of the risks. The Review would have expected some written record to have been made of key advice given and Ministerial decisions, given the significance of the General Instructions and the fluidity of the operating context.

That said, the overall environment in which Immigration New Zealand was operating by 2022 was chaos, brought about by an unyielding axe taken by the government to most of our immigration policies at the very time when morale and cohesion was most important to successfully open the borders.


Three key practical takeaways:


  • The goalie is now back in the box - quite how fighting fit remains to be seen, but... sunny side up - lessons learned (she says, hopefully).

  • INZ is to provide regular reports to the Minister, with the first within 3 months.

  • A wider review is to take place, allowing the airing of ideas about how to get this into a positive zone. This time, with more than lip (or no) service to those expressing concerns.


I again sound the cautionary bell: we should not default to thinking this is all about skill levels, as there are many genuine skills gaps at the lower classified end of the skills food chain. Immigration New Zealand's job is to sort the wheat from the chaff. A golden key is to incentivise quality, decision-ready applications. The last 18 months have all been about the complete reverse.


Sunny side up.


Katy Armstrong

Licensed Adviser 200800243




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