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Employer Accreditation and the all-new AEWV - coming to a corner near you (with some shock waves)...

I well remember the consultation paper over 3 years ago when I was appointed to prepare our industry body submission. Not one of us had any beef with the stated intention of reducing migrant exploitation. We did disagree with the possible overreach in regulating largely compliant employers.

It always shocked people to know that pre-Covid the vast majority of work visas dished out each year were actually what we call "open" work visas where employers float under the radar. Let's take the 2019-2020 year: total number of work visas granted: 197,000. Of those, around 8500 were "specific purpose" visas; 8715 Talent Accredited Employer Work Visas and @40,000 were Essential Skills work visas. @17,000, by contrast, were open Post-Study visas; and a whopping 60,000 odd Working Holiday Visas.

As with most new governments, however, this one was determined to make its mark and chose the new Accredited Employer Work Visa or "AEWV" as its mantra. The idea of turning employer-assisted work visas on their heads and making Accreditation mandatory as opposed to voluntary had a certain logic.

Migrant exploitation in my view, however unpalatable, is unlikely to be eliminated by the new Accredited Employer Scheme. That scheme will likely attract the faithful - the employers who have always wanted to do the right thing. Employers who have learned to value their migrant workers for the incredible diversity and work ethic they often bring.

Those bottom feeders seeking to get money from students will still be able to do so while their student and post-study working rights can go to any employer. Open working rights can be a double-edged sword in that respect. It may still be possible for a student to progress from study to post-study and then to Skilled Migrant Residence (assuming that category is actually resurrected in the future) without their employer being Accredited at all.

Well, nothing's perfect I suppose.

The notion was also that employers should have more skin in the game in the immigration process. In the new Accredited Employer Work Visa scheme of things, the Employer will have to take care of 2 out of 3 parts that make up the whole:

  • Getting Accredited

  • Passing the Job Check

The migrant then makes the Visa Application with the certainty that the employer and their job offer passes muster. They are responsible only for their part, which is to meet any qualifications/registration/work experience/bona fides/health and character requirements. To that extent, I am not averse to the new scheme.

Well, yesterday (22 March), we got some further important details about the upcoming launch of this new scheme. We knew a certain amount already but here are two takeaways from today most likely to cause ripples:

  • no AEWVs will be granted for any job paying below the new median wage of $27.76. Yes, you read right. It could be that it's fully curtains for any job paying < median wage.

  • There may be some jobs on a restricted list that even if paid median wage still won't get AEWVs. We suspect this will be aimed at the likes of hospitality or possibly horticulture.

The Immigration website states that further consideration is being given to the above but we know this is going to send some shock waves down through those industries where median wage is out of sight. Having to rely on Working Holiday Visa-ites may suit the government, but it won't suit business needs. Many working holiday schemes actually limit the amount of time you can work for a single employer to 3 months. There is also a complete prohibition on offering permanent work to anyone on a Working Holiday Visa to which, historically, Immigration has turned a blind eye, but that may all change.

The other details that were concretised yesterday were as follows:

  • The date for opening up for Accreditation applications has been pushed out from 9 May to 23 May. While there remain two levels of Accreditation, Standard and High-Volume the requirements for either are now going to be exactly the same. Instead, they've said additional requirements for high-volume may be considered in the future.

  • Already known but worth a read are the requirements for the Accreditation. For me, one of the greatest changes of note in the whole scheme is requiring employers to pay all recruitment costs in NZ and overseas. This now follows the Philippines government that has always insisted that the employer meets recruitment fees. However, we used to regularly see migrants from other countries paying hefty recruitment fees which always left a bad taste let's just say.

  • The Immigration fees have now been set for the first time and have clearly been reduced from the proposals as we'd been told to expect more. So good news for employers struggling to recover from Covid-19. The fees are:

    • Standard accreditation, up to 5 migrants at any one time is NZD $740.

    • High-volume, 6 or more migrants at any one time is NZD $1220.

    • Upgrade fee for employers who want to upgrade from standard to high-volume accreditation is NZD $480.

    • Employers wanting to place migrants with controlling third parties is NZD $3870.

    • Franchisees is NZD $1980.

    • Reconsideration of declined employer accreditation application is NZD $240.

Of huge note for those employers who bothered to get Accredited last year:

Employers accredited under the Talent (Accredited Employer) scheme will have the fee for their initial AEWV accreditation waived, as long as their accreditation has 6 months from 23 May 2022 until it expires. The Talent (Accredited Employer) scheme is being phased out and has closed to new applications.

  • Job Checks are now confirmed as opening from 20 June and the details have been released. The costs will be $610 per job check. A job check can cover more than one position provided all positions are on exactly the same terms, of the same job type and in the same location. Reconsideration of a job check will cost $240. A job check's duration we now know will be 6 months. Of interest are the changes to what's required of the employer - the labour market test element has become more unified. It basically states that unless paying twice the median i.e. $55.52 per hour, all employers will need to have clearly advertised the terms and conditions of the job. Advertising must:

    • be for a minimum of 2 weeks on a national job listing website where suitable New Zealanders are likely to apply, or another advertising channel more likely to attract suitable New Zealanders to the specific role (this is one to watch as to date, we knew which advertising sites worked and which did not - this seems potentially broader, but we'll have to see)

    • show significant terms and conditions including the minimum and maximum pay rate, the minimum guaranteed hours of work, the location of the job (this of course, is significant as in NZ, employers to date generally keep the pay rate hidden or just as part of search criteria, rather than overtly on the advertising);

    • show the estimated actual earnings where a significant portion of the pay is by piece rate, commission or other rates or bonuses that are not guaranteed

    • show minimum qualifications, work experience, skills or other specifications necessary to do the job. (This being an area where we see employers frequently make the mistake of artificially tailoring to an overseas candidate's credentials where they already have a candidate in mind).

What's interesting about these advertising requirements is that all reference to shortage lists and geographic location have been removed. It seems like a one-size-fits-all approach is going to be taken, which seems at odds with the stated purpose of ensuring requirements were tailored to the regions. One suspects the need to be simple at a time when Immigration NZ is so overwhelmed with change has overridden other considerations.

I now turn to the part that will interest the migrant i.e. the actual Accredited Employer Work Visa application has now also been confirmed as costing:

Application for AEWV - NZD $540

  • Immigration levy paid by worker - NZD $55

  • Reconsideration of a declined AEWV application - NZD $220

  • Variation of conditions - NZD $190

A question we are often asked is whether someone already in NZ working on a work visa must apply for this new visa from July. The answer is no: you can see out the term of your visa. Of course, however, the incentive is there for some to take advantage of the last 3 months we have of the Essential Skills "lite" option - still available to be applied for until the end of June. That is a 3 or 3-year visa depending on whether at or below the current median wage of $27. Anyone unable to reach the new median will need to apply for Essential Skills before the cut-off. Especially because we do not yet know what of Partners of the new AEWV visas. Floating around in the ether is the possibility that Partners may have to meet work visa criteria in their own right - something we gather is still on the table.

The other interesting way that employers and workers can actually avoid this new AEWV for at least a good while is to use the Critical Purpose Visa instructions that are now in place but will become consigned to the history books as from July. Those say (see prior blog article) that anyone now offered a job at 1.5 x median i.e. $84.240 can apply to come in (with family) and if on-shore before end June, they can then convert from 12 month critical purpose to 3 year Essential Skills and corresponding dependent visas.

In all, I find these changes to be unimaginative. Immigration really is becoming very binary and the use of salary to determine just about everything is questionable. Threats around restricted and lower paid occupations will likely alienate some of the very employers the system should most support, particularly in challenging times. Small details, but e.g. making all employers sit through lowest common denominator employment learning modules, for example, where already exercising advanced employment practices is the sort of overreach that may well not be welcome in all quarters and should be subject to exemptions in my view.

As always, if seeking more information on the new Accreditation Scheme or any other immigration matter, don't hesitate to get in touch: or 07-8390967. The team will be more than happy to help.

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