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How far the pendulum has swung!

Updated: Mar 19, 2022

What a difference a day or a week can make in the world of immigration.

We have gone from a border and a noose around immigration that was so tightly held to:

  • Working Holidays starting up again - see the schedule.

  • Visa free visitors or anyone that has a valid existing valid visitor visa from any country being able to now come from 1 May

  • You have a job offer at $84,240+, you are now not just skilled but a "Critical Worker"

Yes, that's right: $84,240 in any type of job gets a worker in through the border and into working rights from arrival. The employer does not have to be Accredited. Nor is there any labour market test. The worker can bring in family i.e. dependent children under 20 and a partner with whom they can prove they have been living for long enough to be considered to be in a genuine and stable relationship.

We've gone from the 8m pole vault to get workers in to a mere step over.

So is there a catch? Well, as with all things immigration, let's just say it is important to understand the framework and you can then decide if that represents a catch or not.

The first thing employers and candidates must note is:

  • This is about Critical Purpose visas

  • Critical Purpose visas are visitor visas for up to 12 months

  • The main worker gets a visitor visa with working rights (strange but true - a hybrid vehicle brought in when our borders closed)

  • Partner and kids also get visitor visas only

  • None are covered for state-funded healthcare

This can be limiting so the answer then is:

  • Once on-shore to convert the worker and their family (if any) to a full set of normal work/study visas.

  • If arriving into NZ in time, we can apply for Essential Skills 3 year visas (no labour market test) for the main worker; a work visa for the partner; domestic study visas for any children of school age - cut off is end June.

So far so great. The only further snag is in knowing whether the worker will be able, in the future, to get their residence. These Critical Workers have been specifically written out of being able to apply for the one-off 2021 Residence Visa unless earning $106,080. Currently, that's the only residence programme we have up and running. So, a worker earning at that level (must be for a 40 hours week, not more) can come in and join the residence programme as long as they arrive in time to lodge before the end of July.

For those earning between $84,240 and $106,080, we are told in the future to expect a new-look Skilled Migrant Category. That has been suspended since our borders closed and we don't have the new rule book as yet. Much has been speculated about what it might look like.

Will the age limit of 56 be reduced? Given the one-off 2021 Residence category lifted all age limits, those of us looking at the numbers think that could be a possibility. Let's face it, with an ageing population issue and an overall objective of wanting to reduce immigration to give breathing space for infrastructure to catch up, we could well see something akin to Australia's age cap of 45 being instituted. That would fit with the new superannuation policies which ultimately have upped the time you need to work in NZ from 10 to 20 years in order to qualify. I stress: this is all speculation at this point.

We also don't know quite what the new points system will look like. Will it be the same as before i.e. a 160 point threshold - or will it be higher/lower? Will the allocation of points be the same where Auckland got 30 fewer points than the rest of NZ for skilled employment? Or will we be seeing more changes there - certainly in the work visa arena, the government is about to make it harder for those in all major cities (AKL, Hamilton, Wellington, CC and Dunedin) to get some work visas than in the regions. Whether our skilled programme follows suit remains to be seen.

It would have been very helpful for us to have the new scheme written before opening the border to the $84,240 brigade. Anyone coming in now through that route will have to be prepared to face the sort of uncertainty that does not help families settle. Migrating to NZ, particularly with family, is an undertaking. We advisers can only counsel that if holding good qualifications and able to prove a good amount of work history with tax and pay records and having a strong ability in English is likely to be in the "safe zone".

This $84,240 threshold could also signal the threshold likely to be used in the future for determining skilled employment. Pre-Covid, we were using a tool called the "ANZSCO" (the Australia and NZ Standard Classification of Occupations) to determine "skilled" employment. ANZSCO has been a thorn in the side that has only ever caused grief for applicants and case officers and so I think it highly likely a salary bright-line test will be the way of the future.

My pick is that unless in a registered or otherwise cherry-picked occupation, the days of the median wage unregistered worker for residence purposes will have gone. Instead, those workers will only be able to get work visas for 3 years at a time and there's some evidence to suggest partners will also have to meet work visa rules in their own right, and not just be able to rely on the main worker to get them in. Again, this is doing the consultation rounds but is certainly not at confirmed stages as yet. If we have learnt one thing in this pandemic about immigration here in NZ it's that anything can happen. Just as you think migrants in lower paid roles are taking NZ jobs, they suddenly appear on a "scarce" list. So I, for one, hold fire on too much speculation and await the black and white. There's also an election next year so who knows what that might bring.

In the meantime, for those that coming in now:

  • it's certainly great news for all earning $106,080. Critical Purpose Visas to get in. Conversion to full visas work/student visas once landed can follow. And for those arriving before the end of July, it's 2021 Residence all the way

  • for those coming in as $84,240 earners; the possibility to convert to 3 year visas without labour market tests or the employer needing to be Accredited if arriving in time to lodge before end June. Care to be taken around possibly residence pathways in the future. Employers and candidates may well want to seek advice around how to fully bolster possible eligibility for residence or await the new rules. A worker who is degree qualified, with good solid history evidence and strong English being likely contenders for residence. Unqualified but experienced workers being in a much less secure zone.

Turning then to the Working Holiday and Visa Free Visitors. From 14 March i.e. 4 days ago at time of writing, 14 of the 60 or so Working Holiday Schemes opened up. Those are:

Belgium, Canada, Denmark, Finland, France, Germany, Ireland, Italy, Netherlands, Norway, Sweden, United Kingdom, USA, Japan.

All others will open on a rolling basis i.e. country by country.

Common to all Working Holiday schemes is that permanent work is prohibited. The intention is supposed to be to holiday with work as secondary. Some schemes limit working for one employer to 3 months. Each scheme having slightly different rules including age limits.

For visitors looking to find jobs, the opportunity is now there. A visitor coming in visa free to look for work who lands a job offer in time can apply once on-shore for a 2 or 3 year work visa depending on how much they are paid (above or below median) - no Accreditation required and no labour market test either.

What is odd in all this is that those workers who are or were in NZ and want to leave have to wait until 12 April to get back in - that's a case of "reason not the need" given it's clearly no longer a safety issue and no visas have to be issued. But again, we've learned to suspend logic in the way things are controlled in this environment.

I won't post here about our split families either as that's for a separate post but suffice to say, they remain at the bottom of the heap in terms of our border policies and no particular respite is in sight for many. That is something that really does need fixing. Hence, I'll save for another post to do it justice.

All in all, for employers looking to fill skills gaps, the above could offer some serious respite after the two years of hard slog and no workers. It could also relieve a whole load of employers from having to rush to becoming accredited if things fall into place before the Essential Skills scheme cuts off at the end of June.

As always, we are very happy to help employers and candidates strategise. Just reach out and use our self-booking page if you want to make an appointment. 20 min chats are free and if you can't find one that's suitable, just call the office on 07-8390967 and the team will assist.

Katy Armstrong, LIA 2008002343

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