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The New Zealand Minister of Immigration, Hon. Michael Woodhouse, today announced changes to the Skilled Migrant and Essential Skills work visa categories.  In his statement, he said ‘It’s important that our immigration settings are attracting the right people, with the right skills, to help fill genuine skill shortages and contribute to our growing economy.

So, what do these changes mean for these categories of visas?  Who will be the winners and the losers from these changes?

Essential Skills – Temporary class visa

Two salary bands are proposed:

  1. NZ$48,859[1] which is equivalent to the New Zealand median income. Applicants for an Essential Skills work visa who have an offer of employment for a position that is listed in ANZSCO[2] as skill level 1, 2 or 3 which pays at or above this band will meet the salary criteria for skilled employment; and
  2. NZ$73,299[3] which is equivalent to 1.5x the New Zealand median income. Applicants for an Essential Skills work visa who an offer of employment for a position that is listed in ANZSCO as level 4 or lower which pays at or above this band will also meet the salary criteria for skilled employment.

These salary bands will be revised annually in line with the New Zealand median income.

Applicants for an Essential Skills work visa for a position that does not meet the criteria for one of the two salary bands will be able to apply for a lower-skilled Essential Skills work visa.  These visas will be issued for a maximum time period of 3 years, following which there will be a stand-down period (for an as yet unspecified time) before the applicant can reapply to return to New Zealand to take up another lower-skilled position.

Applicants for a lower-skilled Essential Skills work visa will not be entitled to apply for a Partnership Based Work or Study visa for their partner and will not be entitled to apply for domestic Student Visas for their school-age children.  Partners and children will still be entitled to apply to come to New Zealand as visitors.

Skilled Migrant – Permanent class visa

Significant changes are proposed to the awarding of skilled migrant points:

  • Skilled employment will need to meet the criteria for one of the two salary bands as proposed for Essential Skills visas;
  • Bonus points (unspecified) will be available for salaries of NZ$97,718[4] or more per year;
  • More points (unspecified) will be available for work experience;
  • More points (unspecified) will be available for Masters and PhD qualifications[5]
  • Partners qualifications will only be awarded if they are a recognised Bachelors level degree or higher or a recognised post-graduate (level 9 or higher) qualification.
  • Points will be awarded for skilled New Zealand work experience of 12 months or more, but no additional points for two years or more
  • Points for qualifications in an area of absolute skill shortage or for employment, work experience and qualifications in Identified Future Growth Areas and close family support in New Zealand will be removed.

By their omission from the Minister’s policy statement it would appear that bonus points for qualifications gained in New Zealand will remain – which is consistent with the Government’s theme of attracting qualified migrants.

Winners

Depending on the level that points are finally set at, the most likely winners are:

  • Applicants aged between 30 and 39;
  • Tradespeople with recognised qualifications who have ANZSCO skill level 3 occupations (i.e. plumber, electrician, carpenter etc.) and who are likely to earn in excess of NZ$48,859 per annum;
  • Applicants who hold a Masters or PhD qualification; and
  • Applicants with work experience.

The increase in points for applicants aged between 30 and 39 is clearly targeted at the age group that offers higher levels of both education and experience.

Losers

Clear losers are families with an Essential Skills visa holder who earns less than the amount required to meet one of the two salary bands.  They will be able to continue to remain in New Zealand for so long as their current visa lasts but, once it expires, they will only be able to apply for a lower-skilled Essential Skills work visa, their partner will lose their entitlement to a Partnership Based Work or Study visa and their children will lose their entitlement to domestic Student Visas.

Effectively, these measures cut off these people from having a realistic pathway to residency unless they up-skill through work experience and/or education so that they meet one of the salary bands.

Transition

There will be a short period of consultation, following which these measures will be implemented in August 2017.  As yet, there are no details about how Expressions of Interest and Applications for Skilled Migrant Residency will be assessed between now and then.  Expect a period of uncertainty as the transitional details are worked out.

Also, in the FAQs about these changes on the Immigration New Zealand’s website they note that ‘there is no information at the present time concerning where the selection point [160 points] will be set when the adjusted Skilled Migrant Category is implemented’.  This clearly leaves open the door for a further adjustment at that time which, given that this is election year, would be most unlikely to be downwards.

[1] An hourly rate of NZ$23.49 based on a 40-hour working week

[2] Australian and New Zealand Standard Classification of Occupations.  Skill level 1 is the highest level.

[3] An hourly rate of NZ$35.24 based on a 40-hour working week

[4] An hourly rate of NZ$46.98 based on a 40-hour working week

[5] Level 9 or 10 on the New Zealand Qualifications Framework

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