New Zealand: Applying for residence? Do you know about the latest changes to the Skilled Migrant Category?

Last Updated: 16 October 2016
Article by Nicola Tiffen


On October 12 2016, the government announced big changes to the Skilled Migrant Category.

These changes came into effect immediately and potentially make it harder and more expensive for migrants to get residence in New Zealand.

What is the Skilled Migrant Category?

The Skilled Migrant Category (SMC)is the category that most people use to apply for residence.

Applicants have to prove that they are eligible to be awarded a certain number of points. These are awarded for attributes such as:

  • having skilled employment in New Zealand;
  • proving relevant work experience;
  • a certain level of qualification;
  • age; and
  • any close family who are resident in New Zealand.

Applicants must also show that they meet minimum English language, health and good character requirements.

How does the SMC application process work?

To start, an applicant submits an online Expression of Interest.

If the Expression of Interest shows that the applicant could be awarded a minimum number of points, he or she is selected from the "pool" of applicants. Until yesterday, the level at which an Expression of Interest would be selected was 100 points. This is if the applicant has a skilled job or offer of a skilled job.

Once the Expression of Interest is selected, the applicant may be issued with an Invitation to Apply. He or she can then submit his or her formal residence application. This application must include documents that prove eligibility for the points claimed in the Expression of Interest.

The formal application must also prove that the applicant meets the English language, health and character requirements. Until yesterday, if an applicant had worked in his or her skilled job, in New Zealand, for at least 12 months he or she may not need to provide documents proving that he or she meets the English language requirement.

Once submitted, Immigration New Zealand assesses the application and, if it is approved, the applicant and his or her family are given residence.

The entire process typically takes between three and 12 months from beginning to end.

What are the changes?

As of 12 October 2016, Expressions of Interest must show that the applicant is eligible to be awarded 160 points to be sure of being selected from the pool of applicants. This is regardless of whether he or she has a skilled job in New Zealand.

Also, applicants and their families may not meet the English language requirement just by having worked in New Zealand for 12 months. Instead, they may need to submit an International English Language Testing System (IELTS) report showing an overall band score of 6.5 (or a score of 5 for family members). Alternatively, applicants and their families may meet the requirements if they can prove that they have completed at least five years of work experience or a degree level qualification in Australia, New Zealand, Canada, Ireland, the UK or the USA.

What do the changes in points criteria mean?

This will depend on each applicant. In most cases, he or she may now need to prove a lot more work experience and/or that he or she has a NZ recognised qualification.

For example, a 29 year-old tradesman (such as a carpenter, fabricator welder or plumber) working in Christchurch for more than a year, with six years of experience, will need to prove that he or she has a qualification that is at least at level 4 on the New Zealand Qualifications Framework, to be sure of being selected for residence. He or he may need the New Zealand Qualifications Authority to assess his or her overseas qualification. This costs at least $746 and takes approximately 35 working days, delaying applications.

These changes came into effect immediatley and without warning. Therefore, if an applicant does not meet the minimum 160 points criteria, he or she may now not be able to obtain residence under the SMC.

What do the English language requirement changes mean?

Unless an applicant has worked for at least five years or gained a degree in New Zealand, Australia, Canada, the UK, the USA or Ireland, he or she may need to provide an IELTS report showing a score of at least 6.5. The fee for sitting an IELTS test is usually about $385. However, from 21 November, INZ is going to accept other English language tests, which may be cheaper.

The English language requirements for partners and family aged over 16 have also changed to require five years' work experience or a degree level qualification from the above countries. Alternatively, family members may either need to provide an IELTS test report with a score of at least 5, complete one of the other tests that will be approved next month, or prepurchase English for Speakers of Other Languages (ESOL) tuition. This could potentially cost $6,795.

Again, these changes come into effect immediatly and without warning. However, if an applicant has already received his or her Invitation to Apply, there are some transitional arrangements in place, which may be easier to meet.

Getting help

If you or your employees are thinking of applying for residence under the SMC or are part-way through an application, we recommend that you get advice about these changes. You are welcome to contact Nicola Tiffen or Dayle Steele, in our immigration team, on 03 3799 940.

The content of this article is intended to provide a general guide to the subject matter. Specialist advice should be sought about your specific circumstances.

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