New Zealand: Changes to essential skills work visas – what do they mean?

Last Updated: 9 August 2017
Article by Nicola Tiffen

The government has announced changes to the essential skills work visas . The following outlines what these changes might mean for you or your employees.

When will the changes happen?

28 August 2017

What are the main changes?

Immigration New Zealand (INZ) is introducing remuneration bands for work visas. The remuneration bands will affect how long applicants can stay and whether their families can stay too.

How long are essential skills visas currently granted for?

This depends on the skill level of the job.

If the job matches with an occupation that is ranked at Level 1, 2 or 3 on the Australian and New Zealand Standard Classification of Occupations (ANZSCO) then a work visa is granted for at least three years. The work visa can continually be renewed.

If a job is ranked at Level 4 or 5 on the ANZSCO, then a work visa is granted for 12 months. However, the work visa can continually be renewed, every 12 months.

Remind me, what is ANZSCO again?

ANZSCO is a system managed by the Australian and New Zealand governments. It classifies and ranks jobs.

For example, an engineer is ranked as having an ANZSCO Level 1 job. This means that an engineer needs at least 5 years of work experience or a degree to be able to get a work visa, which would then be valid for either three or five years.

A builder's labourer is ranked as having an ANZSCO Level 5 job. This means that a labourer only has to prove he or she has finished secondary education and perhaps some on-the-job training to be able to get a work visa. However, a builder's labourer will only get a work visa for 12 months, each time he or she applies.

What is the current situation for partners of essential skills visa holders?

Essential skills visa holders are currently able to obtain visas for their partners and dependent children, as long as their visa is for more than six months. The partners and children can stay in New Zealand, as long as the main applicant. Also, the partner can usually work in any job and the children can go to primary or secondary school.

How will the remuneration bands change work visa duration?

From 28 August, essential skills visa applicants earning less than $19.97 per hour ($41,538 per annum) will only be eligible for a 12 month work visa. This is regardless of the skill level of the job. Further, after three work visas (three years in New Zealand), these applicants must leave New Zealand for at least 12 months.

Applicants earning between $19.97 and $35.24 per hour and in ANZSCO Level 4 and 5 jobs will also only be able 12 month work visas. Also, after three years, these applicant must also leave New Zealand for at least 12 months.

Applicants earning between $19.97 and $35.24 per hour and in ANZSCO Level 1, 2 or 3 jobs will still be able to obtain three year work visas. They will be able to continue to renew the visas and will not have to leave New Zealand for 12 months, every three years.

An applicant earning more than $35.24 per hour will be able to obtain a five year work visa, regardless of the ANZSCO level of his or her job.

What is changing for partners and children?

Essential skills visa applicants earning less than $19.97 per hour ($41,538 per annum) will not be able to support a partner or dependent children to stay in New Zealand. Also, applicants earning between $19.97 and $35.24 per hour and in ANZSCO Level 4 and 5 jobs will also only be able 12 month work visas.

My migrant employees earn less than $19.97 per hour and/or are working in ANZSCO Level 4 or 5 jobs. What will happen to them?

When each employee applies for his or next work visa, it will only be granted for 12 months. After three of these visas, the employees will have to leave New Zealand for at least 12 months. However, the good news is that the three years that each employee can spend in New Zealand will start with their next visa application.

If your organisation wants to continue the employment beyond the three years, you and the employee need to consider career development pathways to allow the employee to progress to earning more than $19.97 per hour and move into an ANZSCO Leve 1,2 or 3 job.

What about my employees' partner and/or children?

Cavell Leitch understands that INZ will put in place transitional arrangements. These arrangements may allow an employee's partner and children to remain in New Zealand as long as the employee is lawfully in New Zealand. This should mean that partners and children can stay here for three years, from the next visa application. However, unless the employee has moved into a job paying more than $19.97 per hour and at ANZSCO Level 1, 2 or 3, the partner and children will have to leave New Zealand after three years.

Is there anything else my organisation should know?

Yes. Don't forget that to renew an employee's essential skills work visa, your organisation must have made a genuine attempt to find New Zealander for the job and demonstrate that no suitable or readily trainable New Zealanders applied. If a job is at ANZSCO level 4 or 5, you must list the vacancy with Work and Income.

Also, it is important to remember that there are also substantial changes to the Skilled Migrant Category, which is the way most employees obtain residence. These also come into effect on 28 August. For example, to progress to residence an employee will need to earn at least $48,859 per annum or $23.49 per hour. You can find out more about these changes at another article on our website.

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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