New Zealand: Important changes to work visas and residence

Last Updated: 27 August 2017
Article by Nicola Tiffen

There has been a lot of media comment about recent visa changes.

What are these changes and how do they affect you and your employees?

Work visa changes

On 28 August, work visas will change. The changes will make it difficult for "low skilled" employees to stay in New Zealand after three years or bring their families with them.

Skill level will be decided by the employee's wage or salary and also the Australian and New Zealand Standard Classification of Occupations (ANZSCO) description that best matches the employee's job.

ANZSCO is a job classification system managed by the Australian and New Zealand statistical departments. ANZSCO describes and classifes jobs and then ranks them in skill level. The highest skill level is Level 1. The lowest skill level is Level 5.

Employees earning less than $19.97 per hour will only be able to stay a maximum of three years.

An employee earning less than $19.97 per hour or $41,538 per annum (based on a 40-hour week) will only be eligible for a 12-month work visa.

Also, after three 12-month visas, the employee must spend at least 12 months overseas, before he or she can get another work visa.

The wage/salary level is based on a 40-hour week. So, an employee working long hours, but earning less than $19.97 per hour, will not be able to stay beyond the three years, even if he or she earns more than $41,358 per annum.

Employees earning less than $19.97 per hour cannot bring family to New Zealand.

An employee earning less than $19.97 per hour will not be able to support a partner or child's visa application. There are transitional arrangements for family who are already in New Zealand.

Employees earning $19.97 or more per hour can stay longer than three years and bring family.

This is as long as the job matches with an occupation that is at Level 1, 2 or 3 on the ANZSCO.

ANZSCO skill level 4 and 5 jobs include farm labourers and assistant dairy farm managers.

Farm managers are at skill level 1. However, the employee must be able to prove a degree level qualification or at least 5 years of experience to get a work visa for this job.

Employees earning $35.25 per hour or more will be able to stay up to five years and bring family.

An employee earning more than $35.24 per hour will be deemed to be highly skilled, no matter what the occupation. He or she will be eligible for a 5 year work visa and his or her family members can stay for the same length of time. The employee may still have to prove a minimum period of work experience or qualification to obtain a work visa.

Residence visa changes

Residence visas will also change on 28 August. The changes will make it more difficult for people earning less than $35.25 per hour to qualify for residence.

Applicants need 160 points to qualify. Points are awarded for age, skilled employment, skilled work experience, qualifications, and any qualifications or skilled employment a partner may have.

Applicants must also pass an English language test, unless they are citizens of Canada, Ireland, UK or the USA or have at least a degree level qualification from one of those countries or from Australia or New Zealand. The English language requirement is at IELTS 6.5.

The main changes are explained below.

Applicants can only claim points for work experience if that work experience is "skilled"

This means that work experience gained before obtaining a qualification or reaching the required skill level for a job, will not count. For example, someone who applies for residence as a Farm Manager, will not be able to claim points the first 5 years of his or her work experience. This is unless that work experience was gained after completing a relevant degree level qualification.

Applicants must be earning at least $23.49 per hour to qualify

The hourly rate will be calculated by the number of hours stipulated in the employment agreement, even if he or she is paid by an annual salary. Therefore, it is very important that an employment agreement is clear about the hours of work.

Applicants earning more than $35.24 an hour will find it much easier to qualify

This is because they may not need to prove that they are working in a skilled job. Also, they may not need to prove the same level of work experience or qualification as applicants earning less

Seek assistance before applying.

The application fees for residence are not cheap. They are $3000. Therefore, it is important to get advice from an experienced and specialist advisor before starting the process. Our Immigration Team can pre-assess your or any employees' eligibility for residence.

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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