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Uncertainty around visa conditions for migrant workers

28 Aug 2017

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By Gillian Stuart, Senior Solicitor, Aspiring Law

Recent surveys show the skilled worker shortage is one the biggest concerns for employers in the Central Otago-Lakes area, with the farming, hospitality and tourism sectors particularly reliant on migrants to meet their staffing needs.

With an election just around the corner, immigration has become an increasing political football, and we know from our clients this is causing some confusion.

Just by way of a bit of background to start with: some political parties have called for stricter controls, and, feeling the heat, in April the Government proposed more restrictive criteria around working visas for skilled migrants, but then quickly backed down when employers raised objections, issuing a watered down version last month.

The decision to lower the threshold for medium-skilled workers will mean approximately 6000-7000 more will meet the criteria than would have under the original proposal, and will not have to leave after three years.

However, employers have criticised the new rules, saying low-skilled workers will be forced out after three years, despite the time and money spent on training, and their integration into both the workplace and local community. Employers would then likely face having to train another migrant from new.

This new policy around temporary work visas comes into effect today (August 28, 2017), and will see the skill levels of migrant workers assessed based on the salary they earn:

  • Lower-skilled visa holders earning less than $41,538 a year can get visas for a maximum of three years, and will then have to leave New Zealand for a stand-down period of 12 months before they can apply for a new visa in another low-skilled role.
  • Migrants who earn between $41,538 and $73,299 a year, and have jobs classified as high-to-medium skilled, will be considered mid-skilled.
  • Those who earn more than $73,299 will be considered high-skilled, regardless of what job they have.
  • Mid-skilled and higher-skilled workers will be able to stay up to five years.
  • An employer will still need to try and recruit a suitable New Zealander who is available to do the work before offering the work to an overseas person.
  • A visa holder can work in New Zealand for an employer who has offered that person a job.
  • A visa holder can only work in a specific occupation, for the employer and in the location, specified in that person’s visa. If a visa holder wants to change their job, employer or work location, they will have to apply for a variation of conditions, or else apply for, and be granted, a new work visa.
  • A visa holder can study for up to three months in any 12 month period, or do any study required as part of that person’s employment.
  • Most skilled migrants’ partners and children will have to qualify for visas in their own right to live in New Zealand (they will still have access to short-term visitor visas).

The Government has said further changes are likely after it has looked at particular sectors and regions, including seasonal work visas. If we do we see a new government next month, no doubt we can expect different policies, again. Either way, yet further change is in the wind.

Employers will need to keep up to date with developments so as not to be caught out. If you’re needing support or guidance, please feel free to give Aspiring Law Senior Solicitor Gillian Stuart a call on 03 443 0900, or email her on