In Focus: Impact on employers of new rules for Essential Skills Work Visas | Pitt & Moore, Lawyers in Nelson

In Focus: Impact on employers of new rules for Essential Skills Work Visas

If you’re a business that employs, or is planning to employ, staff from another country, you’ll need to make sure you keep up with the recent changes to immigration policy that were brought in by the Government last month.

The Essential Skills Work Visa is designed to give employers access to temporary migrant workers when there are genuine shortages. The changes reinforce the temporary nature of the Essential Skills Work visa, as well as reduce the expectations of lower-skilled migrant workers that the Essential Skills Work Visa is a pathway to permanent residency.

The way the Government has achieved this is by using annual income as the new test for skill levels.

In the first proposals put forward, any job paying less than $48,859 per year would have been categorised as low-skilled. After complaints from several sectors – including dairy, hospitality, aged-cared and some regional employers - the Government revised the low-skilled threshold down to $41,000. The Government has also promised to look into the idea of tailoring work visas to address regional skills shortages.

As the new policy stands, there are now three categories of Essential Skills work visa holders. Highly skilled – to be assessed as a minimum annual income over $73,299, mid-skilled from $41,537 to $73,299 if the job is classified as New Zealand Standard Classification of Occupation (ANZSCO) Level 1,2 or 3 and lower skilled - earning less than $41,537.

A low-skilled classification now means the employee can only obtain a 12-month work visa that will require annual renewal and only up to a maximum of three years. After three years, low-skilled work visa holders would need to leave New Zealand for a year and reapply after that year if they wished to return on another Essential Skills work visa. The low- skilled classification also means they are no longer entitled to have dependent family stay in New Zealand. Family members would need to apply in their own right.

A mid-skilled classification allows workers to have a three-year visa with the option to renew the visa without having to leave the country and access to visas to allow their partner and children to live with them.   

High-skilled employees are able to get a five-year visa, regardless of the ANZSCO level of their job, and also the right to have their partner and children live with them.

Key points for employers:

  • Clear information about pay and hours is required to support visa applications

  • The three-year maximum for each migrant worker means you will still be able to access migrants for lower-skilled roles after 3 years but not the same migrant

  • The three-year restriction doesn’t apply if a person moves into a more skilled role

  • Remuneration is now key to visa assessments. Employers need to provide proof of remuneration at or above the relevant visa threshold throughout the entire duration of their visa and can be audited by Immigration New Zealand.

  • If pay drops below the level for a skill-band, the employer can be considered in breach of immigration law and as a result may loose their right to access migrant workers for a period of time.

For regional and seasonal businesses, another route to employing overseas workers could be via the Post Study work visa and working holiday visa categories. So, if you’re considering employing anyone on a visa, it pays to talk to your lawyer for expert advice and the latest information right at the start of the process.

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Elly Fleming

Position: Solicitor
DDI: +64 3 545 6714