Changes confirmed to the Skilled Migrant Category, Highly Paid Residence Visa and Accredited Employer Work Visa

By Heather Collins

21 June 2023

Today the government announced major changes to the Skilled Migrant Category, confirming a new 6-point system commencing in October this year.   In addition the Highly Paid Resident Visa will be removed and an extension to the Accredited Employer Work Visa will be implemented.

*** Shortly after publication of this article INZ released Immigration Instructions containing further details regarding these changes.  Pitt & Moore will be providing further commentary on this topic shortly. ***

Skilled Migrant Category

From 9 October 2023 the current SMC points system will be replaced with a simplified system focused on occupational registration, recognised qualifications or income.  The aim is to provide highly skilled people with a faster route to residence and clarify the route for migrant workers and their families in New Zealand. The new points system is intended to complement the Green List which has a more restricted route to residence based on specific occupations which are in high demand.  However it also appears that some migrants currently eligible under the current SMC scheme may be excluded under the new points system.

It is unclear from the announcement whether the proposal is being implemented unchanged, and we will need to wait for further details to emerge.  However based on the information provided today the original key concept of the 6 point structure is going ahead.

The takeaways from today’s announcement are:

  • Applicants for the SMC will need to have a job or job offer in New Zealand with an accredited employer which is for at least 30 hours per week and is either permanent employment or for a fixed term of employment for at least 12 months.  
  • Applicants will need to have a wage or salary which equates to at least the median wage, unless they are employed in roles which are ANZSCO level 4 or 5 in which case they must be paid at least 1.5 times the median wage.
  • Applicants must be able to claim 6 points to be eligible which can be made up as follows:
  • 3-6 skill points based on one of the three “skill categories” being either New Zealand occupational registration (which requires a minimum of 2 years training to gain registration) , recognised qualifications (Bachelor’s Degree or higher)  or income (earning at least 1.5 times the median wage) . Applicants can choose the skill category which offers them the most points, but cannot combine points from multiple skill categories to acquire more points.
  • 1 point per year of work in New Zealand in a skilled job up to a maximum of 3 points.
  • The more skill points the applicant can claim, the shorter the amount of time they will need to have worked in New Zealand in skilled employment before they can apply for SMC Residence.
  • If an applicant wants to use skilled work experience which they gained in New Zealand to claim points they will also need to have met the wage threshold throughout the skilled work experience period.   For example, if they are claiming points for being paid twice the median wage they will need to have earnt that wage during the whole period of the skilled work experience they are claiming.
  • Applicants will need to meet the same age, English language, health and character requirements as under the current scheme.
  • Applicants can include their partner and dependent children in the application and they must also meet English language requirements.
  • There is no cap on the number of eligible people who can be granted SMC residence

As we noted at the time of the proposal, the new points system is likely to exclude some people from residence who are currently eligible. Those in occupations where much of the training is “on the job”, and where there isn’t registration, are likely to have difficulties gaining 6 points.

Application Processing times

The government envisions that processing of SMC Resident Applications will be quicker, with a turnaround time of 6 – 8 weeks.  This is a welcome relief given previous  delays in processing  SMC Residence Visa Applications.  However it is currently unclear how the process will be streamlined.

Skilled Migrant Category Interim Visa

If an applicant applies for a new SMC Resident Visa and their current temporary visa expires while their SMC Resident application is still being processed, they we be granted a Skilled Migrant Category Interim Visa.  The SMC Interim Visa will expire at the earliest of the following times:

  • 24 months after the start date
  • The date the SMC residence Application is approved
  • If the SMC Residence Application is declined or withdrawn, 2 months after the decision is made on the application or the application is withdrawn.

There are significant drawbacks to being on an interim visa and therefore immigration advice is highly recommended before the applicant’s temporary visa expires.

Removal of the Highly Paid Residence Visa

Notably absent from the beehive announcement was INZ’s confirmation today that the Highly Paid Residence Visa which was set to come into force on 29 September 2023 will no longer go ahead.  Instead applicants are encouraged to apply for SMC Residence on the basis that they can claim points for their income.

Extension to the Accredited Employer Work Visa

Following feedback from businesses the government has also announced that from November 2023 there will be an extension to the maximum duration of an Accredited Employer Work Visa from three years to five years.  The purpose of this change is to align with the introduction of a five year maximum continuous stay for AEWV holders who do not have a pathway to residence.

We will need to wait for further details to be released to find out whether the new 5 year limit will apply to migrants who are already in New Zealand on their Accredited Employer Work Visa.

In Summary

Based on the information released today it appears that significant changes  to the SMC category may exclude some applicants from residence, and there are still many unknowns while we await the release of the new Immigration Instructions . 

Get Professional Advice

For those who intend to submit a SMC residence application under the new scheme we suggest that this is a space to watch closely as more details are released.  We also recommend that tailored legal advice is sought prior to submitting an SMC application to ensure it has the best chance of success. 

Talk to Us

Pitt and Moore Lawyers offer an initial free 15 minute consultation for immigration matters.  Contact us today to discuss your pathway to residence.

Disclaimer: The information contained in this publication is of a general nature and is not intended as legal advice. It is important that you seek legal advice that is specific to your circumstances.

Heather Collins

Position: Associate
DDI: +64 3 545 6702

Topics: All Select