Essential Skills Work Visas are changing from 19 July 2021

Earlier this month, the Minister of Immigration announced further changes to Essential Skills visas. He confirmed that the controversial ‘stand-down’ requirement for lower-paid migrant workers has been further deferred to 30 June 2022. This means that migrant workers who have held ‘lower skilled’ or  ‘lower-paid’ visas for at least three consecutive years, may still be able to renew their Essential Skills visas before 1 November 2021, even if their hourly rate of pay is still below the median wage.

Remuneration – median wage increase

Perhaps the most important change is the increase in the median wage to $27.00 per hour effective from 19 July 2021. Up to this point, Essential Skills Work Visa applications can continue to be submitted under the current hourly rate of $25.50. We anticipate that there will be an influx of applications being lodged as a result of this increase.

According to the announcement, the wage increase was set following public consultation. However, employers in the hospitality and tourism sector, as well as in small businesses, may struggle to retain skilled migrant workers, as they may not be able to afford to pay their staff $27.00 per hour.

While it will continue to be a requirement that Essential Skills Work visa holders are given and paid for at least 30 hours of work per week, the length of visas for people earning below the median wage will be increased from 6 months to 12 months from 10 June 2021.

Those migrant workers who have submitted their Essential Skills Work visa applications before 10 June 2021, based on employment paid below the median wage, can also be granted a visa for 12 months. 

Labour market test

The Labour Market Test requirements remain unchanged. Employers will still need to prove they have been genuinely unsuccessful at attracting a New Zealander into the role before offering it to a migrant worker.

Family visas

The rules around supporting family visas will remain the same and will generally continue to be determined on the basis of whether an individual earns above or below the median wage, as well as being able to meet any applicable income requirement.

It is important that migrant workers obtain personalised advice as transitional provisions may be applicable in certain circumstances and would make a considerable difference to possible visa options for partners of Essential Skills Work Visa holders.

What about Skilled Migrant Category residence applications?

From 19 July 2021, anyone submitting an Expression of Interest under the Skilled Migrant Category will need to demonstrate that they are paid at least $27.00 per hour for skill level 1, 2 or 3 occupations. Those with skill level 4 or 5 occupations will need to demonstrate an hourly remuneration of $40.50. Remuneration required to be awarded bonus points for high remuneration will be $54.00 per hour.


From 19 July 2021 the new remuneration thresholds will apply even if an employee’s employment agreement was signed before 19 July 2021 and contains a wage / salary condition that meets current remuneration thresholds.

People who have submitted an Expression of Interest under the Skilled Migrant Category that meets current remuneration thresholds for skilled employment points but have not had their Expression of Interest selected as at 19 July 2021 will need to review their position to assess if they meet the new remuneration thresholds for skilled employment points. If they don’t, they will need to take steps to update their Expression of Interest so they can claim the points previously claimed.

A reminder, the Essential Skills Work Visa category will be closing on 31 October 2021 and will be replaced by the Accredited Employer Work Visa from 1 November 2021. You can read more about what this means for you here.

Get professional advice

We highly recommend for temporary visa holders who currently hold Essential Skills Work Visas, to get in touch with us now so we can expertly guide you through your options for remaining in New Zealand.

Talk to us

Should you require assistance navigating what are becoming increasingly complicated rules for Skilled Migrant Residence and Essential Skills Work Visa Applications contact our Immigration Team.

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.

Topics: All Select

Heather Collins

Position: Associate
DDI: +64 3 545 6702