Major Work Visa Changes – A Tightening of the Borders

Lavinia Askin

May 2024

Sweeping changes to the Accredited Employer work visa (AEWV) scheme will significantly impact employers and migrant workers.

On 7 April, Immigration Minister, Hon Erica Stanford announced major and immediate AEWV policy amendments 2024, reminiscent of pre-pandemic settings. She noted these changes have been made in response to “unsustainable” net migration, to reduce migrant exploitation, put New Zealanders “to the front of the line where there is a skill shortage”, and attract highly skilled migrants. It follows a review of the AEWV scheme released in February 2024, which highlighted a number of issues and failings with the scheme.

There has been a recalibration of immigration settings at each of the three steps in the AEWV scheme:

  • At Step 1 (Employer Accreditation) employers will be required to meet additional obligations as an accredited employer, and if not, face new consequences or penalties.
  • At Step 2 (Job Check) employers must perform appropriate candidate checking. They must also undertake additional labour market testing requirements for roles that Immigration New Zealand (INZ) deems to be low-skilled or low-paid.
  • At Step 3 (Accredited Employer Work Visa) it will be harder for applicants to obtain a visa, particularly in ‘low-skilled’ or ‘low-paid’ roles. In these roles, a visa will be granted for a shorter duration, with a shorter maximum continuous stay in New Zealand.

These policy changes are largely targeted at ANZSCO Skill Level 4 or 5 roles. For example: Labourers, Farm Workers, Carers, Nursing Assistants, Hospital Orderlies, Mobile Plant Operators, Seafood or Meat Processing workers, Sales Assistants, Domestic Cleaners, and Kitchenhands. Accordingly, it is critical that job descriptions are carefully and accurately drafted to ensure roles are classified correctly by INZ. This will avoid unnecessary additional hurdles for employers and prospective migrant employees.

While these changes largely impact roles that INZ considers to be low-skilled or low-paid, the effects will be felt by all employers and visa applicants. We expect INZ to be reviewing applications with increased scrutiny, and processing times to increase significantly across the board.

What’s new for employers – additional hoops to jump through

INZ has moved away from a high-trust system, where for the most part, employers could simply declare they had met policy requirements. Moving forward employers will need to:

  • Meet new advertising and hiring requirements for most occupations at ANZSCO Skill Level 4 or 5. This includes listing the role for 21 days (increased from 14 days) and engaging with Work and Income.
  • Take reasonable steps to ensure applicants are suitably qualified and meet skills and experience threshold before supporting an AEWV application. For example: sighting evidence of work experience/qualifications, trade testing, and job interviews.
  • Ensure that the current or prospective migrant employee meets INZ’s “minimum skill threshold” and English language requirements (where applicable) – see below.
  • Notify INZ if an AEWV holder’s employment ends more than a month before their visa expires.
  • Continue to provide migrant employees on AEWVs with at least 30 hours of work per week, otherwise accreditation status can be revoked.
  • Carefully plan ahead – Employer Accreditation, Job Check and AEWV applications processing times are likely to increase significantly.
  • Have robust compliance systems and be prepared for post accreditation checks and inspections.

What does this mean for migrant workers?

We anticipate that there will be many migrant workers who will no longer be eligible to apply for an AEWV, following INZ’s changes. This will include those who have already been offered employment and issued a job token by their prospective employer. In particular:

  • In addition to the work experience/qualification requirements specified in a Job Check, applicants will need to meet the new “minimum skills threshold” by providing evidence of:
    • At least three years of relevant work experience; or
    • A relevant qualification at Level 4 or higher on the NZ Qualifications and Credentials Framework.
  • When applying for an AEWV to work in an ANZSCO Skill Level 4 or 5 role (unless an exemption applies), applicants will now:
    • Need to meet English language requirements.
    • Receive a visa for a maximum duration of two years (reduced from five years) and have a reduced maximum length of time they can stay in New Zealand (reduced from five years to three years).

These are significant changes

While the AEWV scheme is employer-led, it is becoming increasingly difficult for employers to navigate continuously changing requirements and obligations. It is critical that employers gain a thorough understanding of these changes prior to recruiting or renewing visas for migrant workers to avoid unnecessary delays, declines, or employer accreditation revocation.

It will also be important for migrant workers to check their visa eligibility in light of these policy amendments, and consider alternative visa pathways to work in New Zealand where applicable.

Talk to us

Pitt & Moore is here to help if you need advice or assistance understanding these amendments to the AEWV scheme. Please do not hesitate to reach out to our immigration team for expert guidance on your specific circumstances. We offer an initial free 15-minute consultation for related immigration matters.

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.

Lavinia Askin

Lavinia Askin

Position: Associate
DDI: +64 3 928 0722

Topics: All Select