By Elly Fleming
21 May 2021
This year sees many changes to the visa and immigration process if you are a Non-New Zealand resident or citizen wanting to live and work in New Zealand.
There is a new type of work visa for migrant workers – the Accredited Employer Work Visa, and a new employer accreditation regime.
We outlined the new regime and implications for employers in our article earlier this week – Changes to Employer Accreditation – What New Zealand employers need to know.
In this article, we address the implications for migrant workers who already hold employer assisted work visas or may be considering applying for one in the next 6-12 months.
A recap – the following six temporary work visa categories will be scrapped from 1 November 2021 and will be replaced with one type of visa – the Accredited Employer Work Visa:
Immigration New Zealand (INZ) statistics show that from July 2020 to April 2021 there were 31,974 Essential Skills Work Visas granted. That is a very large number of people who, at some stage, will need to move over to the new Accredited Employer Work Visa. It will be interesting to see how things go at INZ when they are hit with an influx of applications over the next 12 to 18 months!
We anticipate a relatively straight forward process for this work visa if your employer or prospective employer has completed their accreditation steps.
For example, under the new regime, the employer undertakes a labour market test before a migrant worker can then submit their application. This makes the process easier for you.
There are still some unknowns about the applicant process. For example, will there be an “age” limit to this visa, and what is its duration?
What does look likely is that you will still need to demonstrate that you meet health and character requirements, and you will also need to provide evidence of your work experience and qualifications to show that you are skilled.
The new Accredited Employer Work Visa might also have a pathway to residence, but we are yet to hear what this will look like.
Most migrant workers in New Zealand hold the Essential Skills Work Visas. If you hold this visa then you will bear the brunt of the changes, so if your visa is expiring within the next year, you will need to start considering your options.
This is because employers will be asking themselves whether there is benefit in obtaining accreditation from 1 November 2021 and retaining their migrant workforce, as there will be a cost to them. (Non-accredited employers will still be able to support work visa applications under the Essential Skills work visa category until 31 October 2021).
It is worth considering your options if you have a live Skilled Migrant Category residence application in process. As it stands, if you are on an Essential Skills Work Visa and have a live residence application in process, then you are entitled to a further visa for six months, or one year, while your application is being assessed. Your employer is also exempt from conducting a labour market test.
But, from 1 November, those waiting for decisions on their residency applications may not be able to apply for an extension under the Essential Skills category – because this category won’t exist!
Clarification on this is being sought and should become clearer as time passes.
You can continue to remain on this visa, as long as your conditions do not change. You may already qualify for residence under the current Residence from Work visa category and it may be worth looking into this.
If you are working for an employer who is already accredited, and you do not hold a Talent (Accredited Employer) work visa, talk to us to see if you are eligible to apply under the current policy before you lose this opportunity.
If you have a Residence from Work visa application underway, and are requiring a further Work to Residence visa to be granted residence, you will be able to continue this process if you remain with your employer.
Arguably, if you are on an Open Work Visa, you are not affected. But that does not mean that these changes will not apply to you eventually – especially, if your pathways to residence become limited.
Those on an Open Work Visa who would be moving on to Essential Skills Work Visa should start thinking now about whether it is of benefit to apply for this visa sooner. For example, if your current Open Work Visa expires in less than a year, let’s have a chat about a possible route forward for you.
This week, we were anticipating an announcement on the backlog of Skilled Migrant Category residence applications however, this did not end up happening. Watch this space.
The new reforms may appear daunting and there are still a number of questions that remain unanswered.
The key message from INZ is that as long as your visa remains valid and you meet the conditions, you will not be affected. But, we are waiting for the “fine-print” that could change your immigration journey.
It is clear that pathways to residence and options for migrants will become very limited going forward. The window of opportunity is short, and for those whose work visas are expiring in the next 6-12 months now, more than ever, it is important to have the right advice to plan ahead.
Many of us in the immigration team come from migrant backgrounds. We understand your needs and, speak your language. The immigration process can be stressful and in our view, an initial discussion with us can go a long way.
If you require assistance or guidance with a visa application, please contact us.
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.