By Elly Fleming
26 October 2023
As we wait for the new Government to agree terms and then for a new Immigration Minister to be appointed, what might we expect for the Skilled Migrant Category (SMC) Resident Visa?
Overall, National wants to increase immigration, simplify the process for skilled migrants and make the visa system more accessible. The Act Party is likely to support this in principle, as they believe the complexity of the current system has been detrimental to the country.
Specifically for the healthcare sector National have said they want to offer qualified overseas nurses and midwives an automatic six-month temporary visa to enter NZ without a job offer, allowing them to seek work.
For agriculture, National proposes to change the rules for agricultural workers in the Accredited Employer Work Visa scheme by removing median wage requirements and introducing a path to residency.
The rub to all of this could be New Zealand First. Rather than more, they want to see a reduction in immigration, and they want employers to pay a living wage to migrant workers.
For now though, things shouldn’t stand still, so we are already working with our clients through the new six-point system as part of the revamped Skilled Migrant Category (SMC) Resident Visa that opened earlier this month.
The new system intends to expedite the residency process for people who have skills that contribute to New Zealand’s economic growth, and provide them with more certainty about their future.
We described the new points system when it was first announced earlier this year. To recap, applicants who want to apply for the SMC must get six points to be granted residence. Having one of the following will grant them between three and six points:
Applicants can also claim one point for each year of work in New Zealand in a qualified role (up to a maximum of three points). The more skill points an 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 residency under the SMC.
With the latest increase in median wage set to come into effect in February 2024, it will be harder for migrants to qualify for SMC. We recommend applicants who currently meet the salary threshold for SMC get advice without delay, as to not miss their opportunity.
These are significant changes to the SMC’s old 180-point system. Here’s what they could mean for you.
Pitt & Moore provide expert advice on immigration, employment and visa rules and processes so please contact us for some expert guidance.
For an employee to be eligible for the SMC, they will first need a skilled job offer in New Zealand from an accredited employer, and will need to be able to claim points based on their employment conditions, as summarised above.
This means most applicants will need to spend time working in New Zealand to have the required six points.
Other requirements, such as for age, English language ability, health and character, have not changed. Applicants may also include their partner and dependent children in their application.
This new six-point system is likely to exclude some people from the SMC who otherwise would have been eligible, such as people with jobs where most training is done ‘on-the-job’ or where occupational registration is not an option.
Many sectors are still trying to return to their pre-COVID workforce levels before borders closed.
Others are trying to sustain business growth gained during the pandemic (for example technology companies), or realise the opportunities for growth presented post-pandemic.
Either way, these businesses need skilled migrants.
Pitt & Moore is aware that if the roles a business is able to support do not have a pathway to residence, it may be difficult to attract sufficiently skilled migrants, and we are keeping an eye on how this new six-point system performs.
A new interim visa for the Skilled Migrant Category Resident Visa was also implemented on 9 October. This is a welcome change that will reduce costs for migrants and their employers.
This new visa removes the requirement for SMC applicants to renew their temporary visa while awaiting the outcome of their application. The interim visa has multiple entry travel conditions, allowing visa holders to leave and return on the same visa while it is valid.
For a $210 cost, applicants can also apply to vary some of the conditions of their interim visa based on their individual circumstances.
A wider update to the List of Qualifications Exempt from Assessment (LQEA) was made ahead of the Skilled Migrant Category Resident Visa opening. The LQEA is a publicly available list which sets out the comparable New Zealand Qualifications and Credentials Framework (NZQCF) level for specified overseas qualifications.
Further reviews are happening in phases to ensure it is compatible with the SMC Resident Visa. More information about the scope of these changes can be found on the INZ website.
As the Skilled Migrant Category Resident Visa’s six-point system is so new, we recommend that tailored legal advice is sought prior to submitting an SMC application to ensure it has the best chance of success. Whether you are an employer or a migrant worker, get in touch with Pitt & Moore’s specialist employment and immigration team: 03 548 8349. We offer an initial, free 15-minute consultation for 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.