NEW ZEALAND: New immigration rules: A streamlined process or more red tape?

​​​​​​​On 17 September, the Government announced significant changes to temporary work visas which will have a major impact on employers’ recruitment processes where they hire migrant workers.

While most of the changes are deferred until 2021, it will be critical that employers keep abreast of these changes and plan ahead for possible impact on their operations.

The key changes proposed are:

  • Six work visa categories will be replaced by a single, temporary work visa category,

  • To be able to hire any non-residents, employers will need to become accredited,

  • Existing labour market tests will be strengthened, but with some roles exempt from the test (for example, where the role is outside a major city with remuneration higher than the median wage),

  • Some industries that are seen as reliant on migrant workers will need to adhere to the terms of a “sector agreement” that will specify certain standards that must be followed if their staff are paid below the median wage,

  • Certain roles will be referred to the Ministry for Social Development, and prospective employers may be required to offer those roles to suitable candidates that are currently on a jobseeker support benefit,

  • Low-paid migrant workers will now be able to apply to have family be granted visitor or student visas.

Importantly, some temporary visa categories are not affected – for example, the specific purpose visa which is used for specialist or senior staff engaged in New Zealand on a temporary project.

Perhaps the most significant change for employers is the accreditation requirement – currently there is an optional accreditation scheme in place. Accreditation is to become mandatory for any employer wanting to hire non-resident staff. Three tiers of accreditation are proposed and we expect each will have different requirements:

  • Standard accreditation,

  • High-volume accreditation (required where six or more migrants are likely to be hired each year),

  • Labour hire employer accreditation.

Employers in breach of employment or immigration legislation may be denied accreditation or have their accreditation revoked, with the resulting inability to hire migrants for a period of time.

Various policy details are yet to be determined. Most notably, the process and requirements for accreditation and the details of the sector agreements that will be put in place. The Government intends to negotiate with two sectors at a time, starting with residential care and meat processing industries from October 2019, with agreements in place by 2020. The following industries have also been identified as being likely to have sector agreements in the future:

  • dairy,

  • forestry,

  • road freight transport,

  • tourism and hospitality,

  • construction,

  • horticulture and viticulture.

For employers that rely on migrant employees it will be critical to ensure that any developments in this area are closely followed – especially for businesses in the above industries.

It is also likely that these changes will put further pressure on Immigration New Zealand’s already stretched resources and this may delay the processing time for other visa categories – which would be unfortunate. This will mean that employers need to plan even further ahead if they have a role which is likely to be filled by a non-resident.

If you have any questions about the matter raised in this article, please get in touch with the contacts listed or your usual Bell Gully advisor.