COVID-19 global pandemic

It’s been a while since the last post. Lots of changes have happened in the New Zealand visa space. Temporary visas, such as several types of employer-assisted work visas (e.g. Essential Skills) were extended automatically. Borders were closed. Expression of Interest draws were suspended. Things changed so rapidly (and keep changing) that it made more sense to refer anyone straight to the Immigration New Zealand website. For the most up to date COVID-19 visa changes and border exceptions please visit the COVID-19 website.

The main point still is that New Zealand’s borders are closed. An exemption process is in place but the bar is very high. These two things combined make it difficult to impossible to apply for a visa or travel to New Zealand (if you have a valid visa for New Zealand) if you are not in New Zealand and have no clear ties to New Zealand.

Essential Skills work visa changes

“Normal” visa stuff still happens as well and that’s what this post is about. Last year Immigration New Zealand announced that 6 different temporary work visas will be amalgamated into 1 new work visa category. There will be three “gateways” (employer, job and applicant), with the most major change that all employers that wish to employ migrants must be accredited. These changes are still going ahead and it appears they will be implemented around July 2021.

The preliminary work for this change has begun and some changes to the current Essential Skills work visa policy was introduced from 27 July 2020.

1. Pay-rate determines the duration of an Essential Skills work visa: low-paid vs high-paid

From 27 July 2020 onward your pay-rate will determine the length of the visa. If you earn the median wage or above (high-paid), and your application is approved, you get a 3-year work visa. The median wage is currently $25.50 per hour. This rate is usually indexed in November.

If you earn less than the median wage (low-paid), you can only get a 6-month visa. From April 2022, the visa length for low-paid roles will go up to 12 months.

There are now only high-paid and low-paid jobs, therefore the 5-year visa for higher-skilled jobs no longer exists. 3 years is the maximum visa length for an Essential Skills work visa.

Before a combination of the pay-rate and the ANZSCO skill level of the occupation determined the length of the work visa. The ANZSCO skill level is still used to determine if you are suitably qualified for the job you are offered. ANZSCO is the Australian and New Zealand Standard Classification of Occupations.

2. Skills Match Report required for all low-paid jobs (Essential Skills work visa)

Another change is that your pay-rate also determines if your employer needs to provide a Skills Match Report (SMR) from the Ministry of Social Development. An SMR must be provided for all low-paid jobs, irrespective of the ANZSCO skill level.

3.  Stand-down period applies to all low-paid visa (Essential Skills work visa)

You will be subject to a stand-down period if you have been in New Zealand for 3 years on an Essential Skills visa for work:

  • assessed as lower-skilled if you applied before 27 July 2020
  • that pays below the median wage if you apply from 27 July 2020.

A stand-down period means you will need to leave New Zealand for 12 months before you can apply for another visa for work that pays below the median wage.

4. Low-paid visa: options for family (Essential Skills work visa)

From 27 July it is possible for family (partner/spouse and dependent children) to apply for a visa as the dependent of a low-paid visa holder. A partner/spouse can only apply for a visitor visa. Children can apply for either a domestic student visa or a visitor depending on their age. To support a child’s student visa application, you must meet the income threshold of NZD 43,322.76 per year.

If you used to have a mid-skilled visa and your next visa is a low-paid visa, there may be some changes for your partner/spouse. If your partner/spouse held an open work visa as your dependent this is no longer possible. They will need to apply for a visitor visa. There are no transitional rules that apply that enable your partner/spouse to apply for a work visa.

A Skilled Migrant Category resident visa update

On 27 July 2020, four occupations were added to the list of exceptions. If you earn at least the median wage (currently $25.50), the following occupations are considered skilled too:

  • Aged or disabled carer
  • Bicycle mechanic
  • Driller
  • Nursing support worker

If you are in one of the above occupations and you may be able to submit an Expression of Interest (EOI) for the Skilled Migrant Category resident visa. The application process for a Skilled Migrant Category resident visa starts with submitting an EOI. When this is drawn from the pool and passed an initial assessment by Immigration New Zealand, an Invitation to Apply for residence is issued. You then have 4 months to lodge the actual resident visa application.

The above change only applies to resident visa applications lodged on or after 27 July 2020.

Please note that it is still possible to submit an Expression of Interest for a Skilled Migrant resident visa, but that the pool draws are suspended until further notice. It is expected that the pool draws stay suspended until at least the end of 2020.