Overview of the changes to Essential Skills Work Visa

As of last Monday 28 August, the Essential Skills Work visa policy has changed dramatically.

The three major changes are:

  1. Introduction of skills bands and remuneration thresholds
  2. Length of permitted stay
  3. Ability to bring family

Most affected by the changes are people in skilled occupations that historically pay low salaries. Chefs are a good example.

1. Remuneration thresholds and skill bands

Immigration New Zealand uses a system that divides occupations into skill levels. There are 5 skill levels. Skill level 1 is for unskilled occupations and skill level 5 for highly skilled occupations.

In addition, they have introduced remuneration thresholds. The skill level combined with the remuneration determines the skill band an occupation falls in.

Skill Band Hourly rate* Skill level
High-skilled > NZD 35.24 All skill levels
Mid-skilled between NZD 19.97 and NZD 35.24 1, 2, and 3
Low-skilled < NZD 19.97                                    < NZD 35.24 All skill levels                                         4 and 5

 *Hourly rates are indexed every year in November, including this November!

Hourly rate

If you work variable hours per week OR if any overtime is not paid you have to be very careful. The hourly rate is determined by the week you work the most hours.

For new contracts and new work visa applications, Immigration New Zealand may ask an employer to give an indication of how many additional hours an employee is expected to work. For instance, if your contract is for 40 hours, your employer might indicate that you will actually work between 36 and 44 hours per week. The hourly rate is then determined by the highest number of hours (44 in this example).

When applying to renew your Essential Skills work visa, Immigration New Zealand may request proof of the hours you worked while on your current Essentials Skills work visa. If you worked a lot of unpaid overtime, you may be in trouble

Example: You work 40 hours a week. A couple of times a year you had to put in overtime to meet a deadline. You worked 50 hours 1 week. You earn NZD 44,000. Your hourly rate for the week you worked 50 hours is NZD 16.92. This means you occupation is classified as low-skilled for your new visa application.

Market rate

Your employer still has to pay you at least market rate. They might try to offer you NZD 20 per hour, which sits just above the mid-skilled band. But if the market rate for your occupation is NZD 28 per hour, Immigration will not accept a salary of NZD 20 per hour as that is way below the market rate.

2. Duration of Essential Skills work visa and length of permitted stay in New Zealand

The skill band your occupation falls in determines the maximum length your Essential Skills work visa may be granted for. It also determines if you may have to leave the country after a number of years.

Skill Band Maximum length of visa*
High-skilled Up to 5 years
Mid-skilled Up to 3 years
Low-skilled Up to 1 year, maximum of 3 1-year visas, then a stand down period of 1 year

* visas may be granted “up to” X number of years, this means a visa for a shorter period may be granted

You may apply for different types of visa. For instance, if you are in a low-skilled occupation and have held 3 work visas for 1 year, you may not apply for another Essential Skills Work Visa. But you may apply for a student visa if that visa suits your needs.

3. Eligibility of family members for a dependent visa

Family members (children and partner) of a work visa holder that has a mid-skilled or high-skilled occupation may still come with their partners and apply for the appropriate dependents visa.

However, if an Essential Skills Work visa holder has a low-skilled occupation their family member may not apply for dependents visa. If they wish to come to New Zealand they have to apply for a visa on their own merit. This also means that children going primary and secondary school will have to pay international tuition fees.

There are transitional provisions for dependents that already were in New Zealand when these new instructions came into effect on 28 August 2017.