In December last year, the Minister of Immigration the Honourable Iain Lees-Galloway put out for public consultation, a proposal to completely overhaul the Employer-Assisted Work Visa programme.

The proposal has potentially far-reaching consequences for New Zealand businesses who have migrant staff or who plan to hire migrant staff in the future.

Given the bulk of the consultation period covered the summer holiday period (expiring in March), the vast majority of businesses appear to be completely unaware of the proposal.

The Minister has proposed that:

  • All businesses who hire staff requiring employer-assisted work visas go through an annual or 2-yearly (dependent on the level of accreditation sought) very robust accreditation process with Immigration New Zealand to meet new set standards. Businesses who do not obtain an accreditation certificate cannot hire migrant workers who need employer-assisted visas or support the renewal of visas for existing staff.
  • The hourly rate of mid-skilled employees increase to a minimum of $24.29 an hour (currently $21.25).
  • The Work to Residence visa be abolished and replaced with a work visa with an annual salary of $78K per annum instead of the current $55K and a requirement to hold premium accreditation.
  • The skills shortage lists be abolished and that regional processing hubs be created, similar to the Christchurch hub after the 2011 earthquake to establish the areas of skills shortage. Advertising will no longer be required from employers for each visa application, but the hubs will decide if there are suitable available New Zealanders and the employer will need to demonstrate a genuine need for migrant staff as part of their accreditation application as well as show significant efforts to recruit, train and up skill New Zealanders, be they employees or not.
  • Compliance checks be increased to protect migrants from exploitation.

There will be four levels of employer accreditation:

  1. Standard for businesses with up to 5 visa applications per year.
  2. Premium for businesses with over 5 visa applications per year.
  3. Sector accreditation for industries such as the hospitality, aged care, forestry and farming sectors. These will be run similar to industry wards.
  4. Labour Hire accreditation for labour hire companies.

Premium Accredited employers will be required to provide additional support for migrant workers and to show significant evidence that their pay structure is uplifting the salaries of New Zealanders as a whole.

The partners of low-skilled workers can now apply for work visas but must obtain their visa in their own right through a job offer, via the hubs and cannot hold an open work visa.

The likely impact for employers:

Connor Brady, Partner at Neazor Brady and Partners says

“In our experience working with New Zealand employers over the last 14 years, we have met very few, if any who meet the full gamut of immigration compliance standards which cover, employment law, immigration law, business regulations, IRD, Health and safety, industrial relations, remuneration to name only a few. The increase in the salary requirement will have an effect on the bottom line of businesses and will put upward pressure on existing staff who will likely ask for pay rises. We are already seeing industrial issues arising out of tension between migrants who will be getting pay rises and New Zealanders.

The overall number of migrants available to the market is expected to fall in the near future as the number of skilled migrants continues to drop significantly in part due to falling net migration figures and a toughening  of the skilled migrant residency category requirements. Employers will have to plan for the future and have strategies in place to deal with the issues resulting from this fall in numbers. There will very likely be a backlog of accreditation applications, so employers need to be in early. When dealing with Immigration New Zealand, any information provided will be treated as potentially prejudicial. Therefore, it is hugely important employers seek professional advice before undertaking the accreditation process. In our opinion, while tweaks will likely be made after the consultation process has ended, the main plank of the proposals will be made operational.”

There is no requirement for a change in legislation and it is expected that parts of the proposal will be implemented as early as August 2019 with the larger accreditation process likely to be implemented in 2020.

For more information on the proposal or to discuss any other Immigration, HR/business compliance or workforce issues please contact:

Connor Brady

Partner

E: [email protected]

T:  (07) 974 2313
M: 021 706 727