Change Ahead

6 July 2022

Changes Aplenty for New Zealand Immigration System

The changes to New Zealand’s immigration system continue to come thick and fast, as New Zealand eyes reopening to the world with the final steps of the staged reopening of New Zealand’s border due this month. In addition to reconnecting New Zealand with the world, the Government earlier announced sweeping changes as part of its plan to “rebalance” New Zealand’s immigration system through an employer-led system, and has now followed this with an announcement that from 31 July 2022 immigration fees and levies will increase for most visa applications, with the largest of these increases coming to residence class visa applications.

We cover off the changes from the last two months below.


Offshore Visa Processing Resumes


As of 4 July, all work visas can now be applied for by applicants based offshore, having been suspended for more than two years – this includes partners of eligible work and student visa holders who can demonstrate they meet partnership requirements, a significant announcement for those who may have had previous applications lapsed but can now provide updated evidence to show that requirements are in fact met. The new Accredited Employer work visa category is now in effect, and has replaced six existing work visa categories; applicants with a suitable offer of employment from an accredited employer can apply under this category from this date, from anywhere in the world.


In line with the border reopening date, from 31 July 2022 all student and visitor visas can be applied for from anywhere in the world.


Automatic Visa Extensions


INZ also announced relief to select work visa holders in New Zealand. Holders of certain types of work visa, who were in New Zealand on 9 May and whose visas were due to expire between 9 May and 31 December 2022 were automatically granted a visa extension, taking effect from the date their current visa expires.


Those eligible for such an extension should have now received notification of this, with the duration and conditions of these visa extensions dependent on the type of visa held, as follows:


  • Work to residence visa holders – 6-month extension with same conditions as current visa
  • Essential Skills work visa holders – 2-year extension with open work conditions
  • Post-Study work visa holders – 2-year extension with open work conditions
  • Partner of a New Zealander work visa holders – 2-year extension with open work conditions


Work visa holders and their families do not need to do anything in the interim while INZ updates their records, and automated emails should have now been sent to those eligible for extensions. Extension checks can also be requested for those whose visa records have not updated automatically. There is no application process nor is there a fee to be paid, however for those unsure of their eligibility or those who do not receive an email advising of their extension, please get in touch with one of our team.


Accredited Employer Work Visa – minimum pay threshold and exceptions


Earlier, INZ had indicated that the new Accredited Employer work visa category would only be open to applicants being paid more than the median wage (currently $27.76) and it was not clear what pathways would be available to migrants in roles paying less than this.


INZ has since announced that certain sectors which have an established need to rely on lower-paid or seasonal migrant staff, will have sector agreements which provide exceptions to the median wage requirement. This will allow employers in these sectors to support migrant staff for AEWVs despite them being paid less than the median wage, so that they can support their immediate workforce needs while they work to train, retain and upskill New Zealanders.


This impacts the care, construction and infrastructure, meat processing, seafood, and the seasonal snow and adventure tourism sectors, with specific lists of positions now having been released.


This is an interim measure, with lower pay thresholds in place for roles in certain sectors, which will remain in effect until the sector agreements are finalised later this year. Care sector roles must be paid at least $25.39 per hour, and construction and infrastructure sector roles and tourism and hospitality sector roles must be paid at least $25.00 per hour. Visas granted on this basis will be issued for 2 years and lead to a 12-month stand-down period during which the migrant must spend time out of New Zealand before becoming eligible to apply for a further AEWV, similar to previous Essential Skills work visa policy for rates paid below the median wage.


Work Rights for Partners


The Government has also indicated an intention to phase out open work visas for partners of workers. From December 2022, most partners of AEWV holders will be eligible for partnership visitor visas only; if they wish to work, they will need to apply for their own AEWV and demonstrate that they have an offer of employment that meets all relevant instructions, apart from the full-time requirement. In recognition of the fact that they may have other responsibilities such as childcare, partners will be able to be granted an AEWV even if they work less than 30 hours per week.


Partners of AEWV holders who are paid more than twice the median wage, or who are working in ‘Green List’ roles (discussed in greater detail below) will continue to be eligible for partnership work visas, with open work rights. Likewise, work rights for partners of New Zealanders are not affected.


The ‘Green List’ – residence pathways and labour market exemptions for shortage roles and highly-paid applicants


The ‘Green List’ is a new initiative from INZ intended to offer a fast-track to residence for certain applicants and a work to residence pathway for others. It has effectively replaced all prior skill shortage lists and includes many of the roles already on these lists – in short, it contains a number of skilled positions that have been identified as being in shortage in New Zealand. Migrants working in these roles will have direct pathways to residence plus they will be able to continue supporting their dependent partners for partnership work visas with open work rights. Further, employers will not need to carry out labour market testing when they apply for job checks for these positions.


The Green List is broken up into two tiers:


  1. Tier 1 – 59 roles that provide a fast-tracked pathway to residence from September 2022
  2. Tier 2 – 29 roles that provide a pathway to residence after working on an Accredited Employer Work Visa (AEWV) for 2 years


Migrants in any role who are paid at least twice the median wage will also be able to apply for residence after working on an AEWV for 2 years – and as with the Green List, roles with this pay rate will not need to be advertised as part of the job check for an AEWV.


These new residence pathways will have age restrictions of 55 years or younger, in line with traditional Skilled Migrant Category requirements.


The Green List includes specific requirements for each role such as qualifications, experience registration, licensing, or pay rate, and so those looking to apply for an AEWV and/or residence on the basis of working in a role on the Green List must carefully check their eligibility against the criteria on the list.


In announcing the Green List, the Government made reference to the fact that other employers will still be able to access skilled migrants and many of them will also have a pathway to residence through the Skilled Migrant Category. This is positive that the pathway appears to have remained in the Government’s long-term plans, given it has been New Zealand’s flagship residence pathway for skilled workers for nearly two decades; however there is still no update on what changes, if any, are going to be made to SMC policy or eligibility criteria. Expression of Interest draws remain frozen until at least the end of July, when the 2021 One-Off category closes to new applicants, and more information is expected closer to this time.


News for Students


Changes are also being made to the Post-Study work visa instructions and the funds needed for student visa applicants. Living expenses for students have now been increased from $15,000 per year to $20,000 per year for tertiary students, and $17,000 per year for primary and secondary students – these amounts will be pro-rated for courses of study lasting less than a year. The funds requirement for Post-Study work visas has also been increased, from $4,200 to $5,000.


Further, open Post-Study visas will now only be available to those who have completed qualifications at Bachelor’s degree level or higher, provided they have studied full-time in New Zealand for at least 30 weeks.


Non-degree students, including those studying Graduate Diplomas and Diplomas at level 7, will only be eligible for post-study work rights if their qualification is relevant to an occupation on the Green List. There are 20 roles on the Green List that have direct pathways from level 7 and below qualifications, including various construction and trades roles, and teaching positions. Post-Study work visas granted to these applicants will not have open work rights; they will only allow them to work in that specific Green List occupation, however they will not be tied to a specific employer and there is no minimum pay rate.


The duration of Post-Study work visas will mirror the time the applicant has studied in New Zealand, up to a maximum of three years – the exception to this is Master’s and PhD students, who will continue to receive three-year Post-Study work visas regardless.


Finally, Post-Study work visas will become a “one-off” option; no international students will have the ability to apply for a second Post-Study work visa even if they have subsequently returned to study a higher qualification. This change has been implemented in order to reduce the time that a visa holder can work in New Zealand without their employer having first checked if a New Zealander is available to take up that role, which is required as part of the AEWV application process.


Anyone who was already studying in New Zealand as at 11 May 2022 will continue to be processed under the old policy. These new rules apply to those who lodge student visa applications from 11 May onwards.


Increases to Fees


Following the changes announced above, INZ has also advised that from 31 July increases to immigration fees and levels for most visa applications will take effect.


A full table of fee and levy changes has been released, and INZ has iterated as part of its release that its fees remain competitive with comparable countries; however, the bottom line is that for any prospective visa applicants, this will mean an increase in cost to any application they chose to submit if that application is made after 31 July.


For residence class visa applications, these have increased by varying amounts, with the smallest increase being for Family Category (partnership or dependent child) applications from $1,480 to $2,750 for onshore applicants and from $2,250 to $3,610 for offshore applicants. Skilled Migrant Category application fees have also increased, from $2,710 to $4,290, as have Residence from Work from $1,800 to $4,240.


Residence class visa applications are not the only applications to have fee increases announced. Aside from general visitor visa applications, temporary entry class visa applications have also generally increased across the board; this includes partnership-based work visa applications, and INZ’s new flagship work visa product, the Accredited Employer work visa. While the increases are more modest than those applied to residence class visa applications, these would be felt more by those applying as a group, particularly families of applicants.


Closure of 2021 Resident Visa Category


The 2021 Resident Visa is due to close on 31 July 2022, having initially opened in phases from 1 December 2021. To date, more than 100,000 applications have been made for residence via this one-off pathway, with 89 percent of Phase 1 applications made from December 2021 having been completed. INZ advises that it is making good progress on applications made under Phase 2, which opened in March 2022, and that more than 61,000 are now New Zealand residents as a result. It does however appear that INZ will be unable to meet its initial aim of processing 80% of 2021 Resident Visa applications within 12 months; that estimated timeframe has now been pushed out by 6 months.


All applications for residence under this category must be made by 31 July 2022 and so for anyone wanting to apply we would urge you to get in touch as soon as possible to discuss your eligibility and to ensure that the opportunity to apply under this category is not missed.


To discuss how these changes may affect your position or to plan the best approach to live and work in New Zealand whilst potentially avoiding the impacts of the fee increases outlined above, contact one of our team today.