Labour shortages have been widespread across countries worldwide, with many different countries including New Zealand being affected.
While labour shortages are common and tend to be driven by cyclical economic factors, since the COVID-19 pandemic, many countries are experiencing skills shortages at higher rates.
To combat this, many countries are re-evaluating their immigration policies and strategies. To address our own skills shortages here in New Zealand, our immigration process has seen significant changes that are aimed at making immigration for skilled migrants a much simpler process.
The Skilled Migrant Category, which is the immigration policy for skilled individuals looking to work in New Zealand, has undergone a series of transformative changes recently, all aimed at attracting and retaining talented individuals to fill critical skill gaps in our workforce.
In this article, we’re going to provide an overview of the changes to the Skilled Migrant Category immigration policy in New Zealand, as well as changes to the ways that you can become a resident of New Zealand, and hopefully answer some of the questions you have.
Keep reading to learn the latest about migrating to New Zealand under the Skilled Migrant Category.
What is the Skilled Migrant Category?
Before we dive into the changes of the Skilled Migrant Visa Category immigration policy, it’s a good idea to understand the policy.
The policy has been created to provide a way for people who are skilled in certain occupations, industries, or sectors, to be able to come to New Zealand to live, work and become a resident of New Zealand via their skilled employment.
The aim of the policy is to help boost New Zealand’s economic growth and fill in the gaps in the workforce with people from all over the world who possess these in demand skills.
The visa available for skilled individuals under this policy is known as the Skilled Migrant Category visa (SMC) and it provides people with the opportunity to experience life and work in a stable and safe country. It also allows the individual to study and to include their partner and/or dependent children in their application.
To be eligible for this visa type, a person must possess relevant skills, qualifications, and experience in a particular type of occupation.
How has the Skilled Migrant Category visa changed?
The Skilled Migrant Category visa policy has seen an evolution, with several extremely important changes occurring, including:
- The removal of the cap on the number of skilled migrants that will be accepted each year
- A simplified and streamlined eligibility point system, including the number of points required and the way in which they can be accumulated
- The application processing time
- Skilled job or job offer requirements
- The introduction of a skilled migrant category interim visa
- Extension of the Accredited Employer Work Visa
- Faster pathway to residency
We will provide a detailed summary of what these changes actually mean for you below.
Skilled Migrant Category policy changes explained
Below we’ve summarised the key changes to the Skilled Migrant Category visa policy.
Change No 1: Removal of the cap on the number of skilled migrants accepted each year
A key change in the SMC policy is that there will no longer be a cap on the number of skilled workers accepted each year. Prior to this change, there was a limit on the number of people who would be accepted for this type of visa each year. So, even though there may be an urgent need for certain skills and expertise, once the cap was reached, that was it.
Change No 2: Simplified eligibility point system
There are a number of changes to the eligibility points system for the Skilled Migrant Category visa and these changes are very significant.
First change to the points system is that previously, applicants had to meet a very high point threshold, which was 180 points, to be able to submit their application for this type of visa. The number of points that will be required moving forward is.
The second change is how the points can be accumulated. Previously applicants had to meet points from a wide range of criteria. Moving forward, points can be accumulated based on skills indicator categories and work experience in New Zealand.
The skill indicator categories are New Zealand occupational registration, qualifications such as Bachelor’s degree or higher, and income from a job or job offer. People can earn between 3-6 points depending on the relevant skill indicator category; however, they cannot combine points from multiple skill indicator categories.
Change No 3: Application processing time
Applications that have all of the required information will be decided within 6 to 8 weeks of being submitted. Previously, application processing time varied depending on the priority of the application.
Change No 4: Skilled job or job offer requirements
Applicants under the Skilled Migrant Category visa must already have a skilled job or job offer with an accredited employer in New Zealand. This requirement is necessary, even if you have accumulated the highest number of points available.
In addition to the above, a skilled job or job offer must also meet the following requirements:
- at least 30 hours a week.
- either in a Level 1 to 3 occupation in the ANZSCO list and paid at or above the median wage, or in an ANZSCO Level 4 to 5 occupation and paid at or above 1.5 times the median wage.
- on a permanent contract or fixed-term contract for at least 12 months.
Change No 5: The introduction of a Skilled Migrant Category Interim Visa
If your current temporary visa expires while your application for the Skilled Migrant Category visa is being processed, you will be granted an interim visa known as the Skilled Migrant Category Interim Visa.
This visa becomes effective the day after your current temporary visa expires and will be valid as per the below:
- valid for 24 months after the start date; or
- valid until the date your residence visa is approved; or
- valid for 2 months after a decision declining your application is made or the application has been withdrawn.
The Skilled Migrant Category Interim Visa will allow you to stay in New Zealand while your application is being processed and you are able to travel in and out of New Zealand on this type of visa. If your current visa (the one you had when you made the application for the Skilled Migrant Category Visa) has conditions, these conditions will apply to your interim visa too.
Immigration New Zealand will also provide information regarding your conditions and durations for this visa.
Change No 6: Extension of the Accredited Employer Work Visa
The duration of the Accredited Employer Work Visa (AEWV) has been extended from three to five years. This change brings clarity to workers about how long they can stay and work in New Zealand, providing them and their employers with long-term certainty.
What hasn’t changed?
To avoid any confusion about the changes to the Skilled Migrant Category visa policy, it’s important to note that some current requirements will not be changing.
Some of the requirements not changing include:
- English language requirements
- Health requirements
- Character requirements
- Age requirements
For more information on each of these requirements, click here.
What are the benefits of the changes to the Skilled Migrant Category visa policy?
The new changes provide benefits for both migrants looking to stay in New Zealand and to New Zealand too.
For example, with faster processing times and realistic requirements, highly skilled individuals are able to obtain certainty about their future, while New Zealand businesses and employers can obtain the staff and skills they require to thrive.
These changes make the pathway to residency a lot faster and increases the options available to people looking to migrate to New Zealand on a more permanent basis.
New pathways to residency in New Zealand
In addition to the changes of the Skilled Migrant Category policy, the New Zealand government has also introduced three new pathways to residency.
These pathways are the:
- Straight to Residence pathway
- Work to Residence pathway (Green list tier 2 work to residency pathway)
- Highly Paid work to residence pathway
- Care workforce Work to residence pathway
- Work to Residence pathway under Transport sector agreement for Bus Driver and Truck driver
From October 2023, these new pathways will be open for application and complement the Skilled Migrant Residence visa pathway, providing more options for migrants to obtain residency in New Zealand.
Straight to Residency Pathway
This type of residency option is open to people who have a job with, or a job offer from an accredited employer and the role of the job is on Tier 1 of the Green List and meets the specified conditions of the Green List.
The Green List is a list of occupations that are in high demand in New Zealand. To see the current Green List, click here.
If you are eligible you can apply for this visa now. You can either come to New Zealand on a work visa and apply or apply from overseas.
Work to Residence Pathway (Green list tier 2 work to residency pathway)
This resident pathway has been designed for migrants who work for or have worked for an accredited employer in an occupation that is a Tier 2 occupation in the Green List for at least 24 months.
This resident pathway acknowledges the contribution that people in this position have already made to New Zealand.
Highly Paid Work to Residence Pathway
Migrants who earn at least twice the median wage in New Zealand and have been working for at least 24 months receiving this wage, are eligible to apply for residency under this highly paid residence visa pathway. The employer you work for or have a job offer from, must be an Accredited Employer.
The pathway recognises that individuals earning a high wage like this have made significant financial contributions to New Zealand’s economy.
Care Workforce Work to Residence Visa
The Care Workforce Work to Residence Visa is designed for skilled workers in the care/caregiver sector. Applicants must have a job offer from an accredited employer in New Zealand to be eligible for this type of visa.
This visa allows workers to work in New Zealand and provides a pathway for them to eventually apply for permanent residence. It offers in demand skilled care workers the opportunity to become permanent residents in New Zealand.
Transport Work to Residence Visa
Designed for skilled workers in the transport sector, like bus drivers or truck drivers, the Transport Work to Residence Visa allows workers to work in New Zealand and have the potential opportunity to apply for permanent residency.
To be eligible, transport workers must have a job offer from an accredited employer in New Zealand and meet other criteria, like English language proficiency.
Other eligibility criteria for new resident pathways
Similar to the Skilled Migrant Category policy, the above resident pathways have general eligibility criteria that must be met by applicants. This criteria includes:
- Standard health requirements
- Character requirements
- Applicants must be aged 55 or younger
- English language requirements.
What do these changes mean for New Zealand?
The changes to the Skilled Migrant resident visa policy and the addition of the new resident pathways are expected to have a very positive impact on the New Zealand economy and businesses.
Businesses will be able to find skilled individuals to fill critical gaps in hard to fill occupations a lot more easily, putting less strain on their businesses and enabling them to thrive and contribute to New Zealand’s economic growth.
These changes can also have a positive societal impact, with the introduction of new people and cultures into New Zealand, while also offering migrants an incredible place to work, live and experience.
Do you need help with your New Zealand residency application?
If you’re a skilled individual or you believe that you qualify for any of the residency pathways we’ve talked about today, get in touch with our team of immigration advisors.
We offer expert consulting and assistance for Skilled Migrant Category applications, ensuring a seamless process and increased chances of success in obtaining skilled workers for businesses. Benefit from our specialised knowledge and experience to navigate immigration requirements effectively.