Proposed New Zealand immigration changes could affect thousands

Migrants in New Zealand on student or work visas will probably find it harder to gain permanent residency under proposed law changes, a leading immigration lawyer says.

Aaron Martin of NZ Immigration Law believes that proposed changes to the Skilled Migrant Category (SMC) are a “done deal”.

“The government is now set to pursue quality over quantity,” Martin explained. “These changes are going to make it more difficult for those who planned to secure residence after completing a course of study. From our research, we estimate more than 27,000 migrants who are currently on the pathway towards trying to achieve residence will be affected.”

Hospitality workers in New Zealand tourism hotspots such as Queenstown, Christchurch and Auckland could also find their jobs excluded from the skilled category with the introduction of a new minimum salary/wage level.

The Ministry of Business, Innovation and Employment (MBIE) has just completed a public consultation on changes to the category that respond to concerns that the current system does not effectively prioritise migrants with the highest skill levels. The proposed changes would:

– Introduce the use of salary levels to help define skilled employment;

– Strengthen the use of work experience to define skilled employment; and

– Realign the points system to better recognise highly skilled migrants.

More than a third (35 per cent) of current New Zealand visa applications are lodged under the SMC category. The changes are likely to have a significant effect on migrants currently on student and work visas who are looking for permanent residency.

The main issue is that the rise in SMC migrants who work in lower-income occupations indicates that some jobs that meet the current definition of “skilled work” may not in fact be highly skilled.

In particular, it is not easy to differentiate between senior and junior roles (particularly in managerial positions).

There have also been examples of migrant workers in highly paid positions unable to use SMC because their job description matches a “low-skilled” occupation under the current criteria.

“With the old process, migrants could get a post-study work visa that led to ‘promotion’ into a role that was claimed to be skilled employment,” continued Martin. “With the proposed stricter rules on what will count as post-study work experience, this may cease to be a viable avenue. I expect international students will be most affected by these changes. My advice to people on work visas or student visas is to find out now whether they will be eligible, before the law changes.”

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Article published 13th December 2016