Immigration New Zealand recently announced changes to temporary work visas. Included in the announcement were changes to the visa application process, visa and job categorisation, sector agreements, and family reunification.
To help you understand the changes, we’ve put together a list of the common questions we’re asked by farmers and farm workers.
We know that policy changes can be unsettling, and The Regions team is here to help you navigate the changes and answer any questions.
I’m an employer – can I get accredited right now?
Yes, however current policy dictates that only work visa holders, who earn at least NZD $79,560 (based on a 40 hour week), would attain work to residence visas under their accredited employers. Employers will be accredited for 24 months before they must reapply. This limit is to allow for some changes the government is making to the way employers recruit migrant workers.
Accredited employer applications currently take around three months to process. The new accreditation framework is expected to come into place in the coming 12 to 24 months and from 2021 it will be mandatory for employers to be accredited under the new application process.
In a recent meeting, Iain Lees-Galloway, Minister of Immigration, stated that the new accreditation framework is likely to take a 3 tier approach to differing levels of accreditation. Our advice is to wait and see how new policy looks before spending time and money on an area of policy which is about to change significantly.
If I have a staff member on a one-year visa are they going home at the end of this year?
No. In most cases, 2021 is when the first workers with low skilled visas may be affected by the stand down. Current “stand down” policy commenced in August 2017 and only becomes relevant if the employee’s first visa was issued after August 2017. The timeline for anyone to have held three consecutive low skilled visas amounting to 36 months total stay in New Zealand will not commence until approximately September 2020.
However, if the worker holds a skilled visa or a work to residence visa, the stand down does not apply. From February/March 2020, skilled visas will be attainable based on a total salary package of the New Zealand median salary of $53,000 per annum. In their announcement, the government did not specify whether this would be tested on an hourly rate, or simply on the Statistics New Zealand defined data around the median salary.
What do the changes to the three year stand down mean?
We have long advocated that it is misguided and frustrating policy to propose the stand down of anyone on a work visa, particularly given historically low unemployment, tight labour markets and a prospering economy. However, the announcement that from 2020 our visa system will categorise jobs based on level of pay, rather than using ANZSCO as a means of defining skill levels, is very welcome.
With specific reference to the agriculture sector, the vast majority of visa holders who have three years of New Zealand experience, will justify a total salary package of $53,000 including accommodation. This also serves as a gentle reminder to all employers that accommodation must be valued at its true market rate, as per IRD regulations.
High-paid and ‘skilled’ jobs will be defined as those that pay at, or above, the median wage of $53,000 per annum. High-paid jobs will receive the same benefits as jobs that are currently categorised as mid- or high-skilled. No stand down applies to mid and high skilled roles.
Low-paid jobs are those that pay below the median wage. Low-paid jobs will be treated the same as low-skilled jobs and remain subject to the stand down period after holding three low skilled visas.
Two key pieces of information:
Given that very few people working on a dairy farm will earn less than $53,000 per annum after holding a few years experience, and providing houses are valued correctly, the stand down will not apply for the majority of the agricultural sector when the change is implemented in mid-2020.
Skilled visa holders will also be able to have their families enter New Zealand on dependent work & student visa’s. This particular facet of policy change is a welcome relief to our rural communities. Being able to have spouses and children reunited with their families helps our rural communities prosper.
How can I avoid the three year stand-down for my workers?
You can avoid the three year stand-down policy by ensuring your migrant workers earn at, or above, the median wage of $53,000 per annum when the government implement the new system in mid-2020. (Please note we are pending clarification on the hourly measurements assigned to this median salary.)
Who makes the policies?
Immigration concepts and policies are developed by the current government. Stakeholder feedback is sought, and final drafting of content, interpretation & application are handled by Immigration New Zealand, and their case officers.
When are the policies coming into place?
The first set of changes came into effect on 7 October and only affect Talent Accredited Employers and new applicants under the Work to Residence (Talent – Accredited Employer) policy.
A new process will be finalised over the next 12 to 24 months, so there is a lot of detail that is not yet available. It is a little frustrating that policy makers have only been able to release partial clarity on where policy is heading. Nevertheless, the available policy does make clear that we have made good progress on the needs of rural New Zealand and our work visa holders, particularly on the grounds of skilled visas and family reunification.
The economic realities of why positive net migration is needed for the New Zealand dairy sector are not changing anytime soon. Our highly skilled workforce are invaluable, please keep up the good work you are doing, and we will keep chipping away at the direction of policy to best meet your needs.
The team at The Regions will keep you informed of news and changes as they come to light. We are here to answer any of your questions, no matter how big or small, so please get in touch with your Key Account Manager, Immigration Adviser, or Pastoral Care staff member to discuss your future.