By Moustafa Daly
The government of New Zealand revamped its Skilled Migrant visa by introducing a simplified point-based system.
The changes aim to enhance the visa’s clarity and help attract skilled talent to the country.
“As with any policy change, there will always be mixed views depending on who the policy benefits. The new six-point Skilled Migrant Category Resident Visa, which will be introduced on 9 October 2023, has placed emphasis on roles requiring New Zealand professional registration, recognised qualifications at the bachelor’s degree-level or higher, and those with a high-income,” explains Lauren Qiu, principal attorney at Stay Legal.
Qiu expects the new system to appeal to well-educated and well-paid professionals, citing the system’s favourability to higher educational degrees and high incomes.
What are the changes to New Zealand’s skilled migrant visa?
First, the Skilled Migrant visa hadn’t previously required a job offer in New Zealand, but now it does, explains James Hall, immigration adviser and director at ANZ Migrate. “For me, aside from adjusting points, this is the major change.” The offer or contract needs to indicate earnings equivalent to the minimum wage at the minimum.
Additionally, the new system ranks applicants based on a six-point scale. Any applicant seeking the Skilled Migrant visa must achieve six points to qualify.
Points are gained based on the applicants’ academic qualifications, anticipated income from the job offer, and whether or not they have the occupational registration in New Zealand – equivalent to a work pass.
However, applicants can’t combine points across different categories, says Hall, and would have to reach the needed six points by combining points from only one of these categories with years of experience in New Zealand – which can add up to three points.
PhD holders achieve the full six points, in addition to those who have a job offer that equates to three times the minimum wage in New Zealand.
Those with master’s degrees would need one year of experience in their field to achieve the six points, while post-graduate diplomas would need two years of experience.
Meanwhile, bachelor’s degree holders can achieve the six points by having at least three years of experience in New Zealand.
“The most significant change has been that points are no longer offered for overseas work experience directly,” says Qiu. “Under the existing Skilled Migrant Category Resident Visa policy, migrants can claim points for their overseas work experience if the work experience is from a comparable labor market or if the migrant holds a compliant New Zealand skilled job offer.”
Moreover, the government also announced that there would no longer be a cap on the number of Skilled Migrant visas that can be issued in one year.
“The changes announced today to ensure there is no cap on skilled migrants remove an artificial constraint in the old system that set an indicative number of residence places available each year and prevented skilled migrants from settling in New Zealand even when there was a demonstrable need,” said New Zealand’s Minister of Immigration, Michael Wood, to local media upon announcing the changes.
Other visas available to foreign workers in New Zealand
While the Skilled Migrant visa provides for quick entry into New Zealand for foreigners, there are other pathways they could pursue to legally live and work in the country.
“New Zealand also has the Green List Straight to Residence, Green List Work to Residence, and Sector Agreement (Care Workforce and Transport) Work to Residence pathways,” explains Qiu.
The government created the Green List and reviews it periodically to address critical skill shortages in key industries.
“The Green List Straight to Residence pathway has proven to be an attractive pathway for many skilled migrants. It allows qualifying skilled migrants to obtain an acceptable skilled job offer from an accredited employer and apply for their resident visa from offshore. If approved, they can come to New Zealand as a resident visa holder,” says Qiu.
Moreover, the validity duration for the Accredited Employer Work Visas, which enables employers to hire overseas workers, will now be increased from three to five years.
“While this has been a welcomed announcement allowing for more certainty, this increase in visa duration comes with a catch,” reveals Qiu. “A maximum continuous stay of five years will also be introduced; any Accredited Employer Work Visa holder who cannot demonstrate their ability to qualify for a residence pathway will need to spend a twelve-month stand-down period outside of New Zealand before they are eligible to apply for a further Accredited Employer Work Visa.”
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