• E Dyer


Updated: Aug 3, 2021

Last Friday the 16th of July, Immigration Minister Kris Faafoi announced his decision to defer plans to implement the new Accredited Employer Work Visa, previously scheduled for 1 November 2021, until mid-2022. He also announced that lower-skilled migrant workers (classified as those earning below the median wage) would now be able to obtain Essential Skills work visas ('ESWVs') for 24 months and that the application process would be streamlined (i.e., simplified) for those who meet the streamlined criteria. A full summary of all of the changes is provided at the bottom of this article.

Lower-skilled ESWVs were originally granted for a period of 12 months until the Minister made a decision in July 2020 to shorten these to 6 months only. He then reset this back to 12 months in June 2021 and now, just one month later, the visa duration has again been changed and doubled to 24 months. Talk about confusing! That’s a lot of switching back and forth, and this latest decision to grant ESWVs for the extended duration of 24 months shows a complete reversal in immigration policy.

Originally, the Minister wanted to make it harder for lower-skilled migrants to keep getting visas. This was part of Government plans to perform an ‘immigration reset’ that would focus more on attracting highly skilled workers and wealthy investors to New Zealand. However, the Minister had forgotten to consider that New Zealand’s economy depends on migrants for all kinds of jobs, not just the highly skilled ones. Ever since the New Zealand border closed, businesses all across the country have had difficulties with attracting and retaining quality staff, but particularly those in the tourism, retail and hospitality industries. The hospitality sector had been crying out for help from the Government for several months, with many cafés and restaurants being forced to reduce their operating hours or even shut down entirely due to staffing shortages. Thus, what we’ve ended up with is an inevitable change in the Minister’s political stance from anti-low skill migration to accepting that New Zealand needs both lower-skilled and higher-skilled workers – and more supportive policies being introduced in response to this.

While Faafoi claims that the decision to extend lower-skilled ESWVs and streamline the application process was meant to help address the issues that businesses are experiencing, some believe that the real reason for this is because there was no chance that the new employer accreditation process would have been up and running by the November 1 deadline. Immigration New Zealand was supposed to be ready to start receiving accreditation applications from this September onwards, but we’re halfway through July already and still no details about the application process or eligibility criteria had been confirmed, leaving the entire immigration industry in the dark.

Immigration experts and sector groups have been pleading for months for some clarity around the process, but with no answers given, it’s hardly surprising to anyone that the implementation of the accreditation scheme has been delayed. With all of the issues going on in the immigration sphere at the moment, including the fact that some highly skilled migrant workers are choosing to leave their jobs and return to their home countries due to ongoing family separation issues, it’s obvious that New Zealand businesses just aren’t ready for the additional stress of an employer accreditation scheme right now – at least, not while the issues of split migrant families and the massive labour shortage remain completely unaddressed.

Summary of changes

Changes have been made to immigration instructions to:

  • Increase the maximum duration of Essential Skills visas for employment paid below the median wage from 12 months to two years

  • Remove the requirement to provide medical and police certificates if these have already been provided to Immigration New Zealand, even if they were provided more than 36 months ago

  • Remove the labour market test requirement and not require an employment agreement to be provided for applicants who meet the streamlined criteria

The streamlined criteria applies if an applicant is remaining in their current, full-time employment AND they hold one of the following visas:

  • a work visa of any type (including a Working Holiday visa), OR

  • a student visa with conditions allowing unlimited work rights, OR

  • a Critical Purpose visitor visa either granted as a critical health worker, or granted for more than six months as an ‘other critical worker’ (including those coming in under a class exception).

The introduction of the Accredited Employer Work Visa, previously scheduled for 1 November 2021, will also be temporarily deferred to the middle of next year.

From 19 July 2021 until 28 August 2021, applicants for Essential Skills work visas need to apply using a paper-based form on the INZ website. From 30 August 2021 applicants will be able to apply online instead.

Professional Immigration Services (+64) 21 135 2366