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Skilled Migrant Category Reopens for Business: What Is the Future of This Category?

While the Skilled Migrant Category reopens under current settings, NZ Government has proposed new changes to help attract more skilled migrants long-term.
November 4, 2022
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5
 min read
Skilled Migrant Category Reopens for Business: What Is the Future of This Category?

NZ Immigration's minister, Michael Woods, announced that the Skilled Migrant Category (SMC) visa will reopen under current settings while the consultation is underway regarding the proposed changes, like introducing the new 6-point system.

"We are resuming the Skilled Migrant Category under the current settings to help attract more workers. The first selection will be at 160 points, and subsequent selections at an increased threshold of 180 points, to better align with the future direction of the category and our rebalance goals."

What Is the Skilled Migrant Category?

The Skilled Migrant Category is a residence pathway for migrants holding skilled job offers from New Zealand employers. Under this category, it awards migrants with points based on their education, work experience, job offers, and personal attributes. The points are compared against a 'Pass Mark'.

Learn more about the category and its residence pathway in our Skilled Migrant Resident visa guide.

The Current Skilled Migrant Category Process

Before the Skilled Migrant Category closed to migrants worldwide, this was considered a two-stage process and will be retained for the meantime until the Government's proposed changes are accepted.

First, applicants submit an Expression of Interest (EOI) and include their points.

Then, INZ draws from all the applications with sufficient points to meet the current threshold of 160 points. 

Lastly, after the initial assessment, INZ sends the submitting applicants an invitation to apply for residence under the Skilled Migrant Category.

How the Points System Works

Until INZ makes any further announcements about the Government's proposal, applicants can claim points for the following:

  • Formal skills that are assessed and align with skilled work experience and qualifications.
  • A job or job offer that meets the median wage or above and fits INZ's definition of 'skilled'.
  • Bonus points for various factors relating to the ability to settle easily or to contribute to other policy objectives, such as working in less populated areas, studying in NZ, and having a skilled partner.
  • Age, with older applicants being able to claim fewer points due to their ages. The maximum age is 55 years.

What Does Rebalancing the Skilled Migrant Category Mean?

The Government is rebalancing New Zealand's immigration system by implementing a shift in the future migrant workforce to increase New Zealand business productivity and rebalance the skills gap to support our economy's growth.

 

The Reason for Government's Proposed Changes

Before the borders closed, INZ noticed various issues within the Skilled Migrant Category.

Global Skill Shortages

"As the world recovers from COVID-19, labour shortages continue to be a global symptom," Michael Wood stated.

Attracting migrants to New Zealand can be a challenge due to its location and its job opportunities. New Zealand employers are fighting with the likes of Australia to attract talent, as the cost of living and lower wages often detract migrants from our shores.

INZ has proposed new changes to help support a lift in the overall economy. However, this will take time to remedy. Increasing wages to attract top talent lies in the private sector's hands. Some businesses will be able to afford this investment, whilst others will rely on a lower-skilled workforce for the time being. 

While many NZ businesses have gained Employer Accreditation and can support overseas workers with the addition of the Accredited Employer Work Visa (AEWV NZ), the issue still remains. 

The Government hears the concerns of businesses as they continue to find it challenging to recruit internationally in this constrained labour market. More help is needed to help attract more highly skilled applicants, relieve labour shortages, and ensure a competitive edge to attract talent to New Zealand, hence the proposed changes being submitted for consultation.

Increase In Low-Skilled Migrants Becoming Eligible

Many migrants with limited training or experience became eligible for the Skilled Migrant Category. This is inconsistent with the new objective of granting residence to people who can fill long-term skill needs.

The new points system increase is seen to provide a high-value, sustainable migrant population. 

Extensive Backlog of Eligible Applications

A significant backlog of eligible applications and long wait times for decisions because the number of eligible applicants significantly exceeded the places available, and many applications were complex to process under current settings. 

For example, in 2019, only around 40% of all eligible applications were processed and approved. With a high level of applications, there was significant uncertainty for migrants about when and if they would be granted residence. 

Highly Populated by Migrants Without Residence Pathways

There was an increase in the population of migrants who had become well-settled in New Zealand but did not have a realistic pathway to NZ residence. Settling without the rights and protections of residence creates various risks for the migrant. 

What Are the Skilled Migrant Category Proposed Changes?

The Skilled Migrant Category was essentially the main visa for residence in NZ. The overarching objective is to support New Zealand's economic growth by attracting people with skills to fill identified long-term needs and who can deploy those skills in New Zealand through residence.

However, it closed to new applications in April 2020, when the NZ border closed in response to the Covid-19 pandemic. With the proposal, INZ is not attempting to change the objective of the category but instead aiming to ensure it's meeting its objectives and addressing the issues seen pre-Covid.

Skilled Migrant Category Reopens

INZ announced the reopening of the Skilled Migrant Category in October 2022. The Skilled Migrant Category (SMC) visa was reopened and resumed (under the same settings previous to April 2020) on 9 November 2022. However, new and continuous changes are expected, as the Government's proposal has been submitted for consultation before it is implemented.

Points Threshold Increase

The October 2022 announcement included an increase in the points threshold from 160 to 180 from 18 January 2023.

Upon introducing the points system, INZ claimed it was to be adjusted regularly to manage the skill level and volume of applications within New Zealand. However, the reality was that changes have been rare.

The Skilled Migrant Category was reviewed in 2015 and 2016 and resulted in changes to the balance of points, increasing from 140 to 160 points. Therefore, the points threshold increase may support the immigration rebalance and NZ growth objective.

Simplify the Points System

INZ has proposed a simplified points system that sets a clear, fair, and transparent eligibility threshold for skilled residence.

Applicants will need at least 6 points to be eligible, which can be made up from:

  • 3 to 6 points based on professional registration, qualifications, or income. People can choose the skill category that offers the most points based on their circumstances; and
  • 1 point per year of work in New Zealand in a skilled job, up to 3 points.

Simplifying the points system will shift the focus of the Skilled Migrant Category to skills, not specific professions. Whereas the Green List is occupation-based, will likely provide better avenues, and will remain tightly focused on occupations of critical importance to the New Zealand economy. 

The minister says the new system would clarify eligibility in the long term, allow New Zealand to retain the talent brought in via the new Accredited Employer Work Visa (AEWV), and complement the Green List.

Want to Know More About Skilled Migrant Options? Get Advice From Licensed Advisers

Understanding the Skilled Migrant Category visa options and INZ's changes can be stressful, but we can help! Reach out to our experienced immigration advisers for advice and guidance on the process.

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Update

Migrant Worker Residence

Today the government announced a pathway to residence for migrant workers who are living and working in New Zealand. Applications open on 1 December 2021 for the first wave who are eligible to apply. The second wave can apply from 1 March 2022. The deadline to lodge an application is 31 July 2022 or else they will miss out on this one off opportunity.

July 8, 2022
Update

Skilled Migrants Opportunity

Today the government announced a pathway to residence for people living and working in New Zealand. Applications open on 1 December 2021 for the first wave eligible to apply. The second wave can apply from 1 March 2022. The deadline to lodge an application is 31 July 2022 or else you miss the boat.

July 8, 2022
Update

New Employer Accreditation Process

The government has moved the introduction of the new employer accreditation process across to mid-2022. At the same time, the Minister of Immigration announced new work visa rules for migrant workers who are already in New Zealand and working full time.

July 8, 2022
Update

Skilled Migrant Changes

The government has increased the median wage to $27 per hour from 19 July. Any Skilled Migrant residence application lodged after this date will need to include a skilled job offer that pays at least $27 per hour. For some lower-skilled occupations, the minimum pay rate increases to $40.50 per hour.

Read more here.

July 12, 2022
Update

Work Visa Rules

From 19 July 2021

  • The median wage used to assess Essential Skills Work Visa applications increases from $25.50 per hour to $27 per hour.
  • Applicants paid below the median wage may be granted a work visa for up to 24 months. The usual 6-month visa validity restriction is suspended until mid-2022.
  • In certain cases, the labour market test is waived and in some cases, it will still apply.

Read more here.

July 12, 2022
Update

Work Visa Rules

From 30 June 2021

  • Employer Accreditation and Approval in Principle applications are now closed.
  • No new Employer Accreditation applications (including renewals) will be accepted until the new process goes live in mid-2022.

Read more here.

July 12, 2022
Update

Employer Accreditation Becomes Mandatory

Employers of migrant workers must become accredited from 1 November 2021 before work visa applications can be processed. Most employers are not accredited. Those that are accredited will have to roll into the new system when it goes live in late September.

July 8, 2022
Update

Work Visa Rules

From mid-2020 (delayed)

  • Government to negotiate and introduce Industry Sector agreements setting minimum conditions for industries that heavily rely on overseas workers. Sectors include; residential care, meat processing, dairy, forestry, road freight transport, tourism, and hospitality. Construction, horticulture, and viticulture may also be included.

Read more here.

July 12, 2022
Update

Skilled Migrant Changes

Skilled occupation "Dairy Cattle Farmer" spilt into three occupations. New occupations are: "Dairy Farm Manager", "Assistant Dairy Farm Manager" and "Dairy Herd Manager". Each sit at different skill levels, therefore, the award of points will depend on pay rates, job tasks and other requirements.

Read more here.

July 12, 2022
Update

Work Visa Rules

From 15 February 2021

  • Dairy Cattle Farmer job offers are now assessed by three new occupation descriptions: Dairy Farm Manager, Assistant Dairy Farm Manager and Dairy Herd Manager. Pay rates and job tasks will determine how long a work visa is valid. Take advice.

Read more here.

July 12, 2022
Update

Skilled Migrant Changes

The government has deferred the fortnightly selection of Expressions of Interest from the Skilled Migrant pool for six months (to be reviewed in April 2021). Invitations to Apply for Residence remain suspended. The last selection from the Skilled Migrant pool took place on 18/03/2020.

Read more here.

July 12, 2022
Update

Work Visa Rules

From 7 October 2020

  • Introduction of "Oversupply" and "Undersupply" occupation lists used to assess Essential Skills Work Visa applications when a job offer pays less than the median wage.
  • Employers offering jobs to migrant workers where an occupation is on the "Oversupply" list will not get Skill Match reports issued by Work & Income. Solid evidence of genuine attempts to find a local to fill the job will be critical for approval.

Read more here.

July 12, 2022
Update

Skilled Migrant Changes

The government added four new occupations that are now regarded as skilled employment and may qualify for job offer points under the Skilled Migrant Category. These are:

Aged or disabled carer, Bicycle mechanic, Driller and Nursing Support worker.

Read more here.

July 12, 2022
Update

Work Visa Rules

From 27 July 2020

  • Essential Skills work visa applications are now assessed based on the current median wage (NZD $25.50 or more per hour.).
  • Job offers paying below the median wage require employers to pass the labour market test* and secure a Skills Match Reports from WINZ (work visas granted for a maximum of 6 months).

Read more here.

July 12, 2022
Update

Skilled Migrant Changes

Anyone invited by Immigration NZ to apply for residence under the Skilled Migrant Category where their invitation is dated between 1 November 2019 and 15 April 2020 (inclusive) has now been granted an additional six months to lodge their residence application.

Read more here.

July 12, 2022
Update

Work Visa Rules

From 27 May 2020​

  • Regional Skill Shortage List goes live. 15 regions around New Zealand list occupations reflecting local skill shortages in each region. The labour market test is not mandatory provided the job offer matches the occupation and region plus the visa applicant has qualifications and/or work experience set out on the list.

Read more here.

July 12, 2022
Update

Skilled Migrant Changes

The government has deferred the fortnightly selection of Expressions of Interest from the Skilled Migrant pool. This means Invitations to Apply for Residence are also suspended. Malcolm Pacific Immigration does not anticipate selections to resume until after the general election held on 17 October 2020.

Read more here.

July 12, 2022
Update

Skilled Migrant Changes

Immigration NZ is now prioritising Skilled Migrant Residence applications where the main (principal) applicant meets the criteria:

  • Has employment paying double the median wage which is currently NZD $51 per hour OR NZD $106,800 per annum; OR Has New Zealand occupational registration and is required to hold valid registration to lawfully carry out their job.

Read more here.

July 12, 2022
Update

Work Visa Rules

From 24 February 2020

  • Wage or salary thresholds increase for Essential Skills Work Visas applications lodged on or after 24/02/2020 (labour market tested; read more here).
  • Higher Skilled employment increases to $38.25 or more per hour ($79,560 per annum*)
  • Mid Skilled Employment increases to $21.68 or more per hour ($45,094 per annum*)

Read more here.

July 12, 2022
Update

Work Visa Rules

From 7 October 2019

  • Base salary to qualify for a Work to Residence Visa (WTR) supported by an accredited employer increases from $55,000 per annum to $79,560 per annum (or $38.25 per hour).
  • Pay rates for WTR visas are now reviewed annually.
  • Work visa applicants paid less than $79,560 per annum by accredited employers need to apply under other work visa categories.

Read more here.

July 12, 2022
Update

Skilled Migrant Changes

The government recently added more occupations that are now to be regarded as skilled employment and may qualify for job offer points under the Skilled Migrant Category. In order to qualify for points, the job must be paying at least the current median wage (or higher for certain occupations) at the time the residence application is lodged.

Read more here.

July 12, 2022
Update

Work Visa Rules

From 1 November 2021

  • Work to Residence Visa (Accredited Employer and Long Term Skill Shortage) applications close.
  • Applications lodged on or before 31 October 2021 will be processed under current visa settings.

Read more here.

July 12, 2022
Update

Mandatory Vaccination Required for Travel

From 1 November 2021 anyone who is not a NZ citizen must be fully vaccinated (unless exempt) before travelling to New Zealand. Fully vaccinated means your last dose of vaccine was given at least 14 days before travelling and it was an approved vaccine.

July 8, 2022
Update

Employer Accreditation

Applications for employer accreditation closed at the end of June 2021. Applications lodged before the closure date are still being processed. New applications for accreditation open on 9 May 2022. The process will be quite different to what employers have experienced in the past. Businesses will need to meet minimum standards.

July 26, 2022
Update

2021 Resident Visa

Wednesday, 1 December is fast approaching and it is estimated that around 16,000 individuals and families can apply in the first wave for the 2021 Resident Visa opening next month. It is exciting for the thousands of people who have been waiting patiently to become residents that finally the finish line is in sight.

Read more here.

July 12, 2022
Update

2021 Resident Visa

The first wave of applicants can apply from 1 December 2021. Around 16,000 applications are expected in this first wave. The second wave opens on 1 March 2022. In total, the government expects approximately 110,000 applications that will include about 165,000 people.

Read more here.

July 12, 2022
Update

2021 Resident Visa

The second group of workers who can apply online for the 2021 Resident Visa that opens on 1 March 2022 are those who hold an eligible work visa and either meet "Settled", "Skilled" or "Scarce" as set out above. In total Immigration NZ estimate around 110,000 people will qualify to apply for this visa.

Read more here.

July 12, 2022
Update

2021 Resident Visa

The first group of workers who can apply online for the 2021 Resident Visa that opens on 1 December 2021 are those that on 29/09/2021:

  • Had lodged a residence application under the Skilled Migrant Category (SMC) or Residence from Work category; OR Had lodged an SMC Expression of Interest (EOI) in the SMC pool that included at least one dependent child aged 17 or above.

Read more here.

July 12, 2022
Update

2021 Resident Visa

Is this the only requirement to qualify for residence? No. In addition to the eligible work visa criteria workers also need to be regarded as one of the following:

  1. Settled.
  2. Skilled.
  3. Scarce.

Read more here.

July 12, 2022
Update

2021 Resident Visa

People who were lawfully in NZ (or in Australia when the travel bubble closed between April and July 2021) on 29/09/2021 need to meet the visa eligibility criteria:

  • Workers in NZ who held an eligible work visa on or before 29/9/2021 and on the day they apply for residence; OR Applied for an eligible work visa on or before 29/9/2021 and the work visa application is subsequently approved and still hold an eligible work visa on the day they apply for residence.

Read more here.

July 12, 2022
Update

2021 Resident Visa

The government has introduced a limited pathway to residence for people who are already living and working in New Zealand. Applications open on 1 December 2021 for the first wave of people eligible to apply. The second wave opens on 1 March 2022. The deadline to apply for the 2021 Resident Visa is 31 July 2022.

Read more here.

July 12, 2022
Update

Critical Purpose Visitor Visas

A small number of critical health workers (taking up jobs for six months or longer) or specialist workers (taking up jobs that are for longer than six months) who were granted border exemptions may also have eligibility for the 2021 Resident Visa. They will need to have arrived in NZ and lodge a 2021 Resident Visa application.

Read more here.

July 12, 2022
Update

Policy Decision Key Dates in 2022

  • July 4. Applications open for the new Accredited Employer Work Visa.
  • July 31. Applications for the 2021 Resident Visa close.
  • August. Skilled Migrant Residence category scheduled to reopen.
  • August. A new pathway to residence for people earning 200% or more of the median wage.

*Excludes high-risk countries.

July 8, 2022
Update

Policy Decision Key Dates in 2022

  • February 13. Fully vaccinated Kiwis plus certain other travellers entering NZ from the rest of the world* can skip MIQ.
  • April 30. The border starts a phased reopen to fully vaccinated foreign nationals.
  • April 30. The Productivity Commission reports back to the government on immigration settings.
  • May 9. Applications open for mandatory Employer Accreditation.

*Excludes high-risk countries.

July 8, 2022
Update

Work Visa Categories Closing

The work visa categories set to close are:

  • Essential Skills Work Visa
  • Essential Skills Work Visa – approval in principle
  • Work to Residence (Talent – Accredited Employer)
  • Work to Residence (Long Term Skills Shortage)
  • Silver Fern Job Search Work Visa (closed October 2019)
  • Silver Fern Practical Experience Work Visa.
July 8, 2022
Update

The Green List

From September 2022 people holding job offers in a small number of occupations may apply for residence. Some occupations are a direct pathway to residence and others require a period of two years or longer before applying.

There are qualification and/or occupational registration requirements to meet. Establishing if an overseas qualification matches the NZ equivalent qualification before applying is paramount for success.

Read more here.

July 12, 2022
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