Work Visa rules get a shake-up.

The government made sweeping changes to work visa rules rolled out in October 2019 and they will continue through until mid-2022. These impact employers and migrant workers (holding a current work visa or applying for a new work visa).

15/02/20225 min read

The government made sweeping changes to work visa rules rolled out in October 2019 and they will continue through until mid-2022. These impact employers and migrant workers (holding a current work visa or applying for a new work visa).

The summary of changes are:

Deferred until mid-2022

  • Mandatory accreditation for employers wanting to retain or recruit migrant workers.
  • 3 step work visa application process; Step 1: Employer check; Step 2: Job check; Step 3: Work Visa lodged.
  • More compliance for employers.
  • New application fees apply to all steps.
  • Tougher labour tests to apply for jobs in cities.
  • Six work visa categories rolled into one.​

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.​

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 (no New Zealanders available to fill the job) is waived and in some cases, it will still apply.
  • Applicants paid at or above the median wage may be issued a work visa valid for a maximum period of three years.
  • Flexibility on documentation required in support of Essential Skills Work Visa applications.
  • Take advice to establish your eligibility.​

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.​

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.​

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 (currently NZD 25.50 an hour).
  • Employers offering jobs to migrant workers where an occupation is on the "Oversupply" list will not get Skill Match reports issued by Work & Income (WINZ). Solid evidence of genuine attempts to find a local to fill the job will be critical for approval. Take advice.
  • Job offers on the "Undersupply" list will also not get Skills Match reports from WINZ.
  • View these lists at WINZ
  • Expected to be a temporary change. Reviewed mid-2021.

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. The median wage usually changes every November).
  • 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). Plus, restrictions on supporting family visa applications.
  • Job offers paying above the median wage require employers to pass the labour market test* but no engagement with WINZ is required (work visas granted for a maximum of 3 years). No restrictions on supporting family visa applications.
  • ANZSCO is still used as a tool to assess whether visa applicants’ qualifications and/or work experience are a substantial match to the job offer.
  • 5 year work visas are no longer issued.

* Labour market test requires an employer to extensively advertise job offers to genuinely prove they were unable to find a suitable NZ citizen/resident before recruiting a migrant worker.

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.​

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.​

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*)
  • Lower Skilled Employment increases to $21.67 or more per hour ($45,074 per annum*)
  • Increases also apply to the Skilled Migrant Category for Expressions of Interest selected on or after 24/02/2020 – contact Malcolm Pacific for more information about the new pay rates

* Salary figures are based on 40 hours work per week

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.
  • Employers can only be accredited for 24 months when applying for the first time or renewing.
  • Silver Fern work visa category closed.

​Are you affected?


If your business is not accredited talk to us about how to become accredited and avoid the queues when these changes roll out.

Already accredited? Your business does not need to do anything right now.

We are happy to give advice to your HR team or any staff affected by these changes. Call Malcolm Pacific Immigration and ask for Lukas Sousa or send him a message below.

Work visa holders

Already hold a work visa? You do not need to do anything until it is time to renew your work visa. Take advice at least 3 months before your work visa expires.

Applying for a new work visa? Take advice now from Malcolm Pacific Immigration.

Free phone 0800 800 612 within New Zealand

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Our highly experienced licensed Immigration team will take away the stress and worry of navigating the complicated world of New Zealand Immigration. All you need to do is get in touch. Our employer team is on standby, ready to help.

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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.

16 May 22

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.
10 Feb 22

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.

16 Dec 21