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Understanding New Zealand Immigration Changes: The Skilled Migrant Category

In April 2017, the government announced key upcoming changes to New Zealand's immigration policy. One of those changes, which impacts the skilled migrant category, is scheduled to be implemented in mid-August 2017. The changes bring both benefits and possible disadvantages for accommodation businesses, making it important to understand the law and plan ahead if necessary.

Changes to Rules Regarding Skilled Migrant Status

Changes to this category are already put through and in motion, though businesses won't see the effects until later in the year. After August 2017, migrants who apply for jobs that qualify at ANZSCO skill levels 1, 2 or 3 must be paid above the threshold to be awarded visa points for the employment. The actual threshold amount depends on whether the job is on the skills shortage list, though many accommodation sector positions do qualify under the SSL. An example of such a job would be as head chef in a restaurant or hotel dining establishment.

Skilled migrants accepting positions that are on the SSL must be paid at least $48,859 annually, which calculates to approximately $23.49 per hour. Immigrants applying for jobs that aren't on the SSL list only receive points if they are compensated at minimum $73,299 annually.

Higher paying positions are being made more attractive to migrant workers because the government is offering bonus points on positions that pay $97,718 or more per year, which is roughly $46.98 per hour for a standard full-time position.

Proposed Temporary Work Visa Changes

The government has also put forth a document proposing some changes to temporary migrant work visas and points systems. The proposal includes new remuneration bands, which would be used to help determine the skill level of workers. It also seeks to align pay thresholds along similar lines as those being updated in the skilled migrant worker changes detailed above.

The proposal aims to limit lower-skilled visas to three years. Lower-skilled visas are those provided for workers who earn less than $73,299 annually and don't qualify for the lower threshold under the SSL. The government proposes a cooling period between the end of those three years and the worker's ability to apply for another lower-skilled visa, thus limiting the ability of migrants to repeatedly enter and take jobs at lower pay rates. The proposal does not put more limitations on partners and children entering New Zealand with skilled workers on a visa; in fact, the government seems to be trying to make this more possible for the right candidates.

What Does All this Mean for the Accommodation Sector?

On the one hand, the continued use of the SSL to apply a lower threshold makes it possible for many accommodation businesses to hire skilled migrants for jobs. A current hospitality and tourism position on the long-term skill shortage list is a chef with five years of experience and skills equal to a New Zealand Certificate in Cookery (Level 4). The immediate skill shortage list includes horse trainers, jockeys, outdoor adventure guides, snowsport instructors and bakers. Accommodation businesses looking for such workers can likely hire at the lower threshold amount while remaining somewhat competitive and providing visa benefits to the employee.

The list of skilled occupations that qualify migrants for a visa are much longer, but most do require the higher renumeration level. The higher level of pay could be difficult for some motel, hotel and restaurant owners to meet — especially if they are smaller businesses. This could limit the hiring pool to local or national candidates.

One positive of the government push for migrant workers is that application streams have improved in recent years. Business/skilled applicant numbers dropped in 2011/12 to 20,431, down over 8,000 from just two years prior. The numbers for 2015/16 were 29,719, which is the highest report in a decade.


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