Government changes to New Zealand immigration settings: Questions and Answers on skilled and temporary visa categories

The government on Wednesday announced changes to New Zealand’s immigration settings.

Read our article on the announced and proposed changes, and the stances of other political parties, here.

Below are Immigration New Zealand Question and Answer sheets on the changes to the permanent skilled visa category and proposed changes to the temporary visa category.

You can also read a government discussion document on proposed changes to the temporary visa category here. These proposals are open to public submission.

Q&A: Skilled Migrant Category changes:

How is the SMC changing?

Amendments are being made to the Skilled Migrant Category to improve the skill composition and ensure we are attracting migrants who bring the most economic benefits to New Zealand. The changes affect many aspects of the policy, including changes to:

  • The way that ‘skilled employment’ and ‘work experience’ are assessed and awarded points.
  • The points awarded for qualifications and age.
  • Points for some factors will be removed.

When will the changes come into effect?

14 August 2017.

Are the changes designed to allow fewer people to be granted residence under the SMC?

While there will be an impact on some people in low paid employment, the changes expand the definition of skilled employment to allow some people to obtain residence who have previously been unable to claim points for their employment in New Zealand – people who are not currently considered to be in skilled employment because their job is not in an Australian and New Zealand Standard Classification of Occupations (ANZSCO) skill level 1, 2 or 3 occupation will be able to claim points for their job if they are earning $73,299 or more per year.

Will particular types of applicants benefit from the changes?

The changes put more focus on skilled work experience, more recognition of skill levels in the 30-39 age group and high salary levels.

What are the specific changes in each policy area?

Skilled employment

  • The same number of points will be awarded for both an offer of skilled employment and current skilled employment in New Zealand.
  • Remuneration thresholds are being introduced as an additional means of defining skilled employment.
  • Applicants with jobs at ANZSCO skill levels 1, 2 and 3 will only be awarded points for their employment if they are paid at or above NZ$48,859 per year (or NZ$23.49 per hour).
  • Applicants with jobs that are not in ANZSCO skill level 1, 2 or 3 occupations may be assessed as being in skilled employment if they are paid at or above NZ$73,299 per year (or NZ$35.24 per hour).
  • Bonus points will be awarded for remuneration at or above NZ$97,718.00 per year (or NZ$46.98 per hour)
  • Remuneration thresholds will be updated annually based on New Zealand income data.

Work experience

  • More points will be available for work experience.
  • Points will be awarded for skilled work experience in ANZSCO skill level 1, 2 and 3 occupations.
  • Points will be awarded for skilled New Zealand work experience of 12 months or more. There will be no additional points for work experience of two years or more.

Qualifications, age and partner’s qualifications

  • Points available for recognised level 9 or 10 post-graduate qualifications (Master’s degrees and Doctorates) will increase.
  • Points for people aged 30 – 39 years will increase.
  • Partner’s qualifications will only be awarded points if they are a recognised Bachelor’s level degree or higher or a recognised post-graduate (level 9 or higher) qualification.

Which factors will applicants no longer be able to gain points for?

Points for the following factors will be removed:

  • qualifications in an area of absolute skills shortage
  • skilled employment, work experience and qualifications in Identified Future Growth Areas
  • close family support in New Zealand

Are there any changes to the health, character or English language requirements?

No there are no changes to these aspects of the SMC instructions.

Why is the SMC changing?

The Government is committed to ensuring our immigration settings best support the economy and the labour market. These changes are designed to improve the skill composition of the SMC and ensure that it prioritises higher-paid and higher-skilled migrants.

Will the selection point change when the new SMC comes into effect?

The selection point is able to be adjusted by the Minister of Immigration as necessary for the overall planning range of the New Zealand Residence Programme, so the selection point may change from time to time. There is no information at the present time concerning where the selection point will be set when the adjusted Skilled Migrant Category is implemented.

Will the salary thresholds change?

The salary thresholds are based on information from New Zealand income data and will be reviewed annually.

What will happen to my Expression of Interest if it is in the Pool when the policy changes?

More detail will be available soon on how applicants at various stages of the Skilled Migrant Category process will be affected.

My SMC Expression of Interest (EoI) has been selected from the SMC Pool but I have not yet been invited to apply: if I obtain an invitation to apply before 14 August but do not submit my SMC residence application until after 14 August, can I be assessed under the current SMC instructions?

More detail will be available soon on how applicants at various stages of the Skilled Migrant Category process will be affected.

If my EoI is selected from the SMC Pool before 14 August but is then returned to the Pool, what will happen to my EoI?

More detail will be available soon on how applicants at various stages of the Skilled Migrant Category process will be affected.

When will more detailed information be available about the changes to the SMC?

We hope to have more information available in June 2017.

Q&A: Review of temporary migrant work settings:

Why are you proposing these changes?

Current settings have resulted in a pool of low-skilled temporary migrants who have been in New Zealand long-term and become well settled here, but have no pathway to residence. As a result the Government is now consulting on changes to the Essential Skills visa category to better manage the number and settlement expectations of new migrants coming to New Zealand. This follows the announcement of a one-off pathway to residence for some long-term temporary migrants living in the South Island.

How many lower-skilled Essential Skills visa holders will be affected by the proposals?

It is not possible to accurately forecast the exact number.

Data from the last financial year can give an indication of the impact of the proposed maximum duration as there were just over 1,700 lower-skilled workers that had held an Essential Skills visa for three years or more. This number will increase if the proposed remuneration thresholds are agreed to as more workers will be classified as lower-skilled.

How will employers be able to source the labour they need under the proposals?

Immigration policy is premised on a New Zealanders first approach and employers are required to ensure they are doing all they can to train and employ New Zealanders. While lower-skilled Essential Skills work visa holders will have limits on the time they can spend in New Zealand employers will still be able to recruit temporary migrant workers, as long as they can demonstrate there are not New Zealanders available through the labour market test.

Why has three years been proposed as the maximum duration for lower-skilled Essential Skills work visas?

A maximum duration of three years provides a balance between giving visa holders the opportunity to transition to a more highly-skilled Essential Skills visa or obtain residence, while also ensuring that migrants with no pathway to residence do not become well-settled in New Zealand.  It also provides employers with sufficient time to recruit new staff or upskill existing staff to fill the role.

Will the proposal to limit lower-skilled Essential Skills visa holders to an initial three-year period affect people already here?

The change would not be applied retrospectively for lower-skilled Essential Skills workers already in New Zealand.  The three year maximum duration will start from the date their next lower-skilled Essential Skills visa is granted after the introduction of the changes to the Essential Skills policy.

Why are you restricting the ability of partners and children of lower-skilled migrant workers to come here?

The proposal would reinforce the temporary nature of the visa and reduce expectations of settlement from temporary migrants with no pathway to residence. Lower skilled Essential Skills workers would take up employment in New Zealand with a full understanding that they would not be able to bring their family. Partners and children would still be able to come to New Zealand as a visitor and will only gain a work or student visa if they meet visa requirements in their own right. Removing eligibility for visas for partners of lower-skilled Essential Skills visa holders would potentially provide more opportunities for Kiwis to take on those roles, where they are available. 

Will the proposal affect families already here?

Families of Essential Skills visa holders already in New Zealand will be able to remain here for the duration of the work visa holder’s current visa. This will minimise any immediate disruption to families and communities. 


Our 2017 election issue coverage is supported by EY. For more about how EY is building a better working world, see here.

We welcome your help to improve our coverage of this issue. Any examples or experiences to relate? Any links to other news, data or research to shed more light on this? Any insight or views on what might happen next or what should happen next? Any errors to correct?

We welcome your comments below. If you are not already registered, please register to comment or click on the "Register" link below a comment.

Remember we welcome robust, respectful and insightful debate. We don't welcome abusive or defamatory comments and will de-register those repeatedly making such comments. Our current Comment policy is here.

1 Comments

This is actually a big story , because it may slow the rate of economic growth down over the next 36 months (construction may slow as demand for housing falls ) as the new policies take effect and filter through to the economy .

The Chch rebuild is past the halfway mark so it looks like leaner times ahead all round , unless we ramp up spending on new hotels and new roads