The Government has announced plans to make it easier for employers to bring temporary workers into the country.
And it has also announced a reversal of the previous clampdown by the National Government in 2017 on families of lower paid temporary workers being allowed to also come into New Zealand.
The moves announced on Tuesday by Immigration Minister Iain Lees-Galloway follow a consultation process undertaken by the Government. A total of 947 submissions were apparently received.
There will be a phased introduction, with the new rules fully taking effect in 2021.
The Government hasn't put any numbers around how many workers will be allowed in under the new rules.
A feature of the new plan is that it will include "sector agreements" with various targeted industries that have a high reliance on migrant workers. Sectors identified for initial negotiations include: residential care (including aged care), meat processing, dairy, forestry, road freight transport, and tourism and hospitality. The construction and horticulture and viticulture sectors are also potential candidates.
Another notable feature of the new rules is that employers seeking to bring in high-paid employees will be exempt from any labour market checks as to whether there are New Zealanders available for the jobs.
Lees-Galloway says the new rules "will assist around 25-30,000 businesses get the workers they need to fill skills shortages". He says currently there are over 54,000 workers on the main employer assisted work visa – the essential skills visa.
“The new employer assisted temporary work visa process is more streamlined and less complex replacing six visa categories with one temporary work visa, and it ensures there is an employer check, a job check and a worker check."
The background document issued on the changes, includes this explanatory passage:
The Government wants to make the process of hiring a temporary foreign worker easier and more straightforward by providing more certainty earlier about whether or not an employer will be able to hire a foreign worker for a particular job.
To do this, the Government will introduce an employer-led visa application process which will include three specific steps: the employer check, the job check and the worker check.
The new process will require all employers to be accredited before they can recruit a temporary foreign worker. There will be three types of accreditation: standard accreditation (for employers recruiting between one and five foreign workers in a 12 month period); high volume accreditation (for employers recruiting more than five foreign workers in a 12 month period); and accreditation for labour hire companies. The standard accreditation will focus on assessing that the employer meets minimum employment and immigration regulatory standards, and that they are taking steps to reduce exploitation.
The high-volume and labour hire accreditations will focus on the same elements of standard accreditation with more comprehensive checks and additional standards for attracting and retaining New Zealand workers.
Once an employer is accredited, the job check will then assess whether the job the employer is seeking to recruit for is genuine, has terms and conditions (including pay) that are consistent with New Zealand standards and that the employer has made a real attempt to recruit a New Zealander.
But further to the "real attempt to recruit a New Zealander" part of the proposal, the document goes on to explain that: "For jobs with very high pay (200% or twice the median wage) there will be no labour market test requirement (that is, a check as to whether there are New Zealanders available)."
And additionally, the document also says: "For those paid above the median wage and in the parts of the country where there are fewer New Zealanders available there will be no labour market test."
The median wage is given as $52,000.
On the removal of the previous National Government's restrictions on family of lower paid workers coming to NZ, the document says:
The Government will reinstate the ability for lower-paid foreign workers to support their partner and children to come to New Zealand for the length of their visa. This was restricted in 2017.
The foreign worker will continue to need to meet a minimum income threshold, the purpose of which is to ensure that their income is sufficient to support themselves and their family while in New Zealand.
The partner of a lower-paid worker will be granted a visitor visa unless they are able to obtain a work visa in their own right. Partners of highly-paid workers will still be granted an ‘open’ work visa.
Dependent children of a lower-paid worker will have access to primary and secondary education as subsidised domestic students. They will only be able to access tertiary education as full fee-paying international students.
As part of the changes the Government will negotiate Sector Agreements with some sectors which will include agreeing a workforce plan and the conditions to be met for recruiting foreign workers for specified key occupations.
The background paper says:
Sector Agreements will be negotiated with sectors that have a high reliance on temporary foreign workers (especially in lower-paid occupations). Employers who are recruiting foreign workers for occupations covered by a Sector Agreement will be required to comply with the agreement. Sector Agreements will support facilitated access to foreign workers to meet shortages in the short term by making this a more certain and lower-cost process. In exchange, the sector will be required to make commitments and demonstrate progress towards placing a greater share of New Zealanders into jobs in the sector and reducing the sector’s reliance on temporary foreign workers over time.
Sector Agreements will be negotiated two at a time, with the first two negotiations to be completed by mid-2020, two further negotiations by the end of 2020 and two more in 2021.
The first Sector Agreements to be negotiated will likely be for the residential care and meat processing sectors. The process will formally begin before the end of 2019.
The Government says the changes will be implemented in stages to help manage a smooth transition over to the new system.
It gives the following timetable:
The changes to the existing employer accreditation scheme and Work to Residence – Talent (Accredited Employers) visa category will be implemented in October 2019.
Replacing existing skill bands with a simple remuneration threshold and reinstating the ability for lower-paid migrants to bring their family will come into effect mid-2020.
The first sector agreements are expected to be completed in mid-2020.
The new visa and application process will have a phased implementation in 2021. This will ensure that all employers are not required to be accredited on the same day. Existing accredited employers will have a streamlined transition into the new system.
In the meantime, employers and temporary foreign workers should continue using existing processes for hiring foreign workers.
This was the full statement put out by Iain Lees-Galloway:
Helping regions fill skills shortages while ensuring Kiwis come first
The Government is making progress on building an inclusive, sustainable and productive economy by helping regions and businesses get the workers they need with a new temporary work visa process, announced today by Minister of Immigration Iain Lees-Galloway.
This will assist around 25-30,000 businesses get the workers they need to fill skills shortages. Currently there are over 54,000 workers on the main employer assisted work visa – the essential skills visa.
In December 2018 – March 2019, the Government consulted on a number of changes to employer-assisted temporary work visa settings. A total of 947 submissions were received from the public during consultation.
“We are committed to ensuring that businesses are able to get the workers they need to fill critical skills shortages, while encouraging employers and regions to work together on long term workforce planning including supporting New Zealanders with the training they need to fill the gaps,” says Iain Lees-Galloway.
“The new employer assisted temporary work visa process is more streamlined and less complex replacing six visa categories with one temporary work visa, and it ensures there is an employer check, a job check and a worker check.
“The process allows us to ensure foreign workers are only recruited for genuine shortages, helps us reduce exploitation, and creates better connections between immigration, education and welfare systems.
“The employment and training of New Zealanders, where they are available, will always be the key priority which is why we are introducing more requirements and incentives for employers to employ and train more New Zealanders.”
Changes to the employer-assisted temporary work visa system include:
- introducing a new employer-led visa framework that will drive the application process
- negotiating and introducing sector agreements ensuring there is more planning for future workforce needs
- reinstating the ability for lower-paid workers to bring their families to New Zealand
- replacing existing skills bands with a simple remuneration threshold aligned to the median wage
- for higher paid jobs, replacing the current set of skills shortage lists for cities and open access for regions.
- strengthening the labour market test for lower-paid workers.
“The new visa system will require all employers to be accredited and will give employers more certainty about their ability to hire a foreign worker earlier in the application process,” Iain Lees-Galloway says.
“It will also provide the foreign worker with more assurance about the employer they are coming to work for and the job they are coming to do.
“Sector agreements will be targeted at sectors with high reliance on temporary foreign workers and will enable specific terms and conditions for recruiting foreign workers to be negotiated between the government and individual sectors.
“A regional approach to the labour market test will ensure that foreign workers are able to be recruited for genuine skill shortages in regions with lower numbers of New Zealanders available for work, while ensuring that the labour market is tested regularly in areas with higher availability of New Zealanders.
“Together, these changes represent a significant shift in the way our temporary work visa system operates. It will make the process of hiring a foreign worker easier and more straightforward. It will also provide more certainty for employers due to upfront checks, while also increasing expectations on employers to train and employ more New Zealanders.
“These changes are part of the Government’s wider programme of workforce improvements, including the changes to vocational education and upcoming welfare reforms, which together will help create better connections between the immigration, education and welfare systems.
“The recently announced Regional Skills Leadership Groups will also play a key role in ensuring there is better planning and utilisation of the local labour market by coordinating labour market planning at a regional level.
“This will help determine immigration settings for each region and get more New Zealanders into better jobs with better wages and equip more businesses with the skilled workers they need to grow and thrive,” Mr Lees-Galloway says.
More information on the changes can be found at www.immigration.govt.nz/work-