The Government's revealed details of its partial back-down on tougher temporary work visa conditions originally announced in April.
The main changes include creation of a new 'mid-skilled' category and reduction in the bottom limit remuneration for this category to $41,538 a year, instead of $48,859 as originally proposed.
The original proposals attracted a lot of negative feedback from employers.
While the amended proposals from the Government have found favour with several business groups, Federated Farmers slammed them - saying that calls from a united primary sector for the government’s latest round of immigration changes to address significant labour shortages in rural areas "have obviously fallen on deaf ears".
Immigration Minister Michael Woodhouse said on Thursday he wanted to "reassure employers that the changes announced today are not designed to reduce the number of migrants coming in on temporary work visas".
“Employers will continue to be able to employ migrant workers where there are genuine labour or skill shortages. However, these changes will help provide clarity around the conditions under which temporary migrants come here."
Woodhouse said the changes to temporary work visa conditions will be introduced on 28 August, alongside the previously announced changes to the Skilled Migrant residence category.
Other issues highlighted during consultation will also be addressed during 'Phase Two' of the review of temporary migration settings, he said.
These included developing a framework for further targeting of immigration settings by sectors and regions, developing proposals to incentivise and reward good employer behaviour, and ensuring that seasonal work visas reflect seasonal work.
Phase Two would also address concerns raised by primary industries that the current ANZSCO job classification list lacks classifications for some jobs and therefore disadvantages workers whose occupations are classed at a lower-level by default.
This is the announcement:
Immigration Minister Michael Woodhouse today confirmed changes to temporary work visa conditions following an extensive consultation process.
“The Government is committed to striking the right balance between ensuring New Zealanders are at the front of the queue for jobs and making sure our regions have access to temporary migrant labour necessary for sustained economic growth,” Mr Woodhouse says.
“We are also committed to ensuring that lower-skilled migrants are clear about their future prospects in New Zealand, which is why we consulted on a number of changes to temporary work visa conditions.”
The changes consulted on included introducing remuneration bands to help determine skill levels; a maximum duration of three years for lower-skilled visa holders, after which a minimum stand down period will apply before they are eligible for another lower-skilled visa; and requirements for partners and children of lower-skilled visa holders to meet visa conditions in their own right.
“The consultation process resulted in around 170 submissions and today’s announcement shows the Government has listened to the feedback raised by employers and industry, particularly in the regions,” Mr Woodhouse says.
“While the minimum stand down periods and visa requirements for partners and children will still apply for lower-skilled migrants, we are amending the remuneration band for mid-skilled migrants to address issues raised during the consultation process.
“As a result, the remuneration band for mid-skilled will be 85 per cent of the New Zealand median income, which is currently $41,538 a year, instead of $48,859 as proposed during consultation.
“This means that any migrant earning below $41,538 a year will be considered lower-skilled and will be subject to the stand down periods. Any migrant earning between $41,538 and $73,299 a year in an occupation classified as ANZSCO Level 1 – 3 will be considered mid-skilled, and those earning over $73,299 a year will automatically be considered higher-skilled, regardless of their occupation.
“The new mid-skilled remuneration band recognises the fact that these workers are filling genuine skill shortages and are more likely to progress with further skills acquisition or work experience. It also provides more certainty for employers in planning and training their workforce.
“The consultation process also uncovered a misunderstanding around what the changes mean in terms of employers’ ability to continue to access lower-skilled migrants.
“I want to reassure employers that the changes announced today are not designed to reduce the number of migrants coming in on temporary work visas.
“Employers will continue to be able to employ migrant workers where there are genuine labour or skill shortages. However, these changes will help provide clarity around the conditions under which temporary migrants come here.
“Today’s announcement is another example of this Government’s responsible, pragmatic approach to immigration and is in stark contrast to Opposition parties who want to decimate the regions by cutting immigration by tens of thousands.”
The changes to temporary work visa conditions will be introduced on 28 August, alongside the previously announced changes to the Skilled Migrant residence category.
Other issues highlighted during consultation will also be addressed during Phase Two of the review of temporary migration settings.
These include developing a framework for further targeting of immigration settings by sectors and regions, developing proposals to incentivise and reward good employer behaviour, and ensuring that seasonal work visas reflect seasonal work.
Phase Two will also address concerns raised by primary industries that the current ANZSCO lacks classifications for some jobs and therefore disadvantages workers whose occupations are classed at a lower-level by default.
For more information, visit www.immigration.govt.nz/about-
us/media-centre/news-. notifications/changes- temporary-migrant-work- settings
Employers had the following response, with this statement from the EMA:
The setting of more realistic bands for temporary work visas is a pragmatic response for employers struggling to find staff.
In an announcement confirming the changes to temporary work visas, the Minister of Immigration, Hon. Michael Woodhouse has responded to calls by industry and employers to have more flexibility to find the staff they need in their respective sectors.
"I think there has been a very clear call from business saying that in such a tight market as this, they need to have the ability to find workers. Today’s announcement from Government is sensible and practical in how it addresses pressure points in the mid-level salary range," says Kim Campbell, CEO, EMA.
"We keep hearing of the skills shortage in the service sector and today’s confirmation of a mid-skilled remuneration band for temporary work visas does address this."
Mr Campbell says with a deepening skills shortage the Government must continue to look for at a range of options to address the issue.
"Immigration is part of the solution. It goes hand-in-hand with how we educate and develop Kiwis. From embarking on your first job through to managing your career through different ages and stages, we need to ensure we have capable workers," says Mr Campbell.
The skills shortage continues. In the EMA Employers Survey 2015 67% of employers were finding it difficult to recruit for skilled positions. A year later in the Employers Survey 2016 this had increased to 72%. Furthermore, employers are struggling to recruit positions across all range of skills from fully qualified professionals through to general labourers.
And BusinessNZ said this:
Changes to temporary work visas are more workable, says BusinessNZ Chief Executive Kirk Hope.
Changes announced today will help define what is a lower-skilled employee, and will restrict lower-skilled migrant employees to a 3-year visa with a stand-down period before becoming eligible for a new visa. Any migrant earning less than $41,538 a year will be considered lower-skilled and will be subject to the stand-down period. Partners and children of lower-skilled visa holders will have to meet visa conditions in their own right to be able to come to New Zealand.
Kirk Hope said the changes strike a balance between ensuring jobs for New Zealanders and enabling businesses to access the staff they need.
"Every year, employers of lower-skilled migrants will have to prove to Immigration NZ that there are no New Zealanders available to do their jobs - as they currently have to do via the labour market test.
"And where there are no New Zealanders available, employers will still be able to access migrants for those jobs - both skilled and unskilled.
"This is helpful, as many businesses in many industries are struggling to fill job vacancies.
"New Zealand businesses need access to both skilled and unskilled labour to be internationally competitive.
"It’s good that Government has listened to business and industry while developing these changes.
"The revised salary threshold is more realistic for migrant workers to go from a lower-skilled role to a mid-skilled role with training and more experience, and will be more workable in the regions.
"It’s also positive that government has taken up our calls for greater use of employer accreditation as well as looking into different sector and regional approaches according to their individual needs. The next phase of work will need to address specific regional needs in key sectors such as aged care, hospitality, tourism, farming and meat processing.
"But at the same time, we need find innovative solutions to the skills mismatches in the New Zealand labour market, including more than 80,000 young people currently not working and not upskilling. Solutions to this problem are needed in the education and careers sector rather than immigration."
Federated Farmers were not thrilled by the latest developments. They said this:
Calls from a united primary sector for the government’s latest round of immigration changes to address significant labour shortages in rural areas have obviously fallen on deaf ears.
The entire sector, and in particular the dairy industry, called for the government’s proposal to be amended to provide a framework for employers to attract and retain quality, motivated highly capable migrant employees and to help them develop their skills in the industry.
Unfortunately, none of the changes proposed in the document released today will do that.
"Although we acknowledge that there is a commitment to continue to work with the industry to address deficiencies in the current system that specifically impact the primary sector," Federated Farmers immigration spokesperson Chris Lewis says.
The changes restrict the vast majority of migrant dairy farm workers to a maximum of three consecutive one year visas (maximum three years) before an enforced stand-down where they must leave NZ for 12 months.
"Given the depth of labour shortages in rural areas this will only force out migrants who have been invested in, trained and integrated into the farm and community, to be replaced by another migrant who is new to New Zealand.
"There will also be restrictions applied to bringing partners or children. This will reduce the competitiveness of New Zealand as a destination for motivated and qualified dairy farm workers, and take the heart out of rural communities relying on the families of migrants to provide critical mass to schools, social groups and community organisations.
"We are disappointed that the Government failed to address our concerns in these proposals.
"We can only hope that if we continue to try to work constructively with the Government during phase two of the changes, some of our concerns including the immediate future of great people working here in New Zealand now, can be addressed," Chris says.