Days to the General Election: 37
See Party Policies here. Party Lists here.

Work visa approvals are growing strongly while residence visa approvals are declining and student visas flat, Greg Ninness discovers

Work visa approvals are growing strongly while residence visa approvals are declining and student visas flat, Greg Ninness discovers

By Greg Ninness

The number of people gaining New Zealand residency has dropped by a third over the last three years, while those being granted work visas have increased by almost 16% over the same period.

Figures compiled by the Ministry of Business, Innovation and Employment (MBIE) show that the number of residence visas approved by Immigration New Zealand has been steadily declining for the last three years, from a peak of 51,750 in the 12 months to the end of July 2016, to 34,881 in the 12 months to the end of July this year, a reduction of 16,899 (-32.6%).

That is the lowest number approved for that time period since MBIE started collating the data in 2010 (see accompanying graph).

Conversely, the number of work visas being issued has increased steadily in each of the last seven years.

In the 12 months to the end of July, 243,195 work visas were approved, which was 12,189 more (+5.2%) than were issued in the previous 12 months and 15.7% more than were issued in the 12 months to July 2016 (see graph below).

But while work visas are up and residence visas are down, student visa numbers appear relatively flat.

The MBIE figures show student visa numbers rose steadily from 77,796 in the 12 months to July 2013 to a peak of 107,931 in the 12 months to July 2017, then dropped back to 104,781 in the 12 months to July 2018 and were barely changed at 104,868 in the 12 months to July this year (see graph below).

The comment stream on this story is now closed.

Source: MBIE

Source: MBIE


*This article was first published in our email for paying subscribers. See here for more details and how to subscribe.

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.

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.



I would love to see the number of people unemployed on the work visas graph
last quarter was 109000 people out of work (looking) so that is 1/2 the work visas we approve why?
not all them don't want to work, yet we bring in 2 to 1 to work


Not just the unemployed but also the under-employed - with zero hour contracts you only have to work one hour per week to be 'employed'.


Agree, No Work No Benefit.
There are currently 292,000 working-age people 18-64 receiving the benefit. Your not doing them or TAX payers any favours importing immigrants to do the low skilled jobs that locals can do.

We should force these lazy sods into getting skills so they can actually contribute to society instead of sitting on their deaf and dumb at home smoking dope and brawling with their partners , and everyone around them


so according to you we have 100k of these people
do you not see something wrong with that
I know many that would love a job but get overlooked,
and we are talking the lower end where an employer will go for a CHEAP worker who is totally subservant
and its mostly big companies that push the politicians to keep the doors open


When I was a poor student I spent the summers working on a hay carting gang in Aust. The work was brutal but the hourly wages were hollywood - way, way above what was being paid for a untrained 9-5 job.Now I am seeing a lot of strawberry fields, orchards and the like crying in the media that they cant get pickers and want to bring in 3rd world labourers on short term visas. Well tough titty - if you cant pay decent wages that will attract the attention of kiwis for what is often hard back breaking work for short term employment often living in shyteboxes away from family then your model is kaput so let the fruit rot.

Agree however the result if you let the food rot may be to consolidate food production into a few big farms, automation will become viable and we will need less unskilled people and the wealth will be consolidated into fewer hands and it can then be spread around by the tax system.

By not paying a fair price for the fruit, due to supermarket dominance, growers are stuck between a rock and a hard place. how can they pay a living wage when they are not paid enough for their produce.

Actually that would generate great jobs as those machines need operators, programmers, fitters and turners, sales people etc.

Once student loans were introduced NZ student job applicants all but disappeared for orchard work. The good pickers in our orchard were earning up to $33/hr last season. The kiwi students that were here were usually in Supervisory roles. For some people outside the area, to move in to what is a high cost of living area (Central Otago) for just a few weeks work, doesn't always make financial sense. The higher cost of labour, the higher return the grower needs. NZ consumers on average spend a lesser percentage of their weekly income on food now than they did decades ago. In relative terms food has got cheaper, especially fruit and vegetables. NZ is not an outlier in this.

We are accomodating 25 men from Vanuatu at our Motel for 7 months, it's only a fraction of a total 160 men from Vanuatu working on various orchards. I was curious and asked the manager "why do you bring these men into NZ to work, don't you have to pay them minimum wage just like Kiwis?" "Of course we do we but Kiwis don't want to do that type of work, it's that simple"


It's also not that simple. It's simple that Kiwis have better options now than that seasonal work for the minimum wage.

My father used to pick fruit for seasonal work. However, we worked it out using a wage inflation calculator...and in those days he was being paid the equivalent of $36 per hour and received free accommodation at the orchard. Dormitories at the orchard were the norm, he said, as there was no way folk could afford to go paying for accommodation nearby for a seasonal job.

$36 per hour is considerably more than the minimum wage.

So it's definitely not simply a matter of locals not wanting to do "that type of work". It's also a case of orchardists being able to import cheap labour as a workaround for normal market supply and demand.

Dead right, the statement should read 'the simple truth is we cant employ kiwis for the pittance we call a paycheck'. And imo if they cant pay a market rate then the industry should be broken up and its capital recycled in to more competitive industries.

Migrants aren't exactly taking away jobs from unemployed people in NZ. A lot of migrants have the right attitude and advanced skillset that unemployed people in NZ obviously don't. Why would so many of them be out of work in a time where our jobless rate is at decades-low?

But to your point, a good number of migrants on open visas (recent intl. grads, holidaymakers, partners, etc.) are flooding our job market and we limited evidence over how much of an impact this has on our quality of life, unemployment and wages.


Migrants aren't exactly taking away jobs from unemployed people in NZ. A lot of migrants have the right attitude and advanced skillset that unemployed people in NZ obviously don't.

This is a mantra, but I'd be curious as to its actual substance.

I know quite a number of migrants who are very hard working and quite a number who work as little as possible and having now progressed through the system receive Working for Families or the Accommodation Supplement. (Note, you might logically expect quite a number to be receiving these benefits given three of the top four "skilled" categories have been in retail and hospitality.

Just like there are plenty of hard working and plenty of lazy locally sourced folk.


Absolutely correct. The word 'immigrant' is a very big blanket. The checkout operators at my local supermarket are young Indian women - very good at the job, perfect English, etc but do they benefit me - couldn't I mange with a more surly currently unemployed Kiwi doing the same job? On the other hand I wouldn't trade my originally Iranian doctor for the world.
It is for the INZ to sort the sheep from the goats and they could do a better job.

When you consider that for those ones on low wages we eventually end up subsidising wages via WFF or the Accommodation Supplement it's absurd that we're importing people for low wage jobs and are in the process effectively subsidising the businesses who employ them. Why are we subsidising our hospitality sector off taxpayers' backs?

I thought there was plenty of evidence that jobs that are mainly done by immigrants have had minimal pay rises since those immigrants started to take over. Bus drivers, fast food operatives, elderly care workers.
Then there are those who read newspapers and sites like Interest and the upper and middle classes whether student, worker or retiree who benefit from cheap coffee shops and restaurants. They also enjoy seeing their houses or their elderly parents houses endlessly going up in price.
It all comes down to whether we are willing to pay more for our strawberries this Xmas.

Probably near to zero. For immigrants it is pretty hard if not impossible to come to NZ with a work visa without a job offer as those are part of very limited schemes.


There are arguments for more immigrants and aguments for fewer; both sides can marshall good arguments.
There can be no disagreement in condemning the current INZ not for its choice of quota but for how they are implementing it via dire bureaucratic nightmare delays. This is terrible for potential immigrants and terrible for businesses; the truly gifted immigrants will chose Canada, Australia, UK, etc and NZ will be left with those who would not be accepted elsewhere.
Sadly the INZ has the tools it needs - adjust the point counts and salary levels to reduce numbers and increase visa processing fees to do the job promptly (as per the passport office).


When are we going to have a nation wide, binding referendum on immigration, followed by numerical quotas for different types of visas ? Till then it is always going to be shooting in the dark and hoping it hits the mark.

I believe there are quotas but they are secret. If they were to be set via public debate it might easily descend into the loudest racists making the most noise. However that does not stop our elected representatives discussing the matter in parliament with the speaker instantly ruling out any racist remarks. Failure to discuss immigration and jobs leaving America is why Trump was elected. Can't blame voters for identifying with their country.


There are plenty of reasons to turn down/off the tap without resorting to accusations of racism.

I totally agree. The fact that there is a quota however little it is discussed means our govt thinks open door immigration is wrong. If it is wrong then why not say why (eg lack of infrastructure) and then the onus is on the govt to explain why they believe our current immigration rate is good not on us to explain why it is bad.


It's bigger than this. It is a population issue. How many people do we want living here?

When we set the number, then the next question is how do we achieve this? If we want more, do we go for 8 kids with 8 different fathers...or discourage this behavior and go for 8 skilled from overseas?

Sort out what is best for the planet, the community and the economy.

welcome, haere mai..


Residency visas are only declining because INZ are taking twice as long to process them...

How many more like this bloke!

Ways to better protect the 22,000 Filipino migrant workers employed in New Zealand will be covered when labour officials from both countries meet on Wednesday and the opening of a Philippines Overseas Labour Office (POLO) in Wellington is on the agenda.


My interest started with Prof Stringer's report on worker exploitation and how it invariably involves low paid immigrants. Published in 2016. Since then a similar report at least once a week in the media and still no serious attempt to do anything about it. Both govt's should be condemned.
see - it was published in the Herald with the headline "No sex - no visa"!

Then there is Semenoff telling his Filipino truck drivers to ignore safety laws else they are going home.

I estimate at least one similar report every week for 3 years now - I ought to have kept the links. Mr Lees-Galloway is slightly bettter than his predecessor - at least he admits a problem exists. But he runs much the same system - even the reduction in numbers for permanent residency is partly due to changes in salary requirements made by the Nats and partly just a shameful slowing down of processing to meet the unpublished lower target.

How many of these work visas and student visas are actually leaving?
How long are they staying?
That's 340,000 new renters... not including residents... about 8% of the total population?

Well blow me down ........... quarter of a million work visa's?

Methinks ( or suspects) that the Government is messing with the numbers to get PR down , but still allowing migrants in .

So you did previously need 100 points to get in with PR now its 180 points so almost no one can get PR as a migrant , but you can get in with a "work visa" if you have a job offer and as long as you have not been in jail , you qualify ( or so it seems )

The whole thing poses way more questions than I have time for ..........but

Are the work visa's for seasonal workers who are crop picking ?
What is the average stay of the person with a work visa?
If a student or under 30 comes on a working holiday , is that a work visa ?
How many visa's were issued to people like builders or construction workers who may stay here ?
Its really hard to get permanent residence , so is the Government just issuing work visa's INSTEAD of giving people PR , and thereby fudging the numbers to meet its immigration election promises , to 'HIT THE PAUSE BUTTON ' as Winston promised ?

Really hard to get a residency visa? Yes if you are a business urgently requiring a specialist skill (say brain surgeon or IT security expert). Not so hard if you bribe someone to offer you a job at the salary boundary and you just wait and wait and wait.

Solution - dutch auction for permanent residency visas. If you really want a specific skill you will pay for it.

Business interest which want to go on making profits on the back of poorly paid, housed and even cheated imported workers is driving this immigration policy. Legacy of Key's administration's business friendly policies. Labour and NZ First who came on the promise of containing immigration have ditched the NZ public. What is the reason ? Epic phail, all around. In the meantime, Auckland bursting at the seams, with overcrowding in small residences, traffic congestion, infrastructure shortage, even water scarcity, increase in crime/fraud, misbehaviour on the roads and in cars, so on, so on.
We are out to destroy the beautiful Kiwi living experience, which has seen an accelerated deterioration during the last decade.
We need a Trump of our own, soon.

'Business interest which want to go on making profits on the back of poorly paid, housed and even cheated imported workers is driving this immigration policy.'

You nailed it.

First off, they should stop giving work visas to spouses of student visa holders...

More bad news for renters, I thought we had a crisis yet we roll out the welcome mat. Wtf.

Don't worry the welcome mat is at the front door but we lose Kiwis from the back door.

Bring in those tradies, we need those houses built..

how else do you think record 14k houses consented this year...

Interesting that. If you read about Spain’s housing bubble and collapse, they imported more and more workers for construction as the bubble expanded, everything seemed great, as those imported workers also needed somewhere to live! As it started to implode, construction work declined, those workers left (to find work elsewhere presumably) and it compounded the decline. Would be interested to know how many are working in property and construction related jobs.

its a pity we don't get that breakup!!!

Not yet.

But they're not tradies, they're cafe managers and baristas and students.

Why can't the reserve bank generate any inflation despite the lowest interest rates in decades? See above. In a globalised world it is difficult to control the import of "cost of goods deflation" from economies with lower cost structures than ours. But we are going one better and actively importing "cost of services" deflation by bringing the actual low wage workers from those countries here as well. A lot of them through various mechanisms imposed and accepted earn an hourly rate well below the legal New Zealand minimum wage.

For housing, permanent residency is obviously the most significant indicator.

The student visas numbers are interesting. I thought the govt was supposed to be cracking down on all those low quality courses?

Maybe they are all top engineers and mathematicians and intend staying in NZ. I hope so. But doubt it; usually they go to California's silicon valley or UK's silicon glen. Hard to prove but I suspect many are just using it as a means of moving to a country with a welfare state - no love of NZ but a desire to leave countries with corrupt institutions.

Students get work visa for their spouses, no incentive to finish studies or leave.

We need to be a higher wage economy, not keeping wages low by bringing immigrants. So your restaurant worker has to be paid say $30 ph. Yes, it's going to mean change If some businesses don't hack that, are they businesses we need.
Also it's very harmful for New Zealand to allow any more increase in population.

Far too high and when I go past my winz office I see immigrants being assisted in the office, what is that about? When there is supposed to be a skills shortage you should not need winz...or did you move here for welfare?

To be fair, how do you now they are recent immigrants, they could have been hear for 20 years paying tax and have just fell on hard times.

Could be, however I suspect that after a few years in the country they have their hands out for wff and other goodies not available in their country of origin.

People I have hired so far: 1 Brazilian business analyst, 1 Filipino tester and 1 Indian developer. All of them are on work visa. In case you are wondering why there's no any kiwi, well my boss and my boss' boss are kiwis. And they are your typical middle aged white men LOL.

We have near record low unemployment, so I am very happy that they are here.

What's the going rate for good BA these days in NZ/Auckland?

$115k-125k p.a

yeah, same as Brisbane. Sydney and Melbourne may be another 20K

If you are paying them over $100,000pa then they have my approval and i hope they love NZ and choose to become permanent residents and citizens. BTW that figure is below the average pay for Auckland council IT department a few years ago.

Here's a well known use case out of Auckland.

Recentish arrival, in business, has preference to employ just arriveds from same said country (you do not want to hear reasons given why).

Same as above, following the just arriveds meeting with recentish arrival, the just arrived is asked to make the $13,500 payment so they secure the job with the recentish arrival.

Blessard is the middle man, a mate of the recentish arrival!

It would be interesting to be able to tell the average/medium salary of those on work visas and how many hours they actually work.

More relevant than a picture of packed airport terminal, which depicted people would likely be mostly New Zealanders and tourists, and which is implicitly leading to the reader to some opinion, would be one of the hard working immigrants we welcome every year and that help us with their talent and labour.

Your access to our unique content is free - always has been. But ad revenues are under pressure so we need your direct support.

Become a supporter

Thanks, I'm already a supporter.

Days to the General Election: 37
See Party Policies here. Party Lists here.