Immigration New Zealand has announced several important changes to the Skilled Migrant Category (SMC), with a new points-based system starting in October.
There are also several other announcements that will affect migrants and their employers, such as the duration of Accredited Employer Work Visas (AEWVs), changes to interim visas, and welcome changes to the United Kingdom (UK) Working Holidaymaker Visa.
What is happening to the SMC?
The current SMC is being revised so that the way migrants qualify is simplified.
15 August 2023 is the last day that migrants can submit Expression of Interests (EOI) under the current SMC system. The following day, INZ will select and assess all EOIs. However, only EOIs that are assessed as being credibly eligible for 180 or more points will receive an Invitation To Apply (ITA). Migrants who receive an ITA can then submit a formal resident visa application.
When will the revised SMC system come into effect and how do migrants qualify?
The revised SMC system will come into effect on 9 October 2023.
To qualify under the new SMC system, migrants must have either current skilled employment or an offer of skilled employment with an accredited employer. When assessing whether employment is skilled, Immigration Officers will check that the employment is a “substantial match” with stipulated occupations within the Australian and New Zealand Standard Classification of Occupations.
Migrants must also demonstrate that they are eligible to be awarded at least six points. Points can be awarded for:
- Occupational registration; or
- Recognised qualifications; or
- Income; and
- One point per year of work in Aotearoa New Zealand, up to a maximum of three years.
Migrants must also meet English language requirements, as well as health and character requirements.
Accredited Employer Work Visas to be extended to five years
Immigration New Zealand has also announced that, from November, it will enable migrants with AEWVs to extend their visas to a maximum of five years. However, if migrants are unable to qualify for residence within those five years, they must then spend 12 months outside of New Zealand before being eligible for further AEWVs.
Changes to the Highly Paid Pathway to Residence
The existing Highly Paid Pathway to residence will be incorporated into the new SMC system. In effect, migrants will continue to have a two-year pathway to residence if they have a job paying at least twice the median wage.
For migrants who already hold an Accredited Employer work visa and are working towards residence on the basis of being paid at or above twice the median wage, INZ has put in place transitional arrangements.
Will there be any changes to interim visas?
From 9 October 2023, SMC applicants may be eligible for 24-month interim visas, whilst their resident application is being considered. There are exceptions and conditions, of course, but in many cases these visas will enable the migrants to continue to work, whilst their residence application is being considered, without the need to apply for a further work visa.
What are the recent changes to the UK Working Holiday Scheme?
The upper age limit has increased to 35 years. Also, the visa can now be granted for up to 36 months from the date of arrival. This change is due to the recent Free Trade Agreement between the UK and New Zealand. It will be welcomed by both UK working holidaymakers and employers. However, UK working holidaymakers need to be aware that the additional duration of the visa means that they must complete medical and police checks.
Seeking immigration advice
If you are an accredited employer who has current or prospective overseas workers looking to understand their residence options, it is important they obtain tailored advice.
Seeking tailored advice is particularly important for migrants that your business needs to retain long-term. If those migrants are unable to qualify for residence, they will be obligated to leave New Zealand after five years.
For those employers with UK working holidaymakers, it is also important to be aware of the expiry date of their visas and to ensure they are managing the timeline, so as to lawfully work for the permitted 36-months.
If you or your business has any immigration queries, please contact our immigration team.