Potential changes to New Zealand’s immigration policies in the wake of government change

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Special Counsel

What does the change of Government mean for New Zealand’s Immigration policies and system moving forward?

Whilst the final makeup of the New Zealand Coalition Government has not yet been confirmed, the National and Act parties will form a coalition.  This article reviews the announcements made by the two parties in relation to immigration and the new immigration policies that we may see introduced over the next three years.

What changes does the National Party (National) wish to introduce?

National wishes to get New Zealand’s immigration settings “right”.  As National’s Immigration spokesperson Erica Stanford said during the campaign, if New Zealand wants to attract and retain skilled migrants, the country needs “sensible solutions that make New Zealand more attractive without costing taxpayers”.

National announced that it would introduce a “New Parent Visa boost”. The aim of this visa would be to allow relatives to visit family members in New Zealand for five years, with the possibility of renewing the visa for another five years.  Applicants would need to be sponsored by their children or grandchildren and would not be eligible for New Zealand superannuation or other government support. They would also need health insurance during their stay and meet standard health and other requirements.

National also announced that it wants to boost the number of international students coming to New Zealand.  The numbers dropped significantly due to the closed border during the Covid-19 pandemic. Following its re-opening, New Zealand has struggled to compete with other countries such as Australia who have had international students return in large numbers. Therefore, this would be welcomed by the education sector.

National announced that it intends to:

  • Bring in fast track visa processing for student visa applicants who pay an additional fee.
  • Increase the hours international students may work from 20 to 24 hours.
  • Expand work rights for international students and their partners to make New Zealand a more attractive destination.

National also announced its plan to boost the tech sector and attract top talent.  Specifically, it wishes to:

  • Introduce an International Graduates Visa. This would be a three-year open work visa for highly educated people who have graduated with a bachelor’s degree or higher within the last five years from one of the top 100 universities in the world. This category will initially be capped at 500 successful applicants in the first year.
  • Introduce a Global Growth Tech Visa. This will be a residence visa for people with highly skilled specialised skills who have worked at a top global tech company earning at last NZD400,000 per annum. It will initially be capped at 250 successful applicants.
  • Introduce a Digital Nomad Visa. This will be a 12-month visa to attract skilled, highly mobile people to come to New Zealand while working remotely for an overseas-based company, with the option to apply for a work or residence visa later if they choose to stay. This visa will also initially be capped at 250 successful applicants in the first year.

What changes does the ACT Party (ACT) wish to introduce?

ACT has also announced that it wishes to introduce a Unite Visa that would enable relatives to visit family for up to five years at a time, with a renewal requirement each year.  Parents and grandparents on the Unite Visa would also have to pay an annual NZD3,500 fee to cover potential health costs.

ACT’s other proposals are:

  • Providing those working in all occupations on the Green List a fast-track to residency by removing the “work to residence divide”, which is the two-year time frame that some applicants must wait.
  • Simplify the Accredited Employer Work Visa scheme by abolishing labour market tests, wage rules, and make it easier for migrants to move between accredited employers.

ACT has also proposed that:

  • All major immigration policy decisions will be subject to a Regulatory Impact Analysis to make sure the benefits of a policy outweigh the costs.
  • Ensure the Skilled Migrant Category offers an efficient and predictable pathway for migrants of all skill levels and occupations.
  • Tackle the sources of Immigration New Zealand’s slow processing times to remove uncertainty and frustration for people who want to bring their skills to New Zealand

No specific details were provided as to how ACT wishes to achieve the last two goals.

What about the New Zealand First Party (New Zealand First)?

It is unclear at this time whether New Zealand First will be needed to form a coalition government. However, its proposals are:

  • Replace the Accredited Employer Work Visa with a Critical Skill and Labour Shortage Visa
  • Maintain the Parent category visa cap at 1000 and ensure that sponsors can adequately support and fund their family during and after migration.
  • Introduce a “rural visa scheme” that will apply to communities of less than 100,000 residents, while introducing into law an obligation for migrants to stay in their specified place of settlement until, and two years after, they have secured permanent residency.
  • Guarantee that immigration policy is based on New Zealand’s interests such as meeting critical skill gaps.
  • Develop strategies that encourage regionally dispersed immigration so that it lessens the burden on already overloaded urban cities.

Moving Forward

National and ACT’s announcements indicate some common thinking.  They both intend to bring in a long-term visitor visa for parents and grandparents of New Zealand citizens or residents.  It seems likely that ACT would also support National’s plans in relation to international students and the tech sector.   However, it will be interesting to see if National agrees with ACT’s desire to simplify the Accredited Employer Work Visa scheme.

If New Zealand First also joins the coalition government, there is potential for some significant disagreement on policy direction.  This would be unfortunate at a time when migrants and employers need certainty in immigration policies..

Our immigration team will continue to monitor any announcements and provide updates as any changes to New Zealand’s immigration policies are announced.

Special thanks to Special Counsel Nicky Robertson for preparing this article. 

Disclaimer: The content of this article is general in nature and not intended as a substitute for specific professional advice on any matter and should not be relied upon for that purpose.

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