Obtaining Residence in New Zealand – Proposed changes to the Skilled Migrant Category

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Following its suspension in April 2020, the Skilled Migrant Category (SMC) reopened in November 2022, a decision that was welcomed by hundreds of migrants who have temporary work visas and have been ineligible for residence by any other means.

What is the SMC?

It is a points-based system where migrants submit an Expression of Interest (EOI) to Immigration New Zealand (INZ). Once the migrants receive a formal Invitation to Apply (ITA), they then have four months to submit their formal residence application to INZ.  

Before the pandemic, SMC was the main residence visa category for migrants able to fill identified employment opportunities in New Zealand.  

When did the SMC reopen?

On 11 November 2022, INZ resumed selecting EOIs and started issuing ITAs to migrants who were eligible for 160 points.  On 18 January 2023, INZ increased the minimum selection criteria to 180 points. 

Why is the government changing the SMC?

At the same time as INZ announced the reopening of the SMC, it advised that the future direction of the category was also being reviewed. Therefore, the Ministry of Business, Innovation and Employment (MBIE) is currently consulting on the long-term direction of the SMC. This is part of the government’s drive to “rebalance” the immigration system. 

What are the proposed changes?

  • A new, simplified points system. The proposed maximum points threshold will be six.  
  • Varying points will be awarded to migrants who hold professional registration; qualifications between levels 7 to 10; or for those earning a high income (being paid at 1.5 or 3 times the median wage).  
  • Further, up to a maximum of 3 points, can be claimed for skilled work experience in New Zealand. However, skilled work may be limited to employment in Australian and New Zealand Standard Classification of Occupations (ANZSCO) 1-3 level occupations paid at the median wage, or ANZSCO level 4-5 occupations paid at 1.5 times the median wage. ANZSCO is a system to define and rank occupations, which INZ has relied upon for many years. 
  • An obligation to leave New Zealand, after a defined period, if a migrant is unable to qualify for residence under the new SMC system. 

What could this mean?

The most significant of the proposed changes are those limiting applicants to only being able to claim for skilled work experience in New Zealand, and also requiring them to depart New Zealand if they do not qualify.  

If these changes are implemented, this will result in migrants who have with extensive periods of overseas work experience, who do not meet one of the other points criteria, being ineligible for residence and having to leave New Zealand.   

This could severely limit the number of people who are able to gain residence. As a result, many migrants may simply choose not to come here, as there is no long-term visa certainty for them or their families. Therefore, there is a valid concern that this will limit the number of workers available to New Zealand employers.   

What can be done now?

MBIE has indicated that the proposed changes will be introduced in or around July 2023.  

Therefore, if there is a risk that you or your business’ employees may not meet the new SMC system, it may be prudent to investigate applying under the existing SMC, before the changes in July.   

We’re here to help!

Our Immigration Team can assist by:

  • undertaking an assessment of you or your employee’s potential eligibility under the existing SMC;
  • if eligible, helping you or your employees to prepare the EOI, 
  • once the ITA is received, assisting with the formal residence application.

For initial advice on whether you or your employees are eligible to apply for residence now, please contact a member of our Immigration Law team. 


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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