Successful stand against the stand down sees change to temporary work visas

Immigration New Zealand has announced changes to temporary work visas – a direct result of The Regions’ stand against the stand down petition.

Stand downs for workers on temporary work visas earning the NZ Median wage ($53,000 per annum) will not be required, under changes announced by Immigration New Zealand, on the back of Industry stakeholders submissions, and The Regions Stand Against the Stand Down petition.

Last year, we petitioned nationwide for the proposed stand down of low skilled work visa holders, knowing it would have dire consequences for New Zealand’s rural community and dairy farming sector. 

Yesterday, Immigration New Zealand announced changes would be made to the way employers recruit some migrants for temporary work in New Zealand, with these changes set to happen between now and October 2021.

The Regions managing director Ben De’Ath is extremely pleased to see our advocating for policy changes, supported by the wider Regions community, has made an impact. “As we thought might be the case, immigration changes will come into effect during the 2020 election year, but exactly what these changes are is yet to be determined as there isn’t a lot of detail that is available just yet,” De’Ath says. 

“However, Immigration New Zealand’s announcement is positive news and can be seen as a step in the right direction for New Zealand’s rural communities.”

Immigration changes for good

Included in Immigration New Zealand’s announcement were changes to the visa application process, visa and job categorisation, sector agreements, and family reunification.

  1. How this effects potential stand down

One of the most debilitating suggestions of last year was the proposal to stand down low skilled work visa holders on dairy farms, after three consecutive years on a one-year work visa. We will now see the level of pay used to categorise a job in place of the existing skill bands for all work visa holders, and evolution away from ANZSCO as a means of defining skill levels.

From mid-2020, Immigration New Zealand will not use ANZSCO codes in this assessment and instead use only the rate of pay. 

  • High-paid jobs will be defined as those that pay at, or above, the median wage of $53,000 per annum. High-paid jobs will receive the same benefits as jobs that are currently categorised as mid- or high-skilled
  • Low-paid jobs are those that pay below the median wage. Low-paid jobs will be treated the same as low-skilled jobs.

Given that very few people working on a dairy farm will earn less than $53,000 per annum, providing houses are valued correctly, this is the long-awaited cancellation of the stand down and great news for the agricultural sector. Kudos to Immigration Minister Iain Lees-Galloway and colleagues for getting this right. 

However, it is important to note: For roles not paying the median wage ($53,000) the stand down may still be an issue. People who hold visas based on lower-skilled work (paid under median wage) will still have to leave New Zealand for a one-year stand down period after they have been working for three years.   

With unemployment at an all time low and many sectors and employers screaming out for staff, one has to wonder the practicality of standing anyone down. We predict this to be a political football coming into the election campaign, and likely to see further policy review yet.

2. Family reunification made accessible

At The Regions, we support our farmworkers through the transition of moving to New Zealand. Our pastoral care extends to bringing families of farmworkers to New Zealand. This hasn’t always been easy and impacts on how settled our farmworkers can be. Immigration New Zealand’s announcement now enables the (skilled) visa holder to support their family to come to New Zealand.

“This is long overdue, but thank you to policy-makers for getting this right!,” says De’Ath. “Open visa access for high-paid jobs in rural regions means we finally have policy in place which recognises rural New Zealand and its needs. This is perhaps the biggest victory for rural communities and supports us in solving the labour shortage problems we face.” 

3. Mandatory accreditation and employer-led work visas

This is a positive policy change and an extension of the process we already have in place. In simple terms, this allows the process to consider the employer and ensure they are suitable professionally and ethically to support work visa holders in their business. 

From 2021, employers who seek to onboard migrant workers on the new temporary work visa will use a three-step process:

  1. An employer check — it will be mandatory for all employers, including those with an existing accreditation, to be accredited under the new application process before they can hire migrants on the new work visa.
  2. A job check — this will include checking that the job is paid in line with the New Zealand market rate. In some cases, it will include a labour market test to ensure New Zealand workers are not available.
  3. A worker check — when the worker applies for a visa, they must show they meet our standard character, identity and health requirements, as well as showing they have the skills to do the job they have been offered.

The not so good changes 

These immigration changes to come into effect on 7 October 2019. This means that for anyone else who has applied, or been approved prior to this date, the $55,000 per annum band will apply.

  • Talent Work visa salary threshold

These changes include increasing the Talent (Accredited Employer) Work Visa salary threshold from $55,000 to $79,560 (150% of the current median salary). People currently holding Talent (Accredited Employer) Work Visas, and those who apply before 7 October, will still be able to apply for residence based on the salary threshold of $55,000.  

Notes for employers

For employers who are accredited and have staff working full time earning close to $55,000 per annum on a work visa ($26.45 per hour including houses), it is advised that workers apply for a Work to Residence visa before 6 October 2019.

“If you’re an employer of a migrant worker on a temporary work visa please get in touch with our team,” advises De’Ath. “We can evaluate your options in light of the upcoming change but we are aware that it is a tight deadline.”

Future changes

Over the next 18 months there will be further changes and a national election in 2020 as well. We will be updating this article as new announcements from government come to light, so stay tuned for more news on this topic.

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