What is the change? Following a growing trend toward protectionist immigration policies by governments around the world, the New Zealand Government has proposed a “Kiwis first” campaign that will place new rules on employers seeking to hire skilled foreign workers.

What does the change mean? Foreign workers wanting to obtain residence by way of the skilled migrant category must be paid at least NZ$48,859 per year. If a migrant is paid NZ$73,299 per year, his or her job will be considered skilled, even if it is not on the list of skilled jobs. The points system will also be reformed to reward individuals with skilled work experience and recognised post-graduate qualifications, and younger workers, ages 30-39. Additional restrictions and a review of temporary migrant work settings are also planned.

The government is also considering changing the essential skills work visa category. This is the most popular category for entry to New Zealand. The proposals include introducing remuneration bands to align with the new salary thresholds. Additionally, lower skilled work visa holders may only be able to stay in New Zealand for a maximum of three years, at the end of which they must spend at least 12 months outside of New Zealand. Finally, lower skilled migrants may not be able to bring their families with them to New Zealand.

  • Implementation time frame: The changes to the Skilled Migrant Category will come into effect in mid-August 2017. Changes to the essential skills work visa are expected to come into effect at the same time, once the consultation is finished.
  • Visas/permits affected: Essential skills work visas; residence under the skilled migrant category.
  • Who is affected: New Zealand employers recruiting and hiring foreign nationals as skilled migrants.
  • Business impact: The measures are intended to make businesses consider New Zealand citizens first for jobs and to train the local workforce for skills in demand by business.
  • Next steps: The Government will seek public feedback regarding the work visa changes until 21 May,  and plans to implement the measures in August. The changes to residence requirements will come into effect in August.

Background: New Zealand’s Immigration Minister Michael Woodhouse announced the “Kiwis first” policy Wednesday, saying it “strikes the right balance” between reinforcing that Essential Skills work visas are temporary in nature and encouraging employers to hire more Kiwis and invest in training them.

Key proposals:

  • Two salary thresholds will be introduced: one for low-skilled migrants under the skilled migrant category equivalent to the national median income (NZ$48,859 per year), the other for high-skilled migrants equivalent to 1.5 times the national median income (NZ$73,299).
  • The skilled migrant category points system will award more points for skilled work experience and some recognised post graduate qualification, as well as for applicants ages 30-39.
  • Points will no longer be available for qualifications in areas of absolute skills shortage, for employment, work experience and qualifications in Identified Future Growth Areas and for close family in New Zealand.
  • Salary thresholds similar to those mentioned above are also being considered to determine the skill level of essential skills holders.
  • Lower-skilled essential skills visas would be valid for a maximum of three years, and a cooling off period of 12 months would apply before an individual could re-apply.
  • The eligibility of essential skills visa holders to bring their partners and children to New Zealand will depend on their skill levels, rather than being an automatic right.

BAL Analysis: The restrictive proposals came a day after Australia announced it will eliminate and replace the subclass 457 visas and after the United States announced a comprehensive review of H-1B visas – both primary routes for businesses to access skilled foreign labor. New Zealand has been a magnet for immigrants in recent years – the number of foreign nationals obtaining essential work visas spiked 11 per cent from 2015 to 2016. BAL encourages businesses, individuals and other stakeholders to provide feedback during the consultation period which closes 21 May.

This alert has been provided by the BAL Global Practice group and our network provider located in New Zealand. For additional information, please contact your BAL attorney.

Copyright © 2017 Berry Appleman & Leiden LLP. All rights reserved. Reprinting or digital redistribution to the public is permitted only with the express written permission of Berry Appleman & Leiden LLP. For inquiries please contact