Getting a skilled work visa for New Zealand is set to become tougher after the Government announced a package of changes to tighten access to the nation’s long term immigration.

The changes will affect permanent and temporary visa streams and according to Immigration Minister Michael Woodhouse they are aimed at attracting the best candidates from overseas. He said the changes will come into force sometime later this year.

‘The Government is committed to ensuring inward migration best supports the economy and the labour market. It’s important that our immigration settings are attracting the right people, with the right skills, to help fill genuine skill shortages and contribute to our growing economy,’ he said.

Two remuneration thresholds will be introduced for applicants applying for residence under the Skilled Migrant Category (SMC), which Woodhouse said will complement the current qualifications and occupation framework.

One remuneration threshold will be set at the New Zealand median income of $48,859 a year for jobs that are currently considered skilled. The other threshold will be set at 1.5 times the New Zealand median income of $73,299 a year for jobs that are not currently considered skilled but are well paid.

The SMC points table, under which individuals claim points towards their residence application, will also be realigned to put more emphasis on characteristics associated with better outcomes for migrants.

‘Collectively these changes will improve the skill composition of the SMC and ensure we are attracting migrants who bring the most economic benefits to New Zealand,’ Woodhouse said, adding that the Government is also proposing a number of changes to temporary migration settings to manage the number and settlement expectations of new migrants coming to New Zealand on Essential Skills work visas.

Remuneration bands will be introduced to determine the skill level of an Essential Skills visa holder, which would align with the remuneration thresholds being introduced for Skilled Migrant Category applicants.

There will be a maximum duration of three years for lower skilled and lower paid Essential Skills visa holders, after which a minimum stand down period will apply before they are eligible for another lower skilled temporary work visa.

Change will also see the ability of Essential Skills visa holders to bring their children and partners to New Zealand being aligned with the new skill levels while there will be research undertaken to find out which occupations have a seasonal nature and ensuring that the length of the visa aligns with peak labour demand.

‘I want to make it clear that where there are genuine labour or skills shortages, employers will be able to continue to use migrant labour to fill those jobs. However, the Government has a Kiwis first approach to immigration and these changes are designed to strike the right balance between reinforcing the temporary nature of Essential Skills work visas and encouraging employers to take on more Kiwis and invest in the training to upskill them,’ Woodhouse explained.

‘We have always said that we constantly review our immigration policies to ensure they are fit for purpose and today’s announcement is another example of this Government’s responsible, pragmatic approach to managing immigration,’ he added.