Warning over visa rules


Last week, Sean Maskill wrote about the changes to the eligibility criteria for residency applications set by Immigration New Zealand. He suggested that the introduction of the three income thresholds to the skilled migrant residence category could increase flexibility for farmers when hiring non-resident farm managers.

While the changes make it easier for applicants in highly paid employment (jobs where the pay is above $73,299 a year will automatically be recognised as skilled), it will be harder for others, making the changes less flexible.

Firstly, under the new rules, jobs will not be considered skilled unless they meet the minimum income threshold ($48,859).  That means that for experienced Farm Managers (who earn below the automatic recognition threshold of $73,299), they must not only show they are undertaking the required managerial responsibilities (which is already difficult to establish, with the farm owner normally undertaking these responsibilities in New Zealand), but they must also now earn over $48,859 a year.

Secondly, under the changes, essential skills work visa holders will now only be able to stay in New Zealand for a total of three years.  That means, for some farmers who already employ migrants on work visas, their migrant farm worker will have no chance to progress to becoming a New Zealand resident unless they earn above $48,859, will be required to leave New Zealand after three years, and will face a stand-down period before they can apply for another visa.

Consequently, this means that farmers will need to find and train someone else to fill that role, and depending on the nature of the role, this is a difficult and time-consuming process.  

If farm owners wish to avoid their migrant workers from having to leave after the required three year period, farm owners will be forced to ensure their workers are paid above the minimum income threshold, which in some circumstances (particularly in the provinces), is just not realistic.  Further, with most experienced farm managers earning between $67,000 and $71,000 (Federated Farmers/Rabobank Farm Employee Remuneration Survey 2015/16), even these farmers’ jobs will not be automatically recognised as skilled, because the income threshold for automatic recognition of skilled employment will not be met.

Another policy change affecting farmers is that partners and children of migrants on a work visa will only be given visitor visas. They will no longer automatically be entitled to a work or a student visa, and will only gain these if they meet the requirements in their own right. This further limits the options for farmers who may already be finding it difficult to fill lower-skilled roles.

Although the changes to the eligibility criteria will help farmers in some ways, as provincial employers, such as farmers, struggle to attract New Zealand skilled labour, the overall effect of the changes will prove more problematic.

The content of this document is necessarily general and readers should seek specific advice on particular matters and not rely solely on this document. 

If you would like more information on any of the topics in this document, please contact your usual Auld Brewer Mazengarb & McEwen adviser. 

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Lauran Bergin