Reforms in New Zealand immigration rules benefit high-skilled expats

Expat news
  • New Zealand visa application
Published on 2022-05-24 at 12:00 by Ester Rodrigues
In the process of reopening its borders, New Zealand faces a shortage of labor. Although the country will permit international travelers only on July 31 and visas in October this year, it has announced major reforms to immigration settings, 'the green list', to "increase the available pool of labor, while also speeding up our tourism recovery", said the Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern earlier this month. 

According to Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern, the Accredited Employer Work Visa system will be running from July 4, and it will help employers, as they won't need to provide as much information for issuing, with changes to speed up the process. According to her, skilled labor has been a major constraint on businesses, and these changes will help the country break through that. "This plan will increase the available pool of labor while also speeding up our tourism recovery", she said. On the other hand, politicians in the country have criticized its reductionism in not considering a wide variety of migrants. In August 2021 (compared with the year ended August 2020), provisional estimates on the number of migrant arrivals were 48,000 (± 600), down 66%.


There will be a medium wage for most Accredited Employer Work Visas and for Foreign Fishing Crew Visas at $27.76, avoiding labor exploitation and lower salary for migrants. However, there will be exemptions for sectors including tourism and hospitality, with a salary of $25 per hour until April next year for adaptation during the transition time. Construction and infrastructure, meat processing, seafood, and seasonal snow and adventure tourism sectors will also have lower wages before new agreements are made.

Immigration Minister Kris Faafoi said the 'Green List' intends to simplify applications and residence pathways. It means that migrants in certain high-skilled and 'hard-to-fill' occupations, like engineering, health and ICT, can have guaranteed residence pathways. They must be younger than 56, and their partners will have open work rights. 

"Our rebalanced immigration system will be simpler, reducing categories, bringing more online accessibility and streamlining application processes for businesses", Faafoi said. "Through the Accredited Employer Work Visa, employers won't need to provide as much information, can use their own recruitment processes to prove no New Zealanders are available for work, and Immigration New Zealand will endeavor to have these visas processed within 30 days once an employer is accredited". 


According to Faafoi, new sector agreements to help with the transition are being established to "provide access for specified sectors to lower-paid migrant workers, and all those employers can continue to hire working holidaymakers at any wage".

The Immigration minister in New Zealand recognized the country's need for skilled labor. "The country cannot return to pre-pandemic trends that saw us overly reliant on growing numbers of lower-skilled workers and resulted in the increased exploitation of migrants", he said.

Visa holders with visas expiring before 2023

With the new changes, expats who aren't highly skilled would be affected. However, the government decided to grant 20,000 people six-month extensions or a new two-year visa with open work conditions.

Who's the "expat" New Zealand is looking for? 

National Immigration spokesperson Erica Stanford commented that there are significant unexplained questions about 'the green list'. "Labor has no credibility when it comes to actually delivering the skilled workers they promise". She shared her concern due to a track record of underdelivering. 

Green Party's Ricardo Menéndez March said the changes "fail to guarantee pathways to residency to workers in the types of jobs deemed essential throughout the pandemic, by prioritizing high-income earners, instead of focusing on the wellbeing of workers and enabling migrants to put down roots". Menéndez, who was born in Mexico, criticizes heavily the lack of inclusion on the changes in immigrant policies. 

"The Government is effectively entrenching a two-tier immigration system: one that rewards high-income migrants while keeping low-wage workers on a precarious and temporary status". He adds that immigration policies should not be driven just by profit means. "Migrants aren't just economic units to support employers make a profit. It's grossly unfair to continue to rely on the fruits of migrant workers' labor, and at the same time deny them the opportunity to put down roots in their community", he concludes.