18 Apr 2020

Work visa rules relaxed during lockdown

8:12 am on 18 April 2020

The government has eased visa rules to allow businesses to make greater use of immigrant labour during alert levels 3 and 4.

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The changes mean some immigrants can start new jobs.

Until now, only health, supermarket and aged care workers had been allowed to change their roles or hours.

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Employers and immigrants have been told that has now been extended to other essential sectors, which according to the Covid-19 website include utilities, education, financial services, construction and accommodation providers.

Immigration New Zealand (INZ) said the changes that could be requested include:

  • Any staff who are student visa holders to work full time for that employer
  • Any staff who are employer-specific work visa holders to work for that same employer in any occupation
  • Any staff who are work visa holders to work for a different employer in the same region in the same occupation as they are currently employed.

The changes will be allowed to extend up to six weeks after the country moves to Alert Level 2.

"The short timeframe will enable employers in essential industries to maintain their labour pool as hiring would be very difficult while New Zealand remains at Alert Level 3 or 4," said INZ.

"This means that the ability of employers to move migrant workers between roles, or employ them for more than would normally be allowed will end when recruitment of New Zealanders becomes possible under fewer restrictions on recruitment and movement of New Zealanders."

It went on to spell out the help immigrants in financial hardship can access, including emergency accommodation and supplies.

"Currently our advice to people who are here from overseas, who are not currently employed, and are experiencing financial difficulty during COVID-19 alert level four is to talk to their Embassy or Consulate for assistance," said an INZ email to stakeholders.

"This includes workers here on a Recognised Seasonal Employer scheme, working holiday, short-term visa, students and tourists.

"If you are unable to secure self-isolation accommodation, some limited assistance can be provided to find accommodation to self-isolate by contacting the Temporary Accommodation Service (TAS) to register on 0508 754 163.

"In extreme cases where you cannot obtain essential supplies during phase 4, contact can be made with the local Civil Defence Emergency Management (CDEM) Groups (0800 numbers on their website) here."

Meanwhile, INZ said it had limited visa processing capability but was now in a position to start processing some other visa categories.

They included student visas, post-study work visas, victims of domestic violence and partnership visas.

"Due to Immigration New Zealand's limited visa processing capacity, the assessment of these applications or requests may take longer than usual," it said in a statement.

On its website it said it would only usually be processing applications on that list, except ones related to the Covid-19 response.

''But immigration officers will retain the discretion to prioritise other applications where the circumstances of the application require particular urgency," it said.

''INZ is focusing on processing applications that are a priority and can be processed within the current operational constraints.

''We appreciate this will be disappointing news for those people affected, but we are continuing to review our priorities and are hopeful we will be able to process more visa types in the near future.''

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