13 Oct 2022

Immigration changes: 'Real question marks' in skilled migrant visa reopening

10:36 am on 13 October 2022
Michael Wood

Immigration Minister Michael Wood. Photo: RNZ / Samuel Rillstone

Visa changes for skilled migrants and their parents fail to answer New Zealand's skills shortages, and in the interim it would be tougher to get in, an immigration adviser says.

But Immigration Minister Michael Wood said the new skilled migrant and parent visa system was an attractive offer for people New Zealand needed.

The skilled migrant category, which was shut down when the pandemic started, restarts in November. High income migrants will also be able to apply to have their parents join them in New Zealand for the first time in six years.

Immigration adviser Katy Armstrong said among the good things in the package there were some "real question marks".

The first stage of reopening with the selection of migrants from the existing points system was positive, but would be a "mad scramble" to meet the deadline.

The first selection takes place on 9 November for those with 160 points, with the points requirement then rising to 180, before the new system comes in next year, with no cap on numbers.

Increasing the points was controversial at a time when New Zealand was desperate for skills and Australia was doing the opposite, Armstrong said.

"I get it, we're trying to restrict numbers, so we're just doing it by another mechanism - no cap, but actually it's going to be tougher to get in."

Under the new system for the skills category starting next year, applicants must reach a threshold of six points from a mix of training and experience in their field, qualifications, and income.

They would also be required to have a job or job offer in New Zealand paying at least the median wage, or 1.5 times the median wage for some occupations.

"At the end of the day what really counts is, can we get the people we really need into New Zealand and entice them with a pathway to residence?" Armstrong said.

"What we're really doing here is we're going to put them on a route whereby they have to work possibly for three years to get their residence.

"It's called skilled migrant residence, which used to be our Ferrari - for a tradesperson now it's going to be a Skoda."

It also made no sense that the new system did not fast track nurses for residence, she said.

"In fact I'd be paying a nurse to come in. We used to pay teachers to come in.

"Why resist what everyone can see needs to be done?"

Scheme 'attractive for skilled people' - minister

Immigration Minister Michael Wood said every country was facing the same challenges, and New Zealand's offer was competitive.

"We've got an uncapped scheme - many other countries have what we call a planning range.

"If people meet [the skill level] we'll then process their applications. Under the old system only 40 percent of applications got processed and we're shifting away from that.

"We're trying to get the settings right to really drive the high skills that we need in particular areas."

The six-point system was more simplified category and focused on the skills needed, he said.

"That's about stripping out some of the things that have been in the old system where you got points depending on how old you were or what part of the country you lived in.

"We just really want to focus in on the levels of skill people have."

It was a slightly higher bar than the current 160 point system, he said.

New Zealand's scheme was also more generous on age limits than Australia's, Wood said.

In the mean time, the system was reopening under current settings.

There were 6000 to 8000 people who had their names in for that before the borders closed, Wood said.

On health care workers, Wood said many had a two-year pathway to residence under the Green List, faster than most workers. He was keeping under review whether some should have a straight-to-residence pathway.

The Parent Category Visa restarts with a lower income threshold and higher cap. People who already have expressions of interest in the queue can apply from 14 November, and a ballot for new expressions of interest begins from 12 October, with the first selection taking place in August 2023.

The number of these visas granted each year would increase from 1000 to 2500, with a lower income threshold of 1.5 times the median wage for one sponsor supporting one parent, and twice the median wage for joint sponsors.