The government has reintroduced two visas that have been on hold for years, but with some significant changes it says will make things simpler, more transparent, and more attractive for skilled migrants.
The news was met with a mixed response from migrants and advocates however, and non-government politicians have been critical.
Here's what you need to know.
There are two visas being restarted: the Skilled Migrant Category, and the Parent Category visas.
Both grant residence to incoming migrants, giving them the right to stay in New Zealand including work and study, indefinitely. This is different to temporary entry visas, which give a time limit for work, study or holidays.
The Skilled Migrant category is for people with skills which could help support the economy.
The Parent category is - as might be expected - for parents, (and grandparents, and legal guardians) of people living in New Zealand.
Skilled Migrant was basically the main residence-class visa until it closed to new applications in April 2020, after the border closure in response to the Covid-19 pandemic.
The Parent visa was frozen by the National government in October 2016. In November 2019 Labour announced plans for reopening it for expressions of interest in February 2020, but again Covid-19 got in the way.
The Skilled Migrant and Parent visas will sit alongside the new Green List (for specified highly skilled, hard-to-fill roles) and Highly Paid Residence (migrants earning at least twice the median wage) visas brought in by the Labour government this year, after they were announced as part of the "immigration reset" in May.
This means there are now three main pathways to residence (Skilled Migrant, Green List, Highly Paid), plus the Parent category.
There are also schemes like the Accredited Employer Work Visa, which is a temporary entry visa for.
People working with that visa could apply for the Skilled Migrant visa to live in New Zealand permanently. In 2019, some 94 percent of applicants for Skilled Migrant visas were for people already in New Zealand on temporary work visas.
However, one of the changes the government is consulting on would require people on the Accredited Employer visa who do not meet the criteria for residence to leave New Zealand for at least a year, once they have spent three years in New Zealand. This is called the "stand-down" policy.
The government also gave a one-time residence visa to people who were living in New Zealand during the pandemic. This 2021 Resident Visa is expected to grant residence to about 200,000 people, which the government says is equivalent to more than five years of all residence approvals pre-Covid.
- 5 September: Straight-to-residence Green List applications opens
- 29 September: 'Work to Residence' and 'Highly Paid' resident pathways opens
- 12 October: Government announces Skilled Migrant and Parent category visas to reopen. Expressions of Interest for the new Parent Category ballot open, and consultation opens on the new system for Skilled Migrants
- 9 November: Skilled Migrant category selection at 160 points for those who have already submitted or plan to come to New Zealand based on the current system. This is also the cut-off date for submitting applications under the current system
- 14 November: Parent category restarts for Expressions of Interest currently in the queue. These will continue to be selected, in chronological order, every three months
- 18 November: Consultation on the new Skilled Migrant category closes
- 18 January 2023: Skilled Migrant category selection at 180 points
- August 2023: The first 500 of the new ballot system is drawn for the Parent category, with subsequent ballots taking place once every three months
The government expects to make further announcements about the new Skilled Migrant settings early in 2023, to be in place around the middle of the year.
What's changing - Parent category
The Parent Category visa is restarting with some tweaks built in.
As in the past, it allows New Zealand residents and citizens to sponsor their parents to come to New Zealand.
Their parents must be "of good health and character" with no dependent children and a "reasonable standard of English". Joint sponsors can pool their incomes to meet a threshold required to get the visa for their parents.
They are able to bring in up to six people under this category, with the income threshold increasing based on the number brought in.
This visa allows indefinite stay, but it only allows them to travel in and out of New Zealand for 10 years after they've arrived - after that, they would need to either seek permanent residence or a variation - basically a renewal - of their travel conditions.
- Increased cap: The number of visas available per year increases from 1000 to 2500
- Sibling sponsors: Allowing siblings to co-sponsor applications to meet the income threshold to bring their parents in (instead of the old system of only allowing partners to co-sponsor)
- Balloting: After the first intake next month, which will only select existing visas
The income threshold - the salary level required for people sponsoring their parents to come to New Zealand - is also being lowered:
Up to 2000 people a year will be brought in from expressions of interest already in the queue. The remaining 500 a year will be drawn randomly from the ballot.
The existing queue is expected to take three to four years to clear.
What's changing - Skilled Migrant category
The Skilled Migrant category will remain the same for now, although the government is proposing a series of changes to the system and seeking feedback on it.
It expects those changes to be in place by the end of next year.
Currently, the system gets applicants to submit information on a variety of factors like age, current employment and work experience, income, location in New Zealand, qualifications, and their partner's ability to speak English.
These factors give the person a certain number of points, which they need a certain number of to qualify. The first intake in November requires at least 160 points, increasing to 180 points for following selections from January, until the new system is set up.
To be eligible, jobs must pay at least median wage for ANZSCO 1-3 roles, or 1.5 times the median wage for higher-skilled ANZSCO 4-5 roles, which require lower levels of training and experience. This would remain the same under the new system.
English language ability, health, character and national security requirements will also remain the same, along with a maximum age of 55, although the Ministry of Health is also considering removing that for some medical roles.
Proposed changes include:
- A new points system (see below)
- All applicants will need to have a job or job offer. Previously, some people could gain residence without a job which in some cases meant highly trained people working in unrelated sectors
- No cap on the number of visas granted. (with provisos - see below)
- A higher income requirement for some specific roles, including in retail and hospitality, to manage labour market risks
The new system would only require six points, calculated under the following table:
Immigration Minister Michael Wood says although the number of points is much lower, the new simplified system will require a slightly higher bar in some respects than the 160-point threshold, while doing away with some factors like age.
In 2017-2019, the second and third highest approvals were for general retail managers and cafe or restaurant managers.
The previous system did not have a specified cap number, but used a 'planning range' each year to limit the number of residence visas annually. In 2019, only about 40 percent of applications were processed.
The new system will do away with this planning range, but the government says it will still manage the flow of migrants into New Zealand through Immigration NZ adjusting its resources "based on forecasting and process 'to demand' as it does for temporary visas".
The government says these changes will achieve four things: aligning with the changes made as part of the "immigration rebalance"; giving more certainty to migrants and employers through a more transparent system; improving processing times by making it easier to administer; and reducing risks.
These risks include misuse of visas, immigration fraud and exploitation, and the creation of jobs mainly for the purpose of securing residence for migrants.
The government also plans to make changes so that some roles which are classed as higher-skilled (ANZSCO 1-3) will be treated as lower-skilled (ANZSCO 4-5), because they are associated with these kinds of higher immigration or labour market risks.
- Cafe and restaurant managers
- General retail managers
- Hospitality, retail and service managers not specified elsewhere
Cooks will also be affected because the occupation is being moved to ANZSCO 4-5 when the list is updated to version 1.3.
The government says this will apply "where employers should be able to draw on the domestic labour market and/or temporary migrant workers, including some roles in retail and hospitality".
It means those roles would - like other ANZSCO 4-5 roles - need to be earning the higher salary level of 1.5x the median to be eligible.