How Do I Know If My NZ Job Is Skilled?

March 8, 2018
Iain MacLeod

I’m often asked to write pieces on Immigration Policy by my marketing team because they are more widely read than my musings on the life and times of New Zealand. I confess some reluctance to do it because the fundamental reality of Immigration Policy decision-making can’t usually be broken down into bite-size chunks. It is often the case of the whole being greater than the sum of its parts on the one hand and different Immigration Officers interpreting the same rules in different ways on the other.

Today I want to attempt to explain how the Immigration Department decides whether the job offer that you have in New Zealand is ‘skilled’ or not.

The first thing they have to do is to decide whether the job that you have in New Zealand falls into a Skill Level 1, 2, 3, 4 or 5 category. The lower the number the more highly skilled the occupation is, on the face of it. Occupations that fall into Skill Levels 1, 2 and 3 are assessed one way and those which fall into Skill Levels 4 and 5 another.

Dealing with the lower skill level first; if your occupation is Skill Level 4 or 5, the first consideration is what it will pay and the effective hourly rate earned. You must also hold a relevant, recognised qualification comparable to the learning outcomes of a Level 4 New Zealand qualification or higher, a qualification at Level 3 on a New Zealand Qualifications Framework which is exempt from assessment by the New Zealand Qualifications Authority (NZQA) or you must have three years of “relevant” work experience as a substitute for one of the two qualification options.

In terms of remuneration, the effective hourly rate before tax in terms of guaranteed income is NZ$36.44 per hour or higher excluding bonuses, commissions and the value of perks such as motor vehicles, cell phones and so on.

For the Skill Level 1, 2 or 3 occupations (which I should add covers most of our clients), the effective hourly rate must be at least NZ$24.29 per hour. These applicants must also have ‘relevant’ qualifications that are recognised for points and they must have a qualification at the level or above as dictated for their occupation in the Australian and New Zealand Standard Classification of Occupations (ANZSCO) or a certain number of years of work experience in that occupation that might substitute (usually five, but never less than three).

In this regard, New Zealand has adopted an assessment process on jobs which increasingly looks like the Australian General Skilled Migration process and that is to say that you are expected to effectively ‘nominate’ an occupation that you believe fits with your job description. You need to be extremely careful what occupation you choose.

Irrespective of which occupational title you do choose, the Immigration Officer assessing your application is still meant to treat each case on its merit and assess your primary tasks in your role with the task lists for that occupation contained in the ANZSCO or another, more suitable. It can help you influence the outcome if you can work out the right one — which I should add is often almost impossible because in the real world most job descriptions overlap with that of other related occupations.

And that’s when the trouble really begins because the rule book says that an applicant must complete “most” of the tasks listed for that occupation in ANZSCO. The problem with that is the task list provided in the ANZSCO for your job is often, at least in part, shared with other similar occupations which may or may not be ‘skilled’.

Take for example; Retail Manager. ANZSCO has a number of occupations which fall under the general title of Retail Manager and these include: Antique Dealer, Post Officer Manager, Travel Agency Manager, Hair Salon Manager, Betting Agency Manager and General Retail Manager. They are all different but will have some tasks in common. The rule book lists up to eight primary tasks that these occupations might do. The Immigration Officer must therefore decide which of the 8 tasks apply to your particular ‘retail management’ job. On that, in my experience, they do not excel; not made any easier for them that applicants increasingly design their job descriptions and employment contracts around these ANZSCO tasks, for which I cannot blame them. INZ often these days starts with the assumption the role has been embellished or designed to fit the ANZSCO task list and sets out to satisfy themselves the applicant and employer have embellished the role. Sometimes they are right but in our experience with our clients, they are always wrong as we make sure this never happens – if the role isn’t skilled, our clients are told to go find one that is.

I’m sure I have lost you already and this is why I don’t like writing blogs about it because it’s really hard to explain but in a nutshell, what you need to do is:

Make sure you select the most appropriate title that maximises your chances of forcing an Officer to be satisfied that you do “most” of the tasks for that occupation as recorded in ANZSCO. Expect INZ to check with the employer by phone and/or a questionnaire asking them to list what you do all day (to try and catch you and/or your employer out).
Ensure you earn enough money — remember, it is no longer gross salary that determines skill but the ‘effective hourly rate’.
As an important aside, how does the Immigration Department calculate what your effective hourly rate is?

The answer is that they look at the hours that you “may” work and that is full of fish hooks. Most Employment Agreements in New Zealand will confirm that the normal weekly hours are 40 but other such hours as may be required from time to time are expected to be worked without additional remuneration. Sometimes, the Employment Agreement might say employees are expected to work “up to 45 hours a week”. If you might work 45 hours per week then Immigration will look at your gross salary, divide that by 52 and divide that by 45 and that will usually push down the effective hourly rate. That is, even if you only work 45 hours once a year…

This is causing major problems, especially for Human Resources Departments, as we are now constantly asking that Employment Agreements be written in such a way that it takes into account the hours the employer expect the applicant will work; not what they may be asked to work from time to time. Crazy system for establishing skill and as always when these rules are changed in the minds of the policy people to solve one problem (in this case, making it easier in theory to work out what is skilled and what is not), they end up opening a whole new can of worms.

But that is what they have to do and I hope that is of some use to you.

Please do not post questions below on this – if you have a question, we offer a fantastic discrete question answering service which you can access by clicking here (note we charge AUD$15 per question).

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