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New Zealand Work Visa Changes For Level 4 & 5 (April 2024)

April 24, 2024
Iain MacLeod

Following the announcement on 7 April that the government was changing the criteria to secure a work visa if your occupation was ANZSCO ‘skill level 4 or 5’, they have at the same time been warning employers that things are going to change for anyone given the ‘privilege’ of employing immigrants irrespective of the skill level.

There is no doubt that INZ became highly permissive and very little scrutiny of employers seeking accreditation (the right to recruit foreigners), job checks (proof no New Zealander should be able to fill the role), and the applicant themselves (no qualifications required, no work experience necessary) after the border reopened coming up two years ago.

The whole mess needed to be cleaned up and kudos to Minister of Immigration Erica Stanford for leading the charge. I do wonder, though, if she has gone a bit far as the negative press around these changes has gone global.

AEWV Changes To Affect Level 4 & 5 Migrants

Everyone thinks New Zealand is once again pulling up the drawbridge.

It isn’t. Well, it isn’t if you are highly skilled.

As always the fine print of the new rules is interesting  if you can understand them. There is so many of them it makes my head spin. And for every new rule there is an exception. Carve outs everywhere.

If I ever anyone inside INZ use the word ‘simplified’ again….

INZ has told employers to expect decision making to slow down. Funny that! As usual you can have a quick decision or a good decision with INZ but you cannot have both.

It is very clear to us that employers wanting to bring in these lower skill level staff are going to have to put in a lot more energy, time and money to make it happen.

I have no doubt that these bureaucratic barriers have been put in place to incentivize employers not to recruit offshore. To find locals who will fill the roles. Best of luck with that, bosses!

Devonport and Auckland City Skyline

Criteria Changes for Employers Looking to Hire

Employers seeking to fill these lower-skilled jobs will, among other things, have to present evidence that the applicant is qualified through a Level 4 qualification or higher or has three years of ‘relevant’ experience. Employers must:

  1. Provide evidence that the employment history claimed by the migrant has been checked out and verified – they cannot take the migrant’s word for it, and
  2. If practical skills are required, then a practical test must be taken by the candidate, and evidence presented that the person has the necessary skills required. I am interested in better understanding how that happens when the employer is in NZ, and the migrant is overseas. If you want to check someone’s cooking skills, driving skills, care skills, or their ability to drive an excavator or driller…the list is endless.
  3. Qualifications, if required, must be relevant (except if the migrant holds any Bachelor’s degree, in which case no one cares what the major was for some reason). Relevant work experience is defined as being in the ‘same industry or field.’
  4. An introduction of a minimum and, to be fair, pretty low, English language standard.

Assessment Process Changes

On top of all that, there has been a subtle but crucial change to the wording of the assessment process that immigration officers must apply. The rule book used to commonly require an immigration officer ‘to be satisfied’ of this or that. That has now become ‘An immigration will determine if….qualifications are relevant or work experience is relevant’.

That is a very significant shift in the power equation, in my opinion. Bearing in mind if you are applying for a work visa from outside of NZ there is no automatic appeal right if INZ declines the visa, I have a real concern that officers will, in the face of evidence suggesting a visa should be approved, start saying ‘I have determined that X does not have relevant work experience’ and there’s not much you’ll be able to do about it. You will need a good legal Adviser to ensure the applicant is not put in that position to start with. The evidence is now going to be more crucial than ever.

aewv changes 2024
Electrical Engineer Technician meeting clean and green alternati

Fines for Non-Compliant Employers

Earlier today, I attended an online webinar put on by about 6 immigration officers, when one would do, to explain a new sanctions regime being put in place for naughty employers. In a nutshell, if they employ a migrant and get them to do any work that is not in their employment agreement, don’t pay them properly, allow someone to work who doesn’t hold the appropriate visa, don’t report to INZ when people leave and a very long of other conditions, whether knowingly or not, they now face the probability of a monetary fine (starting at $1000 per worker) and we are told almost certain loss of accreditation. That means no more migrant workers.

The days of tens of thousands of lower-skilled migrants coming here to do the jobs New Zealanders simply will not do are pretty much over. On paper, it is fair enough. As a New Zealander, I’ll be very interested to see how my government gets some of the 190,000 ‘job seekers’ being paid with my tax dollars into those jobs.

 If you are desperate enough as an employer, you can still bring these lower-skilled workers over for up to three years with the AEWV, but it is going to be a slow burn requiring significant investments in time, energy, and money. I’d suggest you will need truckloads of patience, and if you do this without a trusted adviser, you’re nuts.

For me, the bigger question, as always, is how far the immigration bureaucrats will take these new rules for employers and work visa applicants. INZ tends to lurch from one extreme to another with their behaviour and I have a horrible feeling this latest policy shift will see things get pretty difficult for genuine and good employers and lower-skilled migrants simply because of a minority of bad eggs who exploited a minority of migrants. It tends to be a case of babies and bathwater with the politicians and bureaucrats I find.

I should add that none of these changes (beyond sanctioning naughty employers) impacts anyone in higher skill level roles, which is virtually all the clients of IMMagine.



Iain MacLeod

Iain has been working as an Immigration Adviser since 1988 and has been running his own practice since 1990. In 1998 he merged his practice with Myer Lipschitz leading to the creation of Protea Pacific Limited which was rebranded in 2008 to IMMagine New Zealand Limited...

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