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NZ Tightens Work Visa Eligibility (April 2024)

April 8, 2024
Iain MacLeod

On the 7th of April 2024 the New Zealand Government announced significant changes to work visa rules for lower-skilled people.

To be more accurate they announced an effective return to pre-Covid work visa rules.

Previous Work Visa Rules

This follows a 2-year period since the border reopened where virtually any foreign worker with a pulse was given a work visa for up to five years, any employer that wanted to import workers could with virtually no scrutiny or checks, 97% of business whether good, bad or ugly were granted ‘accreditation’ and INZ itself admitted they cut every corner they could to get decisions made and visas out the door.

Through 2022 criticism of this ‘rubber stamping’ grew with every new revelation of migrants paying big money for what turned out to be bogus or financially dubious job offers and labour-hire companies bringing in hundreds of workers and then going to the wall leaving workers high and dry without jobs, incomes or futures. And at the same time, in the middle of the biggest jobs boom in recent New Zealand history, the local unemployment rate went up.

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Criticism of Previous Work Visa Criteria

It is frankly ridiculous that we are allowing in tens of thousands of low-skilled people to do jobs some of our own unemployed could and should be forced to do.  As I ponder why the Government has really made this announcement three things strike me:

  1. I suspect the government has decided to get tough on those who are capable of work but who are choosing not and I am sure Work and Income will behind the scenes have received a rocket up their lazy backsides to do their jobs properly. Shutting off access to foreign workers is one lever government can try and pull while forcing the bureaucrats to force more ‘job seekers’ to actually seek jobs; and
  2. We are not building enough houses for ourselves to cope with the number of temporary visa holders we are letting into the country and housing unaffordability continues to be high on the list of government headaches; and
  3. Rents continue to increase in the middle of a ‘cost of living crisis’ because we don’t build enough houses.

Of course, one might argue the real issue here is not that we have too many people coming to the country, we aren’t building enough houses but one solution is simpler in the short term than the other.

Regardless, something had to give and the Minister of Immigration has proven true to her word that in her view recent inward levels of temporary workers was unsustainable.

Accredited Employer Work Visa changes

Over the weekend the Minister of Immigration made some major announcements and here is a brief(ish) summary. This only impacts Skill Level 4 and 5 occupations – nothing changes for employers or candidates and Skill Level 1, 2 or 3 jobs. From 7 April anyone obtaining an Accredited Employer Work Visa will have the following rules:

  1. Work visas will only be valid for 3 years, not 5; and
  2. Applicants must demonstrate a minimum standard of English (equal to IELTS 4)*; and
  3. Three years of ‘relevant’ work experience OR a ‘relevant’ qualification comparable to a NZ Level 4 qualification is required; and
  4. Vacancies must be lodged with Work and Income and they will provide information on whether a New Zealand, in their opinion, ‘should’ be able to fill the vacancy; and
  5. Advertisements for these roles must be advertised for 21 days

*This standard is so low as to be laughable.

nz work visa changes 2024

Consequences of Work Visa Change in Policy

As I said earlier, this is not new thinking, apart from the English requirement, such as it is, this is a rehash of previous policy where it was always hard to bring in foreign workers where we had, in theory,  local people available who should be able to do the work.

Understandably the construction sector in particular has slammed the ‘changes’. It is that sector that has benefited most from the ‘let ‘em in if they have a pulse’ largesse of the past two years. However, they do have a point. They do not enjoy the visa process, the cost and time it takes to bring in workers from overseas but when locals simply do not want to work or are not made to work what are they supposed to do?

And that is why I am very confident that behind the scenes you’ll have the Minister in charge of Work and Income (where the so called ‘job seekers’ are registered) having a very stern word in the ear of their leadership – get those capable of contributing and working off their couches and into these jobs.

But it won’t work. Never has.

The irony of all this doesn’t escape me.

The Government that put in place the rules that allowed this ‘surge’ in temporary work visa holders was the Labour Party, the party of the unions and the local working class. The ones who are changing it and making it tougher to bring in foreign workers are National, ACT and NZ First – the first two of which are the standard bearers of ‘free(ish) markets’.

But that’s politics for you.

At the end of the day it’s always political and reducing numbers of temporary visa holders as quickly as possible is designed to let some of the steam out of the economy (inflation) and reduce pressure on housing costs and infrastructure.

Across the Tasman in Australia they are doing similar taking aim at international students as a way of achieving the same outcomes where their post covid ‘surge’ has increased pressure on house prices, rents and infrastructure. New Zealand moved against international students a few years ago so those ‘low hanging fruit’ have been picked already. The only place NZ had to go was to target those lower skilled roles regardless of how much business has come to rely on them since the border reopened.

As always, we swing from one extreme to another.



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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