When Opportunity Knocks

March 4, 2022
Iain MacLeod

The Southern Man takes a break this week as he packs his suitcases (and hopefully some decent duty-free for the office) to return to the shores of NZ where, as of 04 March, MIQ and even self-isolation for returning Kiwis is now thankfully a thing of the past.

It is funny how events unfold and as case numbers of the Omicron variant shoot upwards in New Zealand (knocking on 20,000 as of yesterday) like they have in many other countries, our political ‘leaders’ have all but done a complete turnaround in terms of restrictions, particularly at the border. What once was the team of five million is now, fend for yourselves (in a good way of course). As our Covid Response Minister remarked some months ago…Omicron is going to make some decisions for us and it clearly has been calling the shots as of late.

For the first time in two years, common sense has made a dramatic comeback, a bit like bike shorts from the 80’s, only we hope the common sense is more permanent.

Logic suggests that the more Covid we have circulating in the community, the less any sort of border restrictions make sense and it seems that the Government is realizing that. As restrictions to manage Covid in the community reduce, including self-isolation periods, the natural flow-on effect is to gradually lower the drawbridge to people coming in – particularly when Covid cases coming in to the country are far outweighed by those we already have here.

Our recently announced border reopening plan has since been adjusted to remove the need for self-isolation for those arriving from Australia from 02 March and then for all eligible travelers from anywhere in the world from 04 March. Considering people travelling here are at a greater risk of catching Covid in New Zealand than bringing it with them – logic has prevailed.

And it seems that this common sense and logic may be spreading (perhaps not as fast as Omicron) with signals that other steps in our border plan may be pulled forward under the same broad idea. That could see Visa free travelers being able to enter NZ earlier than predicted or potentially those with Visas who are offshore being able to head back sooner. The tourism sector could do with the boost (not the vaccine kind) and we could also benefit from some of the skills that might return with those who have secured Visas and are ready to come over.

The days of MIQ seem well and truly over, at least for the vaccinated (the unvaccinated will still enjoy a stint in our Government quarantine facilities) and thus we can put an end to the lottery of human misery that system represented.

There is also, in amongst all of this, a very significant opportunity for those who are contemplating the move to New Zealand or who are in the process of making that move. With MIQ all but dead and buried and the Government being pushed to continue to relax border requirements, employers are starting to pop up from behind the Covid curtain to consider recruiting from offshore – to fill those ever-increasing skills gaps.

For a group of people sitting offshore, who are able to secure jobs here there is a very real opportunity to get here and then stay permanently. As to who this might apply to, very broadly it falls in to three categories:

·         Those who can secure employment here within a healthcare role (and the definition is very broad, so not just nurses and doctors).

·         Those who are part of a class exemption, which currently includes Veterinarians, Auditors and Teachers among others.

·        Those who have specialist, technical or unique skills that can earn a particular salary level (which is reducing from $106,080 per annum to $84,240 in a month or so). * (see footnote).

If you are in one of the above camps and secure a job offer whilst offshore and then are able to meet the specific border exemption criteria to qualify for a Critical Purpose Visa to travel here, the 2021 Resident Visa pathway is also potentialy available as a means to keep you here permanently.

That presents a very real opportunity for a number of people to make the move in the first half of this year and have a much simpler, streamlined pathway to Residence than the Skilled Migrant Category might offer. The 2021 Resident Visa category is available to anyone who enters NZ on a Critical Purpose Visa where that Visa was issued for a role that fits within one of the three groups above and who secures a Visa valid for more than six months (up to 12 months).

So in practice, an overseas Teacher who is registered in NZ and secures a job offer here, could secure one of the above Visas valid for twelve months, enter the country and then almost immediately apply for Residence under the 2021 Resident Visa pathway.

For Residence under this category, there is no English test, no age limit and no pass mark to achieve. It seems that the Government realized that those we are bringing in under the temporary Critical Purpose Visa pathway are also the same ones we would like to keep long term.

There are of course a few catches. Not all occupations qualify of course and even within the above example there are some criteria to meet and also caps on the total number that can come through. Also you must arrive in New Zealand before 31 July 2022 and make the application for Residence before that date, which of course means the clock is ticking and with MIQ being ditched and borders slowly prying open, the days of this Critical Purpose option are numbered. Eventually we will return to “business as usual” with offshore Work Visa processing set to resume in July, although if the Government gets their bike shorts on, that may come forward slightly. So it is an opportunity but not one that will last forever.

The last fly in the ointment is having to deal with INZ and them being able to process the application for your Critical Purpose Visa in time. With their resources stretched across the vast sea of onshore 2021 Resident Visa applicants and a management structure that makes quick sand look stable, it won’t be simple – but it is still very much worth pursuing.

Fortune favours the bold, so if you are a Teacher, Veterinarian, Auditor, ICT professional or even if you just have some good skills that might be useable here (and we need a fair few), then this option might just be the best one we have seen in a long time. Of course you would need to move relatively quickly and we need to establish your overall eligibility first but we have plenty of tools for that, having traversed this very complicated Visa process for the last two years.

However even if this move might be at a pace too fast for you, the fact that common sense is descending upon New Zealand like a welcome ray of sunshine, bodes well for anyone who has or is contemplating a move. I have no doubt that the pressure that has been building on this Government to move faster with the borders and reconnect New Zealand to the rest of the world is only gathering more momentum.

With the peak of Omicron set to hit New Zealand in mid-march, hospitalization rates increasing but not at the pace predicted and very few people requiring intensive care, the rationale for a closed or even slightly closed border lessens each day.

This very much feels like New Zealand’s big international “come back” moment (without the bike shorts) and we not only welcome it, but will be on hand to assist all those who would like to take advantage of it. The question for those wanting to make the move, is if opportunity is indeed knocking are you going to answer the door – we certainly hope you do.

* Update – INZ have since confirmed that from 13 March when the salary level for other critical workers is reduced to 1.5 times the median salary ($84,240) – those people will not have a pathway to Residence. However they are still considering whether people who earn twice the median wage under this category will keep that pathway. More details to follow.

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