New Zealand eases issue of Essential Skills visas

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The streamlined application process to benefit at least 57,000 visa holders

Immigration Minister Kris Faafoi

Staff Reporter
Auckland, July 16, 2021

Immigration Minister Kris Faafoi has announced that the government is increasing the duration of some Essential Skills visas and streamlining the application process to provide more certainty to employers and visa holders while Covid border restrictions remain in place.

The changes will come into effect on Monday, July 19, 2021.

“We recognise the ongoing labour demand pressures faced by some sectors and we want to make the most of the skills we have in the country. Therefore, the government is making it easier for businesses to continue employing their current migrant workers,” he said.

From July 19, 2021, the maximum duration of Essential Skills visas, for jobs paid below the median wage will increase from 12 months to 24 months. The maximum duration of Essential Skills visas for jobs paid above the median wage is already three years.

The application process for Essential Skills visas will also be simplified for workers remaining in their current roles.

Essential Skills visas are available to anyone who is offered full-time employment (30+ hours) in New Zealand and can meet other eligibility requirements. A majority of Essential Skills visa holders work in the service sector which includes tourism, hospitality and retail. 

Labour Market test goes

Employers will not be required to complete a labour market test where a worker is applying for a visa for a full-time role that the worker already holds. These applicants also will not be required to provide medical and police certificates to Immigration New Zealand if that information has been supplied previously.

A labour market test will still be required where employers are filling a job vacancy to prove there are no New Zealanders available before a migrant worker can be hired. This is in line with the Government’s objective to ensure Kiwis are prioritised for jobs.

“These changes complement the recent extension we granted for around 10,000 Working Holiday and Supplementary Seasonal Employment visa holders,” he said.

Tourism Minister Stuart Nash


Tourism Minister Stuart Nash said that the government is listening to business concerns.

“Covid support previously rolled out to businesses has been designed to keep workers connected to employers and keep tourism businesses operating while international borders are closed. The decision to extend Essential Skills visas and simplify application processes is the next step and will be welcomed by sectors like tourism and hospitality where employers are keen to retain their current migrant workers,” he said.

Primary sector feedback

Agriculture Minister Damien O’Connor said that the changes acknowledged feedback he had been getting from the primary sector where employers were desperate to hang onto migrant staff, like dairy farm managers, who had often worked for the same employer for several years on an Essential Skills visa.

“I want to thank the farming leadership that has been working with the government on these changes. This will provide welcome certainty for those farmers and farmworkers, adding to the recent border exception to bring in 200 migrant dairy farmworkers and their families,” he said.

Agriculture Minister Damien O’Connor


Temporary measures

Mr Faafoi said that the Essential Skills visa changes would be temporary measures to support employers in the unique Covid-19 situation and were part of the government’s ongoing review of border settings to balance New Zealand’s economic needs with the successful Covid health response that has kept the virus out of our communities.

“Our long-term vision for immigration settings is to grow talent here in New Zealand and build a more self-reliant labour market. The government’s $320 million targeted investment for free trades training, which has helped just over 144,000 people to train in the past year, is part of that vision,” he said.

“We want to work with sectors and see them develop plans to attract, train and upskill Kiwis into roles, and invest in productivity changes that can help them move away from a reliance on low-paid and low-skilled migrant workers. Many sectors and employers are already looking at how to make those shifts as a result of Covid pressure on the supply of workers,” he added.

Extending Essential Skills visas to the last two years means the new Accredited Employer Work Visa, which was due to come into effect on November 1, 2021, will be delayed until the middle of next year. An update will be provided as soon as an exact date is confirmed.

Mr Faafoi said that the government remains committed to the Accredited Employer Work Visa, which will ensure work visas issued reflect genuine regional skill shortages and strengthen labour market testing.

“However, we expect most Essential Skills visa holders will apply for this two-year visa, meaning the implementation of the Accredited Employer Work scheme would not be viable because of likely low uptake. Employers will be kept updated on any further changes and more detailed guidance on the new system ahead of the introduction of the Accredited Employer Work Visa next year,” he said.

The above Report has been sponsored by

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