Immigration Reset – the impact of Covid-19

I hope all of you and your families are safe and well. Our thoughts are especially with our migrant workers who have remained in NZ away from their families during this unprecedented time.

Things have changed and it is a very unsettling time for migrants. Immigration NZ (INZ) have been making changes over the last 12 months which has had a drastic impact on migrant workers, especially for those hoping to gain residency. Now, with this pandemic putting NZ economy into a tailspin, I suspect we are going to see a lot of migrants in some dire situations.

However, at some point this lockdown will be over and slowly things will begin to return to some normality, but what will the new normal be for employers of migrant workers?

Conditions of Current Work Visas

There will be a lot of employers wanting to change the conditions of their migrant workers visas to be able for them to work in different roles or branches.

In some cases, a variation of conditions application could be made. However, in most cases where a change of position is required a full new work visa application would be required.

Given (INZ) are not currently working on visa applications other than cases they feel are “urgent” (think health care), this makes changing visa conditions very difficult if not impossible. INZ are not even accepting paper applications via couriers so this rules out most variation of conditions applications.

We have seen changes to allow supermarket workers and workers that are associated with the supply of goods to and from supermarkets to change positions until the 25th of April 2020. Could we see the same approach in other industries?

There are concerns around the fact that holders of most work visas are required to work no less than 30 hours per week. There are also concerns over Work to Residence – Accredited Employer – work visa holders and their requirement to be paid at least $55K in the two 12month periods are the work visa was approved. For some, the changes in October 2019 have meant that this is their only chance of being able to gain residency. Therefore, if they miss the salary threshold, they run the risk of not meeting the residency criteria.  

INZ have not addressed these issues to date. We know INZ are working hard to address them but it will take time as most changes need government approval first. However, the longer these questions go unanswered, the longer employers and migrant workers could be seen to be in breach of visa conditions.

Expect Delays

As INZ staff gradually get back to work, there will be a back log of applications that have been lodged online while in lockdown. Therefore, expect significant delays in visa processing.

Also, I wouldn’t be surprised if INZ announce redundancies at some stage as visa applications will drastically drop over the coming months given the border is likely to remain closed for some time. This will only have further negative effects on processing times.

Labour Market Testing – expect much tougher stance

As more and more New Zealanders lose their jobs the labour market will become flooded and this will have an immediate effect on Essential Skills work visa applications where labour market testing is normally required. INZ will have a much tougher stance on whether genuine attempts have been made to recruit a NZder for positions, in particular lower-skilled positions where little or no relevant work experience is required.

Advertising will be thoroughly scrutinised, and it will be important that the documentation provided with the application is of a high standard. I fear that INZ will no longer will visa applicants be given second chances with their applications. INZ managers will be hammering home the fact that the labour market has changes and that work visas should become very difficult to obtain.

In some cases, we will be see cases where migrants are unable to renew their work visas. A lot of employers have become very fond of their migrant workers and have found them much more reliable than most kiwis. This, I’m afraid, won’t be a viable argument in these circumstances and INZ will expect employers to be giving NZders the first chance at these positions, which will be detrimental to the migrant’s chances of retaining their employment and work visa.

Border will stay closed

We expect the border to stay closed for quite some time. Sure, the list of exceptions for certain people to the travel restriction will grow over time but the majority will not be allowed entry to NZ. This will have a big effect on the ability of most employers to bring in the skilled migrant labour they require when the government fast track their infrastructure plans to give the economy a vital boost. However, I am concerned that we may not have enough skilled workers (Engineers, Surveyors, etc) to be able to keep up.

Stand Down Period

We also have the impact of the 12mths stand down coming into effect this year for low-skilled Essential Skill work visa holders. I understand that INZ have amended immigration instructions to allow some health care workers to extend their stay past the three years during this pandemic, but this has not been rolled out across all industries.

This could be a blessing for some employers who are reducing staff numbers. However, one example where this may have a big effect would be Truck Drivers who are in the supermarket’s supply chains. Having a group of drivers leave NZ and not being able to replace them could cause major issues.

Expected Mid-2020 Work Visa Changes

There are some advantages for migrants in the changes that were expected to come into force by mid-2020. I feel that in the circumstances that, although the government want to be seen as supporting migrants, they can’t be seen as providing any advantages. However, these advantages would be for the employer also. Although it would be nice to see the ANZSCO assessment taken out of the assessment of the skill level but I just can’t see that these changes would come in to effect during these times and I would expect it to be delayed.  

Employer Accreditation

INZ was adamant that mandatory accreditation was the way to solve migrant exploitation and I expect that INZ will follow through with bringing this major change in. However, with all that is going on and the associated costs of accreditation, I would expect that INZ would push this back 6-12 months to allow employers to fully recover.

Redundancies and Changes to Employment Agreements

Please be aware that employers must follow the same legal processes for their migrant workers as they do with NZders when varying the employment agreement or making an employee redundant.

Speak to Consulting HQ to ensure you follow the correct process.

There is no doubt that the impact of Covid-19 will be felt in the immigration world for some time to come. In these times, it will be vital that visa applications are put together with care and by experienced advisers. Contact to see how VisaAide can assist you and your migrant workers to get through this.

About the author…

Cameron is highly experienced in visa applications and spent over a decade as a Visa Officer for the Australian Consulate General in New Zealand. Cameron is a licensed NZ Immigration Adviser as well as an Australian Registered Migration Agent.

Cameron has extensive experience with assisting NZ businesses to look after their migrant teams as well as managing approval in principal and accreditation applications. He also specialises in employer assisted NZ work visas and residence visas.

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