Employer Accreditation and Work Visa Changes – Explained

The most significant change to work visa categories in years is happening soon. Here's what employers and migrant workers need to know to best prepare.

Information for Employers

Summary of Changes and Important Dates

The introduction of the Government’s new temporary work visa which replaces existing skills based categories, called the Accredited Employer Work Visa (AEWV), comes into effect from 1 November 2021. In conjunction, a new employer-led check system being introduced will make it easier for businesses with good employment practices to fill certain roles where known shortages exist, according to Immigration New Zealand (INZ), once accreditation is obtained. The new system will also better protect migrants from exploitation, discourage misuse of the immigration system and allow for the increase in skill levels of migrant workers.

Obtaining employer accreditation is the first step required before a migrant applies for a work visa. This first stage is known as the employer check.

The new work visa replaces most existing employer-assisted skills-based work visa streams. Current visa holders under the categories affected retain their visa conditions until expiry. Employing only those with open work conditions (including partnership visa holders, students with work rights, special scheme visa holders like working holiday and seasonal employment) does not require an employer to be accredited.

The categories being replaced are:

  • Essential Skills Work Visa
  • Essential Skills Work Visa – approval in principle
  • Talent (Accredited Employer) Work Visa
  • Long Term Skill Shortage List Work Visa
  • Silver Fern Job Search Visa
  • Silver Fern Practical Experience Visa

All employers affected by the changes need to be accredited with INZ from 1 November 2021, although only need to obtain this when wanting to employ migrant workers on the new visa.

Employers who already hold accreditation with INZ will need to apply under the new system when needing to support a migrant’s work visa application.

Employers are able to seek accreditation from late September 2021. More detail on the exact date, process and requirements will be made available to ProVisas by INZ over coming months.

As with most INZ introduced significant changes, a transitional period is allowed for. INZ have recently acknowledged this is complex and the details are being worked through. However, this we know – certain employer assisted visa categories will close on 30 June 2021.These include: Talent - accredited employer work visas, labour hire accreditation for essential skills work visas, approval in principle for essential skills work visas except for special category roles like fishing vessel crews. If an employer needs to utilise these categories before November they should apply by the end of June, otherwise wait until commencement of mandatory accreditation from November. Employers can still support essential skills work visa category applications made by 31 October 2021.

Due to the expected high-volume of accreditation requests in November, employers who anticipate hiring migrant workers on AEWVs soon after are encouraged to take advantage of the transitional period and apply from September.

Workers who hold or require a further Work to Residence (Talent category) visa in order to be granted residence through submission of a Residence from Work application, will be able to continue with their pathway, provided they remain with the visa supporting employer.

It is important to note that due to the overall impacts of Covid-19, the Minister of Immigration now has specific delegated authority to make amendments to any aspect of the changes, including outlined dates.

Application fees will be applicable for accreditation and are being considered. INZ has given indication these will be made known during August this year. INZ say that fees are likely to be higher for standard accreditation.

INZ have indicated that all accreditation applications should be processed within a matter of “a few weeks”, unless identified issues exist.

What's Involved in Accreditation?

Applications for accreditation can be made using INZ’s Immigration Online system from late September. This has been developed with the employer in mind to make things simple through simplicity and automated system guidance in order to reduce costs. INZ will place weight on employer declarations and utilise publically available information (eg. NZ companies register, job search websites). A New Zealand Business Number will be needed to commence an application and an application fee will be payable upon submission to INZ.

There will be essentially two defined levels of accreditation – standard and high-volume, with additional criteria for franchisees and employers acting as third parties (including labour hire companies).

Standard – for employers who want to have up to 5 migrant workers on AEWVs at any one time.

High-Volume – for employers who want to have 6 or more migrant workers on AEWVs at any one time.

All employers covered by the above are required to meet standard accreditation criteria. High volume accreditation requires the employer meeting the criteria for standard accreditation with additional requirements.

Standard accreditation criteria includes demonstrating a genuine business operation, being registered with Inland Revenue and holding a New Zealand Business Number, have a good recent history of regulatory compliance with employment standards and immigration laws, be required to complete employment modules and provide migrant workers with advice on rights (minimises exploitation risks), covering recruitment costs.

High-volume accreditation’s additional criteria includes the employer demonstrating a commitment to improving pay and conditions for all employees over time through either meeting a minimum pay requirement of 10 percent above the defined minimum wage or be covered by a collective employment agreement. It is also likely an employer needs to demonstrate a commitment to training and upskilling New Zealanders employed.

Additional criteria applies to employers such as franchisees, third party employers like parent or umbrella companies and labour hire companies with closer scrutiny being applied by INZ. This varies depending on the nature of the arrangement. For example, franchisees need to have been operating for a minimum of 12 months and have a history of hiring New Zealand workers

How Long Is Accreditation Valid For?

Initially, 12 months accreditation will be given at all levels. This is likely in order to initially test and monitor employers’ compliance with criteria upon further application. Upon renewal application, 24 months accreditation will be given to standard and high-volume levels, but a further 12 months for franchisees and third party employers.

Information for Employers and Workers

All migrant workers seeking a work visa based on their skillset, renewing their visa with existing employer or seeking a variation of conditions to change employer, need to ensure the employer is accredited with INZ.

A migrant applying for a work visa under the new system will have their offered role assessed by INZ. This second step is known as the job check. This step is to confirm the job is above 30 hours per week, pays at market rate, contractual employment laws are met and the New Zealand labour market has been tested for New Zealanders suitable for the role. The offering employer pays for aspects associated with this step.

Labour market testing is not required for jobs paying 200% of the NZ median wage (currently $25.50 per hour) and those paid at or above this median wage in specified regions. Testing is also not required for jobs in specified cities that are on a skills shortage list and paid at or above the median wage.

Where labour market testing is required, details of advertising requirements and other related factors are yet to be finalized by Government. Along with market rate matters, these two areas are considered by INZ as the most important for this step in the process where changes to the way these areas are currently configured are assured. More information will be provided for by INZ during June-July 2021.

Information for Workers

The final step in the process is the migrant check. Importantly, an applicant making application for an Accredited Employer Work Visa must be requested to apply by offering employer.

The offer must match the components of the job check step. The applicant must be suitably skilled to undertake the role, determined through qualification and/or work experience (note: evidence not required in some instances). The applicant must meet identity, health, character and bona fide criteria. An application fee is payable, the amount is under determination. More information will be provided for by INZ during June-July 2021.

INZ’s determination of length of visa grant is likely to be dependent on payrate. Those earning below the median wage should expect a much shortage visa duration than those earning at or above this wage. Importantly, the median wage is likely to rise from $25.50 to $27 per hour. INZ
had previously given indication this would occur from July 2021, although this may push-out further.

Employer Accreditation and Work Visas - Common Questions Answered:

Should I wait until my employer becomes accredited to apply for a work visa?

People have a choice today to make an application under the current rules to apply where their employer is not accredited, they will not have this choice from July. We always believe that it's better to be certain about your being able to get a work visa than wait until the last minute and experience uncertainty about your temporary status. Even if you have a work visa that expires in a year's time, if you know for sure that you will not be able to earn $27 an hour by the time your work expires or for any other reason, now is the time to apply for your work visa.

My business employs migrant workers on temporary visas/may employ in future, when do I need to become accredited?

It is not necessary to seek accreditation until you want to hire a migrant under the new work visa system. If you only employ migrants on visas with open work rights and under special recognised schemes you don’t need accreditation.

My employer is supporting my work to residence pathway visa, will I be able to continue my pathway?

Yes, but you must remain with your visa supporting employer.

What if I need to vary the conditions of my visa due to change of employer or other conditions after the new system is introduced?

INZ admit this is a contentious area and are working through matters where Ministerial approval will be needed. More detail should be available soon.

How long does it take INZ to make a decision on accreditation?

All accreditation applications will be mostly automated and kept simple, with expected decisions on most being made within a few short weeks once INZ gets up-to-speed.

Can I move from standard to high-volume accreditation and vice versa?

Yes. If you anticipate possibly employing more staff particularly, it is worth seeking high-volume accreditation from the outset provided you are able to meet and maintain criteria. The application fee is cheaper.

What length of visa will I get under the new system?

12 month visas for those with jobs earning below median wage in high labour availability areas, all other visas 3 years validity (including lower paid in low labour supply regions).

What are the “cities” where labour market testing is not required for jobs on a skills shortage list and paid at or above median wage?

Auckland, Hamilton, Wellington, Christchurch, Dunedin.

How long will labour market testing evidence be valid for?

Currently under Ministerial consideration.

Will interim visas be changed under the new system?

No. Will remain the same as current rules regarding validity and conditions depending on visa held at time application made.

Will the currently used skills shortage lists continue?

Yes. Note that the long-term skills shortage list work to residence pathway will no longer exist.

I will be supporting multiple applications at the same time. Can I do this?

Yes. The INZ Online job check gateway is being designed to accommodate multiple application considerations at the same time.

When could accreditation be declined?

If a key person in the company has employment or immigration compliance issues, and if these occurred in the past but the person is no longer on the regulatory list of incompliant employers, applications can be made but will be closely assessed by INZ before reaching a decision.

Do I need to provide the same information provided for previously in future accreditation application?

No. Information provided for previously will be retained in the secure INZ Online system, thus saving time in subsequent applications.

When should I apply for a work visa using the new system?

An applicant must be requested to apply for a visa via the Online system by the offering employer.

If I hold a work visa where am paid below median wage, will I still be subject to the stand-down period?

Yes. Although the stand down period policy is currently suspended until January next year (due to COVID-19 impact on the job market. There is possibility this suspension could be extended further.

I have a Skilled Migrant Category residence application lodged with INZ and am therefore able to avoid the labour market test requirement when renewing my work visa – will this option be retained?

Yes, INZ indicate this is likely.

Can Professional Visa Solutions help an employer to become accredited?

We sure can. We will provide exemplary tailored guidance and advice, an easy-to-follow tailored checklist, samples for what is required, help devise employment related documentation that meets with stringent standards, and administer high service standards throughout the entire process of gaining accreditation through to gaining a maximum visa entitlement to preferred workers without complication. All at very competitive prices.

What to do now?

Contact Professional Visa Solutions for a paid no-obligation consultation with an experienced Licensed Immigration Adviser. If you are an employer looking to make a head start in becoming accredited as a business, or a migrant considering your work visa options, we can accommodate you.

How can I speak with you?

Where can I find more information?

Our website contains an array of useful information including frequent blog articles which give you the latest news with our views: https://provisas.co.nz/

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