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Government offers residency hope for thousands of migrant workers

Sep 30, 2021

Thousands of migrant workers stuck in visa limbo will soon have the chance to apply for fast-tracked residency.

The government has confirmed it is setting up a one-off resident visa, that could see about 165,000 people applying.

The one-off 2021 Resident Visa includes over 5000 health and aged care workers, around 9000 primary industry workers, and more than 800 teachers.

Immigration Minister Kris Faafoi said some construction and manufacturing workers would also be eligible.

"We are providing a way forward for our migrant families who have been long disrupted by Covid-19, while ensuring businesses have the certainty they need to plan into the future and continue driving the economic recovery."

"The changes give migrants certainty about their future here, allowing them to continue putting down roots, and will help reunite many families who were separated by the border restrictions that prevent Covid-19 entering the community.

Expressions of interest from skilled migrants for residence visas have been paused since March last year.

Hundreds of doctors and nurses were caught up, with the Association of Salaried Medical Specialists (ASMS) raising concerns of a "mass exodus" with Faafoi's office in June.

Migrant workers fed up with the lack of a residency pathway in the rural sector were also considering leaving the country.

The 2021 Resident Visa would be available to most work-related visa holders, including Essential Skills, Work to Residence, and Post Study Work visas and their immediate family members.

The applicant must have been in New Zealand on September 29 2021 and must hold or have applied for (and subsequently be granted) a work visa.

They must also meet one of the following criteria:

  • lived in New Zealand for three or more years,
  • or earn above the median wage ($27 per hour or more),
  • or work in a role on the Long Term Skill Shortage List,
  • or hold occupational registration and work in the health or education sector,
  • or work in personal care or other critical health worker roles, 
  • or work in a specified role in the primary industries.

The visa will also be available for those who entered New Zealand as critical workers for roles six months or longer until July 31 2022.

Partners and children could be included in the application and Faafoi said the majority of applications would be granted within a year of applications opening.

"This initiative addresses that immediate issue while work on the immigration rebalance looks longer term at preparing for the eventual reopening of New Zealand's borders.

"But our message to industries and employers remains clear; they need to look for ways to build resilient workforces and to attract, train and retain local workers and reduce their reliance on low-skilled migrant labour."

Federated Farmers immigration spokesperson Chris Lewis described the policy as a "sensible solution".

"There will be big smiles in cowsheds and tractors across the country after this announcement."

He said many migrant workers had been eyeing up opportunities overseas which had a greater chance of residency.

"We have been losing people to Australia and Canada. New Zealand farm employers know what a threat these countries and their initiatives are to retaining our experienced agricultural workforce."

Lewis said despite the news it remained imperative that the industry get access to more migrant workers.

"There remains a significant shortfall of agricultural workers in many regions."

Applications for the 2021 Resident Visa would be rolled out in two phases.

From 1 December 2021, people who have submitted a Skilled Migrant Category (SMC) or Residence from Work application can apply, as well as those with dependent children 17 years or older who currently have an SMC expression of interest submitted.

From 1 March 2022, all other eligible applicants, including any others in the SMC expression of interest pool, can apply.

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