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Migrant worker visas extended to address labour uncertainties

Dec 21, 2020

The government is extending the visas of many migrant workers to ease labour shortfalls.

As part of a package announced tonight, working holiday and employer-assisted work visas will be pushed forward six months.

A 12-month stand-down period for low-paid Essential Skills visa holders working in New Zealand for three years will also be put on hold until January 2022.

The Immigration Minister Kris Faafoi said the changes would help businesses retain migrant workforces.

"With the labour market outlook being more optimistic, we are implementing a range of changes to ensure the migrant workforce already in New Zealand can supplement employers' efforts to recruit New Zealanders who have lost jobs due to COVID," Faafoi said.

"The visa setting changes will run well into 2021, providing certainty for employers and workers.

"We will continue to watch closely how the labour market develops and whether further extensions are needed."

He said there were about 192,000 migrant workers in New Zealand, but without the changes the numbers would fall as visas expired and border restrictions meant limited numbers of new workers were able to come into the country.

But he said employers would still have to prove no New Zealanders were available before hiring new migrant workers.

Immigration Minister Kris Faafoi. Photo: 2020 Getty Images

"Our priority remains to help get New Zealanders into jobs and we encourage employers to continue focusing on longer-term workforce planning, training, and improving wages and conditions to attract a local workforce."

Immigration New Zealand said it would maintain the 2019 median wage of $25.50 per hour for its immigration settings until at least July 2021, when the median wage will rise to $27 per hour. It said it will contact all eligible visa holders.

The changes are: Employer-assisted work visa holders (and their partners and dependent children) who have a job and whose visas are expiring from January to July 2021 will have their visas automatically extended by another six months. The stand-down period, during which low-paid Essential Skills visa holders have to leave New Zealand, will be postponed until January 2022. The stand-down period means that Essential Skills visa holders earning less than the median wage (currently $25.50) must leave New Zealand for 12 months after having worked here for three years before they can return. Immigration New Zealand will continue to use the 2019 median wage of $25.50 per hour for immigration settings until at least July 2021 at which point the median wage will rise to $27 per hour. Working Holiday visas will be extended for six months, and restrictions will be relaxed on the maximum duration of work permitted, allowing Working Holiday visa holders to continue working in any industry they choose (including horticulture and wine sector roles). Working Holiday makers will no longer be transferred onto a Supplementary Seasonal Employer work visa when their working holiday visa expires. Migrants already on an SSE visa will be able to continue working for the horticulture and wine sectors, or apply for an Essential Skills visa if they find alternative qualifying work.

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