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April 2024 NZ Work Visa Changes

What the Recent Work Visa Changes Mean

In response to record numbers of incoming lower-skilled workers and widespread issues such as large-scale employer and third-party fraud, migrant exploitation, and duplicity, the Government has implemented significant changes to the Accredited Employers Work Visa (AEWV) program. These adjustments, administered by Immigration New Zealand (INZ), are designed to address the challenges faced by genuine employers needing offshore recruitment and to correct the imbalance in the labour market that has strained schools, housing, and infrastructure in many areas.

The new rules, effective immediately, limit lower-skilled work visa applicants to a maximum stay of three years, often only two, followed by a mandatory one-year period spent outside New Zealand. Additionally, these applicants must now meet specific qualifications and English language requirements. The changes also include enhanced measures to ensure employer compliance, shifting some decision-making power from INZ to more prescribed criteria based on the Australian New Zealand Standard Classification of Occupations (ANZSCO).

photo of visa stamps in a passport

ANZSCO Returns

The Australian New Zealand Standard Classification of Occupations (ANZSCO) returns to prominence firstly to determine which skill level the role occupies and, therefore, if additional rules apply, a description of the tasks contained within the role and what qualifications or prior work experience is required to fill the role.

Those of us in the industry have a love-hate relationship with ANZSCO, and I unashamedly lean towards the former for want of a better alternative. It is a start but by no means covers every role and is interpreted by INZ.

What Has Changed

With immediate effect, lower-skilled workers, level 4 & 5 including trade assistants and the like, will now be limited to a total stay of three years, more often it will be two years, before having to remain offshore for one year.

Lower-skilled applicants will need to be qualified or be able to prove they have worked for at least three years in the role they seek to fill in New Zealand. In addition, they must meet an English standard with the majority of incoming lower-skilled workers needing to pass IELTS examinations at level 4.

Employer obligations along with the required administration have increased.

Employers Responsibilities Increase

Specific rules on how the employer must demonstrate that they are unable to recruit locally have been tightened with INZ seeking supporting documentation rather than relying on employer declarations. Lower skilled roles now are to be nationally advertised for 21 days, up from 14 days, and back to the previous practice of listing vacancies at Work & Income.

In addition, further administrative employer requirements have been introduced with new offences managed by INZ. Allowing for infringements at the less severe end to be dealt with by way of fines, embargo on hiring migrant staff and publication of the names of non-compliance. Court procedure will still be sought for higher level offending which led to migrant exploitation and people trafficking.

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Migrant Exploitation

Practices that can be engaged in by third parties, other than the direct employer, to workers who are more likely to have limited education, and without access to diligent support. It is not unusual for the bad actors to be people from the workers’ own background taking advantage of the underprivileged who consider paying these bad actors, likely getting into debt to do so, as a necessary evil.

It is not usual for such workers not to be suitable for the role, they don’t last long in employment when they arrive in the New Zealand workplace or the job simply never existed. If they’re not working, they’re not earning and that is when the web of dishonesty comes untangled. Authors of their own misfortune is a harsh description however exploitation is a dirty business.

It’s Lose-Lose When Visas Go Wrong

Work visas to the wrong candidates or simply too many in one category harm New Zealand. Taking jobs directly from New Zealanders, disrupting learning opportunities for New Zealanders, discouraging investment in research and equipment, undercutting good practice employers and hurting our international reputation.

Moving Forward

I have been known to bleat when I am presented with what I consider poor immigration judgment and the first to acknowledge the difficulty of leading Immigration Officers in sound decision-making.

The prescribed nature of the 07 April 2024 changes can be tough to demonstrate and the pay rates remain high but nevertheless, this is progress. Overall this is a move in the right direction.


Mary Noonan is Heartland Immigration Ltd’s Managing Director. Her views expressed in this article are not intended to replace the professional service provided to individual migrants by a Licensed or Registered Immigration Adviser or Migration Agent.