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A Perfect Storm

Assessment of Failures in the Accredited Employer Work Visa Scheme

The Assurance Review of The Operation of the Accredited Employer Work Visa Scheme outlined two significant failures. Namely, the lack of structured risk assessment when changing settings, the rules Immigration Officers operate under, and not paying adequate attention to staff concerns.

Challenges Faced During Implementation

Jenn Bestwick, who led the review, describes the situation INZ found itself in as the perfect storm. I find this generous, as while Covid was a gigantic disrupter, implementing a new method of determining employer-assisted work visas while embedding a new computer system and dealing with a shortage of experienced staff when the border was to reopen was a gigantic risk. Was it a matter of not fully understanding the implications?

Implications and Decision-Making

I acknowledge immigration officials were not the decision-makers regarding the border opening, and whatever your views, the reopening was never going to be smooth. Fanfare and fluster with family members desperate to reunite, workers seeking to return or start employment, and everyone trying to make up for lost business and opportunities.

Given the Accredited Employer Work Visa Scheme involved additional administration, which necessitated a computer upgrade, it may have been prudent to have the new computer system up and running before implementing a new methodology. Or perhaps a stage induction, such as establishing the Employer Accredited requirement before implementing the Job Checks. The latter is ensuring New Zealanders aren’t disadvantaged if a migrant worker gains a work visa. While that seems at face value to be a simple decision, it does require strong judgment skills with competing priorities, and the overriding focus must be on what is best for New Zealand.

The Role of the Three-Stage Element

Don’t blame the three-stage element of the Accredited Employer Work Visa Scheme for any of this because all of the decision-making was incorporated into the previous Essential Skills Work Visa category. What the three stages do is, of course, create a three-stage separate application process; it also highlights the various considerations in this underestimated decision-making process to decide when the grant of a work visa is good for the employer and the economy, and no one will be worse off. Much focus was placed on preventing migrant exploitation, and sadly, this is the very subject of recent failures. Nevertheless, risk must be balanced with the need to recruit the right candidate with the right skill set for the benefit of genuine employers.

passport on top of a planner
Photo by Nataliya Vaitkevich on

Emphasising Immigration Risk Management

Managing immigration risk is the very core of a well-developed visa administration. Risk can never be eliminated. It is a matter of understanding, or determining and accepting, what risk level is suitable for the time and circumstances.

Attraction of Bad Actors and Global Dynamics

The suggestion that bad actors flocked to the new Accredited Employer Work Visa Scheme was no surprise. Bad actors are always in the mix, given visa stakes are high, with millions globally on the move without adequate food, shelter, employment, freedom of speech, unable to worship freely, and unable to associate openly or simply be themselves.

These so-called push factors have become more intense while the pull factors of a clean, green New Zealand where people can get ahead are more desirable post-Covid. Yes, we may have lower wages and high housing costs, but to a jobless person living on the streets in a war-torn region, our way of life is enviable. Was risk not understood or able to be managed within reasonable constraints?

people walking at the fukuoka airport in japan
Photo by Ming Chin Hsieh on

Staff Concerns and the Importance of Immigration Officers

Most disappointing that staff concerns were not in the foremind. Those on the ground know the business and can identify risk when it is merely a possibility. Of course, overreacting is as destructive as underreacting, so was this nativity? Or an inability to be flexible, having a heightened risk tolerance or perhaps being reluctant to communicate clearly to the politicians?

Call for a Balanced Approach

Those in the industry know only too well that visa rules appear to fall under the damned if you do, damned if you don’t. Reputational damage has occurred, and I hope the pendulum isn’t going to swing to the other side in a knee-jerk reaction.

I seek a balanced approach and more value placed on the Immigration Officers.


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.