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Partners of students studying level 7 or 8 qualifications for a qualification which is listed on the Green List may now apply for a work visa with open conditions.

Restrictions on family members.

Lower skilled work visa holders now unable to support visa application for their families. If you are unsure if this affects you seek professional, personalised assistance from a New Zealand Licensed Immigration Adviser.

For further details go to

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.

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.

New Zealand’s incoming Government has promised to make it easier for family members of work visa holders to be able to work in New Zealand overturning the previous Government’s instructions.

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