Immigration, Visas and Migrant Workers at Alert Level 1
New Zealand’s hard earned zero covid-19 status does not come without restrictions. To remain covid-free, New Zealand is maintaining control at the borders, rapid contact tracing of any positive cases and intensive testing. We have the advantage of being an island nation and can restrict the travel of those needing visas to enter New Zealand. Our borders have always remained open to Kiwis, along with New Zealand based residents and Australians.
For the remainder of travellers, New Zealand borders remain closed unless the traveller is able to gain special approval to enter New Zealand. Approval had been granted for critical humanitarian reasons, Pacific travellers and key workers. That list has now been extended to include diplomats, maritime travellers, family members of New Zealand citizens, New Zealand based residents, Australians and work or student visa holders when travelling separately.
The announcement has also expanded the criteria for key workers beyond health workers, and from what was described as workers who are specifically agreed to be essential workers by the New Zealand Government. The light shone on the latter is most appreciated given this is where the rubber has been hitting the road, after such cases as the highly debated decision to approve the Avatar film crew. Any New Zealand employers who are crying out for critical staff are further frustrated by valuable quarantine spots going to the film industry. While the financial cost of the lockdown is huge, with businesses waiting to become fully operational again, something they can’t do without is key workers they cannot find on New Zealand shores.
If money talks, then big money (particularly for government underwritten projects, as in the case of Avatar film crew) must sing. My concern is for the small to medium size employers who need to recruit from skilled workers offshore or retain existing migrant staff. Individually the business may not be huge, but their combined value to the economy is. When family members of temporary residents are permitted to travel, one must question if this is the best use of those valuable travelling places, when many businesses are fighting for economic survival. Humane it maybe, but as with the lockdown, hard decisions for the greater good must be made.
Immigration New Zealand (INZ) which is part of the Ministry of Business, Innovation and Employment has set up a separate process for the approval to travel, however the decisions around ‘other essential workers’ is made by the Minister for Economic Development and the relevant portfolio Minister. Now the newly created and published criteria have been announced, it has provided much needed clarity on those who will be allowed to travel.
Once the approval to travel has been gained, the visa is then considered against a very different labour market than pre-covid-19.
INZ is very sensitive to the Labour Government’s concern of rising unemployment levels, so convincing INZ there are no New Zealanders available, or those who could not easily be trained, is again not for the fainthearted.
The evident requirements for the employer has at least doubled, before an employment-related visa is granted -whether their migrant staff member is offshore temporarily, yet to arrive, or already here and needing to remain longer.
Given the intricacies of the local labour market and pressure on the economy, my further concern is the capabilities to make these judgements are beyond those tasked with these complex and critical decisions.
Other essential workers
The new rules describing other essential workers apply, in the main, to roles which can’t be filled locally and when the prospective worker is high value, paid accordingly and working on projects of national or regional significance. The threshold is high and workers will require a 14-day lockdown, in an approved facility, paid by the employer, medical testing and after enduring an expensive and possibly difficult trip. Again, none of this is for the fainthearted.
The visa is null and void
In the present climate, you must question the status of a visa issued by INZ. Firstly, a visa is an invitation to enter a country. It’s a privilege, not a right and can be withdrawn at any point. This is effectively what has happened with the new border rules; visas allowing travel into New Zealand are in effect void with the exceptions of the groups outlined above.
The second part of a visa is the conditions which may be limited to activities such as job role, course of study, employer, educational institute and region. A visa may also grant the holder the ability to work or live in New Zealand at will. Covid-19 regulations have provided limited time-bound relaxation of certain conditions for work and student visa holders in aged care and supermarkets. In the third week of June, these considerations, on the whole, will come to an end and most temporary visa holders in New Zealand will remain restricted to the exact wording of their visa.
Pressure has been placed on the hospitality, service and tourism industries, to dismiss conditions limiting migrant workers to roles, location and employers. However, now more than ever, this is essential to ensure that ‘New Zealanders first’ for roles is maintained. It is so regrettable that migrant workers in those industries have lost their jobs, however it is the reality and for many, travel home is the best solution for New Zealand.
Be very aware that while enforcement action may not actively be taken, individuals and employers are likely to answer in the future to any non-compliant visa breaches even in the heat of this epidemic.
Heartland Immigration @ Alert Level 4, 3, 2 & now 1 remains fully operational. It is not, and will never be, business as we know it for those who hold temporary visas, employ migrant workers and those who would like to work, study and visit New Zealand. In short, the landscape has changed.
Our covid-19 reality will make international travel more complex for some time to come with visas harder to get. Never has it been more important to have the services of an experienced professional at hand.
Disclaimer: Mary Noonan is Heartland Immigration Ltd Managing Director and her views, expressed in this article, are not intended to replace the professional service provided to individual migrants by a Licensed Immigration Advisers.