New Zealand: Big Immigration Changes

After big cuts to permanent migration are we seeing a move towards temporary visas?

On Friday 8th July a series of changes to the Skilled Migrant Category (SMC) were announced which come in to force from July 25th.

The Skilled Migrant Category is the immigration route for skilled workers, accounting for over half of all Permanent Residents entering New Zealand.

These are pretty big changes affecting a lot of people, but appears to be a backwards step in many ways. I’ll add deeper commentary in the next newsletter, in the meantime here are some of the details:


  • English for speakers of other languages (ESOL) qualifications will no longer meet the criteria for qualification points.
  • Applicants who are in New Zealand and hold, or have held, Study to Work visas will no longer be eligible for a SMC Job Search Visa.
  • Applicants with qualifications in an area of absolute skill shortage will no longer be able to automatically obtain residence without skilled employment.
  • Settlement and contribution criteria will be weighted towards skilled employment.
  • Partners and/or children of SMC Job Search Visas holders will no longer be automatically eligible for temporary visas related to the holder’s work visa.

What does this mean?

This appears to place additional barriers in the path of many skilled migrants, making it harder for families to stay together and concentrating on skilled employment.

As we have pointed out many times, to get skilled work the majority of migrants who gain Residency through the SMC (over 85 percent) have to risk everything by traveling to New Zealand and getting a temporary work visa.

In 2010/11 1,366 applications were selected from EOIs claiming over 140 points but without a job offer. Of these only 99 were in already in New Zealand and able to interview for vacancies. These changes appear to block a whole load of migrants with skills New Zealand really needs, making them more vulnerable with less certainty. Even settlement criteria – basically how likely you are or have proved you to settle happily in New Zealand – is now secondary to the job offer.

move2nz has been campaigning for greater security and transparency for migrants for years now. I would like to see pre-qualified migrants who have skills NZ really needs awarded Residency before they leave their home country so that they have a greater ability to be able to calculate and manage their migration risks. Sadly this policy appears to be moving in exactly the opposite direction.


Currently recognised qualifications attract 50 – 55 points under the SMC, but that it about to change. From July 25th qualifications between levels 3 and 6 (including trades and practical qualifications) will lose 10 points, attracting only 40 points.

Qualification points

Qualifications between levels 7 and 8 (bachelor degrees and some National Diplomas) will be unchanged, still attracting 50 points. Qualifications at levels 9 and 10 (Masters degrees and PhDs) which currently attract 55 points get an extra 5 now, moving up to 60 points.


Again sadly this appears to be a backwards step. Previously a wider range of points were awarded making it easier for those with the highest qualifications.

This however lead to lower numbers of highly skilled workers with trades and practical hands-on professional qualifications coming through the system. Instead a large number of academics were encouraged into the country, many then finding that they were unable to find or retain work in their chosen field.

While New Zealand does need migrants with top qualifications arguably there is a strong need right now is for workers to help with the Canterbury rebuild and in areas such as IT where in my experience most people have a diploma and then build experience and value through working.

Again this places additional barriers in the way of workers with diplomas suggesting that the NZ government may be intending to try and channel more skilled workers towards temporary visas only.

This to my mind would be a huge mistake as most workers who come here for temporary work are only putting up with the low wages, costs, increased vulnerability and all the issues of dragging their family to another country because of their dream of permanent status. Take this away and I think there will be a lot less applicants.

I sincerely hope that transparency will increase so that if this is the case people know the score before they start, rather than getting stuck in limbo like so many others – that will be the subject of my next post.


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One Response to “New Zealand: Big Immigration Changes”

  1. Guybrush Threepwood Says:

    I’ve just been there and done that – ‘failed’ the phone interview and was offered the jobsearch – which I was willing to take, but they sent the wrong form and THEN told us that my family were ‘not welcome’ (well, that’s the way it felt).

    We’ve withdrawn our application, taking the financial hit – I wanted to migrate for my family, and to be told they were no longer welcome pretty much shuts down NZ as a destination for my skills.

    This is a two way street – I’m willing to contribute to NZ, so they should be willing to let me try – with no legal access to benefits and healthcare what did they have to lose?

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