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New Incentives Offered for Migration to the Regions


By David Fisher, New Zealand Shores, Law and Policy Adviser


On 26 July this year the Government made an announcement that changes would be made to Immigration policy incentivising migration into New Zealand’s regions. The new measures are to take effect from 1 November and include:

  • Boosting the bonus points for Skilled Migrants applying for residence with a job offer outside Auckland from 10 to 30 points.
  • Doubling the points for entrepreneurs planning to set up businesses in the regions under the Entrepreneur Work Visa from 20 to 40 points.
  • Streamlining the labour market test to provide employers with more certainty, earlier in the visa application process.

For the purposes of this article I will discuss solely the increase in bonus points for skilled migrants under the Skilled Migrant Category.

Much public discussion has taken place since the announcement was made and opinions on what will be the end effect of the policy are varied. One thing seems to be a hot issue is the question about whether there will be any real effect or whether it is merely a puff of hot air in typical bureaucratic style, showing the Government’s unwillingness to properly tackle the problem of the over-concentration of population in Auckland.

After careful analysis of the policy I have come up with my own opinion and I feel that there are both positive and negative factors that will come in to play. On the positive side there are two aspects worth mentioning. The first is that the increase in bonus points from 10 to 30 will actually affect the eligibility of some applicants but the issue is which ones. The second aspect is that I believe the policy change will have a psychological effect on some applicants’ decision of migration destination, regardless of whether they are affected by it or not. The negative side will come into play in people’s perception of the type of migrants who will now be eligible where they previously were not.

So who will actually benefit from an extra 20 points for a job offer outside Auckland? The answer might surprise you. First of all let’s consider how people become eligible under the Skilled Migrant Category in the first place. It is a points based system whereby applicant’s will have their Expression Of Interest (EOI) selected from the pool in order of priority. Those who achieve 140 points are automatically selected (with or without a job offer) and those who achieve 100 points including a skilled job offer are selected next. It is said that after that other EOI’s will be selected in order of their points total but practically speaking this does not happen because with the high net migration New Zealand is experiencing there are usually no spaces left after all EOI’s with over 100 points are selected. Considering that the policy offers an increase in bonus points for a job offer in the regions it will of course be of no benefit to those who submit an EOI without a job offer at all, and will also be of no benefit whatsoever to those who have achieved 100 points without the need for any bonus points. So clearly the people who will benefit are those who have an offer of skilled employment but otherwise do not quite meet the 100 point threshold. Let’s have a look at some points examples, remembering that we are talking about applicant’s who have an offer of skilled employment and need to obtain 100 points in order to qualify.

A job offer is worth 50 points and a bachelor degree is also worth 50 points, so anyone with both of those things will qualify regardless of experience or age (as long as they are 55 or under). Even someone with a lower level qualification such as a diploma will receive 40 points, and then if they do not have work experience or any other available points they would still cross the line with points for age up to 49 (50 points for job, 40 points for qualification and 10+ points for age), and if they are between the ages of 50 and 55 (5 points for age) then their 95 points total puts them close enough to 100 that they would be eligible under the existing policy and therefore would not benefit from the new policy. In any case they would probably also have at least 10 points for 2 years work experience, given their age, so wouldn’t even need the bonus points under the current system.

So it is clear to see that anyone with a recognised qualification can be eligible without needing to go to the regions and those who do require the bonus points will qualify under the existing regime anyway. How about those without qualifications? Well, first of all it must be noted that in order for an offer of skilled employment to be eligible under the skilled migrant policy at all the applicant must have either the required qualification or the requisite work experience, which is either 3 or 5 years. So keep in mind that anyone with no qualification and less than 3 years work experience will not be eligible in any case. Let’s look at 3 examples.

ex.1  John Smith, 27 years old (30 points for age), 3 years experience (10 points). His points total will be 90 including his job offer so he could reach 100 including bonus points under the existing policy. Result: No benefit from the change in policy.

ex.2  Jin Wan Lee, 36 years old (25 points for age), 4 years experience (15 points). Again the points total will be 90 so he will be eligible under the current policy if his job is outside Auckland. Result: No benefit from the change in policy.

ex.3  Natasha van Winkel, over 50 years old (5 points for age), 10 years experience (30 points, the maximum allowed). In this case her points total will be only 85 and so under the existing policy the extra 10 points will not help her reach 100. Result: Natasha will benefit from the new policy.

What is interesting to note from example 1 is that every applicant with a job offer, aged 20-29, whether they have a qualification or not, will be eligible under both the existing and the new policies. Looking at example 2 you can see that applicants between 30 and 39 will not be affected as long as they have at least 4 years work experience. If Jin Wan had only 3 years experience then he would in fact benefit from the new policy because he wouldn’t reach 100 under the existing policy. The same would apply to those over 40, ie whether the new policy would affect their eligibility depends on their level of work experience. And most interestingly we can see from the third example that the new policy is most likely to benefit those who are more advanced in age. In fact under the new policy a person between 55 and 55 will now be eligible with a job offer outside Auckland with as little as 4 years work experience.

So what is the crux of this analysis? In my opinion the numbers speak for themselves…..the people who will actually receive the benefit from the new policy are unqualified, older and have less relevant work experience. In other words there is absolutely zero incentive for younger, qualified people with plenty of experience to migrate to the regions at all. Or is there? And this brings me to the second aspect I mentioned earlier.

The second consideration that comes to mind is something that comes from anecdotal experience. In this line of work we hear all sorts of things from clients about how they think the immigration system works. Sometimes they are bang on but more often than not they are just outright wrong. One of the urban myths that seems to have done the rounds in most migrant communities is the idea that an application will be treated more favourably if it includes a job offer outside Auckland. It seems that when people hear these kinds of announcements from Government, that incentives are offered for migration to the regions, they assume that means that they will have a better chance of obtaining residency if they live outside Auckland. It is true that the Government is offering such an incentive but the reality is that all applications will still be treated equally and the only benefit to going outside Auckland is the addition of bonus points, which as we have seen is very rarely the deciding factor in eligibility. I have personally seen families move to remote regions away from their friends and community based solely on this assumption that they might receive more favourable treatment by Immigration, and they did not even require the bonus points at all, only to have the application declined because, for example, the job offer did not qualify as skilled employment.

In my opinion this urban myth will not disappear, in fact it may even flourish and spread further as a result of this new announcement. The mere making of the announcement may bring into effect the desired result. People will make the decision to settle outside Auckland based on the belief that it will benefit them.

So, we have seen who will actually benefit from this new policy, and we have seen how the policy might be perceived and the result of that, but how it will actually play out can only be seen in time. We’ll all be watching to see the results.

David Fisher

New Zealand Shores Immigration Law and Policy Adviser