The Government has announced a new policy to provide a one-off pathway to residence for around 1,600 migrant workers and their families who have been living in the South island for more than five years.
Eligible migrants will be granted an initial Work to Residence temporary visa, which would make them eligible for residence after two years provided they stay in the same industry and region. They will then be granted a resident visa, with conditions requiring them to stay in the same South Island region for a further two years.
The new policy is scheduled to come into effect on 22 May 2017. Applications will be accepted for 12 months from the effective date. Immigration instructions and further information will be available on the INZ website closer to the launch of the policy.
The Government is currently reviewing temporary visa settings to ensure future lower-skilled temporary migrants do not end up in the same situation.
Questions and answers
Why is the Government introducing this policy?
The Government recognises that there are a number of low-skilled temporary migrants, particularly in the South Island, who have been in New Zealand long-term and have become well settled here, but who currently have no pathway to residence. The pathway policy provides certainty for a pool of long-term lower-skilled migrant workers in the South Island and allows them to settle permanently while committing to their regions.
How many people will benefit from the new policy?
There are around 1,600 temporary workers in the South Island who have been on an Essential Skills visa for five years or more. The Government estimates there is likely to be approximately 3,200 - 4,000 people in total who may qualify, including partners and dependent children.
Who qualifies under this policy?
To be eligible for a visa under this policy, applicants must:
- currently be on an Essential Skills work visa for a job in the South Island and hold current full-time employment with an employer who does not have a significant adverse employment record
- have been employed on an Essential Skills work visa in the South Island for five years or more at the time the policy is implemented
- be aged 55 years or younger and
- meet health and character requirements.
Do partners and children qualify for visas once the Essential Skills visa holder gets a Work to Residence visa?
The partner of a qualifying Essential Skills visa holder may be eligible for a work visa.
Dependent children aged 19 and under may also qualify for a visitor, student or work visa. Children who are granted a work visa will have their dependence assessed and will continue to be considered as dependent if they are included in a subsequent Residence from Work application.
Do partners and children qualify for residence once the principal visa holder is granted residence?
Partners and dependent children will be eligible for residence with the principal applicant.
How much does it cost?
Standard Work to Residence, Residence from Work, and immigration levy charges apply. Standard application fees also apply for partners and dependent children.
How can I apply?
Application forms will be available closer to 22 May. Applications must be made using the paper form. Applications cannot be made online.
Why are lower-skilled Essential Skills visa holders who have been here long term, but not living in the South Island, not eligible for residence?
In general South Island regions have lower unemployment rates than North Island regions and around half of the 3,200 long-term temporary migrants in lower-skilled occupations live in the South Island. As a result, the new one-off policy is being limited to long-term migrants in the South Island.
Will there be any flexibility for people who have not spent all their time in the South Island?
Yes. There will be some flexibility regarding the five-year period to ensure that workers who are primarily based in the South Island, but have spent some time in the North Island as a result of the nature of their employment, are not unfairly penalised. There will also be sufficient flexibility to ensure that those who fall marginally short of the five year requirement will not be unfairly excluded from being eligible to apply for the pathway. Each application will be considered on a case-by-case basis.
Will there be any flexibility for people who have been here long-term but have spent some time on other visas?
Making only Essential Skills visa holders eligible will ensure that the workers are meeting genuine labour market needs and minimise potential impacts on New Zealand workers. This is because under Essential Skills policy regular labour market testing will have taken place, so there are unlikely to be suitable New Zealanders available. But there will be some flexibility to make provision for cases where, for example, a person has spent time on an interim visa.