National's restriction on low-paid migrants bringing their families to New Zealand reversed

Iain Lees-Galloway and Michael Woodhouse.
Iain Lees-Galloway and Michael Woodhouse. Photo credit: Newshub / The AM Show

Lower-paid foreign workers will be able to bring their families to New Zealand again after it was restricted in 2017 by the former National-led Government. 

Former Immigration Minister Michael Woodhouse announced the change in April 2017, part of measures "designed to strike the right balance" for immigration to New Zealand. 

"It's important that our immigration settings are attracting the right people, with the right skills, to help fill genuine skill shortages," Woodhouse said at the time

But that restriction on lower-paid workers bringing their families to New Zealand will now be removed, Immigration Minister Iain Lees-Galloway announced Monday. 

The minister also said a simplified system for both employers and foreign workers will be introduced, with only one 'Temporary Work Visa' replacing the current six listed below:

  • Essential Skills
  • Approval in Principle
  • Work to Residence - Talent (Accredited Employer)
  • Work to Residence - Long Term Skills Shortage List Occupations
  • Silver Fern Job Search
  • Silver Fern Practical Experience

"The new employer assisted temporary work visa process is more streamlined and less complex replacing six visa categories with one temporary work visa," the minister said.

A new employer-led visa application process will be introduced that will involve three stages: the employer check; the job check; and the worker check. 

The new process will require all employers to be accredited before they can recruit a temporary foreign worker. There will be three types of accreditation: 

  • "standard" for employers recruiting between one and five foreign workers in a 12 month period
  • "high volume" for employers recruiting more than five foreign workers in a 12 month period
  • accreditation for labour hire companies

The existing skill band requirements for visas will be replaced with a remuneration threshold aligned to the median wage, which is currently $25 an hour or $52,000 per year based on 40 hours per week. 

The requirement to undertake a labour market test will also be removed entirely for employers in the regions looking to employ foreign workers who will be paid above the median wage. 

That means there is no need for skill shortages lists in the regions and they will only exist for the five following cities: Auckland, Hamilton, Wellington, Christchurch and Dunedin.

For jobs with very high pay - 200 percent or twice the median wage - there will be no labour market test requirement. 

And for jobs paying below the median wage, the labour market test settings "will be strengthened" to "better ensure" New Zealanders have the opportunity to fill the roles first.

The Government will also introduce 'sector agreements' in which certain sectors will agree to a conditions that must be met for recruiting foreign workers for specified key occupations.

"Sector agreements will be targeted at sectors with high reliance on temporary foreign workers and will enable specific terms and conditions for recruiting foreign workers," Lees-Galloway said. 

The first agreements to be negotiated will likely be for the residential care and meat processing sectors. The process will formally begin before the end of 2019. 

The other visa system changes will be implemented in stages to "help manage a smooth transition". 

The new visa and application process will have a phased implementation in 2021. 

In the meantime, employers and temporary foreign workers are being advised to continue using existing processes for hiring foreign workers. 

The current immigration system has been criticised, with a campaigner for migrant workers telling Newshub in May that it leaves employees vulnerable to exploitation. 

Lees-Galloway said the changes will allow help to reduce exploitation.