Government removes qualification requirement for migrant chefs as part of new immigration support for hospitality, tourism sectors

The Government has announced new immigration measures for the hospitality and tourism sectors that are set to alleviate recruitment stress for employers and move New Zealand to a "higher wage economy".

The qualification requirement for chefs to be hired through an Accredited Employer Work Visa (AEWV) has been removed, and the tourism and hospitality median wage exception has been extended for another year.

Immigration Minister Michael Wood said the Government has been listening to the concerns of the hospitality and tourism sectors and is working with them to take practical steps to support them with these challenges where they can.

"We agree with the hospitality industry that removing the qualification requirement for chefs to be hired through an AEWV will allow those top-rated chefs who have trained at the coalface to come to NZ. This will take effect from 18 October," Wood said.

"The requirement for chefs to hold a New Zealand Certificate of Cookery (Level 4) or equivalent qualification was introduced to reduce risks of wage and job inflation in these roles.

"We have heard the industry's concerns that this requirement was limiting their options to recruit chefs who do not hold formal qualifications, including some highly skilled or experienced chefs, at a time when labour market conditions are tight."

Instead, employers hiring chefs will now only be required to meet the median wage and market rate requirement, which Wood said will allow employers to recruit from a larger pool of migrant chefs.

He added the Government remains focused on reducing the immigration risks of these roles, and officials will be working closely with the industry to develop a system over the next 12-18 months for identifying and assessing skilled chefs who do not hold formal qualifications.

Many tourism and hospitality businesses will still be able to keep hiring migrants on a lower wage threshold, Wood said, since the Government's temporary median wage exception has been extended for another year.

"We recognise these sectors have been hit hard by the pandemic and are still recovering from the impacts of ongoing disruption to global travel. To help the industry as it continues to rebuild, Cabinet has decided to extend the transition towards the full median wage for an additional year from 2023 to 2024," Wood said.

"This will help these sectors manage the short-term impacts they are facing, and ensure a clear path to continue taking the important steps towards paying the median wage in the medium-term."

In April 2023, employers will be able to pay migrant workers in these roles on an AEWV 95 percent of the median wage, or $28.18ph. This will then increase to 100 percent of the median wage in April 2024.

"This move follows other practical changes we have made recently to support key sectors with labour supply, including doubling the number of capped Working Holiday Visa places, and increasing RSE numbers alongside improving conditions," Wood said.

A new median wage of $29.66 per hour will also be adopted into the immigration system on February 27, 2023, Wood announced. All wage thresholds indexed to the median wage, such as sector agreements, will also be updated.

"The Government is focused on moving New Zealand to a higher wage economy, increasing the skill level of migrant workers, and encouraging employers to offer competitive wages and improve career pathways for New Zealanders. This policy is beginning to work, with clear evidence of better pay and conditions in a range of sectors, which will create a more sustainable labour market for everyone," Wood said.

"Updating the median wage thresholds regularly is necessary to ensure the Government is delivering on its immigration rebalance goals and that existing policy settings are maintained in line with market changes."

The current wage threshold will be in place until the new median wage is incorporated in February 2023.