Government announces simplified path to residency for skilled workers to tackle shortages

  • 21/06/2023

The Government has stripped back difficulties for skilled workers to get residency in a bid to attract them to Aotearoa and fill skill shortages.

Immigration Minister Michael Wood said changes to the Skilled Migrant Category (SMC) are part of the immigration rebalance to help businesses fill their gaps. 

He said industries across the world are in need of workers as labour shortages bite, and the changes will "attract and retain" skilled migrants.

The changes: 

  • No cap on highly-skilled workers
  • New six-point system to give certainty to migrants on their eligibility
  • Clearer criteria and faster pathway to residence for highly-skilled people 
  • Extension to the maximum duration of an Accredited Employer Work Visa (AEWV) from three to five years

Minister Wood said ensuring there is no cap on skilled migrants will remove an "artificial constraint" in the system.

"[It] prevented skilled migrants settling in New Zealand even when there was a demonstrable need," he said in a release on Wednesday.

From October, a simplified points system will be introduced which will set a clear skills threshold based on New Zealand occupational registration, recognised qualifications, or income.

Minister Wood said highly-skilled workers will have a faster route to residency, while others will have a clear path if they work for a period of time in Aotearoa.

"The clear requirements will provide temporary workers with clarity about their status, addressing a long-standing issue where some people with no pathway to residence were given false hope."

He said businesses have told the government that certainty for skilled migrants and their whanau that they will be able to gain residence in Aotearoa will be a "big draw card" for attracting them here. 

"The new SMC complements other pathways to residence, such as the Green List, which is a narrower, occupation-specific pathway for those working in specified nationally significant and globally in-demand roles."

Minister Wood said with that, as well as simpler settings, Immigration New Zealand will be able to process more applications faster. 

The Government is extending the maximum time of an AEWV from three years to five from November, which Minister Wood said will align with the introduction of a five-year maximum continuous stay on an AEWV for people who are not on a pathway to residence. 

"The duration is longer than the three years initially indicated, in response to feedback from businesses," he said. 

"The AEWV is New Zealand's main temporary work visa, which gives businesses access to skills to plug short-term gaps.

"Providing a five-year maximum continuous stay means people who don't qualify for a pathway to residence will have clarity about how long they can work and stay in New Zealand and provides longer-term certainty for business."