Government tightens English language, skills rules in immigration overhaul

The Government says it's tightening visa rules for low-skilled workers as the Coalition looks to overhaul what it believes are unsustainable levels of migration.  

Under the new policies, migrants would need to secure higher ratings on English tests and most Accredited Employer Work Visa (AEVW) applicants would have to meet minimum skills requirements.  

"The Government is focused on attracting and retaining the highly skilled migrants such as secondary teachers, where there is a skill shortage," Immigration Minister Erica Stanford said in a statement.  

"At the same time, we need to ensure that New Zealanders are put to the front of the line for jobs where there are no skills shortages."  

Stanford said on Sunday New Zealand's migration numbers were "unsustainable" and getting the settings right were "critical to this Government's plan to rebuild the economy".  

She said the reforms would better balance "the needs of business with the wider interests of New Zealand".  

The decision comes after net migration skyrocketed to a record 133,800 in the year to January. 

Stanford said many of the changes being made were not new, rather a return to pre-pandemic settings.  

New Zealand under the previous Government, under pressure from the Opposition to do so, boosted migration numbers after emerging from COVID-19 restrictions to help businesses fill dire staff shortages. 

Erica Stanford.
Erica Stanford. Photo credit: AM

But there were fears ongoing net migration growth could exacerbate pressure on infrastructure, particularly the tight rental and volatile housing markets. 

"These changes are the start of a more comprehensive work programme to create a smarter immigration system that manages net migration, responds to our changing economic context, attracts top talent, revitalises international education, is self-funding and sustainable, and better manages risk," Stanford said.  

The full changes include:  

  • Introducing an English language requirement for migrants applying for low skilled level 4 and 5 roles 
  • A minimum skills and work experience threshold for most AEWV roles  
  • For roles that fall into the level 4 and 5, employers will need to engage with Work and Income before approval to bring in migrants will be granted  
  • Reducing the maximum continuous stay for most level 4 and 5 roles from five years to three years  
  • The franchisee accreditation category will be disestablished and these businesses will be to apply to bring in workers from overseas through the standard, high-volume or triangular employment accreditation.