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Short-term changes for temporary work visa holders in New Zealand

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The Government has announced some short term changes for temporary work visa holders in New Zealand.

These changes recognise the impact that COVID-19 continues to have on businesses and temporary work visa holders in New Zealand, and will allow employers to maintain their existing workforce for an extended period, while ensuring opportunities for New Zealanders are not negatively impacted in the short and longer-term.

There are 3 key changes

The first change is to extend all existing employer-assisted temporary work visas for people who are in New Zealand and whose visas are due to expire before the end of 2020 by 6 months.

That includes work visa holders whose visas are due to expire between 10 July and 31 December 2020 (inclusive), as well as those visas that were previously extended (in April under the Epidemic Management Notice) to 25 September.

We know this will come as a welcomed temporary relief for many members. This extension will be automatic for most visa holders and will benefit around 16,500 Essential Skills and Work to Residence visa holders who are in New Zealand.

All other conditions of the original visa remain the same, including the specific occupation, specific employer and location.

Anyone who believes their visa should have been extended as part of this change should contact INZ.

Employers who want to employ a migrant in a new role or employ a new migrant altogether will still need to apply for a new visa, and go through the labour market test. If it is for a lower-paid role, employers will also still need to engage with the Ministry of Social Development (MSD).

To align with the six month extension for temporary work visa holders in New Zealand, the second change is to delay the introduction of the 12 month stand-down period for lower-paid workers who have had their employer-assisted work visa extended.

The stand-down period means that people who have been in New Zealand on a lower-paid Essential Skills visa for three years are unable to be granted a new Essential Skills visas until they have spent 12 months outside New Zealand.

This time-limited extension will enable lower-paid migrants who are subject to the stand-down between August 2020 and the end of December 2020 to stay in New Zealand and work for the same employer in the same occupation and location for up to a further 6 months, in line with their visa extension. However, the stand-down period will still apply if a migrant who is subject to the stand down wants to move to another lower-paid Essential Skills work visa.

There are around 600 workers who will be subject to the stand-down period between August 2020 and the end of December 2020. Any migrants who are subject to the stand-down period from February 2021 will still be required to leave New Zealand for 12 months before they are able to be granted another lower-paid work visa.

The third change will be less welcomed by members as it will reduce the duration of all new low-skilled Essential Skills work visas from 12 months to six months.

This will apply to all new lower-paid Essential Skills work visa applications lodged from 10 July. Applications received prior to 10 July will still be granted a 12 months visa if approved.

Many members have raised concerns about the uncertainty for their employees on temporary visas and these changes provide more certainty in the short-term.

Immigration New Zealand FaQ’s:

When do these changes come into effect?
The change in duration for new lower-paid Essential Skills work visa applications from 12 to 6 months will apply to any applications made after 10 July and will be in place for the next 18 months, after which it will be reviewed.
The visa extension is automatic for most visa holders and will be applied for 6 months from the original visa expiry date. It will apply to onshore employer-assisted work visas expiring between 10 July and 31 December 2020 (inclusive).

What visa types are included in ‘employer-assisted’ work visas?
The following types of work visas will be extended:
• Essential Skills
• Work to Residence
• Special and Skilled work visas for China, Indonesia, South Korea, Philippines and Vietnam
• Special category work visas for Japanese Interpreters and Thai Chefs
• Work visas granted under section 61 of the Immigration Act 2009 that specify an employer

Will the visa extension still require migrants to work at least 30 hours per week?
Yes. Nothing has changed in respect of visa conditions. Visa conditions that require the visa holder to work in a specified occupation and for a specified employer remain in place, as well as the visa requirement that the employment is for 30 hours a week.


In line with the changes to employer-assisted work visas announced last year, from 27 July ANZSCO will no longer be used to determine whether a job is considered higher or lower-paid. Instead, a remuneration threshold will be used, which means that all work visa applications for jobs that are paid below the median wage will need to include a Skills Match Report (SMR) from MSD. The duration of the visa will also be dependent on whether the individual will be paid above or below the national median wage (currently $25.50 per hour).

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