Immigration Minister Michael Woodhouse has today announced a package of changes designed to better manage immigration and improve the long-term labour market contribution of temporary and permanent migration.

Remuneration thresholds for permanent and temporary skilled migrants will be introduced along with a one-off pathway to residence for lower-skilled migrants already in the South Island.

Changes to permanent immigration settings include introducing two remuneration thresholds for applicants applying for residence under the Skilled Migrant Category (SMC), which will complement the current qualifications and occupation framework.

First, the minimum income threshold for jobs that are currently considered skilled is increased from the current $45,000 to $49,000, to align with the New Zealand median income of $48,859.

Second, the income threshold for jobs that are not considered skilled currently, but still are well paid, will be set at 1.5 times the New Zealand median income at $73,299.

However, it would be interesting to know what kind of unskilled jobs are currently fetching wages above $73,299 in New Zealand. 

The Government is also proposing a number of changes to temporary migration settings to manage the number and settlement expectations of new migrants coming to New Zealand on Essential Skills work visas.

The changes include: 

  • The introduction of remuneration bands to determine the skill level of an Essential Skills visa holder, which would align with the remuneration thresholds being introduced for Skilled Migrant Category applicants
  • The introduction of a maximum duration of three years for lower-skilled and lower-paid Essential Skills visa holders, after which a minimum stand down period will apply before they are eligible for another lower-skilled temporary work visa.
  • Aligning the ability of Essential Skills visa holders to bring their children and partners to New Zealand with the new skill levels.
  • Exploring which occupations have a seasonal nature and ensuring that the length of the visa aligns with peak labour demand.

 What does it mean for the Indian community?

The single biggest announcement which has a potential to affect the situation incoming Indian immigrants is raising the threshold income to $49,000, says Alastair McClymont, an immigration lawyer at McClymont & Associates. 

“While we still wait for more information around the ministerial announcement, it is apparent that many applicants currently working in areas like dairy stores, liquor stores, chefs and in traditional fast food chains would struggle to meet $49,000 threshold,” Mr McClymont says.

The other area which could potentially affect many Indian workers who have already been working in the country on an Essential Skills Work Visa without applying for permanent residency as they did not meet minimum criteria for the residency.

“Many Indian workers like chefs have been working for years on essential skill work visa without applying for permanent residency as they would not meet English language proficiency requirement would now have a three-year clock ticking on them,” Mr McClymont says.

It is not yet clear if workers on essential skill work visa would be required to leave the country before becoming eligible to apply again for a new work visa.

In contrast to this ticking time-bomb on many Indian workers on Essential Skill work visa, currently working in restaurants and food industry, the government, has given a one of special amnesty to many foreign farm workers (read Filipino) working in South Island.

Immigration Minister Michael Woodhouse today announced a one-off pathway to the residence for around 4,000 long-term temporary migrant workers and their families living in the South Island.

“There has been a significant growth in the number of lower-skilled temporary migrants in the South Island who help fill genuine labour shortages and have become well-settled here.

 “However, due to current temporary migration settings, many of these lower-skilled temporary migrants have no pathway to the residence,” Mr Woodhouse says.

Sadly, it seems that Indian workers on essential Skill Work Visa are not getting any such general amnesty from the government.