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Immigration Changes: New Petition Backs Low-Skilled Migrant Workers

Immigration Minister Erica Stanford announced a slew of changes to immigration settings last week | Photo: RNZ

A new petition is calling on the government to roll back a new immigration rule that requires low-skilled migrant workers to leave the country after a maximum of three years and reapply for a work visa. 

On April 7, 2024, Immigration Minister Erica Stanford announced a slew of changes to immigration settings to curtail what she described as unsustainably high migration levels. 

Most of the changes are aimed at reducing the number of migrants arriving for low-skilled jobs. Among them is a cap on the duration for which they can stay in the country. 

All migrant workers in Level 4 and 5 occupations– the official classification for low-skilled work–are now allowed to work for only two years at a stretch and a third year if their employer can’t find a suitable replacement on-shore. 

“This seems really unreasonable for the businesses that bring in these workers,” says Jagjeet Singh Sidhu of Auckland-based Immigration Matters NZ, who started the petition on April 15. 

“The businesses train these workers for two or three years and then they leave, does that seem reasonable? They have to then retrain new workers.”

Sidhu points out the new rule impacts not just the businesses but also the workers and their families. “What about their children who study here? Don’t they deserve continuity? It’s one thing to say they won’t get residency. But such a restriction makes the whole proposition to work here unattractive.” 

In his petition, Sidhu is calling on the government to either extend the three-year cap or let low-skilled workers apply for a fresh visa without having to leave the country. 

“This change will provide stability for migrant families while ensuring continuity for businesses relying on their skills.”

As of the afternoon of April 16, the petition had garnered 108 signatures within a day. Sidhu says he plans to take the petition to the parliament.

Last week, Erica Stanford unveiled a range of changes to the Accredited Employer Worker Visa scheme, the country’s main temporary work visa, saying they would help protect against exploitation and address "unsustainable" levels of migration.

She pointed to the near-record 173,000 non-New Zealand citizens who migrated here in 2023, and said the changes would focus on using the local labour market first, while still attracting high-skilled migrants.



The changes - which took effect immediately - included English language requirements for low-skilled Level 4 and 5 roles, with employers required to engage with Work and Income before filling those positions. 

"Last year, 20,000 people went on the benefit - at the same time, we brought in 52,000 low-skilled workers," Stanford said.

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