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Work Visa Settings Changing Soon, Low-Skill Jobs Under Radar

Cleaners, fast food chefs and labourers are among several jobs under the scanner as the government prepares to tighten rules around hiring overseas workers in low-skill roles.

Immigration Minister Erica Stanford has indicated the government is likely to announce changes to immigration settings to ensure only high-skilled migrants are allowed into New Zealand. 

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“When we [National] left government, half of the migrants we were bringing in were skill level one and two. Those are your doctors, nurses, and professionals,” she told TVNZ in an interview on February 19.  

“That has completely changed: 52 per cent of the people we brought in last year were skill level four and five. That is your cleaners, fast food chefs, and labourers”. 

The minister shied away from providing a specific deadline for the immigration change, saying some of the tweaks will come into immediate effect “in the next month or so”.

Stanford’s statement comes days after Prime Minister Christopher Luxon called for greater scrutiny by immigration officials, saying the country’s record migration of nearly 126,000 immigrants last year was unsustainable.

Stanford ripped into the previous Labour government for its Accredited Employer Work Visa (AEWV) scheme that she says brought in nearly 52,000 “pretty unskilled people”.

When the interviewer asked if that was a mistake, Stanford said, “Yes it was.”

“[In the same duration] 20,000 people got added to the job seeker benefit. Now, that is not a recipe for productivity. [The blame] is squarely on the [previous] immigration minister,” she said.

Stanford pointed out that the AEWV used the median wage requirement as a proxy for high skills, which would have taken time and effort to verify, and instead, the government chose to “rely on a pinky promise” by employers. 

“[We have to think about] how do we change our settings so that we can make sure we have a really stringent labour market test so that the jobs are genuine, that we are putting Kiwis first, and we are able to shift those people off benefit.”

Stanford said her government has already cracked down on the construction sector and triangular employers, “and that’s why you have seen a slowdown in the visa processing process for the work visas”.

The minister wouldn’t talk specifically about what changes she was considering but said the accredited employee work visa rules would be tightened.

“If you look back to what we used to do, I'm considering all of those things and some new things,” she said. 

This could include more stringent labour market checks, such as pushing employers to prove they have been unable to fill these jobs from the local labour pool. 

Short-term changes might be announced in “the next month or so” but a government policy statement was a piece of work for the “very long term” and would come later. 

The accredited work visa has been under review since August last year and that report was due to be delivered last December. 

Stanford said she hasn’t seen it yet but will hold off on policy changes so that any findings can be factored into the revised visa settings. It is expected to be released in the next few weeks.

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