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Essential Skills visas are changing 27 July 2020 Wednesday, 15 July 2020

From July 27 2020, we will be using a median wage threshold to decide how long someone can stay on an Essential Skills visa and their options to support family.

Replacing skill levels with a median wage threshold

Currently we use a combination of a job’s Australian and New Zealand Standard Classification of Occupations (ANZSCO) skill level and the salary to assess if someone is low, mid or high skilled.

From 27 July 2020 we will replace this with a median-wage threshold as an indicator of skill. Applicants will be assessed as either:

  • at or above the median wage, or
  • below the median wage.

We will use the current median wage of NZD $25.50 an hour.

We continue to calculate remuneration in the same way based on an hourly rate.

How we calculate your Essential Skills pay rate

You will only be affected by these changes if you apply or reapply for an Essential Skills visa from 27 July 2020.

Widening the eligibility to support family 

If you earn less than the NZ median wage, you will be able to:

  • support your partner for a visitor visa only, not a work visa — if your partner wants to work, they will have to apply for a work visa in their own right once they are in New Zealand — and
  • support visitor or student visas for dependent children, as long as you meet the minimum income threshold, which is currently NZD $43,322.76 or more a year.

If you earn at or above the median wage, you can support a work or visitor visa for your partner, and visitor or student visas for dependent children.

Bringing family if you have a work visa


If your family are overseas, they will be subject to the border restrictions currently in place. They will need to apply for an exemption from the border closure to come to New Zealand.

All partners and dependents of any Essential Skills work visa holder must meet immigration requirements such as health and character: holding an Essential Skills work visa is not a guarantee that your partner and dependent children will be granted visas or entry to New Zealand.

Border closures and exceptions

Changing the duration of Essential Skills visas

If you earn at or above the median wage, you can be granted a visa for 3 years. There is no longer a 5 year visa for higher-skilled jobs.

If you earn below the median wage, you can be granted a visa for 6 months.

The maximum combined duration of all work visas for jobs paying below the median wage is 3 years. After that time, you will be subject to a stand down period of 12 months.

How long you can stay on an Essential Skills Work Visa

The stand-down period will apply to below median wage visas

You will be subject to a stand-down period if you have been in New Zealand for 3 years on an Essential Skills visa for work:

  • assessed as lower-skilled if you apply before 27 July 2020
  • that pays below the median wage if you apply from 27 July 2020.

A stand-down period means you will need to leave New Zealand for 12 months before you can apply for another visa for work that pays below the median wage.

The stand-down applies even if you are waiting for us to process a Skilled Migrant Visa application.

Stand-down is delayed for 6 months for some visa holders

If you were in New Zealand on 10 July 2020 and you have an Essential Skills visa that will expire before 31 December 2020, it will be extended for 6 months and your stand-down period will be delayed.

Short-term changes to temporary work visas

Employers need to provide Skills Match Reports (SMR) for below median wage jobs

If you are an employer, from 27 July 2020 you will need to get a Skills Match Report (SMR) if the role you are recruiting for is paid below the median wage. Previously you only needed to get an SMR if the job was at ANZSCO skill level 4 or 5.

If you are hiring someone at or above the median wage, you will still need to show you have made genuine attempts to hire New Zealanders, including advertising for the role and considering New Zealanders.

Hiring someone from overseas