Employing migrant workers — what is changing

How you employ migrant workers is changing. Find out what is changing and when.

When the changes take effect

The changes are happening in stages and will be completed in 2021. There is nothing you need to do now to change the way you hire migrants unless you are a Talent Accredited Employer.

From 7 October 2019, there were changes for Talent Accredited Employers, including to the salary you must offer your employees before they can apply for a Talent (Accredited Employer) Work Visa.

Changes to the Talent (Accredited Employer) Work Visa


The Skilled Migrant Category Resident Visa and its requirements are not affected by these changes.

Changes in 2020

On 27 July 2020, the current system of assessing jobs based on skill-bands changed. We now assess jobs based on whether they are paid at or above, or below the median New Zealand wage, instead of using a combination of the ANZSCO classification and pay to determine skill bands.

Essential Skills visas are changing 27 July 2020 

From the end of 2020 we will start to negotiate sector agreements for employing migrant workers with 2 industries that hire large numbers of migrant workers: residential care (including aged care) and meat processing. There are 4 other sectors which have been identified for negotiations so far.

If you work in one of these sectors, in the future you will need to hire migrant workers under the terms of your sector’s agreement with us.

Employing migrant workers under a sector agreement

Changes in 2021

From 2021, the way you employ temporary migrant workers will change.

We are:

  • introducing a new visa which replaces 6 current visas
  • bringing in accreditation for all employers hiring migrant workers on the new visa
  • removing 2 existing employer schemes, and
  • tailoring visa policies to recognise 3 distinct labour market situations across New Zealand.

Keeping up to date with the changes

We are still working on how we implement some of the changes including the accreditation process. As more details are finalised we will update our website information.

If you want to keep up to date with immigration changes you can sign up for email updates.

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We have prepared a factsheet that explains in more detail the changes that are planned and how they affect employers.

Changes to employer-assisted temporary work visas — what does this mean for employers? PDF 9MB

The new temporary work visa replaces some existing visas

The new temporary work visa will replace these existing visas:

  • Essential Skills Work Visa (including those that are Approved in Principle)
  • Talent (Accredited Employer) Work Visa
  • Long Term Skill Shortage List Work Visa
  • Silver Fern Job Search Visa, and
  • Silver Fern Practical Experience Visa.

Some temporary work visas are not affected

The way you employ migrant workers on other temporary work visas will not change for:

  • Recognised Seasonal Employer (RSE) Limited Visa
  • working holiday schemes
  • Post-study Work Visa
  • Fishing Crew Work Visa
  • Religious Worker Work Visa
  • Specific Purpose Work Visa
  • partnership work visas including Partner of a Worker Work Visa, Partner of a New Zealander Work Visa and Partner of a Student Work Visa
  • work visas granted for international or humanitarian reasons, such as domestic staff of diplomats, consular and official staff, and for refugee or protection status claimants.

How the accreditation process will work — the employer check

From 2021 you must be accredited to employ migrants on the new temporary work visa. Accreditation under the new policy will be different from under the current Talent Accredited policy. We have developed some aspects of the new policy, but later in 2020 we will confirm how and when you need to be accredited and what it will cost.

How the new accreditation process will work

Employer schemes we will remove

As part of these changes we will remove 2 existing employer schemes:

  • getting an approval in principle (AIP) before you hire workers on an Essential Skills Work Visa
  • accreditation as a Talent Accredited Employer.

The job check — strengthening the labour market test

Before you hire a migrant worker you will need to do a job check that may include a labour market test.

Job checks include:

  • doing a labour market test if necessary
  • applying the terms of a sector agreement for your industry, if there is one
  • checking that the pay for the job is in line with the New Zealand market rate
  • deciding if the job is high- or low-paid.

Which jobs need to meet a labour market test

In some cases, the job check will include a labour market test to assess whether there are New Zealanders available for the work. You must show you can meet a labour market test if the work you offer is paid less than the New Zealand median wage — currently NZD $25.50 an hour.

You will not need to show you can meet a labour market test if:

  • the job you are offering is outside Auckland, Hamilton, Wellington, Christchurch or Dunedin, and
  • you are paying more than the New Zealand median wage.

If the job you are offering is in Auckland, Hamilton, Wellington, Christchurch or Dunedin, you do not need to show you can meet a labour market test if the job is on a skill shortage List.

Managing labour markets in New Zealand cities and regions

About the labour market test

To show you meet a labour market test you will have to:

  • document the requirements of the job, including any qualifications, skills and experience the employee will need, and provide them to the Ministry of Social Development (MSD) — but only if the job is low-paid
  • include the salary or wage when you advertise the role — this will help to show that New Zealanders and migrant workers are being offered comparable rates of pay.

If MSD refers suitable job seekers

You will not be able to support a visa if there are New Zealanders available and suitable to do the work. We are still finalising the circumstances in which you can reject a person referred by MSD for a job. These may include the job seeker not coming to an interview as agreed or failing a drug test for a vacancy in a high-risk environment.

You will no longer be able to reject an applicant for not having their own vehicle or driver licence unless it is specifically required for the job.

Using pay instead of skill bands

We now no longer use ANZSCO to determine the skill band of a job. Before 27 July 2020, the skill band of a job — that is, whether it is low- mid- or high-skilled — was determined through a combination of the pay and the ANZSCO classification. The skill band of a job determined:

  • whether an employer had to engage with MSD in order to meet the labour market test
  • if a visa could be granted for longer than 12 months
  • if the person holding a visa could stay in New Zealand for more than 3 years without having to leave
  • whether the person holding the visa could support their partners and children to come to New Zealand.

From 27 July 2020, these factors are decided by what you pay a migrant worker, instead of by skill bands. Using the median wage, currently NZD $25.50 an hour, a worker can be:

  • low-paid, if they are paid below the New Zealand median wage, or
  • high-paid, if they are paid at or above the New Zealand median wage.

You still need to accurately match the job to an ANZSCO occupation as you did previously. We will use the code you give us to ensure that:

  • the rate of pay is not less than the market rate, and
  • the visa applicant is suitably qualified.

How the median wage is calculated

Stats NZ calculate the median wage and update it at least once a year. We will update the median wage for migrant workers in November each year based on calculations supplied by Stats NZ.

Labour market statistics (income): June 2019 quarter | Stats NZ

Recognising variations in labour needs across New Zealand

Because labour needs differ across New Zealand we are implementing 3 distinct types of regions. They are:

  • cities
  • regions with variable or high supply of labour, and high unemployment or underemployment
  • regions with low supply of labour, and low unemployment or underemployment.

Depending on your region, the conditions of your migrant worker’s visa will be different to take account of the employment situation in your area. For example, low-paid workers in lower-supply regions will be able to get a visa of up to 3 years, whereas low-paid workers in the cities and higher-supply regions will be granted a 1-year visa.

Managing labour markets in New Zealand cities and regions

What will change for your current migrant workers

All existing work visas will remain valid when the new visa becomes available in 2021.

If you want a migrant worker to continue working for you after their current visa expires, you will need to be accredited before they can apply for a temporary work visa.

Changes to working in New Zealand on a temporary work visa

Changes to employer-assisted temporary work visas — what does this mean for foreign workers? PDF 1MB

Low-paid jobs are for a maximum of 3 years

Low-paid migrant workers who have worked in New Zealand for 3 years will still need to leave New Zealand. If they want to return they must spend at least 12 months outside New Zealand first before they apply for another work visa to work in lower-skilled work (or in the future, low-paid work). This requirement has not changed and aims to prevent a pool of lower-skilled, lower-paid migrants building up in New Zealand that are well-settled but cannot apply for residence.

How long you can stay on an Essential Skills Work Visa — stand-down period for lower-skilled workers

Applying for residence

When the new visa is introduced in 2021, 2 current residence visas will no longer be available:

  • Talent (Accredited Employer) Resident Visa, and
  • Long Term Skill Shortage List Resident Visa.

People who hold a Talent (Accredited Employer) Work Visa or a Long Term Skill Shortage List Work Visa at that time will still be able to apply for residence.

With the new visa, migrant workers will be able to apply for residence if they:

  • are paid over 200% of the median wage, and
  • have worked in a highly-paid job in New Zealand for 2 years.

Changes to working in New Zealand on a temporary work visa