High demand industries at most risk from immigration law change

Changes to New Zealand's work visa rules, which came into effect in July 2017, are now having a significant effect on migrant workers and the businesses which employ them.

The changes mean people applying for work visas for lower-skilled roles can obtain yearly visas - but only for three years. At the end of that period, the applicant needs to leave the country for a year, before again applying for a visa. Alternatively, they can remain in New Zealand by applying for a work visa for a higher-skilled role.

Immigration law specialist Nicola Tiffen says business owners who want to employ migrants, as well as migrants hoping to work towards residency in New Zealand, will need to ensure they're fully informed about the changes and what steps they need to take, to avoid problems which could severely impact businesses and families.

"Because of the three-year lag after the law change, it's going to start really hitting home next year or the year after for a lot of employers," she says.

"It's very important for employers to be aware of the skill level of their staff, when their visas are expiring and how much longer they're going to be able to keep them on. There's nothing more heartbreaking than finding out you won't be able to get a new visa and having to pack up your life and your family and return to wherever you've come from."

Nicola Tiffen, head of the Immigration Practice at law firm Anthony Harper, is an expert in immigration law.

Tiffen, head of the Immigration Practice at law firm Anthony Harper, says the new rules are proving controversial in some industries, as the government's skill level classifications are not agreed upon by all employers or employees, especially in industries such as dairy, retail, hospitality and aged care.

The scale Immigration New Zealand uses to determine the skill level of an occupation is determined by ANZSCO (Australia New Zealand Standard Classification of Occupation), a system designed by both the New Zealand and Australian Statistics Departments.

"The problem is," says Tiffen, "we're in such a fast-moving and changing work environment and economy, a lot of jobs are dual. You're doing a little bit of this and a little bit of that, or in fact it's a new occupation which hasn't yet been classified. So it's a little bit of a blunt tool but I think it's the best one that we've got at the moment."

Tiffen says the impact of migrant workers on New Zealand's employment rate has been an ongoing issue for the past few years. However, she says New Zealand, like most Western countries, needs to bring in people of working age to contribute to the tax base.

"Otherwise," she says, "we're not going to have a sufficient tax-paying population to maintain the current levels of superannuation and publicly funded services that we accept in this country.

"Migrants traditionally bring more value and contribute more to an economy than they use. Overall, a migrant will come to a country and pay more taxes than they ever use in terms of healthcare and other services. When they come to New Zealand their health is checked, their criminal record is checked and because they're the sort of person that will get up and travel to a new country and try to start a new life, they tend to be a self-selected group of motivated people."