Immigration changes announced today will "safeguard the position of New Zealand workers", says BusinessNZ.

They will also help New Zealand get more higher skilled migrants, the business lobby group says.

Under new rules announced by the Government this morning, migrants will need to earn more than $49,000 to qualify for a skilled worker visa.

Immigration Minister Michael Woodhouse said the changes are aimed at increasing the quality of people coming to New Zealand, rather than reducing the number.


Two remuneration thresholds will be introduced.

•One will be set at the New Zealand median income, about $49,000 per year. Anyone earning less will no longer be classified as highly-skilled, and permanent residence applications will no longer be able to claim points for jobs that are paid below the median income.

• The other threshold will be set at 1.5 times the New Zealand median income of $73,299 a year for jobs that are not currently considered skilled but are well paid

BusinessNZ chief executive Kirk Hope said that the pay threshold will reduce "the potential for migrants undercutting Kiwi workers' pay".

"Employers have faced real difficulties in getting higher skilled workers and today's changes will help get more focus on actively-sought skills," Hope said.

"At the same time, proposed stand-down rules for lower-skilled migrants will reduce the potential for residence applications to be dominated by lower-skilled workers. There will always be a tension between the need for in-demand skills and the requirement for optimal access by Kiwis to the employment market.

"No immigration system is perfect, but the proposed changes should help get migrants who are better suited to our employment needs, while at the same time valuing the skill levels of New Zealand workers."

Dr Oliver Hartwich from the New Zealand Initiative said the changes are largely good but low-skilled migrants should not be overlooked for their contribution to sectors such as tourism.

"A common misconception is that New Zealand only benefits from highly skilled migrants, when in actual fact our economy needs a diverse mixture of skills," he said.

Hartwich said non-highly skilled migrants make an overall contribution to the New Zealand economy and praised the one-off pathway to residency for 4000 workers in the South Island.

"This policy recognises the important contribution these workers have made to exporters in the South Island, and helps bolster businesses struggling with tight labour market," Hartwich said.