Northland's hospitality sector has welcomed a backdown on immigration rules that could have seen some of their foreign workers having to leave the country after three years.

Final rule changes for skilled migrants will allow expatriates working in the hospitality sector in Northland to stay longer and apply for permanent residency.

The rule changes, announced by Immigration Minister Michael Woodhouse last week, saw a drop in salary threshold and will see migrants ranked according to their salaries.

Those on less than $41,538 a year will be considered "low-skilled" and will have to leave New Zealand after three years for a stand-down period of about 12 months before applying for a new visa.


The original proposed threshold was $48,859 but Mr Woodhouse lowered that after feedback from business groups and employers, including farmers.

The threshold for those regarded as highly skilled will remain at $73,299 - as originally proposed in April.

The decision to lower the threshold for medium-skilled workers will mean 6000 to 7000 more will meet the criteria for "mid-skilled" than would have otherwise and will not have to leave after three years.

The changes to the temporary work visas would come into effect on August 28.

Four ethnic Thai chefs at the Suk Jai Thai Restaurant in Kensington are breathing a sigh of relief they'll be exempt from the three-year rule because all earn more than $41,538 per year.

Restaurant owner Charn Tiebtienrat said seven other Thai restaurant owners in Whangarei were also relieved because they would be able to meet the income threshold for their staff.

Mr Tiebtienrat had made a submission to the Minister of Business, Innovation and Employment asking for an exemption from the three-year rule and pay threshold for ethnic Thai chefs in New Zealand.

"The lowering of the income threshold is a good rule in my opinion and I hope the Government won't do anything to change this, especially after the election," he said.

Hospitality NZ advocacy and policy manager Dylan Firth said the partial backdown by the Government would allow hospitality workers in Northland and throughout the country more flexibility in terms of applying for permanent residency.

"People think the main issue surrounding the latest immigration changes is around wages but it's not. The issue is around skills."

The next phase of a review of immigration settings would look at sectors and regions, including seasonal work visa and concerns by primary industries, and the lack of classifications for some jobs.

The average annual wage of workers in the hospitality industry is $39,624 to $43,284, according to Statistics New Zealand.