Northland's hospitality sector will still struggle to meet the revised income threshold for migrant workers, a Thai restaurant owner says.

Charn Tiebtienrat, of the award-winning Suk Jai Thai Restaurant in Kensington, Whangarei, said immigration changes to come into effect from January 15, 2018, would give employers some breathing space but not much.

Immigration New Zealand has announced a slight increase in income threshold for skilled and semi-skilled migrant workers for them to be eligible for three-year visa renewal.

Semi-skilled workers such as chefs currently being paid $19.97 an hour or less need to receive $20.65 otherwise their current visas would not be renewed.


Those earning $35.24 an hour under the skilled category will need to earn $36.44 to
qualify for a rolling skilled work visa.

Changes to the income thresholds will not affect the duration or conditions of visas that have already been granted.

Prior to the general election in September, the National Government proposed an hourly rate of $23.49 or at least $49,000 a year to qualify for a maximum three-year visa.

Mr Tiebtienrat said $23.49 an hour would have forced some Northland restaurants to hire and retrain chefs every three years.

Three of his ethnic Thai chefs earn $20.08 but he expected them to start getting $20.65 when their work visas came up for renewal in late 2018.

"However slight an increase in the income threshold there is, the hospitality sector is going to struggle to pay their migrant workers above the market rate because costs like rent, insurance, and ingredients have gone up so much," Mr Tiebtienrat said.

The market rate for semi and low skilled workers in the hospitality sector is between $17 and $18 an hour.

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

He employs four Thai chefs and none earn more than $49,000 a year.