Religious workers will be able to become New Zealand residents under a policy change announced today.

Immigration Minister Jonathan Coleman said until now there was no residence option for religious workers and some communities had struggled to fill positions.

"This new policy provides a path to residency for religious workers as well as an updated temporary work visa for shorter stays," he said.

Religious workers could apply for residence later this year.

They would have to have:

* A religious organisation's sponsorship;

* proof that the organisation needed someone long-term;

* proof that the worker had already spent three years here on a temporary visa.

The changes would be effective from November, when an updated temporary visa for religious workers would also be introduced. The temporary visa would allow a person to stay for up to four years, at the end of which they could apply for residence.

Over 1100 migrant religious workers were in New Zealand in 2009-2010.