Teachers and nurses hired from overseas who are currently working in New Zealand may not be earning enough to qualify for residency visas under recent changes to immigration policy.
David Cooper, director at immigration advice firm Malcolm Pacific Immigration, says he worries many of these people may not meet the new base salary of $79,560 which is now required to meet requirements for a Work to Residency Visa.
"They may be entitled to other visas, but they need advice so they can put a plan in place," he says.
The new base salary - it has risen from $55,000 - is part of a shakeup of immigration policy. On October 7, the rules around the Work to Residence Visa, in which overseas workers can be supported by an accredited employer as part of a residency pathway, changed significantly.
These changes are set to affect many of the approximately 30,000 businesses who hire staff from overseas. With more changes taking effect in 2020, Cooper says it's vital these employers start to prepare ahead of time.
He says the changes in salary requirements are likely to affect many essential workers, like teachers and nurses, who may not reach the $79,560 limit. But he is also concerned employers whose staff are under the requisite salary may start competing for staff.
"Employers may end up getting played off against each other around salaries as overseas workers search for somewhere to work that has the right salary," he says.
But Cooper says there are alternative pathways for overseas workers: "They could ask their employer for a pay rise; if they are based in Auckland, they can look for jobs in other regions [which offer people the chance to earn more of the 160 points needed to gain residency]."
The changes set for 2020 make matters even more confusing, he says. From the middle of next year, jobs will be classified as "lower paid" or "higher paid", based on New Zealand's median wage. For lower paid jobs, there will be a maximum 12-month work visa. For higher paid jobs, the work visa will be valid for up to three years.
Visas will also be subject to different terms for industries that are particularly reliant on workers from overseas. These include residential care, meat processing, dairy, hospitality and tourism. There will be further changes in 2021 when six types of work visas are rolled into one.
Cooper says the changes are complex and hard to navigate without expert help and employers and overseas workers likely to be affected once their current visa runs out, need to seek advice well in advance.
"Malcolm Pacific Immigration don't charge for the initial assessment. And once we understand individual situations, we can make plans to move ahead," he says.
Other recent changes to immigration policy include the Parent Category amendments. This has seen the numbers capped to 1000 and increased the adult child's salary requirement to around $106,000 for a single parent sponsorship.
"There have been around 10,000 in the queue for this visa, some of them waiting for three years," says Cooper. "Now many are unable to enter the country dashing hopes for family reunions."
Malcolm Pacific Immigration has offices in Auckland and Wellington, and employ staff who speak a wide range of languages, including Chinese, Serbian and Spanish.
"There is a lot of confusion around what is happening in immigration policy," says Cooper. "It makes sense to get professional advice."