What does “immigration rebalancing” mean for employers, asks Sarah Caulton.
Coinciding with the phased reopening of borders this year, the government is looking to “rebalance” New Zealand’s immigration priorities.
The restrictions on travel to New Zealand have given the government an opportunity to implement changes to our immigration system, aimed at supporting the government’s strategy to improve the country’s economic performance and our standard of living.
This will be a significant change from pre-Covid immigration settings, both in the volume and composition of migrant workers entering New Zealand. The objectives of the proposed rebalancing include reducing the flow of low-skilled workers and encouraging investment in higher skill levels and technologies.
One of the major changes will be the introduction of a new work visa, replacing six other visas that have been phased out. The Essential Skills Work Visa, which has been the immigration route for many skilled workers, closes new applications on July 3, 2022.
New work visa from July
If a company wants to employ a migrant worker in New Zealand, the worker must hold a valid visa with the correct conditions. The new visa, called the Accredited Employer (AEW) visa, opens for applications on July 4, 2022. Under the current work visa regime, the responsibility for applying for and maintaining the correct visa falls largely on the applicant. ’employee. In comparison, the AEW visa is employer-focused and places additional obligations on the employer to ensure they comply with the new framework.
If a company wants to hire a migrant worker (who does not already have a visa with suitable working conditions) from July, they will first need to obtain accreditation and carry out an employment check before the worker can apply for a visa. The employer must demonstrate to Immigration New Zealand (INZ) that they are a genuine and compliant business and that they are committed to settling migrants and minimizing exploitation. It is only once these two steps have been completed that the worker can apply for the visa.
It is an offense for an employer to hire someone without the correct visa or working conditions, whether they were aware of the legal requirements or not. A violation of the new visa requirements could expose an employer to a fine of up to $50,000, so it is obvious that employers wishing to apply under AEW should clearly understand the requirements.
Exploitation of migrants
Another goal of rebalancing immigration is to continue to guard against the exploitation of migrants in the workplace. In July 2021, the Migrant Exploitation Protection Visa was introduced to help migrants quickly leave exploitative situations while remaining legally in New Zealand. To obtain this visa, the worker must first make a statement to Employment New Zealand, which will then examine the complaint. An employer found guilty of exploiting migrants can be jailed for up to seven years and can be fined up to $100,000.
The minimum accreditation requirements for the new AEW visa include an employer commitment to minimize the risk of exploitation. Employment New Zealand has developed online modules on employment rights which must be completed by the migrant worker and anyone involved in making recruitment decisions. If an employer is looking to hire six or more migrant workers, they must also show a commitment to improving wages and conditions for all employees over time. If INZ discovers any breaches of these accreditation requirements, the accreditation will be revoked.
Employers now subject to additional scrutiny
The immigration rebalancing and associated AEW visa is intended to streamline the process of hiring a migrant worker, but it also subjects employers to additional scrutiny from INZ, with a particular focus on compliance. It is essential that employers ensure that their recruitment and onboarding processes comply not only with applicable employment law, but also with their obligations under immigration law and policy. Again, under the new system, the onus is on employers to understand their compliance requirements and meet those requirements or suffer the consequences.
The introduction of the AEW visa has been delayed several times, but it seems that the opening date of July 4, 2022 is firm. Like any major change to immigration policy, there are likely to be teething problems as employers, their advisers and INZ officers adjust to the new system.
If you’re a migrant worker or a company planning to hire migrant workers in the second half of this year, expert advice is key to navigating the new AEW visa. Mistakes can be disastrous for an immigrant trying to rebuild their life in New Zealand and can have a lasting impact on an employer’s ability to hire migrants, with consequences for their business.
With the phased reopening of the border fast approaching, employers should take advice now and put the right processes in place so they can continue to hire migrant workers and stay compliant with the new framework.
– Sarah Caulton is an immigration lawyer practicing at the law firm Dunedin McMillan & Co.