Recent Immigration changes Starting August 2017

Immigration Minister Michael Woodhouse has announced a number of changes to New Zealand's immigration system, aimed at tackling the number and quality of immigrants coming for work.

Following is the manner in which these changes will affect Immigrants:

What has the Government actually done?

They've made changes to the rules for people applying for a skilled migrant visa - a points-based system for people who want to work and live here indefinitely.

One of the main changes is the introduction of two "remuneration thresholds". According to this change, if an applicant would earn less than the median New Zealand income of $48,859, they won't get any points - even if their job was previously considered as skilled. Also any migrant who would earn more than $73,299 a year - one-and-a-half times the median income - will get points, even if they work in an area not previously classified as skilled.

There are also "bonus points" on offer for anyone paid more than $97,718 a year, while there will be more points available for work experience, post-graduate degrees, and people aged between 30 and 39. On the other hand, migrants will no longer get points for qualifications in an area of "absolute skills shortage", or for experience and qualifications in future growth areas, such as ICT and creative industries.

What about people here on temporary visas?

The same income thresholds will apply. Someone eligible for a temporary "essential skills" work visa who earns less than the median income can still work here, but only for a maximum of three years before a "stand down period" and a new application.

It will also be harder for their families to enter the country. Currently, partners and children can obtain open work visas and student visas, but the changes would mean they could enter the country as visitors and only get a work visa if they met requirements themselves.

Someone after a temporary work visa and earning more than $73,299 will be automatically classed as higher-skilled, meaning the time restriction doesn't apply to them.

In addition, seasonal workers will have their visas limited to the length of their work, rather than 12 months as is currently the case.

Anything else?

The Government is also introducing a one-off "pathway to residence" for about 4000 long-term temporary migrant workers in the South Island, such as those in the meat or dairy industry, and their families.

Woodhouse said the workers had filled genuine shortages and their families had become well settled, but there was no way for them to become residents under the current rules.

Migrants who meet the criteria will get a "work to residence" temporary visa, making them eligible for residency after two more years as long as they stay in the same industry and region.

Why make the changes?

Record migration levels have been praised as a sign of strong economic growth, but there are fears about how the influx of people will put pressure on public services and infrastructure.

In his speech, Woodhouse said the Government wanted to "control the number and improve the quality of new migrants coming to New Zealand".

He also raised concerns about the number of temporary workers staying in the country for many years without any pathway to residency - hence the new three-year limit.

A Treasury briefing from late 2015 also raised concerns about lower-skilled migrants shutting out local workers and stopping wages from growing - one possible reason for the new pay bands.

"This may have been discouraging some firms from either increasing wages and working conditions or investing, either in training existing workforce or in capital."

What about the politics of the issue?

It is election year, and opposition parties have accused the Government of failing to address the strain on Auckland and elsewhere by "turning down the tap" at a time of high demand.

The changes may be aimed at dampening down what could be a hot topic at the polls, without stifling immigration too much and hurting the economy.

How have political parties reacted?

Labour leader Andrew Little says the Government's "tinkering" will not fix the immigration system or ease the strain on public services, while NZ First leader Winston Peters has described the changes as a "con" and "a callous attempt to hold onto power" without addressing the real issue.

"They are fiddling with the issue while the plain fact is foreign workers will still be able to come here when employers claim they can't get Kiwis." ACT leader David Seymour is also critical but for different reasons, saying the Government should not be targeting migrant workers who contribute to New Zealand by paying tax but instead those coming here and "ripping off taxpayers".

So how much of a difference will the changes actually make?

It's not that clear. The Government's own Q+A says that while some people in low-paid employment may be shut out, the door will open to others in highly paid jobs that were previously considered low skilled.

It estimates there were just over 1700 lower skilled workers that had held a temporary visa for three years or longer, giving some idea of how many could be affected by the new time limit in that area.

However, the changes are not retrospective, meaning migrants and their families who have already received visas will not be forced out of the country.

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