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New Zealand: new visa changes & potential effects on international graduates wishing to stay on

New Zealand Immigration has announced a new set of rules within the Skilled Migrant Category (SMC) Visa, which will affect foreign workers, as well as international graduates wishing to stay on in the country. The new set of guidelines, which will come into effect in mid-August 2017, feature academic qualification and work experience as criteria based on which the SMC visa applications are to be evaluated. 

The key changes in the process for granting this type of visas include:

  • more weight in the scoring system given to both skilled work experience and to recognised postgraduate qualifications.
  • higher income thresholds. Two ‘remuneration thresholds’ will be set: one at the New Zealand median annual income of NZD 48 859 (approx. EUR 30 600) for employment classified as skilled, while the other is set at 1.5 times the median income for non-skilled, but well paid labour. Those with incomes below the thresholds will no longer qualify for a Skilled Migrant visa.

Nevertheless, graduates who will no longer qualify for the SMC visa could apply for the Essential Skills visa, which permits such visa holders to work in New Zealand for a maximum of three years, after which they are requested to leave New Zealand for a ’stand down period’, to then be able to re-apply. 

In the official press release, the Ministry states the changes purpose a better management and labour market contribution of immigration, and acknowledges that the government will pursue a “Kiwis first approach” when it comes to securing people in employment. Neighbouring Australia has made similar moves this April, by introducing reforms to employer sponsored skilled migration visas, replacing the skilled 457 visas with a new category restricted to critical skills shortages, and tightening English language requirements, with the aim to put in place “safeguards which prioritise Australian workers”.

Although the new regulations may make it more difficult for foreign graduates looking to stay on long-term in New Zealand, the country has also taken actions to grow its international student body, including the recently extended Student Pathway-Visa that supports transitions between studies on a single visa.  

Government of New Zealand – Press release