Changes On The Horizon For Foreign Worker Recruitment Process

March 10th, 2020 - Barbara Buckett


The process for hiring foreign workers on employer-assisted temporary work visas is due to undergo reforms over the next 18 months. The effects of these reforms broadly fit into three themes:

–          Ensuring priority for New Zealanders when it comes to filling vacancies;

–          Favouring highly-skilled immigration; and

–          Streamlining and simplifying the process.

Every business owner knows that it is vital to plan ahead. Here is what you, a non-New Zealander looking to obtain an NZ work visa or an employer employing or planning to support foreign workers on work visas, need to know about the upcoming changes.
(NoteChanges for Talent Accredited Employers are not covered in this article.)

Highlights include:

-The six current temporary work visa categories will be replaced by one temporary work visa by the end of 2021.

-A new three-step employer-led visa application process comprised of an Employer Check, a Job Check, and a Worker Check.

-Skill level will be assessed on remuneration, with jobs divided into lower-paid (below median wage) and higher-paid (above median wage) categories. The median wage as of  October 2019 is $25 per hour or $52,000 per annum based on a 40-hour week.

– A strengthened labour market test for lower-paid jobs.

-Removal of skills shortage lists for regions outside of major cities for higher-paid jobs. 


1- The Employer Check

Following the changes, any employer wishing to employer a foreign worker will have to be accredited. There are different levels of accreditation for employers depending on the number of foreign workers they recruit. It is important to ensure what level of accreditation you will require:

–    Standard accreditation: for employers who employ fewer than five employer-assisted foreign workers over a 12-month period. To obtain standard accreditation, employers  must:

o   Be a genuine business/organisation with a financial presence; AND

o   Not be on the non-compliant employer stand down list; AND

o   Be compliant with any relevant industry specific or other regulatory standards; AND

o   Have no history of non-compliance with the immigration system.

Immigration New Zealand states that this level of accreditation will be set at an ‘achievable level for most employers’ with minimal delays and compliance costs.

–    High-volume accreditation: for employers who employ more than five employer-assisted foreign workers over a 12-month period. Precise requirements are still being finalised  but New Zealand Immigration has indicated that in addition to the requirements for standard accreditation, employers will be required to:

o   Make commitments to training and upskilling New Zealanders

o   Make commitments to improving pay and working conditions

o   Indicate how they propose to meet these commitments.

–   Labour hire accreditation: Required for all labour-hire companies. They must:

o   Have a history of contracts for the supply of labour and of placing/employing New Zealanders

o   Only contract migrant labour to businesses who are compliant with immigration and employment law

o   Have adequate systems in place to monitor employment and safety conditions on site.

2- The Job Check

Employers must show that the job they are recruiting for is genuine, has conditions consistent with New Zealand standards and that the employer has made a real attempt to recruit a New Zealander. This can be met by one of three pathways:

–    Sector Agreement pathway- Sectors with a high reliance on temporary foreign workers will have sector agreements. These agreements will determine the conditions to be met  for recruiting foreign workers. Sectors identified for initial negotiations are:

o   Residential care

o   Meat processing

o   Dairy

o   Forestry

o   Road freight transport

o   Tourism

o   Hospitality

–    Regionalised labour market test pathway- This process depends on whether a job is ‘higher-paid’ (above median wage) or ‘lower-paid’ (below median wage).

o Higher-paid jobs- Employers outside the major cities (Auckland, Hamilton, Wellington, Christchurch and Dunedin) will no longer have to undertake a market test or refer to the regional skills shortage lists. Employers in these cities will have to undertake a streamlined market test (see below)Visas will be give for up to three years and be  renewable.

o   Lower-paid jobs- employers must pass a strengthened labour market test (see below). Workers will be subject to stand down periods, after which they must leave New  Zealand for 12 months.

–   Highly-paid pathway- Employers may apply via this pathway if a job pays twice the median wage. Employers must still pay market rate for the occupation.

o   Employers applying through this pathway will not be required to undertake a labour market test, regardless of occupation and region. Workers recruited under this process  will have a pathway to permanent residence following two years of work in a highly-paid position.

3- The Worker Check

Once the employer has completed the employer and job checks, the foreign worker may apply for a visa. Checks on identity, health and character will remain as they currently are. It is envisioned that there will be fewer requirements for a foreign worker to produce evidence of qualifications and experience.


Lower-paid jobs

The labour market test will be strengthened when it comes to assessing lower-paid jobs. For example:

–          Employers will be required to include the salary when advertising the role.

–          Employers will have to document and provide the requirements of the job to the Ministry of Social Development, including qualifications, skills and experience requirements.

–          Employers will not be able to pass the test if they reject suitable referrals from the Ministry of Social Development (unless there are acceptable reasons to do so.)

–          Employers will no longer be able to reject an applicant for not having their own vehicle/driver’s licence unless it is specifically required for the job.

Higher-paid jobs

Higher-paid jobs that are not on the skill shortage list will be subject to a streamlined labour market test, which only requires employers to include the salary when advertising the jobs.

If these policies affect you, and you have any further questions, do not hesitate to seek advice from BuckettLaw. 

Note: BuckettLaw takes no responsibility for the consequences of any actions taken on the basis of our articles. Any views expressed or comments made in an article are the writers option only. The content in our articles does not constitute legal advice. If you need legal or expert advice you should obtain specific advice about your case or matter from a professional. For legal advice based on your individual situation please contact us to speak with one of our expert lawyers.

Enjoy a complimentary 15-minute phone call as a first-time offer.

Barbara Buckett

Barbara Buckett is a highly experienced senior employment lawyer with over 35 years of practice in New Zealand. She provides expert advice on all areas of employment law and has a proven track record of delivering excellent results for clients. Barbara has extensive experience in resolving workplace issues and is an experienced litigator. In her free time, she enjoys reading, traveling, working out, and fine wine and dining with friends.

Get new posts delivered to your inbox

Never miss anything!The BuckettLaw team will keep you up to date with employment law news & legal updates.

More Reading...

Free Phone Call With Our Expert Employment Lawyers

Consult our experts about your employment questions. Get a free 15 minute phone discussion.