New Zealand to tighten visa rules

Skilled visa applicants will need to earn at least $48k under changes later this year

WELLINGTON • New Zealand yesterday said it would tighten access to its skilled work visas, just a day after the United States and Australia announced similar restrictions on immigration.

New Zealand's immigration minister said he was taking a "Kiwis-first approach to immigration", echoing Australian Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull and US President Donald Trump in announcing policies to ensure jobs for their citizens.

Migration has become a hot topic in the lead up to New Zealand's Sept 23 general election.

"These changes are designed to strike the right balance... and encourage employers to take on more Kiwis and invest in the training to upskill them," Immigration Minister Michael Woodhouse said in a statement, using the colloquial term for New Zealand citizens.

The changes to be introduced later this year include introducing a minimum income requirement, making it more difficult for family members to join visa holders and limiting the amount of time seasonal workers are allowed to stay in New Zealand.

A boom in new arrivals has helped the New Zealand economy race along with one of the strongest gross domestic product growth in the developed world. But opposition parties and the central bank have called for a review of current policies, citing low wages growth and soaring house prices spurred by the influx.

A boom in new arrivals has helped the New Zealand economy race along with one of the strongest gross domestic product growths in the developed world.

But opposition parties and the central bank have called for a review of current policies, citing low wage growth and soaring house prices spurred by the influx.

Many sectors such as technology and construction suffer from a severe shortage of workers, and companies in these areas were recruiting many of their workers from overseas.

Under the changes, employers would need to provide a minimum income of NZ$49,000 (S$48,029) for anyone entering on a prioritised skilled visa. Anyone earning more than NZ$73,000 would be classed as highly skilled.

The Business New Zealand lobby welcomed the changes, saying the pay thresholds would reduce the potential for migrants undercutting New Zealand workers' pay.

However, opposition lawmakers criticised the rule changes as not going far enough.

Meanwhile, Australia's controversial decision to scrap a visa programme for temporary foreign workers got a mixed response yesterday, with critics slamming it as spin over substance and pandering to anti-immigration rhetoric.

The four-year visa would be replaced by a two-tier system - valid for either two or four years - of skilled temporary work permits, and would include tighter requirements for language and work experience.

Some 200 jobs would also be cut from the list of eligible professions.

The Australian Chamber of Commerce and Industry welcomed the changes. Said acting chief Jenny Lambert: "Public confidence in the skilled migration system is vital, and this announcement will help to achieve that confidence."

But the opposition Labor Party, which has long called for reforms to the visa scheme to protect local workers, said the changes did not go far enough.

Party leader Bill Shorten said yesterday: "If you're asking me what do I think about renaming one category of visa into two different categories of visas, well that's just shifting deck chairs isn't it, on the proverbial sinking ship."

Green Party Senator Sarah Hanson-Young said on Twitter that the reforms were "more like a name change, and retune for the racist dog whistle".

REUTERS, XINHUA, AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on April 20, 2017, with the headline 'New Zealand to tighten visa rules'. Print Edition | Subscribe