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Residence under Skilled Migrant Category - What employers should know and why?

21 June 2023

If you are an employer and are wondering whether you need to know about the Skilled Migrant Category residence that has reopened, then the answer is a hard YES. Read on to find out why. 

The Skilled Migrant Category or SMC was the most popular residence pathway for migrants before it was closed by the government in March 2020 when the borders were shut due to Covid. Since then, it has remained closed and under much speculation until the Minister’s announcement to re-open it on 12 Oct 2022. The re-opening of the SMC pathway has brought a fresh wave of hope to migrant workers and employers alike, especially migrants who missed out by not qualifying for residence under 2021 Resident Visa category. 

The first selection was for Expressions of Interest (EOI) that have 160 pts or more, on 11 November 2022. After this date, the points threshold increased to 180 pts and the next selection was on 18 Jan 2023, thereon followed by a monthly selection on the third Wednesday of each month. As a result, we have seen a rush, amongst those eligible, to apply before the qualifying points increase from 160 to 180 points.  

The current SMC with 180 points will be closed at 11:59pm on 15 August 2023. Final EOIs selection under current rules is on 16 August 2023. From 9 October 2023, a new simplified 6 points system will be introduced for the Skilled Migrant Category (SMC) Resident Visa.

Why do employers need to know about these changes? 

Now the question that you may have is why do employers need to know about this residence pathway? Most employers would want to stay up to date with temporary visa pathways and residence options for their migrant employees. In pre covid days, leaving residence worries completely to your employee may have worked. However, it isn’t feasible in this highly competitive, global skills shortage world.  

New Zealand is amid an unprecedented workforce crisis across various industry sectors. According to a recent NZ Herald article, The Reserve Bank finds that there are now double the job vacancies than there are unemployed people in New Zealand. Hence, employers now more than ever must be educated in what SMC and for that matter, what other residence pathways have to offer to skilled migrants choosing to come to NZ. The pathways and possibilities that allow them to permanently live in NZ is one the most important factors that migrants consider when deciding whether to move to NZ or not.  

Here are some of the reasons why employers need to know about the SMC category-  

  • This category has conventionally been the primary pathway for residence for most migrants. It is expected that this will remain as the key category in the future as well. SMC may provide another pathway to residence for migrants that have been offered a job in NZ and may not qualify for the fast track residence or work to residence pathways.  
  • The green list has approximately 90 roles listed under it. Other roles that are needed to meet labour shortages were excluded and had no pathway for residence. Following the announcement in October, those who do not qualify under the green list residence or twice median wage pathway to residence, have the option to qualify for residence through the Skilled Migrant Category by either having a minimum of 160 points by 9 November 2022, or 180 points after that.  
  • To be eligible for residence under this category, an applicant must be paid at least the median wage which is currently $29.66/hr. Residence applicants must meet the median wage requirements when applying for their residence. As a result, employees might request a pay rise to meet the median wage if their pay falls below this threshold.  
  • A valid temporary visa must be always held by a migrant employee, even after the residence application is submitted and under assessment, until the residence is granted by INZ. It is expected that SMC processing will take 12 to 18 months if not more. Employers need to ensure that this requirement is met by their migrant employees and that they are working lawfully in line with their visa conditions.  
  • From now and until the new SMC is introduced on 9 October 2023, employees can gain additional 30 bonus points for skilled employment outside the Auckland area. If you are a business outside of Auckland, this factor may offer an additional incentive for your migrant worker working towards an SMC residence.  

Our migrant workforce is an integral part of the New Zealand economy. The skill shortage in various sectors requires Kiwi employers to have as many opportunities as possible to not only fill specialist senior roles but also generalist and junior/intermediate roles, which are not covered by the Green List or paid twice the median wage. The re-opening of Skilled Migrant Category offers brighter prospects to NZ employers. Employers from various sectors/industries should use this opportunity to educate themselves so that they are aware of the options available when hiring a migrant.  

If you would like to know more about the SMC pathway, please join us for our webinar where we delve into this category and other upcoming changes.  

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