Other Critical workers – The Unyielding Border Category- by Zinnia Manchanda

Other critical workers

We are fast approaching the anniversary of New Zealand’s border closure on 20 March 2021. For almost a year, only a small portion of offshore workers have managed to enter the country through the border exemption process. The impact on New Zealand employers, many of whom are unable to meet INZ’s extremely high threshold but desperately require workers, is profound. Everyday we have employers asking us whether they can bring people in through the Critical Workers Category, so here’s some considerations to make if you are thinking of going down this path.

At present, there are only 2 key categories via which businesses can bring workers to New Zealand – Critical Health Workers and Other Critical Workers. The former is only for selected roles within the health sector. The latter is open to everyone else.

Other Critical Worker (OCW) is the category that employers ask us about most, understandably so, as it is the most complex to comprehend. Sitting at an approval rate lower than 20%, OCW caters to all types of non-health industries and selected government projects, and the bar for assessment is set extremely high.

What is the trick to getting an OCW approved? There isn’t one factor. It’s a combination of factors. The decisions (to decline or approve) are made by Immigration New Zealand’s national managers with input from business advisors. The applications are looked at with a fine tooth and comb and every argument presented is broken down to see if the worker is really needed physically in New Zealand.

First and foremost is looking at the uniqueness of the person’s skill– is there no one else in NZ who possesses the skill/experience or are there such workers in NZ but they are set in their jobs and unavailable to work for the employer in question? What about their remaining staff? Could they share the workload of the role in parts and collectively do the whole job?

Following that, can the worker do their job remotely? Many employers raise the time difference angle (that job can’t be done remotely due to opposite time zones). This argument will not work unless it is impossible to mirror NZ work hours. Inconvenience is not good enough; it has to be impossible.

If the role has a deadline, is it really that urgent? What will happen if its not met? How significant are the consequences; what’s the impact? Can it be mitigated by efforts made by the business using NZ based resources?

Finally, what efforts has the employer made to make it work without the worker being in NZ? INZ will look at the extent of efforts made – or is this application for border exemption the first port of action?

These are just some of considerations when OCW applications are being assessed. They require intense thought, scrutiny, a large amount of evidence, time and patience. It is no easy feat to get entry approved via this pathway, and it has been set this way so only employers who really are stuck are the ones who get approved.

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