News & Thinking

Changes to visa rules, to help with the Covid-19 pandemic

Contributed by:

Kathryn McKinney
Partner

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Kathryn McKinney


On 16 April, some visa rules were temporarily relaxed for those working within businesses providing “essential services”.

 

Employers can submit an application, online, to have migrant workers’ visas amended.

 

In particular:

  • Any migrant worker who has an employer-specific visa, and already works for an essential service employer, can have his or her visa amended to undertake a different position, for the same employer.
  • A migrant worker can also have his visa amended to allow work for a different employer, in the same occupation, as long as he or she will remain in the same region.
  • Finally, an international student already working for an essential service provider can also have his or her visa amended, to allow full-time work, rather than being restricted to 20 hours a week. However, the student must still meet their course requirements.

 

The visa change will only apply for six weeks after the country moves to Alert Level 2.

 

Are there any changes to help visa holders working in healthcare, such as aged care?

INZ has also announced that it will allow some low-skilled healthcare workers, such as caregivers, to work for an extra 12 months before they must depart New Zealand, to undertake a 12-month mandatory stand-down period.

 

This means workers who have worked in New Zealand for three years, on low-skilled Essential Skills work visas, can apply to extend their visas for another year.

 

This will be a relief to the aged care industry who were facing an exodus of care givers from August of this year.

 

What should I think about if I need to change migrant workers’ employment conditions?

Although INZ has relaxed some rules, employers need to continue to adhere to employment and immigration law requirements.

 

  • If an employer fails to act in good faith or to otherwise adhere to employment law requirements, such as when reducing remuneration or altering employment conditions, the Labour Inspectorate or the Employment Relations Authority (ERA) may become involved. If the result is an infringement notice (from the inspectorate) or a penalty order (from the ERA or Employment Court) then the employer will be a “non-compliant employer” and be unable to support employees’ visa renewals or new visa applications for at least six months.
  • Many Essential Skills work visas require migrants to be paid at least $21.25 per hour, and for at least 30 hours per week. If an employer pays less than this, the migrant will be in breach of his or her visa. However, the employer may also commit an offence by inciting or counselling a migrant to breach the conditions of his or her visa.
  • The same applies to migrants with work-to-resident visas, from accredited employers. These migrants must earn at least $26.50 or $38.25 per hour (depending on whether the visa was applied for before October last year), for at least 40 hours a week, to ensure an income of $55000 or $79560 per annum. Therefore, failure to ensure these minimum remuneration levels may also fall foul of immigration requirements and laws.
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