The travel restrictions and economic downturn caused by COVID has had a profound effect on both New Zealand’s employment market and on immigration of skilled workers. COVID has also driven an increasing number of companies to offer flexible working and work from home arrangements leading to a more mobile workforce, meaning that for some roles, employees may work from anywhere in the country. The result is an increasingly competitive employment market for a decreasing number of employees within New Zealand.
Even before the pandemic, New Zealand has become increasingly reliant on migrant labour and demand has always been a driver of change. As of 04 July 2022, the Essential Skills Work Visa (ESWV) was replaced by the Accredited Employer Work Visa (AEWV). The new AEWV scheme requires employers to first become accredited, then have the job on offer checked to ensure it meets the scheme’s requirements. Only after those two stages are completed, is the migrant asked to apply for a work visa.
With a new regime comes fresh challenges for both employers and employees. Whether you are an experienced employer looking to continue hiring migrants, a new business testing the waters or an existing business looking to expand your staff and considering hiring migrants for the first time, this article provides a summary of what the AEWV process looks like and common issues for employers.
Immigration New Zealand (INZ) has set four levels of accreditation. What level you apply for will depend on the nature of your business and how many migrants you intend to hire. Most commonly, employers will be applying for Standard (up to 5 migrants) or High-Volume Accreditation (6 or more migrants). INZ’s fees for these applications are $740.00 and $1220 respectively. For franchisees and controlling third parties, the application fees are significantly higher. A full list of the costs can be found here. Employers can “upgrade” from Standard Accreditation to High-Volume accreditation for an additional fee of $480.00. In the current economy it is very common for employers to be unsure of their labour needs in the next 1-2 years making upgrading a viable option down the track if Standard accreditation is not sufficient.
Businesses must confirm that they are genuine and financially viable, for example; have not made a loss over the last 2 years, have a positive cash flow for the last 6 months and various other financial requirements. You and key people in your organisation cannot be on the Labour inspectorate’s stand down list. The AEWV has brought more focus on INZ’s role to uphold employment and avoid migrant exploitation.
Employers must advertise each role that they intend to recruit a migrant for, except for jobs that pay twice the median wage or are on the Green List. Roles must be advertised on a national listing website (such as Indeed or SEEK) for a period of at least 2 weeks. INZ has strict requirement regarding what the advertisements must contain. Some of which will be new to most employers, such as including a pay range (minimum and maximum pay for the role). Roles that are not exempt must pay at least the NZ median wage ($27.76 at the time of writing). As well as various other requirements.
INZ’s fee for a job check is $610 per role. It’s important to get this step right as mistakes can mean that your job check is declined and you will lose precious time and money having to advertise and apply again. Our knowledgeable team at Wakefields can help take the stress out of the process and ensure that the accreditation application runs smoothly.
INZ will scrutinise the job description, employment agreement and the results of advertising, which is why employers would be wise to seek professional advice for both employment agreements and job descriptions. It is important that an employment agreement not only covers all that is legislatively required but that it is also clear to all parties what their obligations are and how conflict will be resolved. Job descriptions need to be specific enough to clearly identify the role it covers while also being flexible enough to allow for some change and the role to grow. This can be a difficult balance to strike.
Strong employment practices from the start of employment practically pay for themselves. Good documentation will help reduce the capacity for conflict while also reducing the amount of time you and your employee will have to spend attempting to resolve conflicts to clear up ambiguity. We consider the AEWV scheme is also an excellent opportunity to review employment practices and tidy up any issues. Wakefields has assisted many employers through their applications, and we have a wealth of both immigration and employment experience. We can assist with the job check process with an approach that is suited to your specific business needs.
Once your application is successful. Immigration will provide you with “tokens” (a unique code) that you will provide to a successful applicant to allow them to apply for the AEWV.
Thankfully, from an employment perspective, your recruitment process will remain largely the same. You may wish to engage with foreign applicants directly or have a recruitment company handle this for you. Once a successful applicant is found you will provide them with one of the “tokens” provided by INZ and the migrant will then begin their part of the application.
The criteria for a migrant to apply for an AEWV is also largely unchanged from the ESWV. They must be a of good character and health and be suitably qualified and/or experienced for the role. A full list of the criteria can be found here.
The final step is by far the most radical change from the previous ESWV system. Employers are required to offer a wide range of “post-settlement” support to their employees. Throughout the accreditation process you will be asked to make various declarations regarding your current and future business and employment practices. Employers (and key persons in the employers’ organisation) will be required to complete employment modules on the INZ website and to provide successful recruited applicants paid time to do the same. You must also provide employees with information on how to set up a bank account, acquire an IRD number as well as information about your local community, such as accommodation, community groups and information about the area.
These declarations can easily be overlooked once a migrant is employed, and business gets busy. It is of the utmost importance that you comply with any declaration made and that you keep sufficient evidence of that compliance. Non-compliance (or an inability to prove compliance) will likely result in future AEWV applications being declined. Wakefields can assist with how best to structure this information and help put practices in place to ensure compliance with INZ requirements.
The AEWV is very different from the old ESWV. At Wakefields we understand the issues that your business faces, don’t let staff shortages be one of them. If you have positions that you think qualify for the AEWV or would like more information, please contact Wakefields Lawyers on 04-970-3600 or email email@example.com.
– Tom Speight (Solicitor)