Posted by Dew James on December 8 2020 in News

The long process of overhauling New Zealand’s employer-assisted work visa framework will be entering the third and final phase in 2021.

In the intervening years since 2019, Immigration New Zealand (INZ) introduced sweeping changes to existing employer-assisted work visa categories to align with the Government’s intention of overhauling the current framework. The changes included increasing the salary threshold for the Talent (Accredited Employer) Visa Category from $55,000 to $79,560 per annum, reducing the duration (here’s my LinkedIn post showing the immigration updates) of all new lower-paid Essential Skills Work Visas (ESWV) from 12 to 6 months, and introducing a new (and arguably arbitrary) mechanism for determining the skill level of an ESWV applicant’s job by relying solely on the rate of pay (instead of ANZSCO). Read my previous article on the changes here. 

So, what will the new policy look like?

Central to the new framework (detailed on INZ's website here) is a shift away from what has traditionally been an employee-led visa application process, to an employer-led model. Any employer – irrespective of the size of the business or the number of foreign workers required – must be accredited by INZ before it can lawfully support a work visa application.

 There will be three ‘gateways’ – or rather hurdles – for employers and hopeful migrants to overcome:

GATE 1: The Employer Gateway

Standard Accreditation
valid for 24 months*
(less than 5 foreign workers)

High Volume Accreditation
valid for 24 months*
(more than 5 foreign workers)

Labour Hire Companies (accreditation valid for 12 months)

* Initial accreditation lasts for 12 months, and thereafter 2 years for subsequent renewals.

The aim of Gate 1 is to provide INZ the opportunity to vet the suitability of an employer to hire overseas workers. Central to its investigations will be an employer’s ability to offer secure and sustainable employment, provide a safe and healthy workplace, and preserve New Zealand’s international reputation by limiting the scope for migrant exploitation.

GATE 2: The Job Gateway

(either) High Pay
(200% of the median wage which is adjusted annually per information from Statistics NZ)

(or) Sector Agreements
(residential care (including aged care) and meat processing industries to enter negotiations end of 2020)

(or) Regionalised Labour Market
(depending on pay rate relative to median wage rate)


The aim of Gate 2 is to enable INZ to prioritise filling labour shortages in the country’s large cities and smaller regions with New Zealanders (i.e. citizens and residents). This will be even more important now than when the policy was first announced given the rise of unemployment in the wake of the of Covid-19 pandemic and lockdowns.

GATE 3: The Worker Gateway

(incl.) Health
(no adverse health conditions or secure a medical waiver)

(and) Character
(good character with no disqualifying convictions or secure a character waiver)

(and) Identity

(e.g. birth certificates which can be challenging for people from some nationalities to obtain)

(and) Skills & Qualifications

(be suitably qualified and/or experienced for the job offered)


The aim of Gate 3 is to preserve INZ’s ability to vet the applicant themselves. The health, character, identity, and skills/qualification requirements will likely remain the same as under the existing employer-assisted work visa framework. If an employer successfully passes through Gates 1 and 2 but an employee fails to meet INZ’s health requirements and is ineligible for a medical waiver, then the work visa will be declined even if the applicant is suitably qualified by training and experience for the job on offer.

The tiered, top-down approach of the new framework places the burden of the visa application process squarely on the employer’s shoulders. Failure to pass through Gates 1 and 2 will disentitle a migrant from applying for a work visa, even if s/he is suitably qualified and experienced for the role on offer.

This new approach also means that employers will be exposing themselves to considerable levels of scrutiny from INZ – and other Government departments – with respect to their business finances, tax compliance, and compliance with minimum employment standards. Any history of immigration non-compliance may be an automatic disqualifier from achieving accreditation status.

The decision to become accredited should not therefore be made lightly. We strongly recommend taking advice beforehand, and throughout the accreditation process to ensure that the application progresses as smoothly as possible. Contact our team of experts for tailored immigration, employment, and commercial advice.

If you would like help with your business activities or if you have any questions in relation to the matters set out in this publication, please contact us.

Kalev Crossland | Partner | Kalev.Crossland@shieffangland.co.nz
Dew James | Solicitor | Dew.James@shieffangland.co.nz
Tony Sung | Solicitor | Tony.Sung@shieffangland.co.nz

This paper gives a general overview of the topics covered and is not intended to be relied upon as legal advice.