Immigration and remuneration. What is changing?

New Zealand’s immigration laws will be changing this year, making it more difficult to get visas. How will this affect your business? By John McGill.

Due to New Zealand’s small population, we’ve long required skills and talents from around the world to support our own national workforce. Although this is a major positive for our economic productivity, it does have its fair share of critics who highlight failings in our immigration policies.

As it’s election year, this topic has again reared its head, with the National Government moving the goalposts in terms of the minimum salary and rewards for foreigners wanting to work in New Zealand. So how could these policies affect your business?


Changes to immigration laws

There are two skilled labour visas that are being amended this year: the Skilled Migrant and Essential Skills visas. The first is a permanent residence visa for skilled foreigners who meet a certain set of standards and wish to settle down in New Zealand. The second is a temporary visa for internationals who have been offered a job that no Kiwi was available for or qualified to fulfil.

New Zealand requires overseas talent to fill skill shortages. Due to the ongoing skill shortages in many New Zealand industries including construction, agriculture and hospitality, the only option for business leaders is to hire overseas workers.

These workers are filling the gap in situations where there are no New Zealanders with the skills or qualifications, or even the desire in some instances, to fulfil the role.

As of August 14, 2017, the minimum annual salary requirements for both visas will be $48,859. Before 2017, there hasn’t been a remuneration regulation for these visas, primarily because the foreigners’ skill level was assessed in other ways.

Immigration NZ has decided that the best way to evaluate whether a job is skilled or not is by measuring the pay level in addition to other outside factors.


How will this affect my business? 

Kiwi businesses that don’t rely on, or attract, foreign employees will likely not be affected by these visa changes. Businesses that do have international employees, but are able to adjust their pay scales to offer such workers $49,000 a year, should also be fine. 

There will be minimum salaries required for those on visas. 

However, if you’re planning on bringing in international workers, or have employees currently on the Working Holiday scheme who wish to remain in New Zealand, this change could make it harder for you to get them visas. 

Many companies in New Zealand rely on lower-paid employees – not necessarily lower skilled, but lower-paid – and want to be able to keep their foreign staff despite these changes.

If this is the case, it might be a good idea to consider reviewing your remuneration strategy. To adhere to the changing laws, business leaders will need to be smart with their remuneration policies, look to market information to help pay their staff a fair and balanced salary and ensure they’re able to fill those critical skill gaps.

Like most other parts of an organisation’s business, ensuring remuneration structures are reflecting the changing market circumstances, in addition to meeting internal needs, remains an important balancing act.


John McGill is the CEO at Strategic Pay. 

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