The Future of the Skilled Migrants Category

The Skilled Migrant Category (SMC, for short) has been New Zealand’s main residence visa category for many years. The goal of this category is to recognise those who have the skills necessary in New Zealand and give long-term settlement prospects here.

The SMC has undergone changes in recent years to ensure it reflects the needs of New Zealand, while offering a fair pathway to residency for migrants. The government has announced further changes that are expected to come into effect soon which we’ll be diving into.

So, if you’re interested in these changes, and what they could mean for you, read on.

Why Are Changes Happening?

Prior to lockdowns and border closures, the number of eligible Expressions of Interest (EOI’s) far outweighed the number of approvals, resulting in long wait times and uncertainty for migrants.

Additionally, a trend was recognised where applicants coming through this category required low levels of training or experience. This pattern further bloats the first challenge of high application numbers.

Changes have also been proposed to better align with the wider Immigration Rebalance plan that aims to create a higher-productivity, higher-wage workforce here in New Zealand.

INZ is also aiming to give migrants and their dependents more certainty that allows them to make informed decisions. One part of this will be by reducing the wait times by simplifying processes where possible.

Lastly, a big part of the proposed changes is to reduce the risks of migrant worker exploitation by putting special conditions in place in identified areas of risk.

Proposed Changes

A recent change to the SMC resident visa was the increase of the point threshold from 160 to 180 in January 2023, the main reason for this was to better align with all of the upcoming changes before it happens

The biggest proposed change is to the point system. 180 will be a short-lived threshold, with new applicants requiring 6 points to be eligible. These points are gained from professional registrations, qualifications, or income, plus the years worked in a skilled job in New Zealand (up to three points).

Applicants can earn 3-6 points on their profession, qualifications or income, meaning that there are those who will be eligible for residency without having worked in New Zealand (e.g. someone with a PhD). Alternatively, someone who has worked for 3 years in NZ will be eligible for the SMC if they have a bachelor’s degree, earn 1.5x the median wage, or have an NZ professional registration and have worked for ≥3 years. You can see a full breakdown of the proposed points system and example scenarios on the MBIE factsheet about the SMC.

Another key element of the proposed changes is that there is no cap on the number of approvals, at least at this stage. This aims to reduce the delay between applying for the visa and getting approval, while maintaining the correct skill level for NZ’s needs.

Like many of the changes undergone by INZ in recent years, the goal is to rebalance immigration in New Zealand to ensure the country’s economic needs are met, and that migrant workers are treated and paid fairly for their skills. Overall, they’re looking to fix previous issues in the SMC to streamline the process, making it fairer for applicants and giving them more certainty throughout the application process.

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