COVID-19: ‘Critical worker’ border exemption in place as of Friday, 11 September

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The New Zealand government has relaxed the criteria for some overseas workers to allow migrants with critical skills through the border. The purpose of the decision is to help the country recover from its COVID-19 economic downturn.

Primarily, the criteria now defines skills as ‘not readily available’ in New Zealand as opposed to ‘not available in New Zealand’, and the change came into effect on Friday, 11 September.

Skills now described as ‘not readily obtainable’ in New Zealand

The New Zealand government has removed the requirement that migrants in critical occupations have to have gained their skills, qualifications or work experience overseas.

As reported by Radio New Zealand (RNZ), Immigration Minister Kris Faafoi said “Removing that requirement will allow entry, in some limited cases, where, for example, a workers has skills which are obtainable in New Zealand but they have unique experience gained overseas which would bring unique expertise to New Zealand businesses.

The wording in the Immigration Act ordinarily states that these workers have to have unique experience and technical specialist skills that are ‘not obtainable’ in New Zealand. This wording has now been changed to ‘not readily obtainable’ in New Zealand to reflect that temporary change in requirements.

Minister Faafoi said about this that the “…wording change reflects that, in some fields, there is a very limited pool of experts and significant training would have to be undertaken before the skills were obtainable in New Zealand.

Critical workers who meet the requirements are referred to as ‘other critical workers’.

It’s still far from a ‘free for all’

While New Zealand is working towards economic recovery, the country also wants to limit its exposure to the coronavirus and prevent the spread of the virus. To this end, ’other critical workers’ will still have to meet strict standards and criteria despite the loosening of the skills requirement.

New Zealand also has a limited number of isolation facilities for migrants arriving from overseas. This further restricts how many workers would be able to come through the borders.

Here’s how the process works…

New Zealand employers must request for approval of ‘other critical workers’ to enter New Zealand. Unfortunately, it is not possible for migrants to submit the request.

Further to this, employers can apply to bring employees to New Zealand under two categories:

  • Short-term critical workers – staff needed for less than 6 months in total
  • Long-term critical workers – staff needed for more than 6 months

Each of these categories has its own criteria:

Short-term critical workers

Workers coming to New Zealand for a short-term role, i.e. to fill a position for less than 6 months, must:

  • Have unique experience and technical or specialists skills that are not readily obtainable in New Zealand, or
  • Undertake a time-critical role for:
    • The delivery of an approved major infrastructure project, or a government approved event or a major government-approved programme
    • An approved government-to-government agreement
  • Work that brings significant wider benefit to the national or regional economy

Examples of short-term critical workers

Immigration New Zealand has given examples of roles that may meet the short-term worker requirements. These examples include highly specialist veterinarians, vendor-appointed engineers required to install major equipment or an actor in a key film role.

Long-term critical workers

Workers coming to New Zealand to fill a long-term role, i.e. for 6 months or longer, must:

  • Earn at least twice the median salary (NZD$106,080 a year), or
  • Have a role that is essential for the completion or continuation of a science programme under a government funded or partially government-funded contract including research and development exchanges and partnerships, and has the support of the Science, Innovation and International Branch at MBIE to travel to New Zealand to carry out their work, or
  • Be undertaking a role that is essential for the delivery or execution of:
    • a government-approved event, or
    • major government-approved programme, or
    • approved major infrastructure project.

You can find events, project and programmes that have already been approved on Immigration New Zealand.

What happens once the employer has made the request?

Immigration New Zealand will review each request on its own merits and may seek advice from the appropriate government agencies. At the moment, most requests for ‘other critical workers’ receive an outcome within two weeks.

In the case of successful requests, INZ will contact the workers whose employers get approval for an exception to the border restrictions and invite the workers to apply for a Critical Purpose Visitor Visa or a Critical Purpose Variation of Conditions to allow them to travel to New Zealand.

Workers will get instructions from INZ on how to apply for either of these visas. Workers will also have to pay the immigration fee and levies, if applicable, as part of their application.

Follow us to stay up to date with further developments

New Zealand has made a couple of immigration changes in September, including the resumption of off-shore visa application processing and visa extensions for certain residents.

It is safe to assume that more changes will be announced in future as the coronavirus pandemic subsides.

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