Immigration New Zealand announce policy changes

Major changes to the Government’s New Zealand Residence Program have been announced today by Immigration Minister the Rt. Hon. Michael Woodhouse. The changes are a drastic shift in the eligibility criteria and total number of places available for residency in New Zealand and are set to take effect as of tomorrow, 12 October 2016.

INZ has reduced its target range for the number of residence approvals from 90,000 – 100,000 (the target for the previous two years), to 85,000 – 95,000 over the next two years. However, the changes to the number of places available in the capped family categories has been significantly reduced by over 60% (2,000 per year, down from 5,500).

In addition to the reduction of places in the family category, the Family (Parent) Category Pool has been closed until further notice, with effect from 12 October 2016.

As part of the reduction of the target number of residence approvals, major changes have been applied to both the eligibility criteria and the required standard of English language under the Skilled Migrant Category (SMC).

Changes to the SMC

The changes to the SMC include:

  • Raising the number of points required for an Expression of Interest (EOI) selection from 140 to 160 points.
  • Applicants with between 100 and 140 points, and an offer of skilled employment in New Zealand, will no longer be eligible for selection.
  • Stricter guidelines for meeting the minimum standard of English as both a principal applicant and non-principal applicant.

By raising the number of points required for EOI selection, and removing the concession for applicants with between 100 and 140 points including a skilled job offer, the Government is sending a strong signal that only the “best of the best” need apply. Under the existing policy an applicant would likely be selected from the pool with either a minimum of three years’ work experience, or with some kind of tertiary qualification, whereas under the new policy they will likely now require both.

Previously, EOI’s were prioritized with those over 140 points being selected automatically, then those with between 100 and 140 points including a job offer still being selected in most cases. Finally, if places were available, EOI’s that met the additional selection criteria but may not yet be in possession of a skilled job offer were eligible to be selected, though in practice this has not happened for quite some time.
New provisions have been inserted to allow for the adjustment of the automatic selection mark where necessary to meet the requirements of the New Zealand Residence Program. This gives leeway for the Minister to monitor and adjust the new criteria over time.

New English language requirements

The English language requirements for both principal and non principal applicants under the SMC have also been amended. The result of these changes is to raise the bar in terms of the English language ability required to qualify for residence.
In brief, the ways an applicant can demonstrate English language ability are:

  1. Achieving an acceptable score on an acceptable English language test such as IELTS.
  2. Holding citizenship of a qualifying English-speaking country, including having worked or studied in that country for at least five years.
  3. Holding a recognized qualification comparable to a New Zealand bachelor degree obtained in a qualifying English-speaking country.
  4. Holding a recognized qualification comparable to a New Zealand level 8 qualification obtained in a qualifying English-speaking country.

Under these new requirements, citizenship of an English-speaking country will not be sufficient evidence in and of itself to meet the minimum requirements. Under the new policy, citizens of these countries will now also be required to show that they have five or more years of work or education in these countries or in New Zealand/Australia.

People who are invited to apply for residence under the SMC from 12 October onwards will not be able to use the same alternative evidence of English language in place of a test as they previously could. This is a strong indication that the Government sees English language ability as a key factor in the ability of migrants to settle in New Zealand.

For those applicants who have already received an ITA before the changes take effect, it is worth noting that INZ has introduced transitional provisions for proving English language ability. INZ advise that if an applicant has already been invited to apply, they simply need to follow the instructions on their invitation letter. For those applicants, the new points threshold and new requirements for English language evidence will not apply, regardless of the actual date of their application. Applicants must still make their application within the timeframe specified in their invitation letter.

What is still not yet clear is how INZ will treat those applicants who have submitted an EOI that has been selected from the pool, but have not yet received their ITA. We will be monitoring the Government’s announcements closely to ensure clients who may be affected by the change will receive the best advice possible.

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