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New Zealand tightens migrant visa conditions

The New Zealand government has issued a second round of changes for high- and low-skilled migrant worker visas, this time raising the minimum salary. The move has stirred up uncertainty among educators and agents.

Immigration Minister Michael Woodhouse (pictured), said the government "has a Kiwis first approach to immigration". Photo: flickr/International Transport Forum.

"We are particularly concerned by the introduction of a salary threshold to be met by early career graduates"

The changes, which follow an increase in the visas’ points requirement, will see applicants needing to meet a minimum income of $48,859 per year for a high-skilled visa and $73,299 per year for a low-skilled visa. The salaries represent New Zealand’s median wage and 1.5 times New Zealand’s median wage, respectively.

“The government has a Kiwis first approach to immigration and these changes are designed to strike the right balance between reinforcing the temporary nature of Essential Skills work visas and encouraging employers to take on more Kiwis and invest in the training to upskill them,” immigration minister Michael Woodhouse said in a statement.

“It’s important that our immigration settings are attracting the right people, with the right skills”

“It’s important that our immigration settings are attracting the right people, with the right skills, to help fill genuine skill shortages and contribute to our growing economy.”

The move will not affect international students’ post-study work rights, which provide a one year open visa option for undergraduate and postgraduate students and a two year employee sponsored option for students with an acceptable qualification, with a possible third year if working towards occupational registration.

Universities New Zealand expressed disappointment with the proposed changes, labelling it a populist policy that could damage the reputation of the country’s international education industry.

“It is unfortunate that election year issues around housing pressures and record migration are being conflated into a populist policy which unintentionally impacts genuine, high quality international student migration,” UNZ executive director Chris Whelan told The PIE News.

Whelan added that market sensitivities around immigration policy changes could impact student numbers, highlighting student and agent concerns in the wake of changes announced by the US, UK and Australia.

“We are particularly concerned by the introduction of a salary threshold to be met by early career graduates,” he said.

Education New Zealand chief executive Grant McPherson said it is expected the change will have a short-term impact on international student recruitment, especially for providers targeting students at below degree level qualifications. He added that the move sends a clear signal that residency is “not always a realistic expectation” and New Zealand’s education quality should be “the prime driver” for students.

In an open letter to the industry, McPherson also pointed to the Ministry of Education’s recently published Moving Places report, which found more than half of international students with postgraduate qualifications meet the remuneration thresholds three years after graduation – around the time their post-study work visas ran out.

However, the report also found the median earnings of young international graduates were below the thresholds up to six years after completing an undergraduate degree, and up to eight years after a sub-degree qualification.

Additionally, in all but a few qualification areas, international graduates were found to earn less than their domestic counterparts.

According to Ravi Lochan Singh, managing director of Indian agency Global Reach, however, relying on salary data from the Moving Places report to gauge how many international students would be affected does not provide a complete picture.

“Students with poor English communication levels and lower skills have made it to New Zealand”

“One of the biggest reasons for low salaries for the undergrads was that over the last few years, students with poor English communication levels and lower skills have made it to New Zealand,” Singh explained.

“The regulations only started changing about a year ago and the quality of students reaching New Zealand has improved. I believe an undergrad student with decent communication ability, who has studied at a decent institution and then uses the post-study work followed by work permit, will have no issues in securing a salary above the [threshold].”

In a blog on the changes, Singh also expressed disappointment that media outlets had confounded the expected impact of visa changes in the US, Australia and New Zealand, by providing misleading and inaccurate information.

New Zealand’s announcement of the proposed changes to its work visas came a day after the US and Australia made similar announcements and echoed the “Hire American” and “Australians first” rhetoric used by both the countries’ leaders.

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