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Impact of recent changes to Immigration Skills Shortage Lists on employers

Recent changes to the immigration skills shortage lists – what employers need to know

Finding New Zealander’s to work in certain industries has always been problematic – the limited population and the ongoing brain drain ensure that this remains the case. In Canterbury the agricultural industry has always been a prime example of the difficulties faced, and in recent years, the construction industry is another. Employers in those industries have therefore become heavily reliant on a migrant work force to meet their labour needs.

The needs of these industries are recognised in part by Immigration New Zealand, through the skills shortage lists, which comprise the occupations that are deemed to be particular areas of concern. Provided a migrant worker meets the criteria noted on the shortage list for the occupation they are applying under, there is no requirement for the company offering employment to prove (through lengthy advertising/recruitment campaigns) that there are no suitable New Zealanders for the role.

What many employers do not realise is that the shortage lists are liable to change frequently, with a review of them occurring every quarter. The most recent changes see the removal of various medical and oil/gas occupations from March 1st, but more notably the removal of several farming positions from June 1st, which will impact significantly on employers within that sector.

Nevertheless, this is a timely reminder to all employers of the need to check the skills shortage lists on a regular basis, if relying on said lists. The removal of positions from the shortage lists means employers recruiting for those positions (or indeed renewing visas for migrant workers in such positions) will need to start making genuine attempts to recruit New Zealander’s before offering employment, or renewing employment offers, to migrant workers and supporting their work visas.

Applications for visas to work in positions that are not included on the lists will need to include evidence of the employer’s genuine attempts. Only if Immigration New Zealand is satisfied that an employer has suitably tested the New Zealand labour market, and being unsuccessful in recruiting New Zealanders, will a visa be granted to a migrant worker for these roles.

So what does “genuine attempts” mean?

The expectation is that employers list their vacancies at a local and national level, to maximise the applicant pool. Ideally it is expected that this should include job search websites, industry websites and newspapers. In the Selwyn, Christchurch and Waimakariri Districts it may also require that the vacancy be listed with the Canterbury Skills and Employment Hub.

It is also expected that such advertising continue for a reasonable duration to allow for applications to be received, vetted and shortlisted. A reasonable duration is typically seen to be 2-4 weeks minimum.

If job applications are received from New Zealanders, but the employer has seen fit to still offer the position to a migrant worker, the employer will need to provide explanation as to why the New Zealand candidates weren’t suitable.

An expected frustration for employers is that this process must be undertaken every time a migrant worker’s visa is due to expire and a new application to be lodged. This is to check whether the labour market has changed in the 12-36 months since the last visa was granted, and is irrespective of whether the employer has spent time and energy training that worker or whether the employer does not have the means to do so again with a new employee.

How can you, the employer, minimise the impact of this policy change?

Take note of when your migrant workers visas expire and start making preparations with the worker well in advance of that date, if you wish for them to continue as an employee.

Consider whether the employee’s duties align with an occupation that is still included on the skills shortage list, or whether the worker is due to be promoted into a position that would see them sit within that sphere.

Also check that they meet the level of experience/qualification listed against those occupations on the skills shortage list.

If their role is not one that is included on one of the skills shortage lists, or if they do not meet the noted requirements, you should list a vacancy across several mediums, ideally to reach a national audience. Make a note of applicants and why any have not been shortlisted or interviewed or why interviews were not successful. Also keep a record of all advertising that has been done in the short and long term. This paperwork can all be presented to Immigration New Zealand to show that attempts to hire New Zealanders have been made, but unsuccessfully.

By taking these steps, you set yourself in good stead to be able to continue supporting your migrant workers for future work visas.

If you would like any assistance with understanding the visa process and your, or your employees, obligations to Immigration New Zealand, please contact Jen Bensley at Saunders and Co Lawyers, for expert immigration legal advice.

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