New Zealand increases salary threshold for overseas workers

New Zealand has announced increased salary thresholds in its Skilled Migrant visa category, a move that could impact on international students looking to stay in the country permanently.

Under new rules due to come into effect from August this year, foreign workers earning less than NZ$49,000 per year for occupations considered as skilled will not be allowed to stay in the country for more than three years. The threshold for jobs that are well paid but not considered as skilled will be set at 1.5 times the median New Zealand income (NZ$73,299).


According to Ministry of Education data in the recently published Moving Places study on the stay rates and earnings of international students in New Zealand, international PhD students had an average salary of NZ$50,000 three years after graduation, but the median salary for international students at every other educational level was below the new threshold.


Additionally, proposed amendments to the temporary migrant work settings in the Essential Skills category are currently under public consultation, and include: remuneration thresholds; limiting stays for low-skilled migrants to three years, after which migrants would need to go through a stand-down period before applying for another work visa; removing the automatic eligibility of partners and dependents for work and study visas; and a review of the visa timeframe for seasonal occupations.


Announcing the changes, Immigration Minister, Michael Woodhouse, said the government was committed to ensuring inward migration best supported the economy and labour market. "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."


In a letter regarding the new regulations, Grant McPherson, Chief Executive of Education New Zealand (ENZ), said, "It is expected that the Skilled Migrant residency changes will have a short-term impact on international student recruitment, particularly for providers targeting students at below-degree-level qualifications, who are more likely to be affected by the changes."


He said the new announcements sent a clear signal that permanent residence after three years of post-study work experience was not always a realistic expectation. "The quality education experience itself should be the prime driver for considering New Zealand as a study destination," he added.


However, he highlighted that in the Moving Places study, more than half of the international students with postgraduate qualifications earned above the policy threshold three years after completing studies.


"In the long term, we hope that the new remuneration thresholds will incentivise students to study in fields of study more closely aligned to skill shortages, thereby increasing the value for New Zealand as well as supporting better labour market outcomes," he said.



By Matthew Knott

News Editor