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Understanding the Changes to the Skilled Migrant Category (SMC) Resident Visa

Understanding the Changes to the Skilled Migrant Category (SMC) Resident Visa

New Zealand is a popular destination for skilled migrants, looking for opportunities to grow both personally and professionally. One of the most sought-after visas is the Skilled Migrant Category (SMC)Resident Visa, which allows individuals with skills that are in demand in New Zealand to live and work there indefinitely. INZ had been reviewing the SMC instructions for a few years and finally, after twenty years changes have been announced to the SMC policy. The last draw of expressions of interest under the old SMC policy was done on 16 August 2023 and no further expressions of interests can be submitted to the pool.  The old SMC policy is now officially closed.

While the new SMC policy still remains a point based system, however with effect from 9 October 2023, there will be changes to the factors that can contribute towards points and the overall points requirements. Whether or not the new policy simplifies the process or fulfills its objectives, only time will tell.

This blog post aims to provide an insight into these changes and breaks the changes down to what they actually mean for prospective migrants considering New Zealand as their migration destination.

What are the changes?

  • Revised Points System

To be eligible for the visa, applicants will need to have a minimum of 6 points from 9 October 2023. Under the old policy, the points requirement was 180 points.

To accrue these points, applicants can claim between 3-6 points from a range of skill indicators. These indicators include (i) their New Zealand occupational registration, (ii)their highest qualification (Bachelor’s degree or higher), or (iii)their income from a job or job offer (earning at least 1.5 times the median wage in New Zealand).

It is important to note that only one skill indicator may be used to claim points- they cannot be combined. For instance, points cannot be claimed from both a qualification and New Zealand occupational registration.

In addition, applicants may earn 1 point for each year of skilled work experience gained in New Zealand, for up to a maximum of 3 points. These points can be combined with points claimed from other skill indicators, such as occupational registration, qualification, or income mentioned earlier.

The more skill points you claim, the shorter the period of skilled work in New Zealand you will need to complete before you can apply for residence.

Overall, these changes clearly indicate that the new SMC policy is targeting towards facilitating the migration pathway for highly skilled people with a high potential to contribute to New Zealand.

Carpenters, Dentists, Electricians, Midwives, Nursing Practitioners, Registered Nurses, Pharmacists, Physiotherapists, Registered Teachers are some of the professionals that require an occupational registration and now may find the new policy settings more favourable.

For a full list of eligible occupational registrations, click here

  • Skilled job/ job offer requirement

Having skilled employment or an offer of skilled employment from an accredited employer in New Zealand is a mandatory requirement to qualify for residence under the new SMC policy. This requirement is applicable to applicants who may already be awarded the maximum possible points. Skilled employment or an offer of skilled employment in New Zealand no longer attracts any points under the new points system, but is a requirement that needs to be fulfilled.

To be considered a skilled job, the minimum hours of work must be at least 30 per week. Additionally, the occupation should fall under ANZSCO levels 1 to 3 and paid at or above the median wage, or an ANZSCO level 4 to 5 occupation with a salary of 1.5 times or more than the median wage. Furthermore, the employment must be on a permanent or fixed-term contract that lasts for at least 12 months. These requirements ensure that applicants have the necessary skills and education to contribute and thrive in the local job market.

  • Requirements that are not changing

As with any visa application process, certain requirements must be met in order to be considered eligible. Although some of the requirements for the Skilled Migrant Category Resident Visa are changing, there are still several requirements that will remain the same.

  1. One of the requirements that will not be changing is the need to meet certain character This means that applicants must have a clean record and be able to demonstrate good character overall.
  2. Similarly, health requirements will also remain unchanged, ensuring that applicants are in good health and will not pose a risk to public health or safety.
  3. Another requirement that will not be changing is the need to demonstrate proficiency in English. English language requirements will continue to play a significant role in the visa application process, and applicants will need to be able to demonstrate their ability to speak, read, and write in English. Eg. IELTS – overall score of 6.5 or more and OET – grade B in each band remains the same
  4. Finally, age requirements will also remain unchanged, with applicants needing to be 55 years old or younger in order to be eligible for the SMC Resident Visa. This ensures that the visa is targeted toward individuals who have a long working life ahead of them and are likely to contribute positively to the economy of their new country.
  5. Partner and dependent children up to the age of 24 years can still be included in the application. They too must meet the English language requirement.
  • No applications limit and reduced processing times

Unlike under the current system, from 9 October 2023 there will be no limitation on the number of individuals who can obtain residence in New Zealand under the SMC. In addition, INZ has committed to a reduced processing time frame of 6 to 8 weeks for straightforward and decision-ready applications.

  • Skills Migrant Category Interim Visa

For applicants who are in New Zealand on a temporary visa when they apply under the new SMC Resident Visa and your temporary visa expires while your application is still being processed, there’s no need to worry. You will be automatically granted a Skilled Migrant Category Interim Visa, which will come into effect the day after your current visa expires. You’ll receive an e-visa with the appropriate duration and conditions, giving you the freedom to remain in New Zealand while your application for a SMC Resident Visa is still being processed.

Unlike other interim visas, the Skilled Migrant Category Interim Visa allows travel out of and back into New Zealand without any trouble. Moreover, any conditions that apply to your current visa will also apply to your Skilled Migrant Category Interim Visa, so there will be no changes to your visa conditions. For instance, if you are on an open work visa, with no conditions, when you apply under the new SMC policy and if your work visa expires while the SMC application is still under assessment, you will be automatically granted a SMC interim visa which will allow you to continue working.

It’s important to note that once you’re on a Skilled Migrant Category Interim Visa, you won’t be able to apply for any other temporary visa. So it’s best to ensure that you meet all the necessary requirements and provide all the required documents for your SMC Resident Visa application as early as possible to avoid any unforeseen dilemmas.

The interim visa will expire 24 months after the start date or the date on which your SMC Resident Visa is approved or 2 months after the SMC Resident Visa application is declined/ withdrawn by you.

Difference between the old (current) system and the new system

  • Under the old system, the points requirement is 180 while under the new system, the points requirement is 6. In addition, the factors for which points can be claimed are also different.
  • The old system is a two-step process wherein you have to first submit an Expression of Interest (EOI) and if you receive an Invitation to Apply (ITA), only then can you apply for the SMC Resident visa. The new system does not have a distinct two step process for points eligibility and you can directly apply for the SMC Resident Visa.
  • Under the old system, you could claim points for qualifications assessed at Level 3 or above. Under the new system, only Bachelors degree or above are eligible for award of qualification points
  • Under the old system, there was no need for the employer to be accredited. It is mandatory for the employer to be accredited under the new system.
  • Under the old system there was a fixed number of residence places available each year while under the new system, there is no limit on the number of applicants who can gain residence.
  • Under the old system, you can claim points for work experience gained outside New Zealand but under the new system, this is no longer possible.

Benefits of the changes

  • Transparent:

The new points system is based on a set of clear criteria, so applicants know exactly what they need to do to qualify for residency. This makes the process more transparent and fair.

  • Flexibility:

The new points system allows applicants to choose the pathway that best suits their skills and experience. This means that there are multiple ways to qualify for residency, which gives applicants more flexibility.

  • Demand-driven:

The new points system is demand-driven, which means that New Zealand only accepts immigrants who have the skills and experience that are needed in the workforce. This ensures that immigrants can find jobs and can contribute to the economy.

While these changes may seem daunting, they also open up new opportunities for many prospective migrants. Therefore, it’s crucial for anyone considering applying under this category to thoroughly understand these changes and seek professional advice if necessary.

Remember, the immigration journey is not always straightforward, but with the right preparation and understanding, it can lead to exciting new opportunities in New Zealand.

Get in touch with Immigration Advisors New Zealand Ltd, which provides up-to-date immigration information so you can consider opportunities and prepare yourself for the future. To know all the required procedures, contact us at [email protected] or call on +64 09 3790219.

Author Details

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Vandana Rai

(LIA 201400900)

Vandana Rai is a Senior Licensed Immigration Adviser and has built a reputation around her rare set of skills, which could be considered ideal for her legal profession.

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