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New Zealand tightens visa rules as immigration minister says "unsustainable numbers coming into the country"

New Zealand will tighten its visa rules for some migrants in a bid to reduce overall immigration numbers, as the island country's has in recent years have seen "unsustainable" levels of migration, according to Immigration Minister Erica Standford.

Stanford announced changes on Sunday to the Accredited Employer Work Visa (AEWV) program, the country's primary temporary work visa program, which she said would ensure that New Zealand can still attract the skilled workers it needs while also reducing the vulnerability of migrants to exploitation.

The AEWV was introduced in mid-2022 to help fill workforce shortages in the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic.

A View from the Auckland Harbour looking back onto
A view from the Auckland Harbour looking back onto the Ports and through to the City skyline. Getty

In 2023, however, migration swelled to a near record of 173,000 new non-New Zealand citizens taking up residence. At the same time, New Zealanders have been moving out of the country. Last year, the country saw a record loss of 47,000 citizens.

"Getting our immigration settings right is critical to this government's plan to rebuild the economy," Stanford said, adding that while there were still skill shortages in some areas, the government had to "ensure that New Zealanders are put to the front of the line for jobs where there are no skill shortages."

"We had to make some changes now because we've got high migrant exploitation and unsustainable numbers coming into the country," Stanford said according to state broadcaster Radio New Zealand. "So there are some things that we needed to do immediately."

Changes to the visa program include the introduction of English language requirements for low-skilled jobs and setting a minimum skills and work experience threshold for most employer work visas. The maximum continuous stay for most low-skilled roles has also been reduced from five years to three years.

Officials also decided to axe earlier plans to add 11 roles, including welders, fitters and turners, to the list of occupations that would qualify for a fast track to residency.

Employers will need to ensure that migrants meet the requirements before hiring them, and they're required to ensure that no "suitable and available New Zealander" applied for the job before it was offered to a non-New Zealander.

Stanford said many of the changes were not actually new, but rather a "return to pre-pandemic settings that better balanced the needs of businesses with the wider interests of New Zealand."

Some roles in the transport and care sectors will be exempt from the requirements.

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