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New Essential Skills Guidelines

New Essential Skills Guidelines 2020 Update

New guidelines around Essential Skills work visas were released by Immigration New Zealand (INZ) last week. While immigration instructions remain the same- for now- there is a clear indication that the ‘labour market test’ will be interpreted more strictly, meaning that immigration officers will be very carefully considering whether Kiwis are available or trainable to do the work offered to a migrant.

This comes as no surprise considering the recent influx of unemployed Kiwis in the job market. However, Essential Skills visa applicants need to be aware of these developments and how they might affect their short and long-term plans. We have highlighted below the key implications, along with some suggestions as to how they can be best navigated.

Increased Scrutiny of Recruitment Process

Under Essential Skills policy, an employer must show that they have made a genuine attempt to recruit a New Zealand citizen or resident prior to offering a job to a migrant, normally through listing an online job vacancy. Evidence which was sufficient pre Covid-19 may not be enough now. Immigration officers will want to see detailed and compelling evidence that any New Zealand applicants could not do the job. This could include interview notes, applicant summaries, and screenshots from the job website to demonstrate the volume and type of applicants.

It is important that the labour market test documentation is prepared carefully to ensure the best outcome. For example, the wording of the job advertisement must reflect all the criteria necessary for the job, as Immigration will refer back to this when they assess an employer’s reasons for declining a citizen or resident candidate.

It may also be a good time for you to speak to your employer about updating your job description to ensure it accurately reflects your role and responsibilities. Immigration have indicated that applications for ‘lower-skilled’ positions, particularly Level 5, will be extremely difficult to get through.

Re-testing the Labour Market

Prior to these guidelines, Immigration’s standard approach was to accept evidence of advertising where it was less than 3 months old. This may not be the case now, as the job market has changed significantly and will continue changing over the coming months.

If you already have an application in the system with evidence of advertising, Immigration may now request updated information to show that as of the time of assessment, suitable or trainable New Zealanders are still unavailable.  In many cases, a job may need to be re-advertised to satisfy this requirement. However, if an employer has recruited for a similar role recently (i.e. during or after the lockdown), this may be accepted as satisfactory evidence.

Financial Position Checks

As almost all businesses have been financially impacted by Covid-19, you can expect that Immigration will make enquiries about the ‘sustainability’ of your employment, i.e. job security.

In some cases, they may wish to see your employer’s financial statements, business bank accounts, tax returns or wage records. While an employer is not obliged to comply with such a request, it is sensible to do so given the potentially significant adverse effects of not doing so. 

Decision Ready Applications

Applications that are ‘decision-ready’ go into a faster processing queue. By providing complete and detailed evidence of your eligibility, you may be able to secure your place in the ‘decision-ready’ queue and thus have your application allocated to an immigration officer sooner. This is likely to be particularly important now, given that lengthy delays could result in the labour market shifting by the time the application is picked up by an immigration officer.


There is no doubt that all Essential Skills applications, whether higher or lower-skilled, will face increased scrutiny from Immigration New Zealand in respect of the labour market test. Employees and employers alike need to be prepared to deal with these changes by ensuring that strong support documentation is submitted to Immigration New Zealand from the outset.

Your Immigration Specialist

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