“Green List” limitations: when the green light turns red

You’ve found a fantastic migrant to bring into New Zealand. They are highly experienced and in short, they are perfect for the job. The best part? Their job title is on the “Green List”, so that’s going to make getting them a work visa and residence easier, right? Not necessarily…

The Green List promises it will be easier for employers to attract and hire globally in-demand workers. However, the policy that applies here is complex, uncertain and narrow in its interpretation, meaning that in our view the Green List represents a classic case of over-promising and under-delivering.  There are a significant number of cases where it will appear to apply, but for various technical policy reasons, it won’t be able to be used.  For that reason, we expect there will be many applications that either run into substantial problems or, in the worst case, are declined.

Employers and migrants need to be aware of these potential issues and get good advice from the beginning before assuming that offers to migrant workers in Green List occupations are going to be straight-forward.

This article is the first in a series from us that takes a deeper dive into the Green List to expose what we believe are policy shortfalls and with that, some practical challenges we are encountering in representing our employer and migrant clients in this new visa process, with a hope that over time these are resolved.

Green List qualification issue 

For those who have not viewed the Green List, it is largely a rehash of the now defunct “Long Term Skills Shortage List”, so nothing really new here. It lists a range of occupations, such as Construction Project Manager, Food Technologist and Secondary School Teacher and then outlines the “skill and knowledge” requirements the applicant must have if they want to take advantage of the benefits the Green List offers, namely no labour market testing (advertising) needed at the Job Check stage and the ability to secure residence prior to entering New Zealand or following two years of work in New Zealand.

It is largely a rehash of the now defunct “Long Term Skills Shortage List”

In our view, the Green List is not the “silver bullet” many employers, particularly in construction, engineering and the trades are hoping for.   This is because the skill and knowledge requirements set out for each occupation are highly prescriptive and do not reflect what many experienced and skilled workers from offshore possess.  In short, the Green List doesn’t reflect reality for many workers in many of these industries and so many of these applicants will not qualify under the strict Green List requirements.

We explain this issue by way of example:

Project builder

A construction company has been engaged to carry out a number of large residential projects around Auckland.  It does not have enough Project Builders/Foremen to plan and oversee the builds.  After making contact with a number of prospective candidates from the UK and South Africa, they offer a position to a South African candidate who has 20 years of relevant experience in the industry.  The candidate is deemed to have the perfect skill set for the role, but, won’t be able to secure residence from offshore because the Green List expects such candidates to hold an NZQF Level 6 (diploma level) qualification or higher, that has “focus areas of quantity surveying, construction economics, construction management or building;” a qualification that candidate does not have.

As a result, the Green List pathway cannot be utilised, meaning the employer must advertise the role and seek Job Check approval from Immigration New Zealand (INZ) to secure an Accredited Employer Work visa, so the candidate and their family do not have the security of being able to secure residence prior to departure from South Africa.

In our view, the Green List is not the “silver bullet” many employers, particularly in construction, engineering and the trades are hoping for.

In addition, the Skilled Migrant Category (SMC) is suspended at present meaning that right now the candidate doesn’t have the certainty of being able to secure residence at all.  As a result, they may accept the role but ask their employer if their entry can be delayed for several months until the SMC is reopened so they know they have a solid pathway of securing residence before they sell everything up and move here.  Alternatively, they may drop out of the process altogether and look at other alternatives instead.  Notable here is the option of Australia which has just opened up residency pathways to some people with in-demand skills that don’t even have to have a job offer at all.

This is a common example we are coming across now, where the practicalities and life choices of a migrant looking to secure residency have not been considered when developing a technical policy that may seem to “compute correctly” in theory, but it just does not work in the real world to alleviate the chronic skill demands the country has at present.

Additional issues

This is not the only occupation to encounter unrealistic qualification expectations on the Green List.  Automotive Electricians and Diesel Motor Mechanics, for example, are required to hold an NZQF (Level 4) Certificate which has been assessed as meeting certain industry knowledge requirements.  In our experience, highly experienced and usually older offshore candidates for such roles would not have needed to complete such a qualification as part of their apprenticeship.

In addition, suitable Civil Engineers or Engineering Technicians who have a Bachelor of Civil Engineering that is not Washington or Sydney Accord accredited (most Bachelor of Civil Engineering qualifications from India and China, for example, are not); are required to secure confirmation from Engineering New Zealand that their “degree and any further learning meet the benchmark requirements towards Chartered Professional Engineer professional status in New Zealand.”  In our experience, this is can be a challenging and time-consuming task, that requires candidates to “dig up” detailed and often historical evidence of, for example, what they learnt in each module at university, test and exam papers, blueprints and drawings for largescale projects they have worked on and email correspondence with clients and contractors.

While such skill and knowledge requirements are not new to policy (these also existed in a similar format and to a similar level under the LTSSL), we would have expected to see the Government provide greater flexibility given our tight labour market and the intention of the Green List policy, which is to facilitate the entry of suitable candidates into “chronically in-demand” occupations where literally the entire Western world is trying to attract these people.  As we have indicated above, we see the Green List as a re-hash of the LTSSL and that was a category we used only infrequently for exactly the same reasons mentioned above that mean the Green List will be unable to be used in many cases.

The net effect of such stringent policy is that New Zealand potentially misses out on securing valuable candidates from offshore because certainty of long-term settlement is not guaranteed, the visa process takes longer and is more costly and complex.

The net effect of such stringent policy is that New Zealand potentially misses out on securing valuable candidates from offshore

Note here INZ has strictly interpreted the Job Check policy, declining applications in high numbers.  We expect INZ will also extend this strict approach to interpretation of the Green List qualification requirements.

NZQA assessments

We recommend that candidates who require a detailed NZQA assessment of their international qualification (one that confirms knowledge requirements in certain focus areas or New Zealand equivalency for an overseas qualification), such as Project Builders, Quantity Surveyors and Environmental Research Scientists, seek professional assistance so they can be sure that accurate and helpful information is provided to NZQA in advance of a determination being made.

Where to from here?

While the situation is frustrating for both offshore candidates and their New Zealand employers at present, we recommend applicants seek professional advice so they can properly determine whether there is any scope for inclusion under the Green List.  Assistance during assessment of any international qualifications, particularly if the candidate requires NZQA to comment on the focus areas of study, is also advised.  Our assessment will also determine whether, if the Green List is not applicable, there are other pathways that lead to residence.

Assistance during assessment of any international qualifications is also advised

Finally, we expect that the new SMC policy (that INZ are working on now so we expect that to be released at some point this year) will provide relief to both offshore candidates who don’t meet the qualification requirements for residence (or a pathway to residence) under the Green List and their New Zealand employers, but, we will have to wait and see.  If that policy is similar to what we currently have here and is developed without engaging with the private sector, we will potentially end up with a technical policy that is of no real value when we can see what other countries (like Australia) are offering out in the market right now.

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