Reopening of Skilled Migrant Category – Going Once, Twice…

The suspension of the Skilled Migrant Category (SMC) in 2020 caused migrants both onshore and offshore a great deal of stress and uncertainty as their potential pathway to residence was put on hold.  As such, the Minister of Immigration’s announcement this week that the SMC is reopening in November 2022 will no doubt be welcome news for those with an Expression of Interest (EOI) in the EOI Selection Pool and those recent arrivals looking to convert their temporary stay into a permanent one. However, it by no means resolves the disadvantaged position New Zealand currently occupies in terms of attracting the talent the country requires.

The good news

The good news, of sorts, is that selections of EOI under the SMC will resume on 9 November 2022 and those EOI claiming 160 points or more will receive an Invitation to Apply (ITA) for residency.  Most importantly, those people who have not yet submitted an EOI but who meet the criteria, including the minimum 160-point threshold, can (and absolutely should) lodge an EOI before 9 November.  This is particularly important for people who can only claim 160 to 179 points and/or who might not meet the new median wage rate ($29.66), as Immigration New Zealand (INZ) has confirmed that the SMC policy (which essentially is an interim policy) will be updated early in the New Year along these lines.

Those people who have already lodged an EOI and still meet the applicable criteria to hold a points allocation at/over 160 points do not need to do anything. For those people whose circumstances have changed but still meet the minimum requirements, or those who will now be able to claim at least 160 points, they will be able to update/file their EOIs to make sure they are in good order to secure an ITA to apply from 9 November.

The bad news

After 9 November, those who lodge their EOI will need to demonstrate they can claim a minimum of 180 points. This represents a significant ‘jump’ in skill and experience level from the current 160-point policy that applies until 9 November.  This represents a transition of sorts, allowing those “current” applicants to secure residency at a slightly lower threshold but moving forward making it clear that it is going to be much harder to qualify for residency. So, it’s once at 160, twice at 180, and after 18 January 2023 selections will stay at 180 points until some point where they will most likely be suspended to make way for long term policy adjustments.

For those who can claim 160 points as at 9 November, they will receive their formal ITA but a word of warning – INZ has signalled that it will take time for the formal ITAs to be issued.  Due to the anticipated number of EOI sitting in the Pool over the past two and a half years, combined with those we anticipate will be submitted between now and 9 November, issuing the ITAs is likely to be inconsistent and will take some time considering the huge delays we are seeing across all visa processing at present.

Timing

The timing of EOI selections is also changing, which is a clear signal of where to expect future policy changes.  Prior to the suspension of the SMC, INZ selected EOIs fortnightly.  However, EOIs will be selected on 9 November (160 points), the next selection will be on 18 January 2023 (180 points). After that date, selections will be held monthly, occurring on the third Wednesday of each month, based on the criteria that applies for those draws.

A forced “stop-gap”

The reopening of the SMC is designed to appear to provide another pathway to residence for those working in New Zealand, as well as attract those who are offshore until a final SMC policy is set for the long term. Without a residence pathway, migrants don’t come in; at least in the numbers necessary to make a difference.  As such, it will technically assist but is not the answer to the problems with the system when it comes to attracting and retaining highly skilled migrants in a highly competitive international market. We will need to see what the final policy looks like in mid-2023 to make a call on that. The hope is that we have a better policy to attract skilled migrants then and, if so, the benefits of that (migrant flow) will be apparent in 2024 if that policy strikes the right balance to be marketed effectively offshore.

In summary, for those migrants who have been waiting to secure residency under the SMC, this announcement is good news. However, for those who do not meet the minimum 160 points on 9 November or 180 points after that first draw, then unfortunately the pathway to residence is likely to be significantly longer and more complex, if there is a pathway at all.  People in this position will need to wait until mid-2023 to determine what long term residency options they have, if any.

For those who are not sure of their potential eligibility under the SMC or their pathway to residence ‘strategy’, they should seek professional immigration advice at the earliest opportunity to ensure there is time to secure one of these limited spaces, before the opportunity is gone …

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