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“Make Hay” While INZ Makes Up Its Mind

A message to employers of migrant workers: Mandatory accreditation is coming, and the time to prepare is now. Here’s what you should be doing…

We’ve been hearing about the Accredited Employer Work Visa scheme since early last year, but the latest news is that it won’t be rolled out till at least June 2022. While perhaps frustrating for businesses who did adequately prepare, for most, the reprieve presents an opportunity to get their ducks in a row.

As you may be aware, businesses seeking accreditation status are required to demonstrate their “trustworthiness” across several areas, including labour law compliance, human resources, and worker training, benefits, and pay.

For your application to be successful, you’ll need proof that you actively comply with current employment standards and good workplace practices regarding health and safety and fair treatment. You’ll also need updated employment contracts that include recent law changes such as the 2020 Privacy Act and Parental Leave Scheme and Domestic Violence Leave. And bear in mind that from Monday 19 July, the maximum duration of Essential Skills visas for jobs paid below median wage will increase from 12 months to 24 months.

The delay of the new accreditation scheme means you now have time to prepare proof demonstrating that your business is compliant and worthy of accreditation status, but…

Don’t underestimate the work involved in meeting INZ’s accreditation criteria.

Like so many things Immigration New Zealand does, the particulars of what they expect aren’t very clearly articulated at all and, as the latest announcement demonstrates, subject to change at any time.

Over the last year, we’ve helped dozens of employers apply under the former accreditation regime, and what we’ve learned is that INZ is looking closely at what a company’s HR and training policies looked like in practice prior to the current policies in place. Simply creating policies and supporting documents and presenting them as current won’t be accepted at face value.

In most cases, applications have drawn pushback from INZ, who seek evidence that policies weren’t created solely for the purpose of obtaining accreditation status. They’re looking for a history of compliant behaviour and a record of results, so the more time you have your policies in play, the better. If you’ve just written your policy suite a month ago, expect it to be held up to scrutiny.

Accreditation is not a box-ticking exercise like most employers are thinking.

What is INZ looking for from accreditation applicants?

Employers of migrant workers must have adequate training programmes in place and be able to furnish proof that these programmes are indeed meaningful and real. Training should be ongoing, not one-off or sporadic, and not limited to learning to perform the role. Rather, it should be part of a systemic approach to professional development and building transferrable skills. Training should show upskilling or new skills acquisition for junior or newly hired employees while creating pathways for promotion and pay rises.

Again, INZ is looking for a track record: Policies have been implemented, they’re operational, and people are being put through them – and coming out more qualified on the other end.

The employer must also demonstrate a commitment to training and recruiting locals. To show that you’re not simply relying on overseas workers, you need proof that you actively train New Zealand citizens or residence-class visa holders where possible – and that they make up the majority of your workforce.

Don’t even try faking it – or half-arsing it!

While immigration officers may rely on employer declarations about compliance, they have the discretion to investigate – and they’ve got the time and resources to do so. Expect a thorough examination and prepare for that.

In one case, an employer had had training programmes in place for years: toolbox programmes, HR policies, health and safety policies – you name it. Believing they were ready to simply push it across the line, they were soon disappointed to learn that their reporting wasn’t detailed enough to pass muster. Redoing all this to INZ’s satisfaction cost them a lot of money, time, and energy. In cases where documents had been recently updated, they had to go digging through old records and emails to establish a credible history.

All of this is avoidable if you know the game now and do it right the first time.

5 Things Employers Should Do NOW

1. Get your house in order. Start by getting up to speed on the criteria you need to meet. Look at what you have in place, what you don’t, and where the gaps are.

2. Create an action plan. Align your HR and training programmes with INZ criteria as closely as possible. They’re already backlogged and lean heavily on decision-tree thinking, so make it easy for INZ to give you the stamp of approval.

3. Roll programmes out well in advance. Doing so well before you lodge your application will give you a huge head start, allow for amendments, and help establish a credible timeline. Once again, the longer your policies have been in play, the more evidence you’ll have and the stronger your case will be.

4. Don’t leave it too late! Businesses applying under the old regime have been told to expect a turnaround of 8 to 12 weeks. From our experience, it can take 4 weeks just your application to land on an officer’s desk! And processing times are likely to become even longer as applications flood in under the new system in mid 2022. Many a New Zealand employer will be looking to renew work visas for existing staff so as not to disrupt future hiring plans.

5. Seek professional advice. Get an assessment of your current situation. You need an expert on the ins and outs of ever-changing immigration law who can advise you on exactly what you need to do to get your accreditation application over the line.

In the meantime, use the new work visa rules for your existing employees, as they offer them many benefits. Although these rules expire on 30 June 2022, they allow existing employees to get a two or three-year work visa fairly easily.

If you need only to renew work visas but don't employ any more foreign nationals after accreditation becomes mandatory, you can buy yourself time before you opt into the accreditation regime.

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