A Guide to Skilled Migrant Residence Applications

by Laurent Law

The Skilled Migrant category is the main route to Residence for most migrants. It involves two stages:

  1. The Expression of Interest (“EOI”). This involves providing all your personal and family information, qualification details and work experience history into an online system (or on an application form) and submitting it to Immigration New Zealand (“INZ”).

This is a points-based system. You must score at least 100 points to file an EOI. EOIs are all entered into a Pool and selected on the basis of the number of points they score. The more points you claim in your EOI the higher your chance of being selected to apply for Residence. EOIs with points 140 and above receive top priority. If you include a job offer, this will usually boost your chances of being selected for Stage 2.

Basically, points are allocated as follows

-    40-60 points for a recognised qualification, depending on what Level it reaches on the New Zealand Qualification Authority (NZQA) Register. 10-20 additional points are allocated for a New Zealand qualification;

-    50 points for working in “skilled employment” for less than 12 months or 60 points for more than 12 months;

-     10-30 points for “recognised work experience”.

-     5-30 points depending on how young you are;

-     10 bonus points for having immediate family who live in New Zealand as Residents or Citizens.

Further bonus points are allocated for a job offer, qualifications or work experience in an occupation on the Long Term Skills Shortage List (“LTSSL”). However, the LTSSL usually contains stringent requirements for prior qualifications and/or work experience before you can take advantage of these bonuses. For instance, a computer programmer who has many years of practical experience, but who never did a degree to get into the industry, cannot claim extra points.

Bonus points can also be claimed for a job offer, qualifications or work experience in what are called Growth Areas. These are currently biotechnology; information communications technology and the creative industries such as film and animation.

When all of this is put together it is clear that the New Zealand Government is targeting people with an IT background by maximising the points that they can claim in their EOI.

It is important that the information provided in the EOI is as accurate as possible, as it is relied upon by INZ when it comes to assess the full Residence Application.

  1. The Residence Application. This stage is reached when you receive a written Invitation to Apply (“ITA”), having submitted an EOI which was accepted with at least 100 points.  You have four months after the ITA to file a Residence application otherwise you must go back to Stage 1 and start another EOI.

At this point you provide all the documentation relating to the points you have claimed including passports, birth certificates, police certificates, a Full Medical, your Employment Agreement etc.. Everything which you claim points for can be closely scrutinised by INZ – particularly the offer of employment.

General Requirements

There are several criteria that everyone applying for Residence must fulfil:

  • You must be aged 55 years or under.
  • You must have sufficient English ability. Many people show this by scoring 6.5 or more in an IELTS test (International English Language Testing System). Alternatively, you could point to study or work experience in an English-speaking environment. In such cases, INZ will assess whether you are a “competent user of English” – and it retains the discretion to demand that you do an IELTS test anyway if your English background doesn’t look strong enough.
  • Principal and Secondary Applicants must have an “acceptable standard of health”. The Government deems that certain medical conditions such as diabetes, cancer and hepatitis will cost the health service a great deal of money, and it may be necessary to seek a medical waiver.
  • You must be of “good character”. People with criminal convictions involving significant prison sentences, and those who have been deported from other countries, cannot even apply for visas. Others with less serious criminal records will have to obtain a character waiver to get through. The medical and character waiver process involves balancing the negative and positive aspects of the case. A person who has a significant or scarce skill set may be allowed in even if they their health or their record

Work Experience

To be given points for work experience it must have been gained from a ‘comparable labour market’ and there must be evidence of this by way of a signed, written work reference. “Comparable labour markets” include most First World countries such as the UK, most of Europe, the United States, but the list also includes South Africa, South Korea, Argentina, China and India.

Having said this, work experience with a multinational company, or work experience in a skill-shortage occupation on the LTSSL, will qualify for points even if it was not obtained in a comparable labour market.

What is Skilled Employment?

In order to be approved Residence almost everyone must, at some stage, have an offer of “skilled employment” in New Zealand, regardless of how many other points you have scored.

“Skilled Employment” is defined as being a job which is found on INZ’s List of Skilled Occupations. This in turn refers to the Australian and New Zealand Standard Classification of Occupations (“ANZSCO”).

INZ will carefully check whether your Job Description substantially matches the set of tasks specified for that job title on the ANZSCO. Whether the job is skilled depends ultimately on what you are actually doing. INZ may visit your work place or telephone your employer to ascertain this. Simply choosing the right job title on your Employment Agreement will not get your job recognised under that title.

There is one exception to the requirement to have an offer of skilled employment, for people who have been awarded a Masters or Doctorate degree after two years’ full-time study. INZ will simply assess whether they can nevertheless settle and contribute to New Zealand even though they don’t yet have a job.

Settlement and Contribution Assessment

This is a critical stage in the Residence process for people who don’t have a job offer. Even those who have scored well on the EOI and whose Residence application otherwise appears sound can be declined very near the end of their application.

The purpose of the assessment is to gauge whether you can “settle” in New Zealand. In most cases this actually turns on how likely it is that you can find an offer of skilled employment. If Immigration is not entirely sure on this point then it can defer a decision and issue a nine-month Work Visa to allow you to find a suitable job offer.

Why Use an Advisor?

Many people with a New Zealand job offer, recognisable work experience, good health and clean record should have no issues applying for Skilled Migrant Residence on their own. The system is designed for people to apply by themselves.

  • However, the reality is that the rules around many parts of the Skilled Migrant process are complex. Areas which require particular care are:
  • Medical and character issues (and applications for waiver)
  • Relevance of qualifications or work experience to the applicant’s job
  • Settlement and contribution interview and assessment
  • Inconsistencies in information provided throughout the application process and in previous visa applications.

Professional assistance is most often required when INZ considers that the person’s job is not “skilled employment”. An advisor can contest INZ’s conclusions by analysing and demonstrating how the job fits the ANZSCO definition of the job. More importantly, careful review of the job offer and editing of the wording of a job description, even before the EOI is put in, can avoid trouble entirely.


Simon Laurent

Principal, LaurentLaw Barristers & Solicitors

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