600 more tech workers coming soon
Late last year Minister Clark announced that Cabinet had approved a Class Exception for 600 overseas tech workers to come to New Zealand. This was great news for our industry, with many companies suffering with the border restrictions currently in place.
But when will it be available and how will it work?
Why a Class Exception?
The Exception was approved and announced following considerable work by NZTech, IT Professionals NZ and MBIE, supported by NZTE and others, in highlighting the pain many in our industry are feeling with the border restrictions (and resultant lack of skilled workers able to come to NZ for tech roles).
The Class Exception is about working to get the balance right and making sure there are good domestic talent development pipelines alongside immigration.
The reality is, our industry has historically relied a little too heavily on immigration - in fact more than 50% of new tech roles were taken up by those outside New Zealand previously.
When Covid hit, our industry went from a position of around 4500 Visa approvals a year (for both new workers coming to New Zealand as well as and migrant workers already here), to a little over 260 offshore workers approved for an 'other critical worker' border exception since the border restrictions were put in place. This has created a huge crunch for many tech firms.
How will the Exception work?
Please note that we are not legally able to provide immigration advice. The following should be considered commentary only - only a licensed immigration advisor can provide advice.
If you're not a New Zealand citizen or resident, you will need a border exception to travel to New Zealand now. There are specific criteria for these (such as health workers and those essential for the delivery of government-approved events), but the pathway we're most interested in is as an approved class of "Other Critical Workers".
The Cabinet announcement was that 600 nominated tech workers - for specific in-demand roles and who meet certain criteria - will be able to obtain a Critical Purpose Visitor Visa under the "Other Critical Workers" exception as an approved class of workers.
While many of the details around the nomination process are being worked through as we speak, the industry will be responsible for nominating (effectively pre-vetting) companies, roles and individuals for the Class Exception. ITPNZ will be operating the nomination process on behalf of the industry.
Those who meet the criteria for the approved class of workers are then "nominated" to INZ by industry for one of the 600 spots. At that point, employers will need to submit an online expression of interest with Immigration NZ and nominated individuals will then be invited to apply for a visa.
What will the criteria be?
The detailed criteria are going through a review and approval process currently, however it is expected to include base company, role and individual person requirements. Examples might include that the role is one of those covered by the Exception, alongside salary and other requirements.
It will be important to ensure people aren't trying to use the nomination process to bring in people for other roles not covered by the exception. We're very appreciative that Cabinet has approved this class exception, and we don't want any future work to be stymied because we didn't ensure people didn't abuse this one.
As an industry, we also need to be contributing to the development of domestic talent to a far greater extent, alongside the immigration process. While immigration will always be a big part of where we get the skills we need, we will need to balance this with more work developing skills in New Zealand.
To put that in context, there's an element of nervousness that our industry might use this Class Exception to revert to an "Immigration First" approach, so it's important we can show we are supporting domestic tech development alongside this. We're currently looking at how we can do this as an industry.
The nomination application will be made by the employer, for a specific person and specific role in the company. Only those currently outside NZ will be eligible.
It should be noted that we've heard from some people that they thought the 600 places had been pre-nominated to specific companies or people. This is not the case. When applications open, the process will be transparent and the criteria applied fairly and objectively - everyone will have access to it.
As above, the detailed criteria are going through a process currently and full details are intended to be announced within the next 2-3 weeks. Assuming the policy requirements can be met, we're intending to be taking applications sometime in February. We can't be more specific than this at this stage, but industry and government are working closely together and everyone wants to see this underway as soon as possible.
The roles covered
As with all of this, the roles covered are subject to change. But we expect the role Categories (including their synonyms) covered by the exception to be:
- Software and Application Programmers (ANZSCO 2613)
- ICT Managers (ANZSCO 1351)
- ICT Security Specialist (ANZSCO 2621)
- Multimedia Specialists (ANZSCO 2612)
The role being offered must also have a base salary of at least $120,000 (NZD) for Categories 1-3 above, or a base salary of at least $95,000 (NZD) for Category 4 (italicized above and below).
These categories would include roles that fall within the following ANZSCO occupation definitions:
- 261311 Analyst Programmer
- 261312 Developer Programmer
- 261313 Software Engineer
- 261314 Software Tester
- 261315 Cyber Security Engineer
- 261316 DevOps Engineer
- 261317 Penetration Tester
- 135111 Chief Information Officer
- 135112 ICT Project Manager
- 135199 IT Service Delivery Manager or Network Manager
- 262114 Cyber Governance Risk and Compliance Specialist
- 262115 Cyber Security Advice and Assessment Specialist
- 262116 Cyber Security Analyst
- 262117 Cyber Security Architect
- 262118 Cyber Security Operations Coordinator
- 261211 Electronic Game Developer, Multimedia Developer or Multimedia Programmer
- 261212 Web Developer
Note that these are the overall occupations as per the ANZSCO codes, however the Exception also applies to all synonyms (e.g. Product Manager). A full list of Synonyms for these roles are on the StatsNZ website.
What the Class Exception isn't
It's important to note that the nomination process and class exception means that up to 600 tech workers in specified roles are eligible for a border exception and will not need to meet the existing criteria for the 'other critical worker' border exception. However, final decisions on the grant of visas is, as always, made solely by Immigration NZ.
For example, Immigration NZ also apply a set of standard requirements that apply to almost anyone travelling here, such as character and health requirements. We strongly recommend finding out these requirements for travel to New Zealand and ensuring you have the documents they will need as soon as possible. Things like Police checks and medical certificates can take a while to obtain and you don't want to delay things later.
Importantly, obtaining the Class Exception and Visa doesn't automatically grant an MIQ spot. It does mean the worker is eligible for an MIQ spot, but this must still be obtained and paid for (usually by the employer).
We're really pleased that Cabinet has approved this class exception, and the fact that it will be available is a great example of the industry and government working closely together to solve problems.
As many readers will know, industry and government have also been working together on a larger Industry Transformation Plan for digital technologies and this has already led to a level of collaboration not seen before. We're looking forward to the Digital Economy and Communications Minister Dr David Clark releasing the first draft of this in the coming weeks.
We really want to commend our industry colleagues who have helped make this happen (e.g. partner organisations like NZTech and NZRise), plus Government for listening - both at the official level within Government who really are working hard to do their part to help our industry flourish, and those at Ministerial level too.
Onwards and upwards!
Paul Matthews is CEO of IT Professionals NZ and overseeing the development of the industry nomination process.
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