Changes to critical workers border exception category

  • Hon Kris Faafoi

The Minister of Immigration has announced adjustments to immigration instructions to provide more clarity to the assessment criteria for employers wanting to request a border exception for their workers under the ‘other critical worker’ category.

“As New Zealand continues on the path to recovery from COVID-19, it is important that we strike the right balance between protecting New Zealand from COVID-19 and ensuring businesses have the critical workers they need to help in our recovery,” Minister Kris Faafoi said.

“In order to help ensure key critical workers are able to come to New Zealand, we have made some small changes to immigration instructions around the assessment criteria for ‘other critical workers’,” Kris Faafoi said.

“Currently, an individual must have unique experience and technical or specialist skills that are ‘not obtainable’ in New Zealand. This criterion will change to technical or specialist skills that are not ‘readily obtainable’ in New Zealand. That wording change reflects that, in some fields, there is a very limited pool of experts and significant training would have to be undertaken before the skills were obtainable in New Zealand.”

“We will also remove from the requirement for “the skills, qualifications or work experience to have been gained overseas’. Removing that requirement will allow entry, in some limited cases, where, for example, a worker has skills which are obtainable in New Zealand but they have unique experience gained overseas which would bring unique expertise to New Zealand businesses.

“These changes are in response to concerns various sectors have been raising with us and aim to help provide clarity for businesses requesting a border exception for critical workers.

“However, the bar for being granted an exception still remains high and there will still be a number of workers across a range of sectors and businesses who do not meet the criteria to be granted an exception under this ‘other critical worker’ category. That is because any changes must still align with New Zealand’s tight COVID-19 border controls to limit the spread of the virus. We also need to continue coordinating the numbers of people coming across the border with amount of capacity available in managed isolation and quarantine facilities to cope.

Kris Faafoi said that New Zealand was now in a position to be able to make adjustments to border entry settings, and the small changes for the critical worker exception category follow other changes to immigration settings announced recently, which:

  • create a new border exception category to enable the return of some temporary work visa holders and their families to resume their jobs or businesses,
  • allow a more streamlined path of entry for Australian partners and partners of New Zealanders from visa-waiver countries (plus their children) to reunite with their Kiwi loved ones, and
  • extend deadlines by 12 months for resident visa holders who are stranded offshore because of COVID travel restrictions and, either can’t activate their visa before it runs out, or return to New Zealand in time to ensure their visa remains valid.

“Another key priority to balance with border entry exceptions is making sure that, where possible, New Zealanders who have lost jobs due to COVID have the opportunities to move into new work.”

The changes to the ‘other critical worker’ border exception category immigration instructions take effect immediately.