English test kerfuffle for migrants

Queenstown’s Citizen Advice Bureau (CAB) manager says some of Queenstown’s migrant workers have been saddled with yet more pricey government-initiated hurdles to overcome if they want to stay.

The coalition government last month announced changes to the accredited employer work visa (AEWV) for ANZSCO Level 4 and 5 roles — which include cleaners, kitchen hands, housekeepers, bar and wait staff.

Under the new rules, unless those employees are originally from a country where English is the first language, or they have a degree recognised by NZQA, which they have to pay up to $700 for, they have to pass an English language test to gain an AEWV.

But it also captures those already here wanting to extend their visa, if they qualify.

Queenstown Immigration owner Kate Batkin says those who’ve been on an AEWV for coming up two years, who don’t have three years’ ‘‘relevant experience’’ in their roles, will ‘‘most likely have to leave’’, noting they’re employed in jobs Kiwis traditionally haven’t wanted.

Alternatively, they can apply for a third year, but their employer has to complete a full new job check, including listing the job with Work
and Income NZ, and they have to sit an English language test (IELTS Level 4).

Immigration Minister Erica Stanford says the requirement is a ‘‘very basic level of English’’, because ‘‘people need a basic level of English to be able to function in NZ’’.

‘‘We know that there are a number of employers who provide on-site translation or access to English language courses, but people need basic English when they arrive to be able to navigate living in NZ, for example, entering into rental agreements, understanding health and safety, being able to contact emergency services, etc,’’ Stanford says.

CAB manager Tracy Pool says she’s supportive of the test itself, which costs about $450, but is concerned about the unintended consequences for the huge number of workers locally affected.

That’s because anyone on an AEWV wanting to extend has to travel to Dunedin or Invercargill to sit the test — and even if they pass, without three years’ relevant experience, there’s no guarantee their application will be successful.

Pool says the in-person IELTS test, in Dunedin, is fully booked till the end of June, while the online Pearson PTE test, through SIT, which requires CCTV monitoring, has limited slots available until the end of May.

Such is the waitlist, one of her clients flew to Auckland to sit it.

But SIT confirms it’s not looking to establish a PTE testing centre in Queenstown, despite demand.

SIT’s acting international manager Terri McClelland says that’d require a ‘‘significant investment’’ in equipment, providing a 16-page book comprising technical requirements and a 12-page book of layout needs as evidence.

‘‘Currently SIT is not in a position to undertake the level of capital investment required for the establishment of a PTE testing centre in Queenstown,’’ McClelland says.

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