Less than 30% of new visa ‘job checks’ have been approved so far

Delays to Immigration New Zealand’s processing of the new accredited employer work visas are adding another layer of stress to Whakatipu business owners.

Under the twice-delayed system, employers first have to apply for either standard accreditation, to hire up to five migrant workers, or ‘‘high-volume’’, for six or more.

While that part of the process seems to have gone relatively smoothly — figures provided to Mountain Scene show, as of Monday, 8215 accreditations have been received, with 7434 decided and approved — it’s the next stage which is causing consternation.

Accredited employers then have to apply for a ‘‘job check’’ for each job a migrant worker’s sought for, unless the job pays 200% of the $27.76 median wage.

To date, just 27% — 966 of the 3469 job check applications received — have been approved.

The applications represent 23,054 jobs, of which 7108 have cleared the second of three hurdles — the final step in the process is for the employee to apply for an accredited employer work visa.

‘There have been issues’

A Ministry of Business, Innovation and Employment (MBIE) spokeswoman says while the department ‘‘remains committed’’ to processing the job check applications within 10 working days, there have been issues.

‘‘Not only are our customers learning how to navigate the new technology and [accredited employer work visa] policy, our staff are also learning how to process this new visa category in a live environment, while helping to educate employers on what is needed.

‘‘We are working hard to support our customers and have trained our staff, but this takes time and, as with any new immigration policy and technology, there are always some initial issues that need to be ironed out.

‘‘The employer accreditation process is working well, but we acknowledge that there have been some initial issues, and that this has caused some frustration.’’

Hilton Queenstown boss Chris Ehmann says they flew through the initial accreditation process, but have been waiting more than two weeks, to date, for the job check applications.

Feeling for small operators: Hilton Queenstown boss Chris Ehmann

He’s looking to hire upwards of 20 staff and only heard from INZ on Tuesday to inform him there were issues with the employment contracts, which need to be remedied before they can be reassessed.

The MBIE spokeswoman says, so far, 50% of the job check applications have required further information — in 75% of those cases, there have been issues around employment agreements.

Common missing information includes the minimum hours of work and the maximum hours of work before overtime provision applies, and detailed descriptions of the work to be done.

Issues are also being flagged in job check applications because job ads haven’t run for 14 days and salary information’s not included in the ads.

New visa process costing time, money

In Ehmann’s case, the Hilton’s had to change parts of its contracts — requiring the HR team to send the new versions off to lawyers for sign-off, before they can go back to INZ to be reassessed.

That’s adding another couple of thousand dollars to the process, as well as further delays.

Only once they’ve passed the job check can the prospective employer apply for a visa.

Millbrook Resort ops director Brian Howie says they’re planning on submitting their first job check today — eventually, he expects about 40% of their workforce will need to be on some sort of visa, including accredited employer visas.

Still confused: Millbrook Resort operations director Brian Howie

‘‘We’re going to need a lot, there’s no question about it — there’s no staff around,’’ he says.

‘‘I don’t know where we’re going to get labour from.’’

What’s been frustrating about the new visas, he says, is despite their HR team attending every seminar and webinar in recent months to gather as much information as possible, ‘‘we’re still not clear about the process’’.

Ehmann echoes that and says he’s particularly feeling for small, independent operators who don’t have HR departments to handle the paperwork, so end up having to splash more cash on consultants.

One such business is Queenstown’s Greenwood Trade Professionals, an exterior plastering company launched last November.

Director Ian Flanagan says they have six staff on deck, but need another six, all of whom will likely have to go through the new visa system, unless they can fill all those roles with Kiwis.

‘‘We’re not paper-pushers,’’ Flanagan says.

‘‘We just work from the neck down, basically.’’

They’ve hired a consultant to handle the accreditation process for them, because they simply don’t have the time to navigate it themselves.

Even so, the clock is ticking.

‘‘We have one guy [in] Auckland who wants to come down, but it takes, like, two months for Immigration to even look at a variation.

‘‘Then the person you want to employ has changed their mind by that point.

‘‘They [INZ] are really not making it easy … anyone I talk to, basically, is in the same boat as us.’’

The lobbying continues

Hospitality New Zealand Queenstown regional manager Darelle Jenkins (pictured) says the organisation’s working with Immigration New Zealand on the new accredited employer work visa process on behalf of their members.

The organisation’s also ‘‘strongly advocating’’ for INZ to acknowledge experience in an industry is just as important as holding a Level 4 NZQA qualification — a standard not recognised in most countries.

Jenkins uses chefs as a primary example.

Given international chefs — ‘‘even if they are a Michelin-star chef’’ — don’t have that qualification, they’re being declined.

It is, she says, ‘‘literally the only sector that does not take equivalent experience into account’’.

‘‘With the current labour shortages and absenteeism due to illness and isolation rules, it is becoming a luxury for operators to open,’’ she says.

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