If you are an international citizen studying IT in New Zealand, or you want
to know how to use your IT job to get a Residence Visa, this article is for you.
Employers looking for talented and trained staff should also take note – there
is a time of challenge and opportunity ahead.
Despite continued pessimism about the country’s slow recovery from the
worldwide recession, there are two key trends which give cause for optimism if
you have skills in Information and Communications Technology.
Firstly, the economy is growing again, and perhaps faster than most people
on the street realise. According to the July 2011 Labour Market Update from the
Department of Labour, national output increased by 0.8% in the January-March
quarter, which translates to more than 3% per annum. It faltered late in 2010
after a sharp pick-up mid-year, but this year’s upward trend looks more steady.
At the same time, employment of the population rose 1.8% since last year (about
40,000 people). There’s more business to do, and more people are needed to do
Secondly, results from a recent survey by the NZ Institute of Economic
Research show that it is becoming ever harder to find skilled labour. This no
doubt partly stems from increased business activity. In addition, however, the
outflow of talent across the Tasman to Australia continues apace. For some
reason New Zealanders think the grass is greener over there, even though the
rainfall is much lower. The pressure to find the right people for the increased
number of jobs is noticeably pushing salary levels upward, and informed opinion
suggests that this trend won’t end any time soon.
Visas and the IT Skills
The Government recognises that this country faces a chronic lack of IT
professionals. In particular, this occupation group has featured for many years
on the Long Term Skill Shortage List (LTSSL) maintained for immigration
This has significant meaning for anyone in the field who has come from
overseas to study and work. It smoothes the way for getting both Work Visas and
Most people applying for a Work Visa must show Immigration New Zealand
(INZ) that their boss has fully advertised their position but cannot find a New
Zealander to fit the bill. A suitably qualified and experienced IT worker
applying for a Work Visa doesn’t face that hurdle – INZ accepts that good local
people are not to be found. Any employer who has tried to support someone’s
Work Visa application will tell you what a difference that makes.
Most applications for Residence are made under the Skilled Migrant
category, where people score points on age, qualifications, job offer etc.
Applicants first put in an online Expression of Interest. If INZ agrees that
they may be entitled to the points they have claimed, they get an Invitation to
Apply, which is when they can submit all their papers.
Having a job offer in an occupation on the LTSSL significantly boosts your
points score through several sets of bonus points that are available. The
higher your score, the quicker you will be invited to apply for Residence. It
is worth noting that one can claim even more points for working in the ‘future
growth areas’ of Information Communications Technology and creative industries
(where an increasing number of IT jobs can be found).
The Road to Residence
INZ has set its policy to encourage certain ‘pathways’ to Residence. One
of the most-used ones starts with tertiary study. The NZ Qualifications
Framework classifies 10 Levels of qualifications down from the PhD at Level 10.
Upon completing study to a high enough level, you can get an open Job Search
Work Visa which allows work for any employer.
Once you find a job relevant to your qualification you can apply for a Work
Experience Visa for up to 2 years, or else an Essential Skills Work Visa for a
specific employer. At any stage it is possible to put in a Skilled Migrant
Residence application, but there is usually little point in doing this unless a
job offer is in place. This is because in most cases INZ will not finally
approve Residence unless you already have a skilled job in New Zealand.
There is also what is called the Work to Residence route which allows
someone with an offer of work in a known shortage area – like IT – to get a
30-month Work Visa. However, it is only possible to apply for Residence under
this category after holding the Work Visa for 2 years, and this is a slower
method than going for Skilled Migrant Residence as described above.
Pitfalls for Students
If you are planning to study toward an IT qualification, take note: the
Government recently changed its policy to make Job Search Visas available only
to people who have completed a qualification lasting at least two full-time
academic years. You can also get a Job Search Visa if you do two one-year
courses – say, a Level 5 Diploma followed by a Level 6 National Certificate. In
practice this means that many Level 5 and 6 Diplomas and Certificates will no
longer be any use on their own as a basis for getting Residence.
The changes were announced in June, to take effect from 25 July. There was
a storm of protest at the short notice given, because thousands of people who
had enrolled for 1-year courses in good faith faced serious disruption to their
future plans. INZ quickly backtracked, so that the new rules will now only
affect students who enrolled after 2 April 2012. It does mean, however, that
anyone contemplating study with a view to a Work Visa upon graduation must first
check carefully whether the course will qualify.
The Job Search Visa only lasts 1 year, and from our observation that year
can disappear pretty quickly if you are in the employment market. We’ve seen
dozens of people who hold a Bachelor’s degree in IT, or a Diploma in Computing,
working on service station forecourts pumping gas. If you can’t find an IT job
in that one year then you’re out. Start searching as soon as you walk out of
the last exam, and don’t settle for a spot on a Burger King crew.
Pitfalls for Work and
The phrase ‘suitably qualified and experienced’ used earlier is critical to
anyone wishing to use the LTSSL as a fast-track to a Work Visa, or for Skilled
Migrant Residence. For an IT worker to make use of the list they must have at
least a Bachelor’s degree plus 3 years’ relevant work experience. The exception
is Film Animators who don’t need to have a degree unless they want to claim the
Skilled Migrant bonus points.
A lot of people in the past went for National Diplomas or Graduate
Certificates in IT at Level 7. However, the LTSSL was changed a couple of years
back to require a degree – possibly owing to lobby pressure from the
Universities seeking to gain an edge over other education institutes. Quite
simply, if you are considering study for an IT career then don’t bother with
anything less than a full degree.
Another major hurdle is often the nature of the job offer used to apply for
a Visa. As most New Zealand businesses are small, many jobs out there involve
more than one role. Unless you sign up with a specialist IT operation such as a
web design studio, you could wind up administering the network in between doing
the accounts and making the tea. INZ is on the lookout for mish-mash jobs
dressed up as IT positions.
If the job you are looking is not out-and-out IT or ICT work, save yourself
a lot of delay and stress by looking somewhere else.
The Need for Advice
The immigration field gets more sophisticated and complex every year.
Policies (now called ‘Instructions’) are tweaked frequently – sometimes to plug
gaps which people have exploited, and sometimes to push wider Government
objectives. More critically, the way that the black-letter rules are applied
keeps shifting, and INZ staff sometimes put their own slant on what the words of
The online Expression of Interest application may look straightforward
enough – just fill in the boxes and submit. Don’t be fooled – even a casual
omission of information about your background can come back to haunt you later.
Our firm is often called in part way through an application to fix a mess which
could have been avoided altogether if the person had received good advice at the
Any New Zealand immigration adviser – onshore or offshore – must either
hold a license to practice or have a lawful exemption. Lawyers are one of the
exempt groups. Competent licensed advisers and lawyers should be able to
evaluate your chances of success, or point out a solution to your problem, at a
first meeting. At the same time they should also be able to quote a fee for the
job you ask them to do. In an increasing number of cases this is money well
spent, rather than trying to do it yourself.