New Zealand Residence Programme questions and answers for the Skilled Migrant Category (SMC).

What is the Skilled Migrant Category and how does it work?

The Skilled Migrant Category is a points-based residence policy, for people who wish to live permanently in New Zealand. A person who wishes to apply for residence under the Skilled Migrant Category must first put in an Expression of Interest (EOI) to Immigration New Zealand, claiming points for factors like their qualifications, work experience and job offer. Immigration New Zealand does a fortnightly draw selecting EOIs based on the points claimed, then invites people with sufficient points to apply.

All applicants must meet some minimum criteria, regarding health, character and English language.

What is changing, when?

Two changes to the Skilled Migrant Category have been announced:

What was the situation before?

Previously, all EOIs were selected where the person had claimed:

What are the changes?

From 12 October 2016 only EOIs with 160 points or more will be selected. This will enable the number of Skilled Migrant Category resident visas granted in 2016/17 to remain within the target range.

Why does this have to change?

New Zealand is currently a popular destination, and therefore there is a very high demand for places under the Skilled Migrant Category. To ensure that this demand is managed effectively, the Government has set the total planning range for the Skilled/Business stream of the NZRP across the 2016/17 and 2017/18 years at 50,500–57,500. If INZ was to continue to select EOIs using the same thresholds as previously, more visas would be granted than the target range allows.

Is the new points threshold of 160 permanent?

No. The automatic selection mark for EOIs may be adjusted as necessary to manage the achievement of the overall New Zealand Residence Programme.

What is happening with evidence of English language and why?

What was the situation before?

The minimum English language requirement for applicants under the Skilled Migrant Category is an International English Language Testing System (IELTS) overall score of 6.5 across the four language domains (reading, writing, listening and speaking).

Prior to the 12 October change, immigration officers could also consider a variety of alternative pieces of evidence of English language ability in place of an IELTS score, including:

In any case, an immigration officer could still require the applicant to provide an IELTS test.

What are the changes about who has to do a test?

People who are invited to apply from 12 October onwards will not be able to use the same alternative evidence of English language in place of a test as previously. The evidence that can be accepted in place of a test will be limited to:

People invited to apply before 12 October will not be affected and may still use the alternatives previously in place. They only need to provide what Immigration New Zealand has already requested on the invitation to apply.

What are the changes about what kind of tests Immigration New Zealand will accept?

From 21 November 2016, Immigration New Zealand will accept a wider range of English language tests.

The new tests that INZ will accept are:

Why do the requirements have to change?

The new requirements add clarity to the assessment process. Particularly, the new requirements will:

Do the new English language evidence requirements apply to partners and dependent children?

If you have already been invited to apply, the new English language evidence requirements do not apply to you or your partner or children.

If you are invited to apply after 12 October, the new English language evidence requirements will apply to your partner and any dependent children over the age of 16. If you have claimed points for your partner’s qualifications or work experience, those points will not be awarded unless your partner meets the new evidence requirements.

If your partner or dependent children do not meet the minimum standard, you will be required to pre-purchase English tuition. The amount of tuition fees you will be required to pay depends on their test results.

Find out more about pre-purchased English tuition

What should I do if I was planning to put an expression of interest in under the Skilled Migrant Category but I can’t meet the new points threshold?

If you cannot meet the new points threshold, we would not recommend that you submit an EOI as it is unlikely to be selected. You may wish to look at our other options for residency to find a category that is more suitable for your situation. To find out about other categories for applying for residence in New Zealand, explore residence options on our website.

If you are already working in New Zealand, or you have an offer of work in New Zealand, you can apply for a temporary work visa based on your job. Your employer may need to show they cannot find any New Zealanders to take up the work. To find out about work visa categories, explore work visa options on our website.

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Explore work visa options

I put in an expression of interest in which I claimed enough points to be selected under the old threshold, but from 12 October only people with 160 points will be selected. What can I do?

If you think you might be able to claim more points and you submitted your expression of interest online, you can log back into your expression of interest and make changes. If you claim more than 160 points you could be selected as part of the next draw. Remember you will have to show evidence for all the points you have claimed if you are invited to apply.

What if I have already been selected, but I haven’t been sent an invitation to apply yet?

If you have already been selected your application will be assessed on the basis of the points threshold for selection on the date that your EOI was selected from the Pool. However, if you have not been invited to apply on or before 11 October, you will need to meet the new requirements for evidence of English language.

What if I’ve already been invited to apply?

If you’ve already received a letter inviting you to apply and setting out the documents you need to provide, you just need to follow the instructions on the letter. The new points threshold and new requirements for English language evidence do not apply to you regardless of the date of your application. You must make your application within the timeframe specified in your invitation letter.

What if I’ve already applied under the Skilled Migrant Category?

If you’ve already applied, the requirements that were in place on the date you made your application will continue to apply to you. You don’t need to meet the new point threshold and the new requirements for English language evidence do not apply to you.

I think I can meet the new points threshold, but I was planning to use my one year of skilled employment in New Zealand as evidence of meeting the English language requirement, so what do the changes to English language mean for me?

If you are invited to apply, you will need to provide an English test if you do not meet any of the other new requirements. If you apply after 21 November, you can use one of the new tests. Your invitation to apply requires you to apply within four months, so you should make sure you organise your test soon after being invited.

How long are the English tests valid for?

English language tests are valid for two years from the date they were sat.

What scores will be required on the new English language tests? Where can I find out more information about the tests?

More information scores required for each test are listed below, along with the websites of each testing providers. Remember that if you lodge your application before 21 November 2016 IELTS is the only test INZ can accept.

Test Website SMC Required Score
International English Language Testing System (IELTS) 6.5
Occupational English Test (OET) B
Cambridge English: First (FCE) and FCE for Schools 176
Pearsons Test of English: Academic (PTE: Academic) 58
Test of English as a Foreign Language Internet-Basaed Test (TOEFL iBT) 79

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About the Author

Crispin Aranda

Crispin Aranda

Crispin R. Aranda is an established International Visa Conselor and Immigrant Advocate. He is the president of IVC and is in several migration radio programs.

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