How to hire foreign workers in New Zealand – Work visas

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If you want to hire a foreign worker for your business, you need to ensure that they have a valid visa with work rights. While the candidate will generally be responsible for the visa application, you will need to provide some supporting documentation. However, various laws have changed your obligations around hiring foreign workers for temporary work. This article looks at what to keep in mind when looking to hire foreign workers in New Zealand as a business.

Steps you need to take

Check that the employee can legally work for you

Before hiring foreign workers, you need to check that their visa conditions allow them to work in New Zealand. If they do not have a visa, you must:

  • may continue to offer them a position on the condition that they obtain a valid visa prior to employment; and

  • they should have checked that they have obtained valid visas through VisaView at Immigration NZ website before starting recruitment.

You cannot legally hire foreign workers unless they have a valid visa with work rights.

Do a labor market test

Most visas require you to undertake a labor market test before hiring foreign workers to confirm whether any New Zealanders can fill the role. You should be able to demonstrate that you have made a genuine attempt to attract and hire suitable domestic workers for the job, including providing evidence of:

  • internet advertising; and

  • a report on how many requests you have received.

The labor market test has a relatively strict approach. You must:

  • list pay when advertising a job;

  • provide information on low-paid jobs to the Ministry of Social Development (MSD); and

  • recruit potential workers recommended by MSD for low-paying work.

If you cannot find any suitable New Zealanders for the role, you can proceed to hire foreign workers.

What are the most common work visas?

There are two main types of work visas which are:

  • temporary; and

  • residence.

A temporary visa has a fixed duration, usually less than five years. On the other hand, a resident visa allows a worker to stay in New Zealand indefinitely.

A temporary visa can be either ‘open’ or ’employer sponsored’. An open visa means that the worker already has a visa that allows them to work for you. Some examples of open work visas include:

Employer sponsored visa

If a foreign worker does not have an open visa, they can apply for an employer-sponsored visa. You must offer them a job before they can apply for this visa. The most common employer-sponsored temporary visa is the Accredited Employer Work Visa (AEWV), formerly known as the Essential Skills Visa.

Residence visa

The main residence visa is a visa of the category of skilled migrants. This is a points visa and takes into account:

  • Job Offer;

  • pay;

  • work experience and academic qualifications;

  • age; and

  • instead of work.

A foreign worker must first submit an Expression of Interest (EOI) before Immigration New Zealand will invite them to apply for residence. Many foreign workers come to New Zealand on an Essential Skills visa and then switch to a Skilled Migrant Category visa.


AEWV was launched in July 2022 and aims to connect your business and the worker requiring a visa. Before your foreign worker can apply for this visa, you must become an accredited employer. You can get accreditation and hire foreign workers for a period of three years.

In addition, there are certain limitations, such as:

  • will have to pay at least the New Zealand median wage; and

  • they have done a labor market test and cannot find a suitable New Zealander for the role.

You must be accredited to hire foreign workers on a new temporary work visa.

A temporary visa replaces:

  • Essential Skills Work Visa;

  • Essential Skills Work Visa – approved in principle;

  • Talent (Accredited Employer) Work Visa;

  • Work visa for the long-term skills shortage list;

  • Silver Fern job seeker visa; and

  • Silver Fern Practical Experience Visa.

From 2021, if you want to hire a foreign worker on a new temporary work visa, you will need to obtain:

  • mandatory employer accreditation;

  • checking work, including checking market pay rates to ensure you pay the worker in line with the New Zealand market rate,

  • labor market test to ensure New Zealand workers are not available; and

  • checking the worker to make sure he has the character, health requirements and skills to work in the new position.

Update of the law in 2024

Exploitation of migrants is a serious employment and immigration issue. From January 6, 2024:

  • you must provide documentation related to employment within 10 days of the immigration officer’s request; and

  • the Executive Director of MBIE may release your name for non-compliance with applicable immigration laws.

You should ensure that you always check for new legal updates. From January 6, you cannot:

  • allow someone to work for you when they are not permitted to do so by law;

  • employ someone in a way that is inconsistent with their visa work rights; and

  • they will not supply Immigration NZ with any required documentation.

Although many of these changes do not change your existing obligations, they standardize the penalties that may be imposed on you for breach.

Key things

Before hiring foreign workers, you must meet certain requirements, such as checking their visa conditions to confirm they can legally work in New Zealand and undertaking a labor market test to ensure there are no alternative suitable domestic workers.

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