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Essential skills

Visas designed to fill employment gaps when no New Zealanders are available or cannot be quickly trained

Essential Skills work visas are designed to develop a highly skilled workforce, high quality jobs and workplaces, and high value industries in New Zealand. The employment offered to people applying for an Essential Skills Work Visa is assigned a skill-band based on the pay-rate and the skill level of the most closely matching ANZSCO occupation. The Australian and New Zealand Standard Classification of Occupations (ANZSCO) provides information used by Immigration New Zealand to check the skill levels of jobs and the qualifications and/or experience needed to work in those jobs.

There are 3 skill-bands: lower-skilled, mid-skilled, and higher-skilled.

The skill-band assigned to the employment offered helps to determine:

  • the duration of the visa granted
  • whether the visa holder can support visas for family members
  • whether there is a maximum time the visa holder can spend in New Zealand.

Threshold amounts for applications (as of 15 January 2018):

Remuneration ANZSCO 1-3 ANZSCO 4-5
$36.44+ per hour Higher-skilled Higher-skilled
$20.65 – $36.43 per hour Mid-skilled Lower-skilled
Less than $20.65 per hour Lower-skilled Lower-skilled


As a reference, those employed as doctors, engineers, builders, trades people, IT professionals or managers are within ANZSCO 1-3. The lower-skill level occupations normally do not require a qualification and include such jobs as Checkout operator, Caregiver, Waiter, Labourer, Cleaner, etc.

To approve an Essential Skills work visa, an immigration officer must be satisfied that there are no New Zealanders available to do the job on offer. To prove this, companies would normally be expected to advertise your position online and genuinely try to recruit someone local. The extent and nature of advertising or use of other appropriate means of recruitment would normally mean:

  • listing the vacancy with Work and Income, if appropriate;
  • advertising the vacancy in a national newspaper and/or website;
  • contracting a recruitment company appropriate to the industry.

If all of these did not help and the company only has an option to hire a visa holder, then they can offer the job and provide and Employer Supplementary Form for the work visa application.

Generally speaking, an Essential Skills work visa may be granted for the period for which the employment is offered, but up to a maximum of:

  • 5 years for employment assessed as higher-skilled; or
  • 3 years for employment assessed as mid-skilled; or
  • 1 year for employment assessed as lower-skilled.

Based on the above, if you work as a Civil Engineer, you are most likely to receive up to a 5-year visa. If your job is that of a Caregiver, the maximum visa duration is 12 months.