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In figures released exclusively to the Herald, a Ministry of Business Innovation and Employment sample of more than 600 skilled migrant category applications being considered as at March 1 found more than two in five would not have met the new income threshold. The current skilled migrant occupation classification is a blunt instrument that does not account for highly skilled farm employees and makes it virtually impossible for them to achieve residency.

The New Zealand government has announced plans to tighten access to skilled work visas to help get Kiwis into jobs ahead of migrants.

One will be set at the New Zealand median income - about $49,000 per year.

The changes to be introduced later this year include introducing a minimum income requirement, making it more hard for family members to join visa holders and limiting the amount of time seasonal workers are allowed to stay in the country.

Under the new rules, people who are not now considered to be in skilled employment will be able to claim points for their job if their are earning $35.24 or more per hour.

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"[The National party's] changes don't address the huge numbers of people coming here to do low-level qualifications or low-skill work, then using those visas as a stepping stone to residency".

A new maximum duration of three years for lower-skilled and lower-paid Essential Skills visa holders, after which a minimum stand-down period will apply before they can get another lower-skilled temporary work visa.

The proposals would also line up temporary work visas in seasonal jobs to the season rather than for 12 months as is now the case. That led to a call by David Cooper of immigration advocacy service Malcolm Pacific for the same to be offered to North Island workers. The crackdown on temporary work visas comes six months after the government raised the bar on the skilled migrant visa and comes as rising immigration gets blamed for inflaming property markets.

"No immigration system is ideal, but the proposed changes should help get migrants who are better suited to our employment needs, while at the same time valuing the skill levels of New Zealand workers".

Immigration has become a key election issue with opposition parties promising to reduce new arrivals because of the effect on house prices and pressure on key infrastructure including roading, schools and hospitals. "That is why we are making a number of changes to our permanent and temporary immigration settings aimed at managing the number, and improving the quality, of migrants coming to New Zealand".