WELLINGTON, April 19 (Xinhua) -- Immigrants to New Zealand will need to meet a higher bar for residency after the government Wednesday unveiled new rules to "improve the quality" of migrants.
People coming to New Zealand on low-skilled work visas would be allowed to stay for a maximum of three years before having a "stand down period" and becoming eligible to apply again, said Immigration Minister Michael Woodhouse.
The changes were designed to better manage immigration and improve the long-term labor market contribution of temporary and permanent migration, Woodhouse said in a statement.
"It's important that our immigration settings are attracting the right people, with the right skills, to help fill genuine skill shortages and contribute to our growing economy," he said.
"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."
Other changes included requiring people to earn the New Zealand median income of 48,859 NZ dollars (34,201 U.S. dollars) a year to qualify as a high-skilled migrant.
"The other threshold will be set at 1.5 times the New Zealand median income of 73,299 NZ dollars a year for jobs that are not currently considered skilled, but are well paid," Woodhouse said.
Partners and children would no longer be allowed to enter automatically and get work and student visas, but instead would enter New Zealand as visitors and would need to meet visa requirements in their own right.
The Business New Zealand lobby welcomed the changes, saying the pay thresholds would reduce the potential for migrants undercutting New Zealand workers' pay.
"No immigration system is perfect, 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," chief executive Kirk Hope said in a statement.
However, opposition lawmakers criticized the rule changes as tinkering with the immigration system.
"New Zealand is richer for immigration, but our public services, housing, and infrastructure can't keep up with the current record level of immigration. We need to take a breather and catch up," leader of the main opposition Labour Party Andrew Little said.
The changes did not address "the huge numbers of people coming in to do low level qualifications or low skill work, then using those visas as a stepping-stone to residency," said Little.
The announcement "won't change the fact we are issuing over 6,000 work visas for laborers a year when we have thousands of unemployed laborers in this country already," he said. (1 New Zealand dollar = 0.7 U.S. dollar)