Changes to skilled migration eligibility to stop businesses hiring cheap foreign labour have been criticised as policy "tinkering" by opposition parties.
Potential immigrants earning less than $49,000 a year would no longer be considered as highly skilled regardless of their job under a new policy announced by Immigration Minister Michael Woodhouse on Wednesday.
Two new remuneration bands to attract higher-skilled and higher-paid migrants would control the "number and quality" of people coming to New Zealand, he said.
The first band would mean those earning under the $49,000 median wage would no longer be considered highly skilled while those earning above the 1.5 times median income threshold of $73,000 would automatically be regarded as high skilled.
Partners of skilled workers would only gain work visas if they themselves meet the eligibility requirements.
A three-year limit would be placed on temporary Essential Skills visa holders earning below the threshold while seasonal work visas changes would see those issued for a season rather than a full 12 months.
But New Zealand First and Labour say the policy "tinkering" and "fiddling" isn't enough.
Labour leader Andrew Little said New Zealand had to reduce the number of low-skilled migrants in favour of those with skills but said the government's latest changes wouldn't do that.
"National's move to make it harder to bring in people to fill jobs in areas of absolute skills shortages and in future growth areas is bizarre," he said.
NZ First leader Winston Peters said the government ignored advice to tighten immigration.
"Immigration numbers must be reduced to near 10,000 net per year with many skilled workers bonded to work in regions for five years before they can relocate to cities such as Auckland," he said.
Act leader David Seymour also criticised the proposals as targeting the wrong people.
The policy changes would only apply to applications after implementation, which is expected later this year.
Public consultation will take place first, closing on May 21.
Business NZ has backed the proposals as a way of employing highly skilled foreign workers while protecting Kiwi jobs.
"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.
The government's plan also includes a one-off pathway to residence for 4000 long-term temporary migrants who filled labour shortages on the South Island.
THE PROPOSED IMMIGRATION CHANGES:
* Introduction of remuneration bands to determine migrant skills.
* Maximum duration for low-skilled and low-paid Essential Skills visa holders.
* Stand down period between issuing Essential Skills visas.
* Requiring partners of Essential Skills visa holders to themselves meet work requirements.
* Seasonal visas be issued for a season, rather than 12 months.