New Zealand toughens requirements for skilled immigrants

New Zealand announced Wednesday that it is introducing tougher requirements for skilled overseas workers as it tries to control immigration numbers that have reached an all-time high.

The changes come a day after Australia said it would scrap a temporary visa for skilled overseas workers and after U.S. President Donald Trump signed an order he said should help American workers whose jobs are threatened by skilled immigrants.

New Zealand's Immigration Minister Michael Woodhouse said in a speech that the government was unapologetic that industries relying on overseas workers are finding it harder to recruit people from abroad.

"We are absolutely committed to the principle of kiwis first," he said, using an informal term for New Zealanders.

The changes include new income thresholds. To qualify as skilled, immigrants will need to get a job in which they earn at least the median income. To qualify as highly skilled, they will need to earn at least 150 percent of the median income. Other changes include a new three-year limit for workers with lower skills.

Woodhouse said the changes would control the number and improve the quality of immigrants.

It is the second time New Zealand has tightened its immigration rules in the past six months and the latest changes come during an election year, when many people have expressed alarm at the immigration rate.

In the year ending in February, net immigration reached a record 71,300 people, equivalent to 1.5 percent of New Zealand's total population of 4.8 million people. That's a big swing from five years earlier, when net immigration was negative as more people left the country than arrived.

Part of the turnaround can be attributed to the nation's healthy economy, which is growing at more than 3 percent a year and is attracting back some New Zealanders who had moved abroad.

The largest numbers of new migrants to New Zealand are coming from China, India and the United Kingdom. The South Pacific nation's median annual wage is about 49,000 New Zealand dollars (U.S. $34,400).