Announcements last week by Minister Stuart Nash about an immigration ‘reset’ make no sense to professionals working in the sector, says June Ranson, chairman of NZAMI The New Zealand Association for Migration and Investment (NZAMI).
“The announcements referred to the Government moving to a reset within the immigration space and were lacking substance and any depth with absolutely no detail given out on many incumbent issues.
“The skilled migrant category remains closed and a mystery for over a year, now leaving thousands who met the requirements and applied for visas, in limbo. Many thousands, who New Zealand invited to fill roles that cannot be filled by New Zealanders, with skills that are essential to NZ needs, are now left with no certainty about their futures,” she points out.
She says the government has indicated that it intends to move away from what they refer to as ‘low skill’ migrant labour in NZ. This is to make way for more New Zealanders to be employed, upskilled and trained.
“These policies and apprenticeships are not new, most of these opportunities pre-exist Covid, and therefore the preferred outcomes are unrealistic.
“Industries like primary, healthcare, construction, trades and hospitality are among the key sectors relying on various levels of migrant labour. In these cohorts, employers continue to be unable to fill the gaps due to unavailability of New Zealand labour. The problem remains that the NZ local work force is not applying for these vacancies,” says Ms Ranson.
“The argument that the pay is too low is incorrect. Remember that a temporary work visa can only be issued if no suitable New Zealanders are available, and skilled migrant residence category is by invitation only.
“The government is asking NZ businesses to be innovative and creative on how jobs are structured so it becomes more attractive to New Zealanders. While this may be possible for a handful of roles, most employers are doing this already, and yet they are no better off.
“While talent can be home grown and developed, training to an appropriate level takes a few years and NZ applications are not forthcoming in the numbers needed to support our economy. And what will be the support for these employers in the interim, remains unknown.”
NZAMI is concerned around how the government defines ‘low skill’ migrants who are undervalued for the work they do, but work in areas that are traditionally low paid. The areas of grave skill shortages are well documented – truck drivers, crane operators, aged care workers, agriculture workers, and so on. To bring about monetary change cannot happen overnight without dire consequences.
“Already, the existing policy was geared to “low skilled” migrants either having to depart NZ after a certain period or struggle to renew their work visas. But this still has not solved the problem of skills lost.
“The minister has also indicated temporary work visa reforms are designed to give more flexibility to migrants filling highly skilled roles. The SMC (Skilled Migrant Category) caters for residence pathways for skilled migrants only that either fall into ANZSCO (Australia NZ Standard Classification of Occupations) skill levels 1, 2 or 3 or are paid one and half times above the median wage.
“The so called ‘low skill’ workers don’t qualify for residence anyway.”
Ms Ranson says the speech refers to NZ having the highest number of temporary migrant workers in the OECD. This is the case when residence applications are not moving with an NZRP quota set since before Covid19, so migrants have no choice but to continually extend their temporary visas.
“At a time when NZ is looking attractive to the world due to being community Covid-free, the migrants who have worked hard come here and fill those skills that NZ critically needs – doctors, nurses, engineers, technicians, trades professionals etc – now can’t apply for residence and have remained on a standby for over a year.
“The world will be opening up and NZ will be competing globally for skills – it does not make sense to not capture the migrants we already have in NZ rather than the Government’s approach to make it too difficult for them to stay.”
NZAMI invites the Government to consult with NZAMI as we are the professional practitioners.