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Help New Zealand to evolve a better Immigration Policy



Venkat Raman
Auckland, October 18, 2022

New Zealand will always depend on immigration to boost its workforce and productivity, although discussions are often held about achieving self-sufficiency in human capital.

Currently, while unemployment is low, many employers in New Zealand are unable to find people to fill job vacancies and those who manage to find people complain that their performance is far below expectations and that they need to employ professionals from overseas.

The hospitality sector is among the worst affected and owners of restaurants say that they are unable to provide the prompt service that customers expect.

Immigration Minister Michael Wood deserves credit for ordering several initiatives since he took charge of the portfolio a few weeks ago. These include adjustments, although minor, in the median wage system relating to migrant workers, the opening of the parent category, and faster processing of student, visitor and other types of visas.

But businesses complain that these measures do not go far enough to reach solutions to the persistent problem of skills shortage.

Now an opportunity exists for the New Zealand public to have a say in immigration matters as the government opens consultation on the Skills Migrant Category.

The Ministry of Business, Innovation and Employment (MBIE) has published a Consultation Paper saying that the government proposes to introduce a new, simplified points-based system.

This proposed system will set a clear threshold for residence, increase certainty for migrants, and align better with the government’s Immigration Rebalance goals.

Skilled Migrant Category

Among the proposed changes to the Skilled Migrant Category are (1) Introduce a simplified points system to set a clear threshold for residence and increase certainty for migrants. (2) Points can be made up from one of three skill categories, i.e. professional registration, qualifications, or high income, and up to three years of skilled work in New Zealand (3) Process all applications that meet the eligibility criteria, i.e. no caps, meaning a higher proportion of migrants will gain residence every year (4) Special requirements for people in specified occupations, including some roles in retail and hospitality, to manage immigration and labour market risks while granting residence to highly skilled people in these occupations (4) Apply the stand-down period requirement to all migrants who do not meet the eligibility criteria for residence. The stand-down would mean that after a maximum period of three years on an Accredited Employer Work Visa, people must spend at least 12 months outside New Zealand. This is to avoid the risks to migrants of becoming well-settled in New Zealand without the rights and protections that come with the residence category.

The background

The government is rebalancing the immigration system to support its plan for a higher-productivity, higher-wage economy.

The Immigration Rebalance has been designed to make it easier to attract and hire high-skilled migrants, while supporting some sectors to transition to more productive and resilient ways of operating, instead of relying on lower-skilled migrant workers.

It aims to make it easier to fill genuine skills gaps, where New Zealanders can’t be found. For highly skilled workers in global shortage, it will ensure New Zealand is an attractive destination, with priority pathways to the residence and simplified application processes.

These changes aim to (a) encourage employers to offer competitive wages, hire less-experienced New Zealanders and train them, and work together as a sector to showcase employment opportunities and career pathways. This will help build businesses’ resilience and productivity and (b) encourage businesses to invest more. Technology provides huge opportunities to increase productivity and create more value, and these upfront investments will pay dividends in the long run (c) reduce the recent pressure on infrastructure and housing and support economic growth.

More information on the Immigration Rebalance is available here.

New Residence Visas

New priority skilled residence pathways have been introduced under the Immigration Rebalance. These are expected to cover up to 45 to 55% of the people previously approved under the Skilled Migrant Category and will mean that there are three main pathways to skilled residence (a) The Skilled Migrant Category, which recognises individuals’ skills (b) The Green List residence pathways for eligible migrants in specified highly skilled, hard-to-fill occupations; and (c) the Highly Paid Residence Visa for migrants earning at least twice median wage.

2021 Resident Visa

The one-off 2021 Resident Visa will grant residence to over 200,000 people. This is equivalent to more than five years of all residence approvals pre-Covid. It includes both people who would have become eligible for the Skilled Migrant Category over the next few years and people who would otherwise not have been eligible for residence. The key criteria for the visa were that people were in New Zealand on eligible visas on 29 September 2021 and either ‘settled’: have lived in New Zealand for the past three or more years, or ‘skilled’: earn at or above the median wage ($27 per hour), or ‘scarce’: work in a role on a scarce list.

The two main visa classes in the New Zealand immigration system are temporary entry and residence class visas:

A temporary entry class visa allows a holder to be in New Zealand for the purpose and length of the visa (e.g., for work, study, or holiday/visit). Following recent changes under the Immigration Rebalance, the main skilled temporary work visa is the Accredited Employer Work Visa (AEWV), which allows employers to hire migrants on visas for up to three years. Employers must pay the market rate and at least the median wage, with limited exceptions, and show that they cannot find a suitable New Zealander for the job first.

A residence class visa provides the holder with the right to live and work in New Zealand indefinitely, as well as the right to vote, buy a house, and access social security benefits and subsidised tertiary education. There are three overarching residence streams: Skilled Residence (which is the subject of this consultation), Family, and International/Humanitarian (including refugees).

Please submit your recommendations on or before November 18, 2022.

Submissions can be made through this link:
https://www.mbie.govt.nz/have-your-say/future-of-the-skilled-migrant-category/

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