New Zealand to open borders to visitors, students and skilled workers

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Airlines, companies and others prepare for boost from July 31

Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern is working from home in isolation after her Partner Clarke Gayford tested Covid positive (Facebook Photo)

Wellington, May 11, 2022

Highlights of Change-over from Covid-19 Restrictions
Border fully open two months early from 11:59 pm on 31 July
Significantly simplified immigration processes that provide faster processing for businesses
New Green List that includes over 85 hard to fill roles created to attract and retain high-skilled workers to fill skill shortages
Green List will provide streamlined and prioritised pathway to residency incentivising high skilled healthcare, engineers, trade and tech sector workers to relocate to New Zealand long term
Visa extensions for around 20,000 migrants already in New Zealand to ensure skilled workers stay in country
New sector specific agreements, to help industries transition from a reliance on low-wage, low skill migrant labour, including additional measures to support the rebuild of our tourism sector
Cruise ships able to return with the opening of the maritime border from 31 July
Full resumption of international education from 31 July
Apprenticeship Boost extended to the end of 2023, supporting an extra 38,000 New Zealanders into trades
Online visitor visa applications reopen to Pacific Island Forum countries (excluding Australia) from 16 May

Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern has announced a major package of reforms, which include an early opening of New Zealand’s border and a simplification of immigration settings to address the immediate skill shortages and speed up the economic recovery from Covid-19.

Following are extracts from her virtual address (she is in isolation at home following a Covid-positive test returned by her Partner) to BusinessNZ on May 12, 2022:

New Zealand is in demand and now fully open for business. Our international border will reopen to all tourists and visa holders two months earlier than planned on 31 July. This will be welcome news for families, businesses and our migrant communities. It also provides certainty and good preparation time for airlines and cruise ship companies planning a return to New Zealand in the peak spring and summer seasons.

We know a major constraint on business is access to skilled labour. This plan will increase the available pool of labour, while also speeding up our tourism recovery.

This follows our previous reconnecting work which has seen approvals granted for over 29,000 critical workers, 5000 students, working holidaymakers, Australian tourists, and visa-waiver visitors already able to enter the country.

Addressing Skills Shortages

By helping to relieve urgent skills shortages, opening up tourism and putting our immigration settings on a more secure footing, we are building on our proven plan to secure New Zealand’s economic future.

Immigration Minister Kris Faafoi announced new rebalanced immigration settings which will help businesses access the key skills they need while ensuring wages and working conditions are improved for everyone.

The following is his announcement:

New Zealand cannot return to pre-pandemic trends that saw us overly reliant on growing numbers of lower-skilled workers and resulted in the increased exploitation of migrants.  Our plan is to grow skills at home. Over the past two years, over 190,000 New Zealanders have benefitted from government investment in trades training, including apprenticeships. We announced an extension to the Apprenticeship Boost scheme which will see a further 38,000 New Zealanders supported into a trade.

Immigration Minister Kris Faafoi at the BusinessNZ lunch (RNZ Photo by Marika Khabazi)

New Green List

The cornerstone of our rebalance is the new Green List which will incentivise and attract high skilled migrants to New Zealand, by providing a new streamlined pathway to residency for those globally hard to fill roles. The list features 85 hard to fill roles including construction engineering, trades, health workers and tech. Our rebalanced immigration system will be simpler, reducing categories, bringing more online accessibility and streamlining application processes for businesses.

Through the Accredited Employer Work Visa, employers won’t need to provide as much information, can use their own recruitment processes to prove no New Zealanders are available for work, and Immigration New Zealand will endeavour to have these visas processed within 30 days once an employer is accredited. We have worked closely with businesses on these reforms and understand that for some sectors it will take time to transition away from a reliance on cheap migrant labour.  The Government recognises that shift for some sectors is more challenging than others by establishing new sector agreements to assist with the transition. They will provide access for specified sectors to lower-paid migrant workers, and all those employers can continue to hire working holidaymakers at any wage.

Extension of Visas

The tourism and hospitality industries in particular have been hit hard by the pandemic. The government has agreed to temporarily exempt tourism and hospitality businesses from paying the median wage to recruit migrants on an Accredited Employer Work Visa into most roles. Instead, a lower wage threshold of $25 per hour will be required until April 2023. This follows the recent $27 per hour border exception that was granted around certain snow season roles to help the sector prepare for winter tourists.

New sector agreements for the care; construction and infrastructure; meat processing; seafood; and seasonal snow and adventure tourism sectors will provide for a short-term or ongoing need for access to lower-paid migrants.

We are also announcing today that around 20,000 visa holders with visas expiring before 2023 are being granted either a six-month extension or a new two-year visa with open work conditions, so they and their employers won’t be affected by this changes and we can keep the skills we need within the country.

Milestone for Education sector

Education Minister Chris Hipkins said that the full reopening is a significant milestone for the international education sector, which can now start to rebuild sustainably, with a big focus on value and by attracting genuine students.

Education Minister Chris Hipkins at the BusinessNZ lunch (RNZ Photo by Marika Khabazi)

The following is his Statement:

More than 5000 international students have already been confirmed for entry as part of previous border exemptions, which means they can be here by mid-July. From the end of July, all international students who meet normal entry criteria can enrol for study here.

But the future will be different, we won’t be going back to National’s volume over value approach that became a backdoor to residency for lower-skilled and lower-paid migrant workers, who were then at risk of exploitation.

The changes that we are announcing will attract students to New Zealand to learn, while also shutting the backdoor route to residency.

These changes include:

Students in non-degree level courses will not get post-study work rights except where they are studying and then working in specified shortage and skilled occupations

For degree-level and other eligible international students the length of time they can work after their studies will mirror the time they study in New Zealand. Currently some students can work for up to three years after just 30 weeks’ study. Masters and PhD students will retain the right to work in New Zealand for up to three years after their studies

Students will also not be able to apply for a second post-study visa in New Zealand.

New Zealand has a strong international education brand and is universally regarded as a place that students want to come to study. It enriches us as well as connecting us to the world, and strengthens our reputation offshore.

Boost to Tourism

Tourism Minister Stuart Nash said that the decision to bring the final border opening date forward allows New Zealand to fully reconnect to the world of international tourists and business travellers in time for our traditional peak visitor season.

The following is his Statement:

Our wider tourism sector is on the way to recovery. We will be fully open to the world in mid-winter, traditionally our quietest period for visitors. Bringing forward the date allows prospective travellers to apply for visitor visas well ahead of time before taking the next step to book a flight or a cruise for future travel,” Stuart Nash said.

Approximately, 90% of cruise visits are during the warmer months of October to April, and summer is our bumper tourism season overall. Today’s announcement means that it is full steam ahead for the industry who can plan with certainty for the rest of the year and beyond.

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