Wednesday, February 28, 2024

New immigration settings to help ‘rebalance’ economy

Prime Minister, Jacinda Ardern, has today announced a major package of reforms which include an early opening of New Zealand’s border and a simplification of immigration settings to address immediate skill shortages across the country.

“New Zealand is in demand and now fully open for business,” the Prime Minister said.

“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.

“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,” she said.

The Prime Minister said 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 will 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 fast-tracked pathways to residence and simplified application processes, she said.

“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,” Immigration Minister, Kris Faafoi said. 

“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.  On Monday we announced an extension to the Apprenticeship Boost scheme which will see a further 38,000 New Zealanders supported into a trade.

“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.”

For the tourism and hospitality industries, 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,” said Minister Faafoi.

“We’re 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.”

Education Minister, Chris Hipkins said the full reopening was a significant milestone for the international education sector, which could now start to rebuild sustainably.

“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,” Mr Hipkins said.

“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.

“Changes we’re announcing today seek to attract students to New Zealand to learn, while also shutting the backdoor route to residency,” he said.

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,” Minister Hipkins said.

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

“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,” said Mr Nash.

“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 it’s full steam ahead for the industry who can plan with certainty for the rest of the year and beyond.”

The full details of the Government’s Immigration Rebalance, including changes to settings, can be found here.

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