The qualified migrant group will be checked, and employer conditions will be increased, as part of a “once-in-a generation reset” of the immigration system, according to the government.
Tourism minister Stuart Nash – standing in for Immigration Minister Kris Faafoi, who was unwell – made the announcement this evening.
He said New Zealand wanted to move away from relying on low-skilled workers to attracting those with higher skills.
“As we focus on re-opening New Zealand’s borders, we are determined not to return to the pre-Covid status quo,” Nash said.
A key focus of the reset would be temporary workers, partners’ working rights, and the skilled migrant category, he said.
“The pressure we have seen on housing and infrastructure in recent years means we need to get ahead of population growth.”
Before a migrant could be employed, the government must reinforce employer conditions and labour market checks, ensuring that temporary migrants were only hired for actual job shortages.
He also mentioned that the qualified migrant group will be checked.
New border exemptions will enable 200 high-value investors to visit New Zealand in the coming year to see if they wished to invest.
The tourism sector will also be investigated in order to raise industry standards and promote growth and change.
“The exploitation of temporary migrant workers – such as paying less than the minimum wage or making people work excessive hours – is unacceptable and breaches New Zealand law,” Nash said.
“It is an issue that affects us all. It’s an affront to the humanity of these workers, legitimate businesses who are undercut by these practices, and New Zealand’s reputation as a fair place to work, live and do business.”
Nash said Covid-19 had brought challenges and disruptions but also presented a opportunity to change shortcomings in the system.
He said migrants would always play an important role in New Zealand society.
“They make a valuable and significant contribution to our economy and enrich our communities … there are thousands cases of impressive achievement academically, in business, sport and entertainment, not to mention those here in Parliament.”
However, getting immigration policy right was a balancing act, he said.
“We also take seriously our commitments and responsibilities to other countries – notably the Pacific Islands through the Recognised Seasonal Employer Scheme, which provides valuable income that improves wellbeing and livelihoods in the Pacific. The Pacific residence programme and family categories are also part of that immigration balance.”
He said New Zealand had been moving to reduce its reliance on lower-skilled migrants over time, but the country had still seen significant population growth driven by migration.
“High levels of migration have contributed to 30 percent of New Zealand’s total population growth since the early 1990s … this has been fuelled, in particular, by increasing numbers of temporary migrant workers and students.”
He said temporary work visa holders made up nearly 5 percent of New Zealand’s labour force.
“That is the highest share – by a significant margin – compared to other OECD countries. Poland is next with almost 4 percent.”
“This means businesses have been able to rely on lower-skilled labour and suppress wages rather than investing capital in productivity-enhancing plant and machinery, or employing and upskilling New Zealanders into work.”
The number of temporary work visas, he said, had doubled in the last decade from fewer than 100,000 to more than 200,000.
“We have also seen an increase in demand for residency in New Zealand, with the vast majority of applicants already being onshore. For example, around 80 percent of applications for the Skilled Migrant category come from onshore applicants.”
He quoted the OECD which has said: “the employer-assisted temporary work visa system is not limiting recruitment of migrants to resolving genuine skills and labour shortages, is attracting too many low-skilled migrants and may be weakening incentives for employers to employ and train New Zealanders. This has limited our ability to create jobs and improve productivity.”
The “Investment Attraction Strategy,” unveiled today, aimed to promote “high-value” investment in New Zealand.
Another initiative was boundary exemptions for the Innovative Partnerships Programme and the New Zealand Trade and Enterprise Investor Programme, which would enable representatives from multinational firms to come to New Zealand and negotiate with businesses in which they wanted to invest.
“We want targeted, high-quality investment that establishes frontier firms, brings skills and technology to New Zealand.”
“Some of the companies that have taken part in these programmes in the past include Wisk that tested their revolutionary air taxi technology in New Zealand, and LeoLabs, an American space innovator that unveiled its first ‘next-generation’ space radar in Naseby, Central Otago. The radar system tracks small satellites and space debris and is the first of its kind in the Southern Hemisphere.”
“Investment through these programmes will create highly-skilled jobs, enable the valuable transfer of knowledge and technology, and increase international connectivity for New Zealand firms as they allow us to position ourselves globally,” he said.
Nash said Covid-19 had ‘starkly’ highlighted New Zealand’s reliance on temporary migrant labour.
Faafoi was shouted down last week at a rally of disgruntled migrants outside Parliament, where they demanded that families be allowed into the country, visa processing be sped up, and residency permits be granted to those on temporary work visas who would otherwise be eligible.
Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern said today in a post-Cabinet briefing that it was time for a dialogue “on getting the balance right” to have a better quality experience for both migrants and the region.
She stated that New Zealand had the highest dependence on migrant workers in the OECD and that the government must seek to change the balance away from focusing on low-skilled workers and towards recruiting high-skilled workers.