ZB

Access denied: Businesses, migrants left hanging amid Govt's immigration reset

Author
Damien Venuto, NZ Herald,
Publish Date
Mon, 25 Jul 2022, 11:39am
Hospitals and many other workplaces are facing staffing shortages around the country. Photo / 123RF
Hospitals and many other workplaces are facing staffing shortages around the country. Photo / 123RF

Access denied: Businesses, migrants left hanging amid Govt's immigration reset

Author
Damien Venuto, NZ Herald,
Publish Date
Mon, 25 Jul 2022, 11:39am

Hospitals, tech companies, restaurants, construction firms and banks have all been calling on the Government to relax the immigration settings to allow more workers to come in.

In the year to April, 8668 more people left than arrived – heaping pressure on businesses already battling with a major labour shortage.

And with unemployment sitting at a record-low 3.2 per cent, Newstalk ZB deputy political editor Jason Walls tells the Front Page podcast that you don't need to travel far to see the impact.

"Walking along the streets of Auckland or Wellington, it's become common to see A4 sheets of paper in business windows saying: 'We're closed today due to staff shortages'," says Walls.

"Of course, a lot of that comes down to Covid and the isolation requirements but there just aren't a lot of migrants coming to New Zealand."

The Opposition's immigration spokesperson Erica Stanford has joined the business community in calling on the Government to roll out more flexible immigration rules.

But these calls have not been heeded thus far.

The Government did recently announce changes to the investor category, but this will only impact a small number of cash-rich immigrants (provided they speak English) who aren't going to do much to help with the labour shortage.

Under the new rules, applicants will need to commit to investing directly in New Zealand companies with high-growth potential. These companies will need to be "okayed" by New Zealand Trade and Enterprise (NZTE).

Much of the Government's focus has been on attracting so-called highly skilled workers to New Zealand, rather than low-wage workers.

However, the ongoing impact of Covid and the steady exodus of New Zealanders abroad has served as a reminder that many of those low-wage jobs are essential to keep the economy moving.

Walls notes that the argument that Kiwis could easily be trained to do those low-wage jobs simply doesn't stack up at a time when the unemployment rate is at a record low of 3.2 per cent.

With so much effort being placed on attracting coveted highly skilled staff and high-net-worth individuals, the Government is also sending a clear message that some workers are more welcome than others in New Zealand right now.

Nowhere is this message clearer than in the plans to axe the partner work visa scheme by the end of the year, meaning partners of migrant workers will no longer receive work rights through their partnership.

"On the one hand the Government is saying that you can come to this country if you're willing to invest hundreds of thousands of dollars in our companies, but if you're a migrant worker without that amount of money then that's just too bad, you can't bring your partner over."

Walls says the Government currently faces a tricky balancing act in terms of who should be allowed into the current as part of this migration reset.

"We only have so much housing, and we only have so much tax dollars," says Walls, explaining that getting the immigration reset wrong could exacerbate some of the country's legacy issues – including housing and infrastructure.

He does, however, stress that infrastructure issues extend well beyond any discussion about migration.

"We've always had a big infrastructure issue in this country ... It's part of the problem of having a very large geographic country, roughly the size of the UK but with about a 20th of the population. We have a way lower tax base. There is an argument that having more people from overseas will give us more tax money to spend, but that needs to be incremental."

Adding complexity to the careful balancing act of allowing incremental immigration is that the task has to be conducted while the clamour for more workers grows louder and louder with every passing month.

  • The Front Page is a daily news podcast from the New Zealand Herald, available to listen to every weekday from 5am.
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