A plan to extend ''provincial visas'' within New Zealand will help regional businesses to retain skilled workers, Minister for Small Business Stuart Nash says.
Mr Nash led a Q&A session involving about 40 small business owners in Invercargill yesterday, which highlighted the region's need for more skilled workers.
Going into last year's election, Labour campaigned for an estimated net migration drop of 20,000-30,000 a year, from 70,000.
Attendees at the meeting said the projected numbers were concerning to business owners in the region who relied on workers from abroad.
At the meeting, hosted by Southland Chamber of Commerce, Mr Nash said the plan was to ''limit'' immigration to places like Auckland, which was placing ''massive constraints on infrastructure''.
He said a provincial visa could combat skill shortages in the regions.
A regionalised skills shortage list is already in place in Canterbury, especially for construction trades.
''[Southland has] one of the lowest unemployment rates in the country, but that brings its own set of challenges,'' he said.
''What we want to be able to do is to give out, literally, provincial visas, which will allow someone to come into a place like Invercargill and work here, without them being here for three months and then high-tailing it off to Auckland.''
Mr Nash said the Government recognised there were unique skills shortages in the regions. The Minister of Immigration was considering whether the skills shortage list should be regionalised further.
Speaking after the meeting, Chamber of Commerce immediate past-president Carla Forbes said five consecutive years of regional confidence surveys in Southland stressed the top priority was ''attraction and retention''.
''It's at a point where it's hurting businesses, they are stalling and halting because we have an ageing demographic, and we're not growing. That's the tipping point - we have to bring in a new workforce to the region,'' she said.
''We have been very vocal about wanting to see a regional-specific immigration policy. I think it's actually necessary. If they're genuinely looking to do it, I'd be thrilled to see it actioned as soon as possible.''
During the meeting, Mr Nash could not say when the provincial visas would come into effect.
Chamber board member Mark O'Connor declined to comment.