National's plan for more foreign workers, students, tourists

Derek Cheng, NZ Herald,
Publish Date
Tue, 22 Sep 2020, 11:32AM
Photo / File
Photo / File

National's plan for more foreign workers, students, tourists

Derek Cheng, NZ Herald,
Publish Date
Tue, 22 Sep 2020, 11:32AM

The National Party wants to open up the borders to let in more foreign workers and international students as well as people from Covid-free countries including Pacific nations.

And as revealed this morning by the Herald, National wants the private sector to be allowed to accommodate overseas arrivals, which would shoulder some of the costs while boosting capacity.

National's Covid-19 border response spokesman Gerry Brownlee revealed the second stage of the party's border strategy this morning, saying that safety would remain the primary focus.

All private facilities would have to meet standards of safety, security, reporting, transporting, training and testing, as well as associated costs.

They would be able to charge what they wanted for managed isolation or quarantine (MIQ) rooms.

National's proposed Te Korowai Whakamaru/NZ Border Protection Agency would set the standards, and any contracters working at private MIQ facilities would have to pass a "rigorous" screening process.

"We're not talking about wholesale opening of the border by any means," Brownlee said.

"But there are facilities aorund the country that will be able to meet the criteria."

Returning Kiwis would remain at the front of the queue, he said.

But foreign essential workers, international students and eventually long-stay tourists would be able to book MIQ rooms 30 days before arriving.

"We cannot stay isolated forever," Brownlee said.

"Our horticultural industry, for example, is desperate to fill the worker shortage created by border restrictions that is putting $9.5 billion of the country's economy at risk."

He did not provide a timeline on when students or tourists would be able to make bookings.

National wants the border agency established within 100 days of taking office, so a booking system operated by the agency would unlikely be ready before the start of next year at the earliest.

Brownlee asked why international rugby players were allowed into the country while some essential workers and people from Covid-free Pacific nations were not.

"Flexible arrangements were offered in the Government's negotiations for rugby tests between the All Blacks and Australia. These options should also be considered, alongside public health advice, for Pacific countries that have no Covid-19."

Brownlee said risk-based arrangements should be looked at and floated the idea of shorter periods in MIQ for arrivals from low risk areas, such as Pacific regions.

These would sit previously-announced safeguards including pre-departure testing, compulsory day-three testing in MIQ and a requirement to use contact-tracing technology.

He also wanted immediate investment in Bluetooth technology to enhance contact-tracing.

National's policy is similar to Act's, which wants the Government to set the safety standards for MIQ and then allow overseas arrivals to stay with any provider - including Airbnbs - that meets those standards.

Act leader David Seymour has also called for different approaches for different countries, depending on levels of risk.

Brownlee said the party's border security plan was costed at $120 million over four years.

National also wants overseas arrivals to pay for MIQ - $3000 for a managed isolation room and an extra $1000 for an additional person and $500 for each child aged over 16.

So far the Government has had sole control of managed isolation and quarantine (MIQ) facilities, and current capacity is about 7300 beds.

The Government has been working with airlines to ensure people can't book a flight if there isn't MIQ capacity to accommodate them.

It has also kept empty rooms in reserve in case the unpredictable happens; people with Covid-19 in the current outbreak, for example, have been moved into quarantine at the Jet Park Hotel.

Foreign workers are currently allowed into the country if the skills they offer are not "readily obtainable" in New Zealand.

Labour wants 10 per cent of MIQ capacity to be used for foreigners, with a particular focus on skilled migrants.

The Government has so far set aside $479 million for MIQ costs until the end of the year.