Immigration NZ has given approval to almost 500 employers to hire overseas workers in the past year despite high unemployment.
It allowed 1744 foreign workers to take jobs in such sectors as manufacturing, agriculture and health in the year to June.
The figures, supplied by Immigration Minister Nathan Guy to Labour's industrial relations spokeswoman Darien Fenton, show that 498 businesses were given approval to bring in foreign workers, with close to half - 230 - in the hospitality sector.
That is a steady rise from 446 in the 2010/11 year and 395 in the 2009/10 year.
Fenton said there would always be a need for some foreign workers. "But having large numbers in the hospitality industry makes me concerned that we are being reasonably sloppy with our labour market testing."
The Government was not ensuring opportunities were being created for New Zealanders, she said.
Guy said the Government was focused on putting New Zealanders first. Employers who wanted to bring in migrant workers had to prove New Zealanders were not available.
Immigration NZ then tested that with Work and Income and consulted guilds, unions and industry training organisations. "I'm satisfied the process is working the way it should be."
Approvals had fallen by half from the 1275 granted under the former Labour government in the 2007/08 financial year, he said.
But unemployment was at a record 3.5 per cent low in December 2007. It is now at 6.8 per cent.
Guy insisted last month that labour market testing was protecting New Zealand jobs after Fairfax Media revealed Auckland company King Facade had approval to bring in 110 Chinese workers to install building fronts.
Unions say the work can easily be done by labourers despite the company's claims they required people with three years' experience.
An industry source has said that neither the Window Association nor the Glass Association, the two most relevant trade bodies, were contacted by Immigration NZ. The joinery ITO was not contacted either.
The Council of Trade Unions and the Northern Amalgamated Workers Union were consulted but said approval should not be granted because there were plenty of New Zealanders available to do the work, "particularly with the current level of unemployment".
Labour claims King Facade listed the vacancies with Work and Income only after it gained approval in principle to bring in the workers.
Kate Wilkinson, who oversaw the approval as acting immigration minister, said Immigration NZ had consulted the building and construction ITO, rather than the joinery ITO. It and Work and Income had "fully supported" King Facade's request.
- © Fairfax NZ News
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