Govt denies limiting skilled worker entry

The Government has tightened the screws on skilled migration aggravating the nation's skills shortage for political reasons, an Auckland immigration consultant says.

Immagine managing partner Iain MacLeod said the lack of skills would bite soon and affect the speed of Christchurch's rebuild.

A bidding war for tradesmen could develop, pushing up the cost of work for homeowners.

Immigration NZ statistics show the number of skilled migrants has been falling since 2009.

In the latest full financial year, 18,843 skilled migrants were approved, compared with 27,011 in 2008/09.

MacLeod believes the Government has told Immigration NZ to curtail immigration because of high unemployment, but that was simply fuelling an extant skills crisis.

''The reality is, skilled immigrants simply do not compete with the unemployed of a country.  Migrants will always be behind New Zealanders in the queue.''

He supported giving jobs to Kiwis first, he said, but employers did that themselves and stopping much-needed skills at the border was not helpful.

Newly-appointed Immigration Minister Michael Woodhouse denied the claim, and said New Zealand welcomed foreigners who could fill skill shortages at home.

''There's no directive to cut the numbers of skilled migrants, but we're not going to lower the threshold for applicants just to try and hit or maintain a number.

''It's about striking that balance between ensuring the skills needed in the labour market are present, while ensuring jobs that can be filled by New Zealanders, are filled by New Zealanders,'' he said.

An Immigration NZ spokeswoman said the number of skilled migrants was not being kept low by design.

''The numbers are infludhenced by current skill shortages.

''In times of lower unemployment, more offers of employment are made resulting in more approvals under [the skilled migrant process], and vice versa.''

Each fortnight, Immigration NZ takes the top-ranked entrants, based on a points system, from a pool of skilled migrants that have applied for residence in New Zealand.

Those with a certain number of points are automatically selected to be either approved or declined, there is also discretion for the department to take some with fewer points.

Immigration stats show that a few years ago the average number of people taken from the pool each fortnight shrunk while the number left waiting grew.

With fewer applicants being processed those with job offers were likely to get in, but those without secured jobs were not, MacLeod said, even if their skills were needed by Kiwi employers.

The number of migrants picked from the pool went from about 750 a fortnight in 2008/09 to about 550 in 2011 and 590 in 2012.

Immigration NZ said that was because there were more applications of a lower quality being made.

MacLeod said that showed the demand for skilled migrants to move to New Zealand was still there, but they were being deliberately constrained by Immigration NZ through its selection processes.

The shortage of skilled tradesmen and the rising wages offered to them was drawing people to Christchurch from other regions and pumping up wages nationwide, he said.

That boost would be great for those earning the wage, but would increase the cost of tradesmen fixing and building homes all around the country, he said.

He encouraged employers to start assessing their future labour needs now, rather than leaving it to the last minute as usual.

Some businesses had called MacLeod hoping, misguidedly, to get a foreigner's work visa prepared almost immediately.

''Demand for skills is increasing steadily and there are a lot of employers who seem to be reluctant to sit down and say, 'what will my labour needs be this time next year'.''

In November, the Hays Global Skills Index reported New Zealand employers were struggling to find skilled workers.

The Press