Marked surge in migrant workers

18:50, Apr 22 2013

About 1600 more people have come to Canterbury than departed in the past 12 months as the rebuild shifts up a gear.

The latest data from Statistics New Zealand for the year to March 31 shows a dramatic reversal from a year earlier when 3100 more people left the region than came in.

Many of those coming into the region are migrant workers.

For much of 2012, foreigners moving to Canterbury were fewer than those leaving but the trend started to reverse in the second half of last year and is gathering momentum.

The noticeable shift is Filipino workers now outnumbering British and Irish workers coming in on temporary work visas for employment in construction.

Canterbury Employers' Chamber of Commerce settlement support co-ordinator Lana Hart said that change was seen in February. She has information from Immigration New Zealand which she can talk about but not the numbers.

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British immigration numbers for the rebuild were less that the Filipino numbers in February, she said.

"It's a recent shift in that dynamic. We are getting a lot more Filipinos over the border on the Christchurch reconstruction visas than Great Britain and Ireland. They are now the No 1 source country - [it] is fair enough to say for Christchurch only."

Filipino workers typically did not bring their families. They come on a two-year work visa in the construction trades - building, plastering and painting. The exporting of labour was part of the Filipino culture and their economy.

Meanwhile, Ryan Recruitment managing director Felicity Ryan said Canterbury - like the rest of the country - has had a skills shortage for a number of years and it was not difficult to place skilled people looking for jobs.

"It's no surprise, that increase [in immigration], with what's going on in Canterbury and it's going to continue."

However, Christchurch was competing with the likes of Auckland, especially in the infrastructure sector, and companies had to pay attractive wages, she said.

Canterbury-based recruitment firm Canstaff was in the process of setting up a second British satellite recruitment office.

Managing director Matt Jones said there had been a six-month quiet spell last year as repair work slowed, but it had lifted again since.

"Certainly things are picking up, there's no question about that."

Many firms were "shoulder-tapping" workers from competitors to fill labour gaps, which was pushing wages higher, he said.

The Press