Businesses welcome 'biggest immigration change in decades'
A Government decision to allow critical workers and their families a pathway to residency has been welcomed by the business community.
On Thursday, Immigration Minister Kris Faafoi announced thousands of migrants on temporary work visas would be fast-tracked for residency after a major immigration policy shift.
The Government would provide a one-off simplified residency pathway through its “2021 resident visa”, and an estimated 165,000 migrants will be eligible for it.
Applications for the new fast-tracked residency process will be opened up to migrants on most temporary work visas between December and July. Critical workers who cross the border before the end of July next year will also be eligible.
* Nearly 165,000 migrants eligible for fast-tracked residency
* National declares win after 'trigger-happy' Immigration NZ leaks policy details
* Australia pinches NZ's migrant dairy workers who cannot get residency
Business NZ chief executive Kirk Hope said the decision recognised the significant contribution that international workers made to the country during the pandemic.
“The critical services that have kept the country going are reliant on international skills and talent. Many of these people have been in challenging circumstances given the uncertainty about whether they would be able to stay in New Zealand, and separation from family overseas.
“In an environment of major skill shortages across a number of industries and regions, and ongoing pressure at the border, New Zealand cannot afford to lose any more skilled people from the workforce if we want to maintain economic momentum and bounce back from the latest Auckland lockdown.”
The change would provide welcome relief to employers who had been trying to retain workers. It was important that the country signalled how valued those workers were, if it was to remain globally competitive, he said.
The Employers and Manufacturers Association said it was the biggest immigration change in decades and applauded the decision.
“News today that around 165,000 workers and their families may now qualify for a one-off resident visa provides both relief and a degree of certainty for New Zealand businesses," chief executive Brett O’Riley said.
The decision showed Faafoi had been listening and would ease pressure on businesses, which continued to face difficulties sourcing skilled workers, he said.
Faafoi said more than 5000 health and aged care workers, around 9000 primary industry workers, and more than 800 teachers would be eligible. A portion of the 15,000 construction and 12,000 manufacturing workers on temporary visas could be eligible, too.
The 2021 Resident Visa would apply to about 110,000 migrant workers already in the country, and with families taken into account that means an estimated 165,000 people would become eligible for New Zealand residency.
O’Riley said because the visa was open to critical workers and their families for roles six months or longer until July next year, New Zealand would become an attractive destination in the face of global competition.
The majority of applications were expected to be granted within a year of the category opening under a streamlined application process that still required health, police and security criteria to be met and included an online process opening on Thursday, rather than the previous paper-based process, he said.
The Aged Care Association also welcomed the decision.
Thousands of migrant workers employed in 670 rest homes would now have the option to make a long-term commitment to New Zealand.
The sector employed 20,000 caregivers of whom about 25 per cent were migrants, and more than 5000 nurses when fully staffed, of whom about 50 per cent were migrants, chief executive Simon Wallace said.
However, while the decision was important, it would not address the current nursing shortage that meant the sector was 900 nurses down out of its 5000 strong workforce with an inability to bring more in because of MIQ space constraints, he said.
The Government needed to recognise the value of aged care nurses, who were paid at least $10,000 less that public hospital nurses. Only pay parity would allow the sector to compete for those skills, Wallace said.