Government introduces the Recovery Visa27 Feb 2023

Our hearts go out to the people, businesses and communities who have been devastated by the recent floods and Cyclone Gabrielle. We all know it will take much longer than everyone hopes to fully recover from what has happened but, perhaps, immigration settings can play a role in speeding up this process.

Firstly, the Government has announced the launch of the Recovery Visa. This visa falls under the Specific Purpose Work Visa Category and will enable visas to be issued for up to 6 months for workers to work for a New Zealand employer in roles associated with:

• providing emergency response, immediate clean-up work, assessing risk or loss, infrastructure, building and housing stabilisation and/or repairs and work that directly supports the recovery (e.g. producing relevant material for road rebuild, transport drivers etc.).

The Government has committed to such visa applications being approved within 7 days however this will be dependent on a number of factors. The visa application fee of $700 will also be refunded for successful applications. While the SPWV cannot be extended at the end of the 6 months, the reality is that most workers who have proved their worth, and who have supportive employers, should have little trouble transitioning to the longer-term Accredited Employer Work Visa.

As it stands, businesses need to identify a particular, suitable person and offer them the required employment role. We can only imagine that businesses have enough on their plates without having to undertake a recruitment drive and the vetting of prospective applicants. And businesses will be wanting multiple workers so the logistics of getting significant numbers of workers here quickly will be a challenge.

It would be beneficial for the Government, or the impacted local Councils, to instigate and promote an online platform, or job board, for workers to first register their interest. Businesses would then have the ability to view these details and progress as appropriate. Businesses generally do not have immediate direct access to an overseas pool of workers, excepting for RSE workers, and in the absence of a coordinated regime for attracting workers, and connecting them with needy employers, it will be left to the labour-hire companies to fill this gap. Our fear is that if it is left to individual employers and workers to “connect” of their own endeavours, then this may prove to be a prolonged and inefficient process. However the Recovery Visa certainly appears to be a very streamlined process and will prove ideal for those risk assessors and engineers etc whose expertise is quickly needed.

The intention and quick action of the Government in introducing the Recovery Visa is to be commended as is the apparent minimization of the normal “paperwork”. Many people will simply use this as an opportunistic opening to enter the country with the intention to stay and the Government will need to ensure any such workers actually do complete the work they came to do before considering any future visa extensions.

The need for urgent manpower to help with the recovery may also encourage the Government to consider the option to “regularise” the status of the estimated 10,000 to 14,000 people who are currently unlawful in New Zealand. This could be achieved through the same Recovery Visa and would provide these people the opportunity to regain their lawful status, and to restart their lives in New Zealand in a constructive and meaningful manner. The reality is that with our borders having been closed most of these people will have already been living in the country for several years. It is acknowledged that providing such an “amnesty” to people who have flouted the law is not something that should be considered lightly. However, given the country’s current needs this would seem to present a one-off, justifiable, and immediate opportunity to utilize this significant potential labour pool who, in turn, should (hopefully) repay the country by being highly motivated and appreciative of any such life-changing opportunity afforded to them. Pacific Island leaders have called for such action for their community, but the reality is that the Government could only realistically apply such an amnesty unilaterally. The Government could consider offering this opportunity only to people living in the impacted areas but the reality is that these people, given their unlawful status, are unlikely to have any documentation to evidence their address. Another option is to offer the opportunity only to those people who have immediate family who are New Zealand citizens or residents, and who are willing to provide accommodation and/or some form of sponsorship or guarantee that their family member will not, again, become unlawful.

The need for New Zealand to plan for significant infrastructure investment is well-documented and is now at the top of the political agenda. Until last July the previous Migrant Investor policies had been very successful in attracting billions of dollars of investment to New Zealand. While the new Active Investor Policy, which began in September, is still in its early days this policy is not currently conducive to any form of infrastructure investment. The opportunity for the Government to tap into migrant investors to help fund the country’s future infrastructure needs is apparent – it is just a matter of if, how and when the Government may wish to avail itself of this significant opportunity. While some people may see this as “selling New Zealand residence” this has to be balanced with the needs and priorities of the country.

Recent events have shown that New Zealand really has to “up-its-game” and make some bold, and forward-thinking, decisions about what is needed, and then get on with it. A pragmatic, big picture, approach to these challenges will only confirm the key role and contribution that immigration settings must play in delivering the outcomes we all desire.