Its Election Time (again!) –a time to reflect…13 Sep 2023

It is tradition that immigration is a hot topic at election time, but this year there has been very little rhetoric. Normally the various political parties are promoting for more, or less, migrants or particular policies around certain categories of migrants but nothing (as yet).

So what have been the “immigration take-outs” of the last six years of the current Government?

Firstly, this period was significantly impacted by the Covid border closures and, generally speaking, the management of immigration during the initial border closure period was appropriate, in a difficult and dynamic environment. However, the closure went on too long and the reality of families being unnecessarily separated for extended periods, and a reluctance to effect change, was not justifiable. As a consequence, too many families and businesses experienced undue hardship, and their recovery has been slow and painful.

The introduction of the 2021 Resident Visa changed the landscape for many of the migrants who were caught in New Zealand during the border closure. This visa enabled some 105,000 migrant workers, and their families (215,000 people in total), to transition to New Zealand residence and thus secure their long-term future in this country. The 2021 Resident Visa also permanently changed the “visa-landscape” in New Zealand with these people no longer needing to renew or change their temporary visas ever again. This was a bold policy move, and ticked many boxes. Unfortunately, the processing of the remaining applications, now at 18 months, has taken some of the gloss of this initiative, but kudos to the Government for making such a timely intervention. It is a pity the Government was not as bold in addressing the overstayer situation when the border was closed, as this was the perfect opportunity to do so.

Early on in its tenure the Government announced its intention to replace six work visa categories with one employer focussed work visa – the Accredited Employer Work Visa. The idea was to simplify the work visa regime and to ensure that all employers were suitably credentialled to employ migrant workers, and to reduce migrant exploitation. After being delayed by Covid the AEWV was finally introduced in late 2022. By any measure the new regime has not resulted in a more “simple” policy, with changes having to be made on an ongoing basis. Moreover, the primary objective of the policy to reduce migrant exploitation has, in fact, had the opposite effect with unscrupulous employers using the legitimacy of their accreditation to dupe unsuspecting migrant workers in greater numbers than ever. The Minister of Immigration has now called for an enquiry into the operation of the AEWV – something that could have been avoided if the Government had taken a little more time at the outset to fully understand the impacts and ramifications of its’ policy changes before introducing them.

The new Active Investor Plus (AIP) policy was introduced in September 2022, and replaced the previously successful Investor 1 & 2 policies. The AIP is a very complex and difficult policy, requires investors to invest between $5 million and $12 million, and to take on an abnormal degree of investment risk. The AIP policy in its current form is unlikely to be successful in attracting significant numbers of investors. In the meantime, we have some 150 Investor 2 applications, and 330 Parent Retirement applications, which together total $880 million of potential investment, who have been waiting over 20 months for their applications to be processed. Not a good look all round.

One significant positive change has been the concerted transition to the online processing of most application types, and the move away from paper-based applications. While this transition has proved very exasperating at times, with different online platforms and ongoing technical issues, there is light at the end of the tunnel.

In summary this Government’s legacy has been one of many changes, not the least of which is having four Immigration Ministers in the last four years!! We can only wonder what changes the next Government will make!

Link: First published in Waikato Business News July/August 2023 Volume 31 Issue 7 Page 13