Time to be really kind – or just really realistic?4 Mar 2021

New Zealand has always been, an attractive and welcoming country especially in which to raise a family (and now more than ever). But we must ask why would a medical doctor or a skilled software developer choose to come to New Zealand when they can be paid significantly more for their skills in other countries? Let’s not fool ourselves - it is simply because of the opportunity they can have to settle down and live permanently in New Zealand.

The main pathway to residence is the Skilled Migrant Category (SMC) in which applicants are assessed on a points basis for age, qualifications, work experience, and their New Zealand employment role. The process previously involved submitting an initial Expression of Interest (EOI). Those with 160 points or more were selected in fortnightly selection draws and invited to apply for residence. At present, applicants can still continue to submit their EOI (at a cost of $530), however selections were suspended last April and have not yet resumed. This extended hiatus can be put down to two factors: the Government reviewing the SMC policy in light of the impact of COVID on the labour market, and the very long backlog of some 11,000 lodged SMC applications yet to be processed by Immigration New Zealand. Applications originally lodged in July 2019 are only now being processed. So, with the borders closed and overall visa applications down by 80 percent, INZ is taking the opportunity to play catch-up, albeit not as quickly as everyone would like!

Previous expectations were that the Government would look to raise the SMC thresholds and make it harder for migrants to qualify for residence. However, with the likelihood of a continued closed border, lower than expected unemployment, and growing skills shortages, the Government needs to think very carefully and quickly about how to keep these migrant workers in New Zealand. As always, Australia remains the greatest threat to New Zealand retaining both its local and migrant workforce. The many talented New Zealanders who returned home in the last year have skills which Australia will pay more handsomely for, and we can expect many to cross the ditch. The same will happen with the migrant workers in New Zealand; if they do not have a clear pathway to secure their residence here, they also will follow the money.

The Government needs to rapidly weigh up if it is going to be kind to these workers (and their New Zealand employers!) by implementing policies which will keep them permanently in New Zealand. Otherwise, the triple whammy of losing both skilled New Zealanders and migrant workers to Australia and our continued border closure, will quickly dampen the current economic momentum. It’s time for the Government to take the lead and be proactive in providing long term security for these migrant workers and protect New Zealand’s best interests… it’s time to be realistic!

Link: First published in Waikato Business News February/March Volume 29 Issue 2 2021 page 23