Business and migrant groups are welcoming an announcement that some visas will be extended, but all say the underlying issues in New Zealand’s immigration system persist.
This morning, Immigration Minister Kris Faafoi announced working holiday and supplementary seasonal employment (SSE) visas due to expire between June and the end of December will be extended for another six months.
He said the extension of the about 10,000 visas, set to expire between June 21 and December, will help manage ongoing labour shortages while the border remains closed. SSE visa workers will be given open work rights as well, which will allow them to work in any sector.
Faafoi said the move aims to address short-term worker shortages. In the long-term, he said the Government is having “robust conversations” with various sectors about how they could move away from relying on migrants for their workforce.
The Union Network of Migrants said the announcement could have been made months ago “to save migrants a lot of mental anguish” and give employers security.
"These changes are a life raft for thousands of workers in the short-term … as the broken immigration system sinks,” union president Mandeep Bela said.
"This piecemeal approach of drip-feeding changes at the last minute benefits nobody and indicates that the ministry is out of ideas on constructing a workable immigration system.”
It comes as the Government last month unveiled a “scene-setting” immigration speech, which lacked detail and was labelled as “confusing” by critics. In it, Minister for Economic Development Stuart Nash told business leaders the country needed to stop relying on low-skilled migrants and focus on attracting high-skilled workers and investors.
Bela wants the Government to organise a series of events to engage with migrants so they can see what reality is like for them.
"We know there are migrants still waiting for their residency applications, enduring wait-times of up to 19 months. There are thousands of expression of interest applications that are still pending, and migrant workers are emotionally drained waiting for further reforms from the Government,” he said.
“Family reunification is still an issue and should be dealt with in line with international law."
The Government also announced this morning it was approving border exemptions for 200 more dairy workers and 50 vets, along with their partners and dependent children.
BusinessNZ welcomed the six-month extension and the additional border exemptions.
Chief executive Kirk Hope said skills shortages were holding back companies “from taking advantage of the opportunities created by our Covid-free status”.
"There is significant work still to be done, however, on how to ensure that immigration is balanced, supports the well-being of the workforce by not creating the extra strain of skill shortages, and enables economic prosperity,” Hope said.
He said businesses have been “doing everything they can” to recruit Kiwis, and it is reflected in booming apprenticeship rates and increasing wages.
"We need to move to the next phase of the recovery and put in place the world’s smartest border and a sustainable immigration system that recognises the skills that businesses need across all levels, that delivers a simple and high quality service to those interacting with Immigration New Zealand and ensures the current economic momentum can be maintained."
Hospitality New Zealand said the six-month extension is a welcome move, but it won’t address the severe shortage of skilled workers in their sector.
“The industry is working hard on find long-term solutions via specialised industry-led training programmes … but they will take time to have an effect,” chief executive Julie White said.
“We need something now that’s going to give businesses the skills they need to operate now, and migrants are the answer, but we’ve been hard pressed to convince the Government of this.
“Before Covid, these people filled a critical gap, but access to them has been turned off while the borders have been closed. You can’t just turn off that tap and expect the industry to find skilled Kiwis to replace them, because there just aren’t any.”