Leaders prefer less migrant workers, more jobs for New Zealanders

The gripping Coronavirus is compelling us to reorder our priorities

While immigration has been a subject of heated debate over the years, the advent of Covid-19 and its Variants is slowing the perception of employers on the need to employ more migrant workers.

In fact, they are beginning to adjust to dependence on available talent in the country.

Immigration Minister Kris Faafoi has already signalled a move by the government and National Party Leader Judith Collins says that employers must come to terms with the changed realities of the economy.

Stranded migrant workers

Thousands of people on temporary visas (mostly work permits) are stranded overseas for the past year, especially since the closure of our borders. Many of them are suffering since they have financial obligations here- such as rents, car loans and other responsibilities.

Indian Newslink has been advocating for their speedy return to New Zealand but several factors are hindering that process, the most important of which is the stability of their employment and lack of adequate quarantine facilities.

It is not known if those stranded- understandably a large number of them from India- will be reemployed by their former employers who are suffering the adverse effects of economic downturn and the lockdown closures. Small businesses, who constitute more than 90% of the commercial sector, are either laying off staff or are not likely to hire new people in the next two or more years. The increase in minimum wage to $20 per hour from April 1, 2021 will be an additional deterrent to hire more staff.

Additional deterrents

The return of people on temporary visas to New Zealand anytime sooner appears even more difficult because of the new, emerging cases in the community in Auckland and the resultant lockdowns and loss of business.

Although employers in some sectors of the economy would normally prefer to recruit migrant workers, the closure of borders and the continued grip of Covid-19 is leading them to consider employing available talent.

In addition, the government’s training and upskilling programmes are beginning to attract attention of businesses.

Appetite for Immigration

Ms Collins doubts if there is a public appetite for immigration numbers to skyrocket once the border reopens.

The government should “think very carefully before they start reinstating the same sorts of numbers that they had before. But at the same time, understanding that there are some industries and businesses where they have become very reliant on immigrant labour.

“Industries like Horticulture just want people who are, one, willing to work, secondly, able to work and thirdly in the right place to work. And when people say, ‘Oh you know, they should pay more’ and all this, it is actually costing them losing fruit and losing everything else,” she said.

“It also means that people need to understand that if they cannot get staff to do the jobs. They need to automate, or downscale; that is what will happen,” Ms Collins said.

Green Party Immigration Spokesperson Ricardo Menéndez March wants to see a fairer system, that is “equitable and that people have access to a fair processing times for their visas.”

He said that the system has been moving to restrict numbers by delaying applications and should not discriminate against people based on things like income and skill level.

Changing views

Mr Faafoi has told companies that have relied on migrant workers to think differently about how to do that in the future.

“The government had made it a priority to put resources into upskilling New Zealanders. We would prefer that and obviously the jobs over which we have relied on with migrant labour in the past would be able to be filled by New Zealanders,” he said.

Radio New Zealand has quoted Mr Faafoi as saying that everyone will default to numbers first, but for the government and a majority of New Zealanders, it is about the kind of emerging economy, the type of jobs and the kind of training that would be available.

Skilled Migrant Category Review

Mr Faafoi has said that a review of New Zealand’s largest residence programme, the Skilled Migrant Category, including making sure that agencies that are working with employers who identify specific skill shortages and having them in the new system, be the ones that apply for visas and not the other way around.

He said that the change would occur later in the year and that “a rump of applications at the lower end of the points scale” which would be part of the review.

The Refugee Programme

New Zealand’s Refugee Quota Programme has been revived but in smaller numbers. It had been on hold since March last year, with exceptions made only for a small number of priority emergency cases.

Mr Faafoi said that while everyone would like everything to go back to normal” as fast as possible, accepting refugees at the moment was a “purely a capacity issue.”

According to him, allowing 200 people under the Refugee Programme by the middle of 2021 would be a good start.

“However, we will not be able to allow 1500 persons to which the government is committed.

New Zealand’s ability to allow refugees is controlled by our capacity at the managed isolation facilities and we have to be mindful of returning New Zealanders,” he said.

Numbers unsustainable

National Party Leader Judith Collins said that it is unsustainable to continue to bring in refugees in the same numbers as in the past.

“We still need to provide for the isolation and quarantine of New Zealanders, and we do not have enough places for New Zealanders to come home,” she said.

Ms Collins would not be rushing to go up to the target or the limit” and would be “very careful about making sure that New Zealanders got home first.”

“Once the border opens, New Zealand should stick to the same numbers it previously had but still proceed with caution,” she said.

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