Skilled Migrant Category goes for a toss under Review

Gill Bonnett

Gill Bonnett

Wellington, February 28, 2021

                  

                                       Immigration Minister Kris Faafoi (RNZ Photo)

Immigration Minister Kris Faafoi is considering a revamp of New Zealand’s largest residence programme.

He said that a review of the Skilled Migrant Category (SMC) is a priority.

Thousands of immigrants and their families are waiting for news on their skilled migrants applications, and others have been waiting to be invited to apply since last March 2020.

No decision on EOI

He said that no decision has been taken on re-starting the selection of expressions of interest (EOI) for skilled workers but that would be reviewed by the end of March 2021.

Australia recently launched an inquiry into its Skilled Migration Programme, while Canada has invited 27,000 temporary workers to apply for residence.

“A review of the Skilled Migrant Category is one of my priorities for this term,” Mr Faafoi said in a written statement.

“Decisions around the scope and timing of any such review are currently under consideration. No decisions on settings or planning range have been made at this stage. EOI selections under SMC and Parent categories are currently suspended. No decisions about when EOI selections will resume have been made. In October, the government decided to further defer EOI selections for the SMC. This will be reviewed again by the end of March 2021,” he said.

Settings adjustment

Immigration Lawyer Elly Fleming said that New Zealand’s review could look at adjusting settings, such as minimum renumeration limits for lower-level skilled jobs.

Or it could be something more wide-ranging.

“It is really difficult to predict what the government’s priorities are; I think that it all depends on what their goal is. If their goal is to make it harder for migrants to get residence, if that is the goal, then there are several ways they can go about doing this. If the goal is to actually fill gaps in the labour market, they can say ‘yes, we know there are these shortages, we cannot get enough registered nurses, we cannot get enough doctors or engineers, let us make it easier for them to get residence,’” she said.

Australia had been more strategic in assessing its skills needs and getting workers it needed into the country, Ms Fleming said.

The number of residence applications fell from 3693 in June 2020 to 147 in January 2021, after EOIs were suspended last autumn. Half of all skilled migrant residence applications take about 20 months to two years to decide.

Uncertainty unnerves applicants

Immigration Lawyer Mike McMellon said that those factors and the uncertainty about what might now happen with the SMC were driving some people away.

“I just cannot understand why they have not put more resources into this. And it may well be that they are putting this SMC residency into a holding pattern until such time as they have conducted a review as to how they going to proceed in the future,” he said.

“People are contacting us, saying ‘What’s happening with SMC? I do not have a pathway to residency in New Zealand anymore. We are considering applying for residency in Canada. That is what is on the line for New Zealand – people will vote with their feet. Skilled migrants who we would otherwise want in this country will leave,” he added.

The EOI problem

Mr McMellon said that not selecting EOI for a year was problematic.

“Those EOI stay in the pool for a maximum of six months and if they are not selected from the pool within that period of time, then they fall away. As far as we know at this point, Immigration New Zealand is not refunding that fee; so, it is effectively a donation to Immigration New Zealand,” he said.

There was no border or pandemic-related reason that stood up to scrutiny for not inviting those who qualify to apply, he said, as they could be selecting immigrants who were already in the country.

“The only justification I can see is that either a) they are under-resourced dealing with a backlog or b) they do not want those people to necessarily progress to residency in New Zealand, because there is a perceived influx of New Zealanders into the country who may take the jobs that those migrants would otherwise have. Now, the danger for the New Zealand economy is that even if that does happen, when it becomes attractive to travel overseas again, are those people that came here are they just going to disappear again? We have lost both that New Zealander and the migrant who had a pathway to residency,” Mr McMellon said.

Gill Bonnett is Immigration Reporter at Radio New Zealand. The above Report has been published under a special agreement with www.rnz.co.nz

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