Hospitality, private trading providers wary over migration as coalition talks near pointy end
By Paul McBeth
Oct. 6 (BusinessDesk) - Private training providers and the hospitality sector are nervous about where a future government will land on migration policy settings as coalition talks gather momentum with the final vote of the general election due tomorrow.
Opposition parties have pledged to limit the number of immigrants entering New Zealand, who have been blamed for putting too much pressure on local infrastructure and driving up house prices, compounded by fewer Kiwis jumping across the ditch due to a wobbly Australian economy. The incumbent National Party, which is operating a caretaker government, also bowed to that rhetoric unveiling a 'Kiwis first' immigration policy, raising the bar for migrants to enter the country, although it later bowed to pressure from businesses and the regions to have another look at its proposals.
With the final tally for last week's election due tomorrow and New Zealand First leader Winston Peters putting a deadline to have a deal in place by Oct. 12, businesses are watching the outcome closely to figure out if there will be a marked shift in migration policy settings at a time when firms are struggling to hire skilled labour.
Hospitality New Zealand advocacy and policy manager Dylan Firth says all industries rely on the "extra top up" for staff, with hiring skilled labour a headache, and that "turning off the tap will reduce the ability to employ those people".
Both the National and Labour parties indicated plans to tighten up entry criteria, but also have carve-outs for industries and regions facing skills shortages, and NZ First adopted similar exceptions when pressured by the farming lobby: "In a way they're saying a similar thing - it's just the devil's in the detail," Firth said.
"Numbers may be cut, but as long as the industry can show the demand, I don't think the numbers will be cut as much as they say they're going to be," he said.
Government figures show accommodation and food and beverage services accounted for about 16 percent of all retail spending in the March 2017 year, up from 13 percent in 2008
About 150,000 people work in accommodation and food service across the country and a further 10,000 staff are expected to be needed to meet growing demand by 2020, something Firth said won't get met by local staff alone.
"Most New Zealand businesses will tell you they want to employ Kiwis first and foremost, there's just not the people there yet," he said.
Private education providers are similarly concerned with migrants on student visas targeted by politicians last year, who latched on to claims of fraud and exploitation as undermining New Zealand's reputation as an education exporter.
Clare Bradley, who heads up the international arm of private training establishment Aspire2, says that's had a significant impact on her business over the past 18 months, with Indian students now accounting for 33 percent of those places having made up 50 percent.
"What we're looking for is consistency around policy so when decisions are made, things aren't going to change in a heartbeat and alter things dramatically," Bradley said. "We're urging caution and asking for the aspect of international education that is associated with immigration policy settings to be looked at separately from the policy settings from immigration generally."
Aspire2 was built from the roll-up of private education businesses Cornerstone, Ntec, Queens Academic Group, Safety'n Action and Solomon Group to build the country's biggest provider of vocational courses to foreign students and operates in 28 markets. It offers courses in business, IT, engineering, hospitality and cookery, and English.
Bradley said the company is closely aligned with industry, developing and reviewing programmes with input from businesses to create a pathway to employment for its students.
Aspire2 wants to make sure to sure policy settings are coherent, consistent and certain, with sudden resets foisted upon students unfairly changing the rules at the last minute, she said.
"These decisions to invest in overseas' study are material often for a student, their families and their funders - they make that decision on what they hope will be the settings at the time of which they get their qualifications because their options are relatively clear," Bradley said. "It would be good if those options aren't materially changed during that study period."
The incumbent administration has been targeting international students as a ripe source for service exports, setting a goal of doubling the nation's income from them to $5 billion by 2025 from 2013. Government figures show education exports were $3.55 billion in the March 2017 year, up from $2.43 billion in 2013.