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The Government’s rock and hard place

Demand for labour and work visa numbers: The Government’s rock and hard place

Opinion piece: Leading Auckland immigration lawyer Aaron Martin highlights the issues the government are facing in keeping to immigration targets while juggling Kiwibuild and the demand for skilled labour...

Demand for labour and work visa numbers: The Government’s rock and hard place

It’s time to get real:

• Auckland needs skilled labour

• Employers in Auckland need to be able to retain staff.

The new budget will be announced on the 17th of May and one of the most critical issues facing the government is how they going to tackle the immigration limits they campaigned on setting, vs economic growth.

The Government has been particularly slow to release immigration policies. There’s been a lot of talk about schemes such as Kiwibuild, but little detail. Ministers have suggested the possibility of creating regional skill-shortage lists. But they’ve given no indication how these would differ from the current immediate skill-shortage list. Meanwhile, the labour shortage is growing.

If the Government goes down the track of creating localised shortage lists, it needs to remove from residence rules the criteria that undermine long-term employment relationships and staff retention.

You have to wonder whether this Government’s immigration policy will be like Auckland’s public transport woes, where any action is so far behind the eight ball it’s impossible to get on top of the problem. So, we are hoping the Budget will show some innovative forward thinking in terms of New Immigration Policy

Several upcoming projects will see a greater need for skilled people in Auckland. Auckland Council is reviewing the rating system to fund an additional $6 billion of infrastructure spending, and the central Government has promised to both deal with Auckland’s public transport issues and build more houses.

These projects will place even more pressure on Auckland. The job opportunities will attract workers not only from overseas but also from other parts of New Zealand. These people will need houses and they will also need to get around in cars on Auckland’s already busy roads.

In 2015 the National Government attempted to alleviate this pressure by incentivising migrants to settle outside of Auckland. This set in motion a systemic contradiction where we need the skills in Auckland to execute all these projects, but encourage migrants to go elsewhere.

Private-sector employers in Auckland find it very hard to retain skilled workers when those employees have to leave Auckland to qualify for residence.

This is particularly true in the restaurant sector. The increase in Auckland’s population has resulted in a demand for more cafés and restaurants. The demand for junior and graduate chefs and kitchen staff rose accordingly. There is simply not enough local talent entering the industry to satisfy that demand.

Before this legislation, employers in Auckland could expect migrant staff members to stay in a role for three years and then acquire residence. This often formed the basis for long-term employment relationships.

Under the current rules, new graduates from overseas often leave Auckland after one or two years because they can’t get enough points to qualify for residence with a job offer from an Auckland employer.

So, the move to address the infrastructure pressure in Auckland by encouraging migrants to leave has begun a trend that contributes to skill shortage and creates retention issues for employers.

I suspect the Wellington-based bureaucrats who designed the policy (at the wish of the then sitting Government) thought it would mean that foreign students would stick around longer in Auckland.

But they forgot the most important driver for overseas graduates who want to migrate here: they need certainty for their future, both career-wise and personally. You can’t establish plans for a long-term career if you have to run the gauntlet of continual temporary visa applications. It’s a bit like trying suggest an Auckland renter should feel life is stable when they only have a year-long tenancy.

Remember what it was like after you graduated? You were tired of being a student. You were itching to start earning and developing skills and experience that would set you on the career path you were ready for.

International students are the same. They just want to get on with life, and to get on with their careers. This is hard to do when you can’t get settled. It’s also hard to do when you have to uproot yourself and move to another part of the country, hoping that the job you get will pay enough to qualify you for residence, and hoping that the immigration officer will consider your job skilled enough.

So, what can New Zealand employers do?

We know that many businesses are unfamiliar with employing a skilled migrant and have concerns about the process and the legalities.

We have created a free online resource for employers on our website to help them through the issues of employing candidates like this, and we predict the demand for this information will increase tenfold this year

This crisis reflects a worldwide shortage of workers with these skills. In effect, New Zealand must now compete with the rest of the world for the most highly skilled workers.


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