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Government Must Ease Border Blockage For Critical Workers

A chokepoint at the border is blocking entry of critical workers and suffocating the economy, according to a new paper from The New Zealand Initiative.

New Zealand’s small size means both the public and private sectors often need international experts with niche skills. Without them, economic activity across the economy risks grinding to a halt, said author and Initiative chairman Roger Partridge.

Capacity constraints on managed isolation facilities means exemptions to enter the country from the Ministry of Business, Innovation and Employment (MBIE) for overseas workers are hard to come by.

To qualify for a border exemption, businesses must show their need for an offshore worker falls within one of five specified criteria. The criteria are heavily weighted towards Government-approved projects or events. For projects not on the Government’s list, officials decide which overseas worker applications are “critical” and which are not.

But Partridge said a recent survey of Initiative members revealed serious shortcomings with MBIE’s system.

“Many of New Zealand’s major businesses say the process is overly bureaucratic, inflexible and lacks transparency,” Partridge said.

“By restricting businesses from bringing in critical offshore workers, the border chokehold risks strangling the life out of the economy.”

The feedback he has received from New Zealand’s largest businesses is “sobering.”

“Major projects will stagnate, costs will overrun and critical overseas staff will be lost. As a result, both the economy and employment levels will suffer,” he said.

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Partridge said the Initiative outlined how managed isolation and quarantine capacity could be upscaled in the think tank’s July research note, Safe Arrivals.

With businesses willing to meet the cost, existing budget constraints for Government-provided managed isolation could be significantly relaxed. This would increase the range of available facilities.

In the meantime, Partridge said MBIE must ditch its application-based approach to granting border exemptions. Government officials have no way of knowing which critical workers are most critical to the economy.

“To solve this knowledge deficit, border exemptions allocated to business should be auctioned in the same way MBIE auctions scarce radio frequencies. That way the Government could be sure the economy gets the best return for its scarce entry permits,” Partridge said.

But the bigger concern is fixing the capacity constraints. To avoid stifling the economic recovery, this must become the Government’s priority.

Read more:
Roger Partridge's paper Extra quarantine capacity for ‘critical workers’ is critical is available here

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