NZ lockdowns, immigration woes impact economy and people's lives

CCR Newsletter July-August 2021

It has been more than a month since we talked about the current labour shortages and the ongoing plight of farmers, employers, and workers. Half of the year is gone, and there’s been some progress on this front, but these developments could easily be eclipsed by recurring problems rearing their ugly heads.

Last month, INZ announced that it would allow some 10,000 foreign workers on temporary visas to stay in the country for another six months. Included are those on Working Holiday and Supplementary Seasonal Employment visas. The announcement also said that workers that got their Seasonal Employment visa through horticulture or viticulture industries could also pick up work in any industry. And there’s more.

‘Low-skilled’ Essential Skills Work Visa duration is now at 24 months instead of just a year. INZ is also removing the requirement to supply new medical and police certificates for continued employment for the time being. Certificates as far as back as 36 months ago will still be acceptable. And here’s the rest of the developments:

  • Employment earning less than $27.00 per hour will be ‘below the median wage’ from 19 July 2021.
  • Workers whose rates are at or above $27.00 per hour will be considered ‘at or above the median wage’ from 19 July 2021.

For Residence under the Skilled Migrant Category, remuneration required for a job to be considered skilled will be updated to $27.00 per hour for occupations at skill levels 1, 2, or 3 of the ANZSCO.

And as we mentioned in our previous newsletter, 250 farm workers and vets will be allowed into the country, including their partners and dependent children. The positions for Dairy Farm Worker have been in high demand and prioritised for regions of Canterbury, Otago and Southland with extreme labour shortages. We are working to have this allocation increased.

COVID 19 variants strain already fatigued Government

While New Zealand’s COVID-19 response during the height of the pandemic this time last year was hailed as some of the best in the world, the new strain, the Delta variant, could be more difficult to contain as it is 40-60% more infectious. The World Health Organisation already said that the virus is airborne, and that current health and safety protocols need to be updated. Vaccinations are not enough to stop the spread, and wearing masks even indoors is now required. Currently in NZ, there are only 700,000 that are fully vaccinated and more than a million have had at least one shot.

The new variant could potentially strain even more resources if it gets to NZ and push the Government into overdrive, trying to contain the damage to health and the economy. That means imposing more travel restrictions and delay immigration processing or, worse, set them aside.

Are migrant workers leaving in droves?

As the Government puts its resources to stem the tide of new infections from overwhelming an already fatigued economy, there’s news that migrant workers are leaving the country because their residency status is still in limbo. Medical practitioners, academic professionals and dairy farmers were given border exemptions last year to help the Government meet much needed critical worker demand. Unfortunately, the Government did not prioritise residency applications fast enough and now these highly sought-after professionals are apprehensive about their residency status.

In a recent report, the expression of interest (EOI) queue, which is a required process to get into the residency queue via the Skilled Migrant Category, just ballooned to near-staggering levels. Back in March 2020, there were 461 applications in the queue. As of last week, there were 11,130 applications. This is mainly due to the fact the selections from the pool of EOI’s has been suspended since March last year.

The figures do get worse. Skilled Migrant Category residency application estimates are at 36,000+. According to this report, at current processing times, only 273 applications get processed each month. It will take a soul-draining 11 years to get through the current crop of applications if this rate continues.

In a Fair Initiative survey of 2385 migrants on temporary visas, 82.4% of them have considered moving to another country. Sixty-nine point seven per cent (69.7%) of people said that other countries offered up an easier path to residency.

Due to the backlog, it’s forcing highly paid and highly sought-after workers to leave NZ and look at countries like Australia and Canada. If that happens, it can cripple critical industries and professions.

Our point here is that our government needs to make the process easier and more available to assist those on temporary work visas to get to residency in this country. We cannot continue to attract people to work in this country merely on the benefits of our clean green image, we must provide a reasonable process to permanent status for those that show commitment to settling here. This should be the focus of the ‘Immigration Reset’, not to further restrict the options employers have to find suitable people to help operate our businesses.

Refocus immigration priorities now

Recently, there was news that Google wanted to relocate their US engineering team to New Zealand. If this pushes through, it can be a definite win for the Government to snag a high-profile company like Google. But it needs to prioritize industries such as agriculture, dairy farming, construction, and more. Migrant workers from these industries have helped keep the economy propped up over the last several years and they need to be recognized in a number of ways. The Government is pushing Immigration reset as it wants to cut the overall immigration inflow, cut low-skilled migrants, focus on high-value skill sets and return jobs to Kiwis.

We support our fellow Kiwis, but this approach could jeopardize the entire economy for generations. These “low-skilled, low-value” workers have kept the economy going, kept export industries running, and even helped care for our vulnerable population. We agree with Federated Farmers that referring to them as ‘low-skilled’ or even ‘migrants’ is detrimental. Steps need to be taken to assist our fellow kiwis to reunite with their families, some of which have been separated for two years or more not only due to the effects of COVID-19. It is an ongoing mental health issue that must be prioritised by this government if we want to have any chance of retaining our workforce.

We wait with bated breath for information from the government surrounding plans for the borders to reopen. A group of experts responsible for reporting to the government on the following matters has given recommendations and we expect to hear from the prime minister regarding these matters as early as next week:

• Vaccination rates and scenarios should the borders reopen
• Interpreting scientific data for any decisions around the border
• Public health protections

Amongst the update will be consideration of the “residual risk of the non-immunised population and the associated health system capacity needs” once borders open.

As we mentioned before, farmers are extremely worried about their current worker shortages as Kiwis are not interested in farms. And we can only address those concerns by providing these farmers and other employers with people who are more than eager to fill these jobs and work hard.

As a staffing solutions services company, we’re at the forefront of providing much-needed labour services to address employer requirements.

We will continue to provide new updates, support our clients to keep their businesses and operations running smoothly and contribute to the upkeep of the national economy. Finding a solution is what we do best!