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There had been a significant growth in the number of lower-skilled temporary migrants in the South Island who helped fill genuine labour shortages and had become well-settled there, Mr Woodhouse said.
However, due to current temporary migration settings, many of these lower-skilled temporary migrants had no pathway to residence.
The new policy will allow eligible migrants to be granted an initial Work to Residence temporary visa, which would make them eligible for residence in two more years, provided they stay in the same industry and region.
“Many of these migrants are already well settled in New Zealand and make a valuable contribution to their communities. The requirement to remain in the same region for a further two years after being granted residence ensures that commitment to the region continues," Mr Woodhead said.
It would also enable employers to retain an experienced workforce that had helped meet genuine regional labour market needs.
The Government did not consider restricting the number of working holidaymakers, as it would have a reciprocal effect on countries with which New Zealand had working holiday agreements, and would particularly affect tourist centres like Queenstown that relied on such people to fill jobs.
"It's not always easy to find Kiwis to do those jobs."
He also said the Government was not aiming to clamp down on the inflow of skilled migrants.
"We can and do train New Zealanders for these roles, but some industries need more experienced and skilled people than a small economy can provide.
"To restrict that would put the economy at risk."
The Government was using remuneration threshholds for permanent and temporary migrants as a tool because they served as a "good proxy" for the quality of those migrants.
Mr Woodhouse wanted to be "crystal clear" that employers could continue to use migrant workers provided they proved they could not find New Zealanders to do the job.
To be eligible, temporary visa holders must:
- Currently be on an Essential Skills visa for a job in the South Island and have been on one in the South Island for five years or more.
- Be 55 years old or younger.
- Hold current employment that is full-time and meets market rates and their employers would need to have no significant adverse record with the Labour Inspectorate or INZ.
- Meet standard residence health and character requirements.
Clutha-Southland MP Todd Barclay said because of low levels of unemployment in the South, the region simply did not have the capacity to fill all of the jobs, particularly in the agriculture, tourism and hospitality industries, with local labour.
"We have a number of migrant workers who have been filling these skill shortages and living, working, and contributing to our communities in positive ways for many years.”
The change was fantastic for the area, he said.