Southern employers criticise Govt’s immigration reset

Southern employers have criticised the Government’s immigration announcement, saying there needs to be a workforce to meet the needs of business.

Tourism Minister Stuart Nash. Photo: ODT files
Tourism Minister Stuart Nash. Photo: ODT files
On Monday, Regional Economic Development Minister Stuart Nash announced the skilled migrant category would be reviewed and employer requirements strengthened as part of a "once-in-a-generation reset" of the immigration system.

Mr Nash, standing in for Immigration Minister Kris Faafoi, who was ill, outlined the Government's vision for reducing low-skilled migration and stemming population growth.

Queenstown Chamber of Commerce chief executive Ruth Stokes said the plan, as with much of the Government's plans since Covid-19, lacked detail and was full of generalisations.

She called for greater clarity after Mr Nash suggested reducing temporary visa numbers in future and making the road to residency much tougher.

"In Auckland, where you have tens of thousands of inter-generational unemployed and a lot of Maori unemployment ... you can appreciate wanting businesses to put efforts into employing Kiwis."

In a small community like Queenstown, Ms Stokes said, there was a gulf between what the politicians understood and what was actually happening.

"We believe there is a strong argument for regional [immigration] settings, reflecting the nature of the economy as a high value visitor destination.

"We may want to attract high-value residents, which is great, but the reality is they are not here fulltime. They spend their time across different parts of the planet."

Ms Stokes said the speech had prompted fears the Government would limit the number of working holiday visas granted in future.

She would be speaking to head of immigration policy Greg Patchell when he visited the resort later this month.

Queenstown businesses were not asking for 100,000 people, but hundreds of people to fill vacancies, she said.

The Otago Southland Employers’ Association welcomed the increased focus on overseas investment, but said New Zealand would not be attractive without a workforce to meet the needs of business.

Chief executive Virginia Nicholls said skill shortages were already hitting New Zealand businesses and there needed to be a stronger policy focus on the economic, social and cultural benefits brought by migrants and a move away from the thinking that migrants drove wages down.

The industry group representing fruit growers in the southern region said the announcement indicated its future migration policy direction in quite broad terms.

The industry looked forward to continuing to be part of the conversation with Government, Summerfruit New Zealand’s chief executive Kate Hellstrom said.

The dairy industry said if the number of migrant workers allowed into the country was slashed, there would need to be a significant transition period.

DairyNZ’s chief executive Dr Tim Mackle said while the sector was working hard on attracting New Zealanders into jobs, there would always be a need for migrant workers

In response, Mr Faafoi said the purpose of Monday’s speech was to further signal the Government’s direction in this area and to acknowledge the policy decisions still to be made.

"Clearly, that concerns some businesses but the process of change will involve targeted discussions across a range of sectors to get their views and ideas on what future immigration settings could and should look like, and how local workers can be better utilised and rewarded," Mr Faafoi said.

- Additional reporting Matthew Mckew.

riley.kennedy@odt.co.nz

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