Getting the Immigration Mix Right Post

We therefore need to get the immigration mix right to encourage the whole range of skilled workers.

As New Zealand heads deeper into recession, getting the immigration mix for NZ’s economic recovery is vital. The analysts are now predicting that it will not be until next year that there is a turnaround, and that recovery will take some time after that. In truth it will be longer unless our businesses can prosper, and to prosper they need skilled and reliable staff.

Many businesses are reporting that the skilled and reliable workers they are seeking are not looking for work in NZ. In many cases, they are looking offshore for their next job. This has become particularly true with Australia, where a New Zealander living there can after four years now become an Australian citizen. The Australian draw card when it comes to wages is even better. The average wage is $102,500 in Australia vs. $77,844 in New Zealand. This pay differential and fast track to Australian citizen is attracting the skilled and reliable workers that New Zealand
businesses critically need for the financial recovery of NZ.

In 2022 New Zealand’s net migration loss was 16,600 New Zealand citizens. In the first few months of 2023 this turned into a positive net migration inflow. However, it is widely expected that the change in the Australian citizenship policy for New Zealanders – only recently announced – will dramatically affect this inflow and we will see once again a net migration loss. This is very bad news for NZ’s businesses trying to find workers and as a consequence NZ’s financial recovery. As a country we have got this part of the immigration mix wrong.

The only way in which to correct that net migration loss of skilled and reliable workers is to make New Zealand attractive to those overseas workers who are skilled and reliable. Unfortunately, every developed country in the world is doing exactly that. Our Government for health workers has corrected that mix by allowing immediate citizenship. But our skill crisis goes much further than health workers. It extends to all occupations in New Zealand and all levels of skills. This needs to be recognised and urgent immigration changes made for the financial viability of NZ.

The Government’s current priority to address the labour shortage and to increase the highly skilled workforce is through migration and training for New Zealanders. Regrettably both university and Te Pukenga enrolments are down as much as 10% and their skilled teaching staff are being made redundant. It is therefore time to recognise that at least in the medium term, training New Zealanders is not going to address today’s critical labour shortages.

Further the Government’s policy is focused on highly skilled workers whereas the labour shortage extends across all occupations and skill levels. The policy response that is required is to acknowledge the importance of migration for NZ’s financial survival and to open the immigration policies up accordingly. To achieve this, immigration processes need to be streamlined and the wait timelines dramatically reduced. NZ is competing for these workers with every other developed country in the world where in many cases pay rates are superior and the immigration systems more
amenable to the migrant. The cost to both the employer and potential skilled worker need to be reduced and the income thresholds removed, even if only temporarily, so that all the skilled workers for all sectors and all levels of skills can be recruited and become NZ citizens.

There is no point having highly skilled workers, if there are no skilled workers to support them and to support the businesses that employ them. Now is time to get the immigration mix right as we are losing our skilled and highly skilled workers to the world and particularly to Australia. We need to acknowledge that we cannot stop the skill loss. We therefore need to get the immigration mix right to encourage the whole range of skilled workers (and their families) to come to and work in NZ.

Mike Chapman,
Chair New Zealand Ethical Employers Inc.