Canterbury Employers’ Chamber of Commerce Chief Executive Leeann Watson says yesterday’s immigration announcement was a clear signal that addressing skills shortages is being prioritised by Government, and the broad criteria of the new visa caught many by surprise.
Yesterday Minister of Immigration Kris Faafoi announced the 2021 Resident Visa – a one-off, simplified pathway to residence for around 165,000 migrants currently in New Zealand. This will be available to most work-related visa holders, including Essential Skills, Work to Residence, and Post Study Work visas and their immediate family members.
To be eligible, the principal applicant must have been in New Zealand on 29 September 2021 and must hold or have applied for (and subsequently be granted) one of the eligible work visas. They must also meet one of the following criteria:
– lived in New Zealand for three or more years, or
– earn above the median wage ($27 per hour or more), or
– work in a role on the Long Term Skill Shortage List, or
– hold occupational registration and work in the health or education sector, or
– work in personal care or other critical health worker roles, or
– work in a specified role in the primary industries.
The visa will also be available for those who enter New Zealand as critical workers for roles six months or longer until 31 July 2022 and includes their partners and dependents.
Ms Watson says this news has “come as a surprise for many people – but a very welcome one”.
“At The Chamber and through our SkillsConnect Canterbury programme, we have lobbied strongly over the past two years for this certainty for both employers, that have persistent skill and labour shortages – and highly value their migrant employees – and migrants themselves who can now successfully settle into life as new Kiwis.
“We know from employers that recruitment and skills shortages is one of their biggest challenges – and that before the last lockdown it was estimated that over the next 15 years Christchurch needs an additional 70,000 workers to fill vacancies created by an ageing population, just to maintain the current rate of economic growth. With the closure of our borders and the impact of COVID, this has exacerbated the issue and there’s now even more demand in some of our biggest sectors.
“There are significant employment opportunities for people looking to make a move and the inclusion of immediate family members in this pathway addresses one of the key retention factors for many workers. Many of these visa holders have lived in New Zealand for years and make a strong contribution to our communities, so this will provide them with certainty to be able to put down roots; it will also give our employers and our overall regional and national workforce more stability in the longer term.”
Ms Watson says the ability to both retain their existing migrant workers and hire critical skills from offshore will be a key recruitment strategy for employers over the next ten months to ensure they have the ability to operate and grow their businesses.
“Retaining workers in key industries that are in demand such as healthcare is absolutely essential, with many other countries actively recruiting skills in these areas. This gives us the certainty we need to be able to retain the skills we need right now.
“There is a window for employers to proactively advertise and recruit for critical workers from off-shore, but it will be important that employers start on that recruitment process early, to ensure they make the most of the pre-July window. This visa will once again make New Zealand an attractive destination in terms of global competition for those highly skilled workers.”
Ms Watson says for that for Canterbury region, there is the additional benefit that the visa is not sector-specific.
“In the past we have seen visa pathways for specific sectors such as construction, but this time it is a lot more comprehensive, applying to anyone who has been in the country for three years or more – so including sectors such as retail, hospitality, tourism and aged care. For Canterbury, this is a real bonus as we have such a diverse sector portfolio of businesses.
“We will continue to work closely with employers and employees to ensure they are able to make the most of this development, and they fully understand the eligibility criteria, as there has been some disbelief that this has been so all-encompassing.
“It is good to see the government has showed that they are listening and are prioritising the need to address skills shortages, and have created a pathway that is simple, clear, streamlined and generous.”
The one-off arrangement for the new 2021 Resident Visa would see the majority of applications granted within a year of the category opening. Applications for the 2021 Resident Visa will open in two phases; on 1 December 2021 and 1 March 2022. An eligibility checker is available on Immigration New Zealand’s website.