Last week I attended the 16th Annual Immigration Law Conference 2018 in Auckland. The keynote speaker was the Hon. Iain Lees-Galloway, Minister of Immigration. His speech was followed by an Immigration Policy Update from Sian Roguski, who is the Manager of Immigration Policy at the Ministry of Business, Immigration and Employment. While neither the Minister nor Ms Roguski would make definite announcements on new policy, their presentations nevertheless gave us some insight into what the new coalition government is planning for immigration over the next three years.
The Minister’s speech
The Minister referred us to the Coalition Agreement between Labour and NZ First, the Confidence and Supply Agreement with the Green Party and the Speech from the Throne for indicators of where the government’s immigration priorities lie. They see a need for a more agile immigration system that is more responsive to regional needs, and will therefore be taking a more regionalised approach than the current ‘one size fits all’ policies that are not working. The government is close to announcing new policy for consultation in five areas:
- Better matching of skills needed in NZ to the skills that migrants can bring to NZ
The government wants much closer links between immigration, education, employment and welfare, which is why it has created its ‘Future of Work” group. The government wants to build and maintain a skilled workforce through a combination of domestic training and immigration, but immigration will be focused on meeting genuine needs. The government’s priority is to put New Zealand citizens and residents first when it comes to employment. While the current unemployment rate hovers at around 4%, the rate of ‘underutilisation’ is about 12% (that is, people who could or who want to do more work – those who are underutilised).
Post study work rights are seen by this government as having had a negative impact domestically. The promise of a pathway to residence has been exploited by ‘low quality’ education providers as a way to attract students (come to NZ, study, get a job, get residence). This leads to poor outcomes for the students and for New Zealanders who would otherwise do the jobs, and does not stimulate wage growth. The government wants to see supply and demand in the labour market lead to wage rises.
The government acknowledges the importance of the overseas student market but wants it to be of a high quality, with a focus on bringing students here for an education, not to get residence. Work rights for students must therefore fit within the wider government strategy.
The success of projects such as KiwiBuild requires both immigration and investment in New Zealanders. The Minister commented that the construction industry has in the past operated on a ‘boom and bust’ model (being too busy to take on apprentices during busy times and not having the work to do so during slow times). The government expects that the constant demand generated by KiwiBuild will give the industry the opportunity to upskill its own workforce.
We can expect to see:
- A regionalised approach to Skill Shortage Lists;
- Strengthening of the Labour Market Tests (which already require employers to put NZers first);
- Review and possible alterations to the Accredited Employer and Approval in Principle policies;
- A focus on restricting the availability of Post-Study Work Visas. There is some indication that these may only be made available to students who have studied at Level 7 or above. It is likely that there will be a review of work rights to those still studying.
The Minister was asked about the currently-suspended Parent Category. His answer was encouraging and linked to the government’s view on skilled migration. The Minister believes that the Parent Category actually works well and he wants to see one in some form. He believes that it is important to skilled migrants who want to bring their families to live with them. The government is currently considering its options on the Parent Category and will need to decide soon what it is going to do.
- Migrant exploitation
The government wants a focus on the rights of all workers, not just migrants, but migrants are seen as particularly vulnerable. Industries reliant on migrant labour have been overrepresented in investigations done by Labour Inspectors. Doubling the current number of Labour Inspectors from 55 to 110 (and increasing their support staff) within the next few years is one way of addressing the problem. The Minister also strongly encourages migrants to join unions, as the government feels that this is one of the best ways of combatting exploitation. The government has zero tolerance for exploitation in all forms. (We also received a presentation on Combatting Migrant Exploitation from Alistair Murray, Area Manager Northern, Compliance and Investigations.)
- Review of Pacific migration
The government wants to reset our relationship with our Pacific neighbours. It is looking at the mobility of Pasifika people and its policy settings in areas such as the Recognised Seasonal Employer scheme. One concern is that the government does not wish to ‘poach’ all of the skilled people from Pacific nations.
- Increase in NZ’s refugee intake
It is important to this government to look at the humanitarian aspect of immigration. As previously announced, there will be an increase in refugee numbers and an increase in available housing for refugees. The refugee quote will move up to 1,500 per year as capacity increases. Refugee family resettlement numbers will increase in proportion to the increase in the refugee quota.
- Making improvements to Immigration NZ systems to manage national security.
The Minister did not provide any detail on this point.
The Minister concluded by stating that the government’s immigration policy was being guided by two principles above all:
- A better match between skills needed and skills brought into New Zealand by migrants;
- Zero tolerance for exploitation in all forms.
Sian Roguski’s Presentation – MBIE Immigration Policy Update
Ms Roguski spoke on INZ’s recent activities and the need to balance desired immigration outcomes. Often this means making trade-offs in immigration policy to achieve the best outcomes for NZ. Ms Roguski made some key points:
- 25% of people in New Zealand are foreign-born; 40% of those living in Auckland are foreign-born; approximately 50% of Permanent or Long Term (PLT) migrants settle in Auckland
- Only 80% of people born in New Zealand stay here
- Net PLT migration is one of the highest per capita in the OECD
- Our top 3 source countries for residence visas and temporary work visas are China, India and the UK, with a steady decline of over 50% from the UK over the past decade
- Of the $3.94 billion invested in NZ by migrants since 2009, 58% was from China, 13% from the US, and 5% from the UK
- 47% of visitors were from China (19%), USA (16%), and the UK (12%)
- 27% of the workforce are foreign born; 43% of the Auckland workforce are foreign born
- We currently have around 50,000 international students in the country with limited work rights (usually 20 hours per week)
- Around 20% of work visas currently require Labour Market Testing (Essential Skills and Recognised Seasonal Employment)
- 70% of immigrants gaining residence are already in the country when they apply
Ms Roguski made some interesting comments that tie in with the Minister’s speech:
- MBIE currently receives two or three calls per day regarding exploitation in some form. Given the known low rate of reporting, the actual number of those being exploited is far higher.
- More students are coming to NZ but their outcomes are decreasing. Those who study undergraduate (below Level 7) qualifications have poorer outcomes (they often don’t have happy endings).
- The share of jobs held by temporary migrants has increased over the past five years, particularly in lower-skilled, lower-paid areas such as Agriculture and Hospitality. There is mixed evidence on labour market outcomes for New Zealanders (it depends in the visa type held by migrants).
- There has been a drop in the earnings of people applying for residence under the Skilled Migrant Category.
She also restated the government’s policy position that there needs to be a New Zealanders first approach to employment, while ensuring that employers can access migrant labour where there is a genuine skill or labour shortage in the short term. To that end, there will be:
- Reviews of the Labour Market Test and the Accredited Employer Scheme.
- Work to explore wider mechanisms to ensure work visas issued meet genuine skills shortages.
- Monitoring of the impact of visa settings for temporary workers, which were amended in August 2017 – these will stay in place for the moment (including the existence of skills bands and remuneration thresholds).
- A more responsive immigration, welfare and education system that addresses long term labour and skill shortages.
- Consideration of how we can better use the immigration system to meet regional skill requirements and distribute migrants across NZ.
- Options to develop regional skills and labour shortages lists, in consultation with regions, businesses and workers.
- Review the post-study work rights of international students, followed by a review of in-study work rights.
- Examine the policy settings to prevent migrant exploitation.
- An increasing number of joint compliance operations between the Labour Inspectorate and INZ.
- Consideration of how the immigration “pipeline” affects the vulnerability of migrants and potential for exploitation.
- Implementation of a plan to double the annual refugee quota to 1,500.
- A Review of the family reunification system for refugees.
- Development of an approach to Pacific migration issues, including climate change migration
- A Review of the immigration system’s fees and levies
- Work across border sector agencies (for security around visa waiver arrivals in particular)
- The Visa Services 2020 Programme (available on the INZ website)
Obviously, the next three years will be a time of rapid change in the immigration system. It will be very important for those on work and student visas to stay informed because your eligibility for a visa could change with very little warning. There will also be changes in the eligibility of people to work.
Labour Market Checks are already a necessary step for applicants for Essential Skills Work Visas. We do not yet know how these will be ‘strengthened’ by the government. It may be that employers will be required to advertise for longer or for specified periods. Employers may have to supply more detailed statements about their efforts to recruit New Zealand citizens or residents, including evidence that New Zealand applicants were unsuitable. It may also be that Work and Income will be required to play a greater role in determining the availability of NZ citizens or residents, such as reporting on those who are ‘under employed’.
The advent of regional Skill Shortage Lists is a positive step for us. Agricultural (dairy), construction, elder care, health care, hospitality and IT are all industries that have difficulty finding good staff. To ensure that they can maintain their work forces, these employers should make contributions when the government puts its proposals on policy changes out for consultation. The strong regional focus of this government should ensure that they are listened to. Professor Paul Spoonley of Massey University pointed out at the conference that the number of those aged 65+ now or will soon exceed the number of those aged 0-14 years. The number of those aged 65+ will double in the next decade. KiwiBuild is facing a shortage of at least 30,000 construction workers; the construction industry has to deal with current demand plus historical demand. Professor Spoonley concludes that growth targets will require migrants, who both create demand for infrastructure and provide the skills to meet infrastructural targets.
Possible restrictions on work rights may well have an impact on student numbers. We have already seen that the stricter approach taken by INZ has been making it harder to obtain Post-Study Employer Assisted Work Visas. This may or may not cause further problems for those looking for a pathway to residence.
We were informed today about changes to income thresholds for several visa categories. That will be dealt with in our next post.
Remember – You should only take advice from a lawyer or Licensed Immigration Adviser about visa eligibility or when making plans involving your visa pathways. Contact us for an appointment today.