An overview of 2020 and what to expect in 2021- by Arunima Dhingra

They say change is the only constant – this has not rung true more than in 2020. As I recap one of the strangest years in immigration history, I struggle to put it into words. In my 15 years in this field, I have never seen a year like 2020 which created a whirlpool of uncertainty for practitioners and applicants alike. Let’s take a look at the year that was.

From when the borders shut overnight, plunging NZ into Alert Level 4 and absolute silence from Immigration New Zealand, it was clear that INZ was grappling with changes and completely unprepared. But then again, so were most of us! The only difference is that the silence from Immigration NZ gravely affected tens of thousands of people. Their first comments came on 16 April 2020, when NZ was soon to enter Alert Level 3. This delay in addressing the most pressing concerns at the time resulted in an uncontactable call centre, no one to answer questions, and a total suspension of visa processing. INZ was not prepared for remote working in the digital age of 2020!

Sadly, the list goes on – There were murky and drip-fed announcements on border closure, extended silence on those migrants who lost their jobs, lack of support for employers with employees stuck offshore and a never-ending wait for those with established lives in NZ stuck overseas due to an ill-timed holiday.

It has been almost 9 months since we first hunkered down and stopped all activity to curb the community spread of Covid19. Even today, families remain split with no end in sight and students who have invested in NZ education and were studying here but were offshore when borders closed are still in limbo. Furthermore, international education providers continue to face setbacks due to intakes for overseas students being canned one after the other.

Another group who seemingly, even to this day, have not had much relief or compensation are those employers who have roles which can only be filled with migrant labour. The border exemption criteria remains unreasonably high causing them great unrest and their calls for help to the Government have gone unheeded.

But, every cloud has a silver lining and 2020 has presented unique lessons to be learnt. INZ rolled out remote working as soon they were able, dispensations were made for police certificates, medicals and other hard copy requirements. This meant that if we entered another lockdown, the wheel would keep turning. And it did. Multiple auto extensions provided much needed relief to stressed migrants onshore.

2021 will be vital for the ‘New Zealand’ brand. The world is looking at us. We are in a unique position to attract some of the best talent and some of the biggest businesses to New Zealand. But, only if our government is able to act effectively to make this happen whilst keeping our borders tightly monitored. Our economy is underpinned by NZ small and medium businesses, many of whom are feeling the pressure from a lack of migrant labour. Infrastructure, IT, health, horticulture and construction are just a few of these sectors. As most reading this piece would agree, some of these industries are now going through an all-time low in terms of staffing.

In my opinion, the NZ border will remain a point of contention next year as well. Who’s allowed into NZ vs. who’s not is a government decision rather than Immigration NZ’s and crossing the borders will always be heavily influenced by political factors.

As a board director of the New Zealand Association of Migration and Investment (NZAMI), I see numerous changes being worked on the immigration space to come into action next year.

In 2021, the immigration landscape will change like never before – and these announcements have already taken shape. Two of the major changes include Compulsory accreditation for employers and a complete overhaul of the temporary work visa categories. The implementation of these changes, in a situation where delay and backlogs has been an ongoing issue with INZ, is a major concern.

However, INZ has also been very receptive to feedback. There’s a lot they can’t control but, they seem to have taken away critical learnings from the first lockdown. It’s a tumultuous journey for everyone involved and employers should be acutely aware that help is out there, if they need it. In the meantime, me along with my team at Aims Global Immigration will continue to pass on information to you as it is released and will be here to support you in the new year.

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Our mission is to help our clients achieve their goals through simplifying the complex immigration process. We are experts in understanding your needs so we can fulfil your purpose, whether you’re an employer, employee, student, or family.

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