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NZ's Immigration System - How Long Will It Remain in Limbo?

24 August 2021

There is no denying that we are extremely fortunate to be living in a country that has - for the most part - navigated the pandemic so successfully. Especially given the fact that NZ is currently trying to contain its largest community outbreak of Covid in nearly 300 days, we support the strategic reopening of our borders and the need to take precautionary measures to remain safe in the long run. 

But at the same time, New Zealand is back under restrictions and - from an immigration standpoint - have seen very little progress since March 2020.

The Recent State of NZ Immigration 

Immigration has long formed an integral part of many industries in NZ - IT, construction, infrastructure, health, primary industries, etc. And almost all of these industries face a chronic shortage of skills that cannot be found within NZ's local workforce. While some of these industries have been able to bring skilled workers into NZ via border exemptions and approved classes of workers, MIQ remains a debacle. Even though someone may get a border exemption through one of the eligible categories, they still may not be able to enter NZ! 

In fact, you may have seen the TVNZ article from early August: Immigration Minister denies residency queue is ‘shambles’. With over 23,000 - and counting - Expressions of Interest sitting in Immigration NZ’s ‘pool’, the residence system in NZ has been in limbo for over 18 months. For the minister to deny that the residency queue is a shambles was hard to digest.

The acceptance of new Skilled Migrant Category Residence applications has been closed since March 2020. But applicants can still apply for their expressions of interest (EOI) and pay $530 to submit their application. Unfortunately, these EOIs are neither being looked at nor approved, which has led to a massive unmoving pile of EOIs, and has left thousands of migrants in limbo. 

The Uncertain Future of Migrant Workers

For those whose EOIs are sitting in the ever-growing pile, just because they’ve taken a necessary first step in the pathway to NZ residency, does not mean they are any closer to a resolution for themselves, let alone their families.

As these migrants continue to face a “very uncertain” future in New Zealand, many highly-skilled professionals are strongly considering leaving the country, causing what could be a “mass exodus” of the very skilled workers the country hopes to retain.

And it’s not surprising. Many of these skilled workers arrived lawfully in order to provide the skills that this country needed. And, many embarked on temporary or work-based pathways that they thought might one day lead to residency for themselves and their families. But now, the migrant-friendly options and possibilities that these migrants based their immigration decisions on are now no longer available. 

Not Purely a Result of Covid

Many of the challenges migrant workers face are often attributed to the impact of Covid on New Zealand’s borders. And most of this is true. However it is important to note that the intent of resetting the Skilled Migrant residence programme by the government was in place well before the pandemic - in fact an NZ residence program (NZRP) quota wasn't even set in 2019.

Now, as all of the country has increased restrictions, it is imperative we accept that Covid is here to stay. For that reason, we must still implement short term plans needed to achieve some of our country’s long term goals.

Despite the threat of Covid, we must find a way to allow entry to those ‘critical’ skills that our industries so badly need. Small windows in the border were created with this goal in mind, but the reality is that it does not even scratch the surface. Combined with the challenges of MIQ, it’s easy to see that the current system is failing to deliver any sort of effective controlled entry into NZ.

If Your Business Relies on Migrant Workers

Not only is this time challenging for workers, but it’s challenging for companies as well: Your employees are in a state of limbo, visa regulations are constantly changing, and there has been talk of the Government’s immigration reset for a few months now. Despite these uncertainties, your company can use this time to be proactive: Think of your future hiring policies, focus on becoming an accredited employer long before the deadline approaches, and considering using an immigration partner to:

  • Reduce your employees' anxiety
  • Retain your existing migrant staff
  • Ensure your business is compliant with NZ Immigration law
  • Stay ahead of changing immigration policies
  • Successfully apply for the new employer accreditation

But most importantly: Think of your workers whose lives and residency statuses may be in limbo. Ensure they have access to the support and resources they need to reach the lives they have long been working towards.

- Arunima Dhingra (CEO & Principal Licensed Immigration Adviser #200900407)

If you would like to better understand how the above could impact you,
reach out to us to set up a time to talk.

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