The government has backed itself into a corner on immigration and is set to announce long-awaited residence changes this week, according to the National Party.

Immigration Minister Kris Faafoi is refusing to comment on any policy announcement, following months of speculation about when skilled migrant avenues will reopen.

Thousands of existing migrants who want to settle in New Zealand permanently are waiting to find out whether the government will change the rules on who qualifies for residence.

Immigration consultants have been signalling a likely increase in the number of points migrants will need for skilled migrant (SMC) visas.

And others have been calling for a wider work to residence policy along the lines of an existing visa for longstanding employees.

Pressure has been building on the government and the immigration minister to make an announcement to stem an exodus of highly skilled staff, including doctors and nurses.

National immigration spokesperson Erica Stanford said the government's only way out of the skills shortage it created was to walk back its immigration 'reset'.

"The government has now backed itself into a corner after years of poor policy and poor planning in the immigration space," she said.

"The minister now has little choice but to adopt National's policy to clear the residency backlog and to create a pathway to residence for those workers who stuck with us during the pandemic."

National Party immigration spokesperson Erica Stanford. Photo: RNZ / Samuel Rillstone

The National Party wants a 'Covid contribution' pathway to residence so that existing migrants can settle after a certain number of years in the country.

Expressions of interest in SMC visas have not been touched since autumn last year, and 26,000 people are waiting for the process to restart.

Processing those applications with urgency and creating a fast-tracked, streamlined process to quickly clear the residence backlog were critical, Stanford said.

"It is imperative the minister seizes this opportunity to finally address all the key issues that have landed our immigration system in crisis," she said.

"In the past four years, this government has broken our immigration system and trashed our reputation as a destination of choice for highly skilled migrants.

"With a years-long backlog of applications, and a frozen expression of interest system for new residence applications, many thousands of valuable, skilled migrants have given up on life in New Zealand and opted for a more certain future overseas."

The minister is understood to be intending to make the announcement this week but despite repeated delays in those decisions being made, no one in the sector appeared to have been consulted on the changes, she added.

"Any announcement must have a clear indication of how the minister intends to streamline the residency process and improve resourcing of the residency processing team. If there is one thing this immigration minister excels at, it is creating queues. The temptation here will be for him to simply shift migrants out of one queue of misery to another even longer queue and claim he has solved the problem."

A spokesman for Immigration Minister Kris Faafoi said he did not wish to comment.