It won’t be wrong to say that apart from the global pandemic, New Zealand has been dealing with an immigration crisis for the past few years.
The NZ border reopening has been desperately awaited by the migrants and kiwis stuck overseas alike. Apart from that, NZ has been in the news due to frustrations and punishing results of a MIQ lottery, which has resulted in an acute labour storage problem.
Notably, another factor that has been making the headline for all the wrong reasons is humanitarian issues caused by the separation of families and the crushing of whole sectors – international education and tourism in NZ.
As we begin this new year with new hopes and aspirations, we asked the immigration spokespersons of opposition parties to share their thoughts on what needs to be done about the immigration crisis and labour shortage.
Erica Stanford, National Party’s Immigration Spokesperson
On what should be the Government's priority with regards to border opening: The success of New Zealand’s long-term economic and health response to Covid-19 will hinge on our immigration settings. Our post-pandemic future demands thoughtful planning and a willingness to embrace bold new policy ideas. The steps we take to attract and retain talent will be decisive to our recovery. We need to seize every opportunity available, providing fresh policy thinking and exhibiting a mature vision for a diverse, connected, and forward-looking NZ.
On Immigration reset:
There is no need for an 'immigration reset.' The government announced an ‘immigration reset’ because they broke NZ’s immigration system and severely damaged our reputation as a destination for skilled migrants. They then adopted our Covid Contribution policy in complete retreat from their earlier position to drastically limit immigration. Granting residence to 165,000 people was a panicked reaction from a government that had no other choice. It is unacceptable that delays in processing residence visas have been left to explode out of control for three years, to a point where the only option the Minister now has is to fast-track residence to 165,000 people. They should have cleared the backlog before announcing any long-term changes to our immigration settings.
Future of Immigration system in NZ:
National understands that we need a fair, transparent, and effective immigration system that ensures NZ benefits from all the world has to offer. As a country with a strong immigrant tradition, we would ensure NZ regains its status as an attractive destination globally. However, our immigration system has become a shambles over the past few years; huge delays in processing visas resulting in a years-long backlog of residency applications, a frozen Skilled Migrant Category (SMC) visa Expression of Interest (EOI) pool leaving migrants stuck in limbo, entirely avoidable labour shortages in some of our most critical industries, and above all a Minister who seems utterly uninterested in fixing any of these issues.
A National government would fix our broken immigration system and ensure New Zealand communities can benefit from all the world has to offer.
Dr. James McDowall, ACT Party’s Immigration Spokesperson
On what should be government's priority with regards to border opening:
The Government needs to set out a clear plan to reopen the border as soon as possible and commit to doing so while embracing new Covid-19 testing technologies instead of restricting them. Rolling back announcements is unfair on migrants, Kiwis, and employers looking to attract and retain skilled workers.
Attracting skilled migrants has been a low priority for the government, with offshore visa processing largely being suspended and border exemption allocations going unfilled due to the difficulty in navigating the process. With the Skilled Migrant Category effectively on ice, people are giving up on the NZ dream and looking elsewhere, even for those onshore. The government's last-ditch effort to keep skilled migrants here – the 2021 Resident Visa – is slowly falling apart with delays, IT issues, and inequity at the seams.
On Immigration reset:
Fundamentally, the government should dump its misguided 'immigration reset.' ACT has promoted that migrants are a net positive to NZ, both economically and socially. Recently, the Productivity Commission released its preliminary findings that confirm what we have been saying all along. Our immigration settings need to promote growth, not stifle it. The government's 'immigration reset' is simply a case of denying reality.
Future of Immigration system in NZ:
The government should clear the visa backlogs without creating new ones, process offshore visas, reopen the border to fully vaccinated and tested individuals with self-isolation, and revisit long-term immigration settings once the pandemic is over.
The hard border closure, significantly restricting visa processing for those offshore, has resulted in an avoidable humanitarian crisis. The government needs to expand and fast-track family reunification, utilising vaccination requirements and a testing regime for self-isolation with the best technology available.
The lack of international students has been a massive blow for one of our largest sectors. ACT believes that fully vaccinated students should be welcomed into New Zealand immediately, with a suitable testing regime in place to facilitate safe self-isolation. Australia and Canada are welcoming students with open arms while our export education sector is in free-fall. We cannot let other countries pull the carpet out from under us – it will take years to rebuild.
Lastly, the government needs to present a clear and simple plan to save tourism businesses from the brink.
Ricardo Menéndez March, Green Party’s Immigration Spokesperson
On what should be government's priority with regards to border opening;
In light of Omicron, the government needs to assure migrants stuck offshore that they will have a pathway to come back. For those with valid visas, the Minister needs to use his powers to extend them until it is safe to come back and issue replacement visas for those whose visas have expired, which Australia has already done.
Reuniting split migrant families should be a priority for this government. We want to see partnership visas reviewed so that they are culturally competent. This should include a review of the living together requirement, which is currently the most significant barrier for partners from non-visa waiver countries. MIQ allocation should be based on need, and split families with children should be prioritised in the allocation of rooms. Split families should be thought of in any self-isolation trials or reviews of our MIQ system.
To ensure workers are looked after, we need to expand the eligibility criteria of the R21 visa and ensure there are genuine pathways to residency for workers. Regarding worker shortages in specific industries, the government should include an amnesty for overstayers. This will enable better participation of whole groups in their communities and allow workers to take up jobs in areas with shortages.
On Immigration reset:
We need short-term solutions to the many challenges migrants face. Covid-19 continues to rage worldwide, and migrants should not be collateral damage. Minister Faafoi already has levers to give migrant communities certainty and safety. For example, they could be extending visas for people stuck offshore so that they can come back as soon as it is safe, but they are choosing not to do so. As part of a broader review of the immigration settings, we want to see work visas decoupled from single employers, which is echoed in the Productivity Commission's initial report into our immigration settings.
Future of Immigration system in New Zealand:
For too long successive governments have justified failed immigration policies based on what is good for things like GDP, without considering that they are entrenching exploitation. We need long-term thinking in our immigration settings, and we need to go to the drawing board to define the values we want our immigration system to be underpinned by.