The focus of Immigration New Zealand (INZ) currently seems to be only the 2021 Resident Visas or one-off residence visas. The government seems to have forgotten about the residence avenues for those hundreds of migrants who have not been eligible under the one-off pathway. There is no update about the future of Skilled Migrant Category (SMC) reopening, which has been closed for a long now, or if INZ is planning to have any other residence programme.
When contacted by Indian Weekender, Andrew Craig, Manager Immigration (Skills and Residence) at the Ministry of Business, Innovation and Employment, confirmed that the government had not decided when the SMC category would reopen.
He said, "No decisions have been made by the government yet on when the Skilled Migrant Category will reopen. The government's current focus is on reopening our borders to allow friends and families to reunite and support NZ's economic recovery from Covid-19. those who aren't eligible will need to pursue other pathways to residence available to them once our border has fully reopened.
"The government is also considering what the skilled migrant pathways may look like in future as part of the Immigration Rebalance. Any decisions on the specific timing of the resumption of the SMC and any changes to skilled migrant residence pathways will be communicated in due course.”
It is important to note that the New Zealand Productivity Commission (an independent Crown entity that provides evidence-based, high-quality analysis and advice about ways to improve productivity in NZ) has made a preliminary recommendation in November 2021 in its draft immigration report that the number of temporary migrant visas with potential residence pathways should be linked to the number of residence visas on offer.
Dr Ganesh Nana, Chair of the New Zealand Productivity Commission, says, “The Productivity Commission is focused on long-term immigration settings. Large queues for residency have left many migrants in flux and unable to settle. The mismatch between migrant expectations and the reality of residence falls short of manaakitanga and is not good for our international reputation as global competition for some skilled migrants intensifies.
“Our recommendations on what sort of working-age immigration policies would best promote NZ's long-term economic growth and the wellbeing of New Zealanders will be presented to the government at the end of April 2022.”
We also spoke to known Immigration experts to know what they think the future of NZ's residence pathway should be.
‘The only option for those who don't meet the one-off eligibility is to wait for the restart of the SMC draws or to head offshore.’
Immigration lawyer Arran Hunt believes that, unfortunately, NZ is now in a situation where people have no pathway to residence if they don't fit within the criteria for one-off residence.
He says, “Throughout the past two years, the Minister (Immigration Minister Kris Faafoi) has spoken about pathways to the residence. However, since March 2020, the most obvious pathway to most migrants, SMC, has been closed off. The reason given was due to the pandemic and to keep New Zealanders safe. However, this made no sense since most SMC applicants are already in NZ.
“After being called out by the opposition on this failure, the Minister finally announced the one-off residence. This was a great visa for many, but for many, it provided nothing as they were ineligible, such as those on partnership visas or studying for the PhDs. When asked about expanding it to cover them, the Minister said there were other pathways to residence for them. However, there isn't, as SMC, which should never have ended for those onshore, has now had no draws for two years.
“We are now in a situation where people have no pathway to residence if they don’t fit within the criteria for the one-off resident visa. The only option for them is to wait for the restart of the SMC draws or to head offshore.
“This government will continue to be less than friendly to migrants and will continue to create immigration policies that seem to be a reaction to public pressure, rather than anything planned. If the government is planning something, whether it be for SMC, or helping those caught offshore on a post-study work visa, they need to show it to give people confidence that they have a future in NZ."
‘The government appears to have no interest in the current Skilled Migrant applicants or creating realistic pathways to residence.’
Immigration Lawyer Alastair McClymont feels that INZ no longer has the capacity or ability to process visa applications efficiently or develop a new policy. He says, “It is also clear that the Minister (Kris Faafoi) has very little, if any, understanding of his portfolio and is therefore still wedded to an ideological position taken pre-covid which has no bearing on NZ’s current situation coming out of Covid.
“The Labour government developed its policy programme at a time of record-high net migration. In two years, that situation has developed into one of the unprecedented labour shortages, and we are now faced with the prospect of other countries luring away whatever talent and skills remain in NZ with the significantly higher wages and working conditions.
“The 2021 RV policy was taken out of desperation to try and clear mass visa backlogs whilst desperately trying to retain workers in NZ. The government appears to have no interest in the current Skilled Migrant applicants or creating realistic pathways to residence. The only hope for concrete forward-thinking plans is either a change of Minister or a change of government.”
‘The Government makes immigration policies based on what the Government wants, not what temporary visa holders want.’
Tuariki Delamere, the former Immigration Minister, feels that the government has no urgency to restart SMC due to the focus on the one-off category.
He says, “The SMC remains, but the government has announced that it needs revision. However, the reality is that there is no urgency for the government to do this with the expected total of 165,000 RVs that will be granted under the 2021 RV programme.”
He added, "The government makes immigration policies based on what the government wants, not what temporary visa holders want. There is no legal, moral or ethical obligation on the government that demands that they must create new residence pathways.
“However, in saying that, I do believe the government has a moral and ethical obligation to allow the immediate return to NZ of those persons who had been in NZ on valid visas and departed NZ for a visit home (or elsewhere) and with a valid visa allowing them to return but were shut out by the Covid-19 border closure."