The government’s new immigration settings and early border reopening date will be a lifeline for some businesses, industry groups say.
Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern announced on Wednesday that the New Zealand border will fully reopen from July 31, two months earlier than planned.
There will also be major changes in immigration contexts, with the aim of attracting more skilled and better paid migrant workers.
As part of the changes, employers looking to hire migrants will have to meet minimum wage requirements. For most industries, that would mean paying the median wage — currently $27.76 an hour.
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However, hospitality and tourism employers will be temporarily exempt and will instead have to pay at least $25 an hour.
BusinessNZ chief executive Kirk Hope said it was positive the government had set a lower wage threshold for these sectors as they rebuild after being hit particularly hard by the pandemic.
With an Accredited Employer Work Visa, employers won’t need to provide as much information, can use their own recruitment processes to prove that no New Zealanders are available to work, and Immigration New Zealand will endeavor to have these visas processed within 30 days of an employer being accredited.
Kirk said it was good to see the government had set clear expectations for the levels of service businesses can expect from Immigration NZ.
Simple policy settings and quick processing would help employers navigate the new work visa settings as easily as possible, he said.
“New Zealand is facing unprecedented skills shortages and businesses are taking significant steps to develop our own skills within the workforce.”
Reopening immigration was a critical part of ensuring the survival and prosperity of New Zealand businesses, he said.
Wednesday’s announcement sent a clear message that New Zealand was open for business, he said.
“We need skills at all levels and we look forward to government working closely together and at the pace of industries to ensure we get the skills we need, where they are needed.”
Restaurant Association chief executive Marisa Bidois said the industry was in desperate need of skilled workers and the reopening date was not too soon.
“They clearly read the room and realized they had to do something about our dwindling workforce and quickly.”
With more tourists arriving, businesses need to operate at 100% for the sector to recover, she said.
While the transitional arrangement on immigration settings for hospitality looked promising, she was eagerly waiting to hear more details about it, she said.
“After months of advocacy to raise awareness of the pressure on our industry caused by understaffing, this decision will bring relief to many hotel operators, who have battled 18 months of uncertainty.”
She said that 94% of members indicated that they had found it extremely difficult to recruit for mid- to senior-level positions.
Without the ability to access a pool of migrant talent, hotel business owners were making sacrifices, not operating at full capacity at a time when there was accumulated debt to pay off, she said.
“Companies should be able to rely on the leverage of immigration when talent cannot be found in the country.”
She said the workforce coming on student and working holiday visas were an essential part of the sector’s workforce.
“We need to start bringing these people into the country well before our peak summer season.”