Building companies in Tauranga are looking overseas to recruit skilled staff because the labour market is saturated.

"The industry needs more skilled labour and needs it now," Tauranga Master Builders president Johnny Calley said.

The significance of immigrants to the Bay's economy has come under renewed focus in the lead-up to the election next Saturday.

But no one spoken to by Bay of Plenty Times Weekend said immigration should be cut, even though it had become a political football which included the impact on housing.

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Mr Calley said the market for skilled labour was saturated which meant some of the Bay's bigger building companies were looking overseas to top up the shortfall.

He said new house builds in the Western Bay of Plenty were nearly all for permanent residents. For whatever reason only a small per centage of new houses were being built for immigrants.

Nigel Tutt, the chief executive of economic development agency Priority One, said the feedback from local businesses was that they were struggling to find good staff.

The Bay's working population was not enough to fill jobs growth of about 4 per cent last year, he said.

Because the economy was in good shape, there was a mismatch between jobs being created and job seekers from traditional sources, he said.

A Priority One survey earlier this year revealed 40 per cent of Western Bay businesses were recruiting skilled workers from overseas.

A significant number of the 335 respondents said the difficulty of trying to attract staff with the necessary skills had become a major barrier to growth. These were primarily businesses that employed more than 20 people and had been trading for more than 20 years.

"They are generally looking to get talent from wherever they can," Mr Tutt said.

Certified Builders' Tauranga president Paul James said the shortage of skilled trades across the board had led to a surge of apprenticeships in the last 12 months.

"Consents are still ticking along nicely and there is plenty of work."

He had not noticed a lot of tradesmen arriving from overseas to work in Tauranga, except for returning Kiwis. Immigrant tradesmen tended to head to the big cities.

Vanessa Kururangi, of the newly formed Baywide Housing Advocacy Service, said the people they acted for found it hard to pay rents, and were probably a different kettle of fish to skilled immigrants.

She said immigrants were one of a whole lot of reasons for the pressure on housing.

"We feel it eventually and we feel it the longest," Ms Kururangi said.

She stressed she was not commenting on any political party, saying that all she wanted was more action.

"The solution is simple. We need to cut through the red tape so locals can fix local problems. The issue is not going to go away any time soon."

Her only contact with overseas labour was through the Government's seasonal employment scheme which in the Western Bay mainly involved people from Pacific nations working in kiwifruit orchards. They increased pressure on the bottom end of the rental market.

Tauranga personnel recruitment specialist Ian Chitty said they were seeing a movement of people who originally arrived in Auckland from overseas. Auckland's transport difficulties and cost of living had made the regions an attractive option.

The Government was also making it easier if someone who applied for a work visa intended to live in the regions.

"We are seeing a wide spread of nationalities arriving in Tauranga."

He estimated about 20 per cent of job seekers were immigrants. Tauranga was a particularly attractive destination for South Africans because of the seaside location, climate and affluence.

Mr Chitty was also getting more inquiries from people on visitor visas who were looking for jobs in order to apply for a work visa. The most sought after skills were in the trades.

"If you were a builder, electrician or plumber you would be quite sought after ... reasonable migration is required."

Simon Anderson, the chief executive of the Realty Group that operated Bayleys and Eves, said its website showed regular inquiries from offshore, but they were not a big part of the business.

The majority of house buyers continued to be people from within the Western Bay followed by Kiwis shifting from Auckland, Christchurch and Wellington. By far the biggest groups arriving from overseas were people from the UK and South Africa. Young families liked Papamoa for the beach, good schools and newer homes.

Mr Anderson said there was no trend to suggest they were selling more or less homes to immigrants.


Successful resident visa applications for jobs in the Bay of Plenty
2012-13: 288 approved
2013-14: 423 approved
2014-15: 486 approved
2015-16: 602 approved
2016-17: 545 approved
Bay's ranking: Fifth in New Zealand
Source Immigration New Zealand

What the candidates had to say:

What are your views on the issue of immigration and the skills shortage, taking account of housing?

Emma-Leigh Hodge, Greens:

While scapegoating immigrants may be convenient for shifting blame around the housing crisis, politicians have a duty to be bold and fix the underlying issues in society. We need to build more houses and they need to be attainable for average income earners again. Tauranga attracts many temporary migrant workers and the Greens would ensure adequate working conditions, fair pay, and access to essential services for these workers. The Greens are committed to regular, evidence-based reviews of the government's immigration policies.

Simon Bridges, National:

The Government has made some adjustments to our immigration policy which balances managing migration flow and maintaining sustained growth. We're a growing economy with a high employment rate, and skilled migrants play a key role in sectors like tourism, hospitality and construction. You can't, for instance, cut back migration and have a thriving IT or construction industry. Unlike Labour, we're not going to take action to reduce migration that would choke off the economy and stop that growth.


Jason Jobsis, Democrats for Social Credit:

We do not believe immigration or overseas money should be used as the major driver of the economy. Currently, under the Investor category, a person can gain residence by investing $1.5 million in New Zealand. This country does not need such investment, so the purchase of residency would be stopped immediately. Immigration should be heavily biased towards skills needed to provide a strong service sector (such as health and education) and to develop a sustainable internal supply chain and healthy export capacity.


Jan Tinetti, Labour:

Labour highly values immigration but without government planning, high immigration levels have put pressure on housing infrastructure and other public services. Labour will make changes that preserve and enhance the ability of businesses to get skilled workers to fill real skills gaps but which prevent the abuses of the system that currently happen. Labour will ensure that, where there are real skills shortages, businesses will be able to get the workers they need by regionalising and rationalising skills shortage lists.


Stuart Pedersen, ACT:

ACT welcomes immigrants. When businesses need immigrant workers, the government shouldn't stand in the way. The construction sector was a prime example. But immigration should not be used to drive economic growth, as only improving productivity will make Kiwis better off. Rather than bureaucrats picking sectors with shortages, ACT will favour sectors where pay rates are rising fast.


Hugh Robb, Independent:

Our country certainly requires immigration reform. We simply don't have the infrastructure to cope with the current paradigm. Our skills shortage is a result of government cuts to training, apprenticeships etc. We need to ensure our unemployed are educated, trained and skilled in the right trades and professions, especially building. A lot has been made of New Zealand's increase in productivity. But that ignores more than half a million immigrants. The fact is, per capita, our productivity has fallen. Immigration reform is overdue.


Ben Rickard, United Future:

We have to embrace and accept immigration as a good thing for our region and our country. A growing population can bring pressures on local infrastructure, and some people will always use migrants as a scapegoat for greater competition for jobs, but protectionism is the start of a downward spiral that ends up benefiting no one. We must rise to the challenge and do better. We must improve our skills through training, and encourage more high tech business to the region. And we must embrace new migrants into our community because that's what Kiwis do.


Rusty Kane, Independent:

Immigration has played an important part in shaping New Zealand. Most migrants arrived on short-term work permits and student visas, many needed for our horticulture (kiwifruit) dairy and restaurant industries. The down side is if immigration numbers are unchecked it puts demands on the country's services and infrastructure, and low-skilled migrants help to suppress wages. Nationally, we are now at a point where our high unchecked immigration numbers are putting unsustainable demands on the country's services, housing and infrastructure.


Joseph (Billy) Borell, Maori Party:

Housing and homelessness solutions are vital for our people. The solutions are to create a Minister for Maori and Pacific Housing to prioritise and address the challenges whanau/fanau/ainga face; and establish a housing sector committee to design a 25-year strategy that addresses the housing crisis. Our party would also amend the Immigration Act to include tikanga Maori in its application and incorporate a pledge to uphold Te Tiriti O Waitangi in the Oath of Citizenship, and introduce Te Tiriti o Waitangi programme as a prerequisite to gaining citizenship.