Would-be migrants wishing to fill skills shortages in the regions may get a helping hand from the Government to move to New Zealand, the new immigration minister has indicated.
Immigration Minister Iain Lees-Galloway revealed regionalising skilled migration will be one of his top priorities.
Among the changes will be doing away with a "one size fits all" skills shortage list and the introduction of different lists for different regions.
"We can have a skills shortage list that is relevant to Southland, Taranaki and Northland, and they all will be quite different," Lees-Galloway said.
"This is so that we can have a more adaptable system that allows regions to identify the skills they need and get the people that they need, and also help us relieve some of the pressure on Auckland and encourage people to settle in other parts of the country."
The minister also signalled the biggest changes could come in the student pathway to residence.
"People who come through the student pathway tend to end up in low-paying jobs and they stay in low-paying jobs, and they are vulnerable to exploitation and they remain vulnerable to exploitation over the long term," Lees-Galloway said.
"Whereas people who come from overseas with higher skills and qualification levels, they are the ones getting the positive outcomes."
But changes to student visa rules would not affect those already in the country, he said.
"I take a very strong view that once people are in the country we have a duty of care to them," said Lees-Galloway.
"People who have already come to New Zealand under the old rules, we will grandparent those rules."
The minister indicated that the new income threshold introduced by National just before the election that required migrants to earn more than $48,859 to qualify for a skilled migrant category visa could go.
"I am unconvinced by that approach," he said. "I don't think much of the income threshold as a proxy for skills... I've asked my officials to bring me the evidence that's been provided to the previous minister around that decision."
Lees-Galloway said that under his watch, tackling migrant and student exploitation would also be prioritised.
This would include weeding out low quality education providers, taking a firmer approach with labour market tests and ensuring better matches between the skills and talents of migrants with the skills New Zealand needs, he said.
"We have a pretty woeful record of allowing migrants to become used as a vulnerable, exploitable workforce in New Zealand."
The minister added that he was not concerned about too many migrants coming from a particular country or region.
"We are focused on the skills that people have, not where they come from."
Lees-Galloway said he would be looking through various proposals, and changes to policy and rules would be announced early next year.
Massey University sociologist and immigration expert Paul Spoonley said it would be a huge challenge for the Government to regionalise migration.
"There is value in asking regions to identify the skills shortages for the region, but the question is who would do this," he said.
"Our research experience is that some industries and employers are not very good at projecting future skill shortages, and then how do you get immigrants to go to those regions."
Spoonley said immigration priorities should be focused on selecting immigrants who would contribute to New Zealand both economically and socially, and ensuring they settle in and contribute.
"We have not invested as much as Canada or Australia in terms of settling immigrants," he said.
"Tackling exploitation is important, but making sure the selection policy settings are right and helping immigrants settle should be priorities."
Net migration rose to 70,700 in October from 70,300 the previous year, according to figures released this week by Statistics New Zealand.
It showed 72,100 non-citizens arrived in the year while 1400 New Zealanders left.
During the election campaign, Labour said it would cut immigration by up to 30,000 people - but has since backtracked saying it was an estimate and not a target.
"The previous Government made policy changes in October last year and again this year which will reduce immigration numbers," Spoonley said.
"I never expected the Government to immediately cut 30,000 from the net immigration numbers; it would be too disruptive to industries."