The New Zealand Manufacturers and Exporters Association (NZMEA) has come out in favour of the government's possible backtrack on immigration changes.
In April, Immigration Minister Michael Woodhouse unveiled a 'Kiwis first' immigration policy which made it harder for firms to hire overseas, with new restrictions on temporary work visas for anyone earning less than the median wage. The government then planned to categorise high and low-skilled temporary work visas depending on how much a person earns, introduce a three-year limit for how long low-skilled workers can stay, and impose a one-year stand-down period.
The planned crackdown on temporary work visas came six months after the government raised the bar on the skilled migrant visa, with record immigration a hot topic in the forthcoming election.
In an interview on Radio New Zealand's Morning Report this morning, Prime Minister Bill English said he "wouldn't describe it as a u-turn", but confirmed that proposed changes to skilled migrant visa conditions are under review following complaints from businesses and the regions.
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"We've had some feedback from people who are in an economy that's creating 10,000 jobs a month, and who are telling us that some of those parameters are a bit tight," English told RNZ. "We'll make decisions over the next couple of weeks, and I don't want to get ahead of that, but it is pretty clear that there is so much work to be done, that has to be done - building the houses, building the infrastructure, getting the primary production out of horticulture and the dairy industry and so on - and we don't want to handicap ourselves by over-reaching."
In a press release, NZMEA said it was pleased about the review and that addressing skills shortages in manufacturing and other sectors' needs to remain a core part of New Zealand's immigration system.
"In particular, the 12-month stand-down after three years did not make any sense to businesses - having to send quality workers back home not long after they completed the inevitable on-the-job training required to become fully productive and integral to their business operation," said chief executive Dieter Adam. "The skills they may take with them often simply cannot currently be filled by New Zealanders. Unlike in other sectors, labour shortages in manufacturing are almost completely in the skilled workers category, especially for those with trade skills and experience."
Adam said the suggested use of pay levels as a surrogate for skill levels was seen as sensible by some members, but others said it was "crude" and ignored regional pay variation.
"It may unintentionally lead to wage inflation by artificially setting a base line across the country for what machine operators, for example, should be paid," Adam said.
English told RNZ that the government would "adjust not shelve" the changes, and said there was strong demand for skilled workers to build houses and roads.