It was a long time coming but the Government's announcement late last month of a one-off resident visa provides at least some relief to business owners battling labour shortages.
Immigration restrictions, staff and labour shortages are cited as the biggest issues — along with Covid-19 community transmission and supply chain costs — affecting business confidence in this year's Mood of the Boardroom survey.
The global pandemic continues to bring uncertainty and lockdowns have crippled Auckland SMEs particularly in the hospitality, retail and tourism sectors.
But the survey shows skills and labour shortages as the biggest single domestic concern when CEOs were asked to rate issues affecting confidence.
On a scale of 1 to 10, with 1 reflecting no concern and 10 being extremely concerned, the rating was a staggering 9.18 for skills and labour shortages.
Immigration issues scored 8.53, just below the potential for community transmission of the Covid-19 Delta variant at 8.69.
In general, however, business leaders are actually much more optimistic than they were a year ago.
Asked to rate their general business situation on a scale of 1 to 5, with 5 being much more optimistic, the CEOs gave a weighted average rating of 3.2. That compares with 1.9 a year ago when confidence slumped to the worst level since the global financial crisis.
The survey does show CEOs are less optimistic about the New Zealand economy (2.7 out of 5) than the global economy (3.15 out of 5) though.
The overall confidence mirrors the latest ANZ Business Outlook snapshot, which showed confidence holding up remarkably firm, despite Auckland being trapped in level 3 and 4 lockdown for several weeks.
The skills and labour shortage issue is not going away, however.
The Business Herald highlighted the problem in a week-long series in June, covering all sectors from technology to agriculture.
Along with supply chain constraints it has put increasing stress on business owners and hindering the economic recovery from the pandemic.
That's why business sector groups applauded Immigration Minister Kris Faafoi's confirmation that the Government is setting up a one-off visa to fast-track skilled migrant residency.
This creates a residence pathway for about 165,000 migrant workers and their families, including more than 5000 health and aged-care workers, about 9000 primary industry workers, and more than 800 teachers.
Faafoi acknowledged that migrant workers and business owners had been waiting for this for some time. "There's obviously been a fair degree of frustration about delays in the residency queues and I have had a focus on ensuring that Immigration New Zealand is very customer-focused here," he said, adding that the process will be streamlined and online rather than paper-based.
There are also around 15,000 construction and 12,000 manufacturing workers on relevant visa types, some of whom will be eligible for the one-off pathway.
Federated Farmers immigration spokesperson Chris Lewis described the policy as a "sensible solution" saying the announcement would have brought "big smiles in cowsheds and tractors across the country.
"We have been losing people to Australia and Canada. New Zealand farm employers know what a threat these countries and their initiatives are to retaining our experienced agricultural workforce."
The Herald reported in early September how New Zealand farm workers were upping stakes and departing the country for Canada with the impetus appearing to be the two countries' contrasting routes to residence.
In July, Federated Farmers met Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern and stressed that while border exemptions to bring more people to New Zealand were welcome, the priority must be on keeping the tens of thousands of temporary visa holders who are already working here.
Canterbury Employers' Chamber of Commerce chief executive Leeann Watson said it was good to see a signal that addressing skills shortages was being prioritised by Government.
"We know from employers that recruitment and skills shortages is one of their biggest challenges — and that before the last lockdown it was estimated that over the next 15 years Christchurch needs an additional 70,000 workers to fill vacancies created by an ageing population, just to maintain the current rate of economic growth."
With New Zealand's international borders not expected to reopen until next year, the country is more isolated than ever.
New Zealand firms have done well to adapt and are continuing to invest where they can.
This year's Mood of the Boardroom survey shows 56 per cent of CEOs expect to authorise more capital expenditure compared to last year and 70 per cent expect to spend more on IT.
Almost 75 per cent of those surveyed are expecting revenue growth in their business in the next 12 months with 58 per cent expecting profit growth.