The volatile visa situation has taken a twist, with a recruiter saying many businesses are missing out on the accredited employer scheme and supply chains are hurting.
New data from the air conditioning industry claimed that out of 150 companies in the sector, only three of the biggest organisations were able to access the visa programme.
The visa programme became a major issue last year when New Zealand faced a labour crisis.
The Government’s critics called for a better system and new migrants to fill vacant jobs in sectors such as accommodation and hospitality.
Sharon Davies, managing director of recruitment marketing agency Talent Propeller, today said supply chains in some sectors were being compromised as small and medium-sized employers (SMEs) struggled to access the visa scheme.
She said the recent visa scheme review was too narrowly focused on migrant exploitation.
Davies said the visa programme should urgently address issues faced by thousands of SMEs legitimately trying to employ workers.
She said the current model was inefficient and thousands of qualified post-study, spousal and other visa holders already in New Zealand could be employed at once if these barriers were removed.
Some companies were waiting up to two years just to cross the first hurdle, which involved paying a fee to Immigration New Zealand just to verify company information, Davies said.
“Once verified, you can pay another fee and move to the next step which is where you identify someone you want to hire. You have to then demonstrate you have advertised throughout NZ for a further six-week period - the total cost to get to this point equates to around $5000.
“What happens a lot of the time at this point is, the ministry can turn around and say ‘You could have hired a New Zealander for this role - go back to the market, find one and spend 12 months training them for the job’.
“At the same time, we often have a qualified person already in the country who might be on a post-study visa but can’t be matched with an employer wanting to expand.”
Davies said the accreditation process had degenerated into Kafkaesque bureaucracy, referring to the author whose works sometimes described nightmarishly complex, bizarre or illogical systems.
She said the system implemented “a series of nonsensical institutional roadblocks” and was self-serving with “no vested interest in achieving anything but keeping itself going”.
Davies said a recent air conditioning industry conference revealed “less than 1 per cent” of the industry could take on new staff.
The sector’s work included repairing refrigerated trucks and installing office air-conditioning units.
“When a lack of chilled transport infrastructure prevents a farmer from shipping his produce from one end of the country to the other, the outcome will be a reduction in supply and increased food prices for consumers,” Davies said.
“The industry has petitioned to be added to the skills shortages list so they can get people in faster, but the application process takes a further six months - with the long-term planning process adding another barrier for businesses,” she added.
“I have another client in the food manufacturing industry producing machinery for the dairy sector that can’t grow their exports and another client who has cancelled their retail expansion plans due to a lack of staff.
“The skills shortage has seen staff who were on $75,000 three years ago now able to command a $150,000 average salary - however productivity has not improved and growth remains heavily constrained.”
Davies said “quiet hiring” was now happening, where a company used current employees’ capabilities to acquire new skills without recruiting new full-time staff.
“In a scenario where a person leaves and there is no replacement available, their role is split across the rest of the team. These staff become overworked and eventually leave, making it even harder to fill the skills shortages in that firm.”
She said without a better way to hire talent internationally, New Zealand would have a major crisis.
Immigration New Zealand has been approached for comment.
Immigration Minister Andrew Little last month ordered an urgent independent review of the accredited employer visa scheme after a whistleblower raised concerns potential accredited employers were not being properly vetted.
On Monday, the Herald reported 188 employers were being investigated for alleged migrant exploitation and breaching visa rules.
ExportNZ in its pre-election report last week called for an “open, simple, permissive and predictable” immigration system.
It said the accredited employer work visa scheme should be simplified by removing labour market tests and wage rules.
National has blamed Labour for visa scheme abuse, saying the governing party got the system tangled up in red tape and a lax attitude to vetting.
BusinessDesk reported National wanted to raise immigration fees by 40 per cent to help pay for its tax package.
One immigration adviser said increasing fees was a bad idea but another told BusinessDesk fees had a relatively small impact on aspiring migrants.
John Weekes is online business editor. He has covered courts, politics, crime and consumer affairs. He rejoined the Herald in 2020, previously working at Stuff and News Corp Australia.