The Government is opening up two more categories for migrants to become residents as it seeks to reconnect with the world after the pandemic and fill major workforce shortages.
Immigration Minister Michael Wood has announced today the skilled migrant visa category, that was paused during the height of Covid-19 and border closures, will reopen along with the parents category from mid-November.
Consultation is also going to begin on a new uncapped and "simplified" points system for migrants that fall outside existing programmes.
National and Act both said the announcement should have come sooner, with year on year data released today showing overall a net migration loss of 11,000 people.
The Green Party meanwhile said the new settings discriminated against those on lower incomes.
Today's announcement follows the Green List, which provided pathways to residency for the 85 most-needed professions.
Wood said labour shortages were a "global phenomenon" exacerbated by the recovery from Covid-19.
The Government had been "listening closely to the concerns of businesses" about their own labour shortage and difficulties acquiring workers.
"We are resuming the Skilled Migrant Category under the current settings to help attract more workers."
The first selection will be at 160 points, and subsequent selections at an increased threshold of 180 points, to better align with the future direction of the category and our rebalance goals, Wood said.
More than 12,000 international migrants had already applied for 511 different occupations across New Zealand since the Accredited Employer Work Visa opened.
"The Skilled Migrant Category provides a pathway for retaining the majority of these much-needed skills in New Zealand permanently, strengthening our nation's resilience to global shocks and economic security into the future."
The Government was also consulting on a new system that will "future-proof the category" and will further complement the new Green List and Highly Paid residence pathways.
"The previous system restricted the number of applications which were progressed through a planning range, this meant that only 40 per cent of SMC applications were processed in 2019," Wood said.
"Our proposed changes include removing the planning range, so that all applications that meet the criteria will be processed.
"It will also include a more simplified points system, will set a clear, fair and transparent eligibility threshold and offer several ways for people to demonstrate their skill level.
"The proposed changes will also see a faster route to residence for very highly skilled migrants, such as university lecturers or scientists who hold a PhD, while other professionals such as teachers and registered tradespeople will have a clear route if they work for a period in New Zealand.
"The new system will improve processing times and there will be no cap on the number of people who can gain residence each year, if they meet the skills threshold."
Parent visa category
The Government was also reducing barriers to access the Parent Category Visa, a 2020 campaign promise, including increasing the number of parent resident visas granted each year and reducing the income thresholds.
"We recognise the importance for migrants resettling here to have a pathway for their parents to join them," Wood said.
"Re-starting the parent category is the right thing to do, and will see New Zealand become an even more attractive destination for high skilled migrants looking to resettle long term, knowing they can do so with their families."
The category will see a lower income threshold for sponsors of 1.5 times the median wage supporting one parent, and 2 times the median wage for joint sponsors.
This compares to the previous threshold of 2 times the median wage for a single sponsor or 3 times the median wage for joint sponsors.
There will be a new ballot, and the resumption of selecting expressions of interest from the existing queue starting on November 14 for up to 2000 visas a year, among other changes.
The number of Parent Resident Visas granted each year will also increase from 1000 to 2500 a year.
"As part of modernising the Parent Category, from today, any new expressions of interest submitted will go into a ballot rather than add to the existing queue," Wood said.
"Moving to a ballot means people will avoid a lengthy queue and they will be eligible for selection for two years after submitting their expression of interest.
"An additional 500 visas a year will be granted from the ballot, starting with the first selection in August 2023."
Wood said while it was tough for many businesses at the moment, there were positive signs.
"We are seeing a strong demand for the Working Holiday Scheme, with more than 30,437 applications approved since March, with arrivals expected to pick up in the coming months.
"We recognise the important role the immigration system plays in our nation's economic future. We are committed to working with businesses to ensure we are striking the right balance."
'Cruel', 'unacceptable' and 'overdue' - MPs react
National Party immigration spokeswoman Erica Stanford said reopening the skilled migrant category should have happened months ago.
"While the Government failed to take action, the skilled workers we needed continued to snub New Zealand for other countries such as Australia, which never even closed this category."
She said there were also doubts about how fast new visas could be processed with major delays across every visa category.
Green Party immigration spokesman Ricardo Menéndez March said the settings were prioritising the needs of high-salaried families and businesses above those on lower incomes.
"While we welcome the lowering of salary thresholds, the minister has not gone far enough to make sure everyone has the right to be with their family regardless of income."
He also said raising the points for skilled migrants to attain residency could also lock out some people who had been in New Zealand already for years.
Wood said the new system would see a lower component of low-skill, low-wage labour.
"That is a deliberate decision we have brought into the system. We don't think that was fair or sustainable for New Zealand or for those workers.
"But overall, more people who come and contribute to New Zealand are likely now to have residency pathways providing more certainty and feeds for."
Under the old settings there had been a threshold set along with an artificial planning range, meaning many people might qualify but were not allowed in.
The new system had no cap, but a higher threshold "focused on the skills we need".
"There's no planning range now. We'll be able to be responsive to the need that there is for the skills."