Recently, the Government announced a suite of measures to simplify our immigration settings to help businesses address immediate skills shortages and to speed up our economic recovery from Covid-19.
New Zealand isn't alone in its skills shortage, with countries around the world reporting similar issues.
But, with our strong health response to Covid-19, we are well-positioned to attract the workers our economy needs.
During Covid-19, the Government wasn't resting on its laurels. When our borders were closed, we brought in 33,000 critical workers to help fill jobs, including 5000 healthcare workers of whom more than 2000 were nurses. We also welcomed more than 12,000 RSE workers to help in our primary industries, especially in horticulture.
We created the largest ever new one-off residence pathway for migrant workers in New Zealand in recognition of the immense contribution they made to New Zealand during Covid-19. This will see around 160,000 to 200,000 onshore workers and family members receiving residency, providing much-needed certainty for these people and their employers.
Additionally, about 20,000 visa holders not eligible for the one-off residency pathway have received extensions to help employers keep the skills we need within the country.
We also re-granted 18,000 Working Holiday Visas in March to offshore holders who had not yet travelled to New Zealand while borders were closed. Since borders have opened a further 14,000 Working Holiday Visas have been issued.
This won't be a quick fix as most people on Working Holiday Visas tend to come during the summer months, but it does mean there ought to be an increase in workers available for hospitality and tourism during their peak summer season.
As of July 4, the new streamlined Accredited Employer Work Visa opened up to applications from migrants. Put simply, if an employer is accredited and a Kiwi can't be found for a job, then a skilled migrant can come into New Zealand and fill that role, if conditions are met. For a range of "Green List" roles, high-skilled migrants will also have faster pathways to residency.
But the Government is clear that we want to train New Zealanders to do many of the jobs past governments have simply sought migrant labour to fill. Over the past two years, more than 190,000 Kiwis have benefited from government investment in trades training, including apprenticeships. This includes a 55 per cent increase in the number of apprentices since the start of the pandemic.
Just as we want to create job opportunities for New Zealanders in our economic recovery, we also don't want to return to the bad old days of exploitation of migrant workers here.
Recent AUT research that surveyed 396 hospitality workers found 16 per cent had not signed an employment agreement before starting work; 18 per cent were not receiving minimum wage, and 49 per cent experienced or witnessed harassment in the workplace.
Systemically low pay has become common in a range of sectors.
Dealing with these issues is both the right thing to do and it will also help to ensure that more Kiwis are willing to work and build careers in these roles.
New Zealand has record-low unemployment. Having as many people as possible in paid work is always a good thing. In fact, it's a core duty of any government.
I will remain unapologetic about advocating on behalf of those who have endured poor pay and conditions for too long. Dealing with these issues is about respect for people doing this work and about helping sectors to have long-term sustainable workforces. Our new immigration settings get the balance right.
These changes set our workforce up for long-term sustainability, and improved wages, working conditions and livelihoods for everyone.
We will keep working with the business community to ensure we are attracting, training and retaining the skilled workers we need to grow our economy.
We must do so in a way that shows respect for workers, lifts pay and sustainably supports the growth of our economy.
• Michael Wood is the Minister of Immigration.