Would-be migrants seeking to work and stay in New Zealand may be in for a double whammy under proposed changes to the essential skills visa policy.

Not only must they meet new income thresholds, but even if they were paid above the median New Zealand income of $48,859, pathways to residency have been cut to many tourism and hospitality occupations.

Massey University sociologist Paul Spoonley, an immigration expert, warned that the changes would have a huge impact for the industry.

The changes was going to be disruptive, he said, especially among ethnic and immigrant businesses.


"The most important incentives, the opportunity to gain permanent residence, has gone," Spoonley said.

"But equally important is the impact for employers in hospitality, some are going to struggle."

Pathways to residence to occupations such as hotel duty manager, senior cook, Chef de Partie, travel consultants and retail managers will be gone.

Their partners and children would also no longer be able to work and study in New Zealand, unless they themselves met the requirements.

Massey University sociologist Paul Spoonley, an immigration expert, warned that the changes would have a huge impact for the industry. Photo / Supplied
Massey University sociologist Paul Spoonley, an immigration expert, warned that the changes would have a huge impact for the industry. Photo / Supplied

"Now, some of the skill level 2 and about half of skill level 3 hospitality jobs do not provide a transition to residence," Spoonley said.

"It tightens the appeal and available labour for hospitality, and will create problems for those private training establishments that offer courses in hospitality."

But he said this was also timely to consider whether these low-level courses were adding value to the local economy.

Details have been distributed to key stakeholders in the tourism and hospitality sector organisations and businesses which intended to make a submission on the proposed policy changes.


Immigration policy director Shane Kinley said meetings have been arranged with a number of organisations in the tourism and hospitality sectors, including Tourism Industry Aotearoa, Tourism Export Council, Tourism New Zealand, Backpacker, Youth and Adventure Association, Restaurant Association, Hospitality New Zealand and the Holiday Parks Association.

"No comment will be made on feedback until after the consultation process has finished on 21 May," he said.

Tourism is now New Zealand's top export earner, ahead of dairy.

The Immigration New Zealand document stated that tourism and hospitality sector occupations tended to be low wage as a result of "high volume/proportion of low and semi-skilled jobs".

But the industries have a high and growing demand for labour and skills.

As at March 2015, nearly one in five, or 19.6 per cent (29,000 out of 148,999) employed in accommodation and food services were temporary migrants.

Celia Hay, director at New Zealand School of Food and Wine, said there was a "chronic lack of local staff" to do these jobs.

"Kiwis are not doing them so how will the businesses cope especially in the provinces and Queenstown," Hay said.

"We need more people in New Zealand, but diversity of ethnicity and skills is a positive."

Hay, who had also been involved with Celia's Pies, Hay's Restaurant and the Banks Peninsula District Council, said there would be inflationary effect of the indirect increase in costs as a result of the immigration changes.

"The simple fact remains that if these sectors are unable to hold their costs of labour, the price of buying an expertly made espresso, Thai takeaway or flavoursome pizza, will just go up."

New Zealand First leader Winston Peters said restaurants employing foreign workers must be prepared to pay fair salaries.

"We know there are huge rorts in the hospitality industry," Peters alleged.

"Some restaurants rip off foreign students by demanding they pay to get a job, and others employ them on a low hourly rate for cash."

Restaurant Association of New Zealand chief executive Marisa Bidois said its members were looking into the details of the proposed changes.

"As an organisation, we are in discussions with Immigration New Zealand and will be continuing to work with them to try and figure out a solution."

Feeling 'betrayed' by New Zealand

Travel consultant Sonia Pekuniakova, who came from the Czech Republic with dreams of living here, says she feels "betrayed" by New Zealand.

Under proposed changes to immigration policy, the 29-year-old's job will not be classified as highly-skilled and will no longer offer her a pathway to residence.

"I have been promoting and selling New Zealand to tourists and paying my taxes, now I feel so betrayed," Pekuniakova said.

"In my job, maybe someone else can do it, but I don't think many will have the same passion that I have because I love this country."

She holds a bachelor's degree in tourism and hotel management and came to New Zealand nearly three years ago.

"The longer I stay in New Zealand, the more I am falling in love ... it is a beautiful country," said Pekuniakova, a reservation specialist consultant at Tourism Holdings.

"I don't know about forever, but I definitely want to stay here for some time."

In her job she promotes New Zealand tourism to European and American travel agencies.

"I have travelled around New Zealand quite a bit, and am able to promote the country through a tourist's eye," Pekuniakova said.

"I feel that I am skilled in my own way and in what I do, and I bring value to the industry and to New Zealand."

She said it was unfair that the residency pathway would be cut off from her, and that she could be asked to leave after three years.

"I'm behaving well, I work full time, I pay taxes, and it is unfair that suddenly they want to make me change my life," she added.

"It definitely feels like a betrayal."