Residential aged care and the tourism and hospitality sectors are at the front of the queue in offering to develop the local workforce in exchange for easier access to temporary migrant workers. 

Immigration Minister Iain Lees-Galloway today announced a number of changes to temporary work visas to create an employer-led framework and labour market tests. He wants the new system to make sure migrant workers are only used for genuine staff shortages and to raise the expectations on firms to hire and train more locals. 

A consultation on the proposals is open for submissions until March 18. Among the changes is a proposal to negotiate agreements with specific sectors relying on low-skilled migrants. Employers would make commitments to take on more New Zealanders over time, reducing their reliance on migrant workers. 

The three-year agreements would establish access to migrants setting out specific conditions for the employers. In return, those firms would have to commit to improving industry productivity, investing in training domestic workers, and/or raising conditions for staff. 

“The aim is to create better jobs for New Zealanders and to incentivise changes that would increase productivity and reduce demand for lower-skilled workers in the sector, reducing the reliance on lower-skilled temporary migrant workers over time,” Lees-Galloway said in a Cabinet paper. 

He plans to start negotiations with the residential aged care and tourism and hospitality sectors in mid-2019, with an expectation to have agreements in effect by January 2020. That would be followed by negotiations with road and freight, and dairy farming sectors in 2020. 

Galloway singled out hospitality as a sector that gamed elements of the system by describing lower-paid, less-essential supervisory roles as management-level jobs, which have easier access in the application process. 

Other changes the minister is looking at include:

– a new gateway framework reducing the number of application pathways,

– replacing the ‘essential skills in demand’ list with a regional skills shortage list, and

– better aligning immigration with welfare and education systems. 

Lees-Galloway anticipates the changes will place downward pressure on the number of employer-assisted temporary work visa applications, with a shift over time to higher-skilled jobs. The sector and regional tests will affect that pressure, and as many as 40,000 of the 47,000 visas approved in 2017/18 could face a tougher labour market test. 

He estimates about 3,000 fewer lower-skilled and lower-paid migrants will be granted residence, although those who don’t qualify will probably seek to stay in New Zealand on temporary visas. 

Annual net migration has been falling from record highs in recent months, after being a major tailwind for economic growth at an aggregate level, if not on a per capita basis. Government figures last month showed net migration at 61,751 in October. 

The Cabinet paper says the proposals support the coalition agreement between the Labour and NZ First parties in strengthening the labour market test to make sure migrants aren’t doing jobs that locals can do, and for skills shortage lists to take account for regional needs. 

NZ First immigration spokesman Clayton Mitchell said the announcement hit one of his party’s longstanding policies to encourage immigration to places other than Auckland and the main centres. 

“These regional skills shortage lists will inform migrants of the opportunities available in the regional areas which are desperately seeking extra labour,” Mitchell said.

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