The Immigration Minister will on Monday outline policy changes to prioritise high-skilled migrants, while thousands of ‘non-priority’ skilled migrants wait in limbo for a future in New Zealand

On Monday, Immigration Minister Kris Faafoi will be outlining a change in policy to attract high-skilled migrants in a bid to improve productivity and address skills shortages.

Faafoi’s speech will also set the scene for New Zealand’s immigration reset, which includes enticing high-level investment investors who can create jobs that fast track the economy’s recovery post-Covid.

The minister has been working on reforms to temporary work visas and a review of the Skilled Migrant Category visa to prepare for the reopening of our borders.

The Productivity Commission has also been looking into the country’s immigration settings, including the impact of immigration on the labour market, housing and associated infrastructure, and the natural environment. 

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Faafoi’s office says the minister will not be making any announcements on the current backlog of non priority applications.

On Friday, Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern spoke at the Auckland’s Future, Now conference, where she briefly hinted at Faafoi’s speech focusing on getting high-value, international investment. 

Emphasising its potential significance, she told the 260 attendees: “I encourage all of you in the room to keep an ear to the ground on that.

“We are actually using Covid to actually stop and take a look at our immigration settings.

“Even while our borders are restricted we need to stay open for business and development.”

At the event, Auckland Unlimited chief executive Nick Hill said the new economic and cultural agency had already partnered several government agencies to pilot new programmes in the skills, events, investment and technology sectors.

“This is the blueprint for the future,” he said.

Last week Faafoi told Newsroom that officials were currently processing “non-priority onshore” residency applications from August 2019. There is a wait time of about a year and eight months.

But priority applications made by those migrants earning more than $106,000 or working in jobs that need occupational registration, are allocated to officers within two weeks of submission. 

Frustrated migrants protested outside Parliament on Thursday over the long processing delays and border restrictions splitting families apart.

Faafoi told protesters he could not give them the news they wanted to hear.

“We are acutely aware of the disruption this is causing, and as I have said we will continue to look at ways to adjust border settings to safely accommodate more people coming into the country. I acknowledge the difficulties, but thank you for coming to Parliament to make sure your concerns are being heard.”

Migrants called out “not good enough” as Faafoi finished his speech.

“I can no longer recommend that anyone consider moving here,” NZ Initiative chief economist Eric Crampton says.

New resident Anna Burghardt got her permanent residency in January after 20-month wait. Burghardt applied for residency with her partner who came to New Zealand as a critical worker to rebuild Christchurch after the earthquakes.

During her long wait in the non priority queue, she set up the Migrant NZ page, which has more than 35,000 members in 10 months. 

She says despite getting her residency she and her partner felt “unwelcome and not valued”.

Burghardt says thousands of migrants are stuck in limbo as they wait for a decision on their residency and to be reunited with family members stuck overseas. 

“People just want hope and kindness which is talked about by the Prime Minister. But what’s happening is not kind.”

New Zealand Initiative senior economist Eric Crampton says when he emigrated from the United States in 2003, the country was more welcoming to migrants.

“Both before I got residence in 2005 and after, New Zealand seemed a place where migrants were treated well. Not having residence wasn’t a big encumbrance, not having citizenship didn’t matter. I can no longer recommend that anyone consider moving here,” Crampton says.

On Monday Immigration Minister Kris Faafoi will outline changes in policy to attract high-skilled migrants to improve productivity and address skills shortages.

Crampton says Immigration New Zealand needs to urgently “fix” its processes, including the backlog of residency-processing and the inability for skilled migrants onshore to be reunited with their family members.

“If the Government really wants skilled migrants to consider moving here, running a near-fraudulent immigration processing system seems an interesting way to do that,” Crampton says. 

He is referring to Immigration New Zealand taking expression of interest lodgement fees for the skilled migrant category without processing visa applications.

Last month the chief ombudsman told Immigration New Zealand to apologise for an unofficial policy of prioritising highly-paid residence applicants to jump the queue.

It only addressed the criteria once migrants filed complaints to the government watchdog in early 2020.

Between July 2018 and February 23, 2020 informal rules not communicated publicly, prioritised skilled migrants earning a salary of $106,080, as well as government jobs or roles that needed occupational registration (including real estate agents).

In February 2021, Immigration New Zealand made these rules official. 

Burghardt says while this was a “partial win” the ombudsman’s decision felt like a slap on the wrist.

Earlier this week, the Government announced about 500 MIQ rooms would be made available for “large groups” of skilled and critical workers every fortnight.

This would allow 2400 more RSE workers to be allowed into the country by March next year as well as 300 specialised construction workers by October.

The allocations will also be available to 400 international students for arrival in June and 100 refugees every six weeks.

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