The Government will give border exceptions to “high value” international investors to travel to New Zealand as it resets the immigration system “so it works for New Zealand”

High-value international investors will be given border exemptions to come to New Zealand and bankroll Kiwi businesses over the next 12 months.

On Monday, Minister for Economic and Regional Development Stuart Nash set out the Government’s immigration reset, without giving new details on what the reset would look like.

Earlier in the day the Minister of Business, Innovation and Employment announced at least 200 high value investors will be able to travel to New Zealand as part of the government’s Investment Attraction Strategy, while thousands of onshore skilled migrants continue to be separated from their families overseas.

Nash said “We want targeted, high-quality investment that establishes frontier firms, brings skills and technology to New Zealand.” 

“Investment through these programmes will create highly-skilled jobs, enable the valuable transfer of knowledge and technology, and increase international connectivity for New Zealand firms as they allow us to position ourselves globally.”

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The Government will grant border exceptions for investors involved in the Innovative Partnerships Programme and New Zealand Trade and Enterprise’s investor programme to have on-the-ground negotiations with companies that they wish to invest in.

Companies that have taken part in these programmes previously include Wisk (company owned by Boeing and Kitty Hawk) that tested air taxi technology in New Zealand and US space company LeoLabs.

Nash, who is also Small Business Minister, made the announcement instead of Immigration Minister Kris Faafoi, who was ill.

The Government was planning policy changes that would improve the immigration system “so it works for New Zealand”, he said. 

He said high levels of migration have contributed to 30 percent of New Zealand’s total population growth since the early 1990s and this has been fuelled by increasing numbers of temporary migrant workers and students.

“Increasingly, these temporary workers are at lower skill levels – nearly half of all Essential Skills visa approvals in 2019 were at the two lowest skill levels.

 “This means businesses have been able to rely on lower-skilled labour and suppress wages rather than investing capital in productivity-enhancing plant and machinery, or employing and upskilling New Zealanders into work.”

Nash said Covid presents once-in-a-generation opportunity to review immigration settings.

“As we focus on re-opening New Zealand’s borders, we are determined not to return to the pre-Covid status quo.

“When our borders fully open again, we can’t afford to simply turn on the tap to the previous immigration settings. That path is a continuation of pressures on our infrastructure, like transport, accommodation, and downward pressure on wages”

Temporary work visa reforms announced in 2019 that will come into effect in November this year were designed to give more flexibility to migrants filling highly skilled roles, he said.

The reforms include requiring employers to be accredited to recruiting migrant labour, have support to access skills and labour needed and ensure temporary workers are only hired for genuine job shortages.

Nash said the Government was working on solutions “as circumstances allow” to broaden measures for migrant families separated by the border closures.

Minister for Economic and Regional Development Stuart Nash Covid says presents once-in-a-generation opportunity to review immigration settings. Photo: Lynn Grieveson

There has been increasing pressure from migrants and their advocates around the country for Faafoi to address the huge backlog of residency applications and to reunite skilled migrants onshore with their families stuck overseas.

Last week Faafoi said Immigration NZ was 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. 

Nash said there had been an increase in demand for residency.

“In the decade prior to COVID-19, we saw the number of people on temporary work visas in New Zealand double – from fewer than 100,000 to more than 200,000.

“We have also seen an increase in demand for residency in New Zealand, with the vast majority of applicants already being onshore. For example, around 80 per cent of applications for the Skilled Migrant category come from onshore applicants.”

Nash was unable to answer when the expression of interest pool would reopen. 

Immigration New Zealand was continuing to take expression of interest application fees although it had stopped processing them.

There are currently about 13,000 people waiting in queue for their residency applications to be processed by Immigration NZ.

Immigration New Zealand is also resourced in line with the Government’s New Zealand Residence Programme which expired on December 31, 2019. While the agency waits for the Government to make a decision on the new quota, it has been processing applications at the same volume and with the same level of resourcing. 

The programme ran for 18 months from July 1, 2018 until December 31, 2019 and included a planning range of 50,000 to 60,000 approvals for residency.

Nash said clearing the backlog in the residency queue was a priority but could not say whether the Government was looking to change its residency approval target.

South African migrant Kayleigh Roffe has been unable to work or study as a dependant child, while her parents were waiting in a two year queue for residency approval.

She said today’s announcement lacked details for the future of onshore migrants and was disappointing.

Roffe said she was “stressing the whole day for an ‘announcement’ that had most of the information we already knew”.

“I just wish they would stop playing with people’s feelings and get hopes up for a different outcome and get on with their work.”

Migrants’ advocate Anna Burghardt called the announcement a “waste of time”. 

“Nothing new really. This should all be common sense.”

Since June last year, some 8000 critical workers have come to the country, Nash said.

“We’ve welcomed CEOs, engineers, financiers, research and development practitioners, digital and IT specialists, agricultural workers and film industry people – to support New Zealand’s economic growth while our border is closed.”

He said the Government will be reviewing the Skilled Migrant Category, but did not have any announcements to make on Monday about it. 

“There are no plans, at this stage, to change specific purpose, short-term business or visitor visas, the Working Holiday Schemes, nor non-partnership family and humanitarian categories.

“We’re also taking action to tackle migrant exploitation.”

Part of that $50 million migrant worker protection fund is going to be used by Employment New Zealand and Immigration NZ for additional compliance and enforcement, a dedicated 0800 number for workers, businesses and the public to call about potential exploitation, and an educational campaign to promote these services in the community. 

The 0800 number and a new online process for notifications will be available from July 1 this year.

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