Restrictions will remain on immigration even as New Zealand begins to re-open its borders.
In a speech written by Immigration Minister Kris Faafoi, but delivered yesterday by Economic and Regional Development Minister Stuart Nash as Faafoi felt unwell, the Government outlined the various strands to its "Immigration Reset".
At the heart of it, a stark warning: The pre-Covid status quo will not be back as New Zealand’s borders begin to re-open.
That’s in line with what Faafoi signalled in March when he appeared on Q+A’s Immigration Special .
Faafoi indicated the Government would be that pivoting away from importing migrant labour, and focusing instead on upskilling the domestic workforce to plug the hole.
“We need to start thinking about long-term, what kind of skills we have here, what kind of skills we do need here and the threshold for that.”
Yesterday night’s speech spoke of the pandemic as a “once-in-a-generation opportunity to change some of the shortcomings in the way we’ve been doing things, and that includes the way we manage immigration”.
Nash, who is also the Tourism Minister, highlighted the substantial drop in people arriving in Aotearoa.
“In normal times, we would see more than seven million people enter New Zealand each year. In the 12 months from March last year to March this year – just 165,000 people came in.”
But, as the border restrictions ease, the brakes will largely remain on immigration numbers.
The days of more than 200,000 people in the country on temporary work visas is over, with the ministers warning businesses which rely predominantly on migrant labour to change their way of doing business.
High wages and more efforts to attract domestic workers were encouraged.
Nash confirmed a new Investment Attraction Strategy to encourage high-value international investment into New Zealand.
“We want targeted, high-quality investment that establishes frontier firms, brings skills and technology to New Zealand.”
But, overall, the speech was a scene-setter, painting the big picture of the reset, but being sparing with details.
There will be tougher rules for accredited employers and more action on exploitation of migrant workers, but there were no details on any numbers — be they residents, students or the preferred size of the overall population.
Asked whether Immigration NZ would receive more resources to speed up application processing times, or increase its monitoring of migrant employers, Nash channelled Finance Minister Grant Robertson and told the gathering they’d have to wait for Thursday — Budget Day — to find out.