20K workers excluded from fast track residency scheme

Corazon Miller
Source: 1News

When the Government set out its criteria for its one-off fast track residency pathway it chose to exclude an estimated 20,000 workers that could have helped fill job shortages across several struggling sectors like hospitality and construction - and inside our MIQ facilities.

The decision revealed in a recently published Cabinet Paper shows there were four options of who could have been included in the 2021 residence scheme.

The broadest option outlined would have recognised “the contribution of temporary migrant workers who have been onshore throughout the pandemic” and would have seen an estimated 130,000 applicants - 195,000 including their families.

Instead it went with the second largest option of 110,000 (165,000 including their families) focusing only on those deemed to be “skilled”, “scarce” and “settled”.

Under this option “sectors reliant on low-skilled, low-paid migrant workers would not benefit as much”. These included certain hospitality, tourism and construction roles.

Among the eligibility requirements was also a need to earn at least the median wage of $27 an hour, or to have been in the country for at least three years.

1News spoke to three MIQ workers who are among many that have missed out on the residency scheme - some who fell just a few cents short of the required median wage, others just days short of the required time-frame of being in the country.

“The main industry who is at the forefront dealing with Covid is MIQ right now, but they didn’t get the appreciation,” one of the workers said.

Another described his surprise to find out he wasn’t eligible.

“I thought we would be top of the list, but we were not included. It was surprising and devastating, honestly.”

1News sought comment from Immigration Minister Kris Faafoi. He refused an interview but in a statement said those ineligible could still apply for work visas.

The Green party immigration spokesman, Ricardo Menendez March says it’s unfair to exclude those who have been working to keep New Zealand safe throughout the pandemic.

“We have got workers doing the hard yards to keep us all safe. They are the first responders to people coming in infected with Covid. They are being left out of having residency and meanwhile don’t have access to the other safety nets others do when they get Covid.

“The truth is thousands of people are already here fulfilling low paid jobs, not giving them residency won’t address the job shortages.”

With the borders closed many sectors have reported struggling to find staff. Others fear losing those migrant workers they have, if our borders remain closed.

Those on temporary visas are unable to return if they leave to visit family - but many are tired of waiting.

One of the MIQ workers 1News spoke to said if the Government did not expand its criteria for the 2022 visa he’d be forced to leave.

“I want to make New Zealand my home… but I do not have any other options.”

And if they leave, these workers say it’ll be hard to replace them.

“Nobody else was doing it, that’s where the migrants come in. If you had enough people to do their jobs, we wouldn’t have been here.”

The hospitality industry in particular has long spoken about how the border closures have affected its staffing.

Isabel Pasch is the director of Bread and Butter bakery and cafe. She says the difficulties of the immigration system is compounding the issue.

Coffee with latte art in a cafe.

She fears losing her baker of seven years, Baljit Singh. While he’s managed to qualify for the 2021 Residence Scheme, Immigration New Zealand won’t recognise his culturally arranged marriage.

The couple had lived together for 10 months in New Zealand. But his wife, a nurse with intensive care experience, had gone to complete her competency course in Australia.

“She can help with Covid, we need more health workers,” he says.

When the trans-Tasman bubble popped, she was unable to get back. If nothing changes, Baljit may have to consider leaving New Zealand.

“I don’t see that anyone wins from this,” Pasch says.

“He doesn’t win, his wife doesn’t win and New Zealand doesn’t win. Everybody loses. We do not have nurses, and we do not have bakers.”