The Government has announced major reforms to New Zealand immigration settings to "increase the available pool of labour, while also speeding up our tourism recovery", Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern announced on Wednesday.
She says a streamlined Accredited Employer Work Visa system will be running from July 4, so employers will not need to provide as much information, with changes to speed up the process.
On top of those changes, a medium wage threshold will be brought in for most Accredited Employer Work Visas and for Foreign Fishing Crew Visas at $27.76.
There will be exemptions for sectors including tourism and hospitality, with a threshold of $25 per hour until April next year. Construction and infrastructure; meat processing; seafood; and seasonal snow and adventure tourism sectors will also have lower wage thresholds, before new agreements are made.
A 'Green List' is also being introduced for specific jobs with pathways to residency. Those people who are eligible can come to New Zealand on a work visa from July 4 and apply for residence from September.
The Prime Minister also confirmed the border will fully open from July 31 at 11.59pm, with people from non-visa waiver countries able to enter. It brings the reopening date forward two months.
Jacinda Ardern said access to skilled labour was a major constraint on businesses. "This plan will increase the available pool of labour, while also speeding up our tourism recovery."
Immigration Minister Kris Faafoi announced the new 'Green List', which intends to simplify applications and residence pathways.
It means that migrants in certain high-skilled and 'hard-to-fill' occupations, many which are classed under engineering, health and ICT, can have guaranteed residence pathways. They must be younger than 56 and their partners will have open work rights.
"Our rebalanced immigration system will be simpler, reducing categories, bringing more online accessibility and streamlining application processes for businesses," Faafoi said.
“Through the Accredited Employer Work Visa, employers won’t need to provide as much information, can use their own recruitment processes to prove no New Zealanders are available for work, and Immigration New Zealand will endeavour to have these visas processed within 30 days once an employer is accredited."
Faafoi said for some sectors it would take "time to transition away from a reliance on cheap migrant labour".
New sector agreements to help with the transition were being established to "provide access for specified sectors to lower-paid migrant workers, and all those employers can continue to hire working holidaymakers at any wage".
"The Government has agreed to temporarily exempt tourism and hospitality businesses from paying the median wage to recruit migrants on an Accredited Employer Work Visa into most roles. Instead, a lower wage threshold of $25 per hour will be required until April 2023.
"This follows the recent $27 per hour border exception that was granted around certain snow season roles to help the sector prepare for winter tourists.
"New sector agreements for the care; construction and infrastructure; meat processing; seafood; and seasonal snow and adventure tourism sectors will provide for a short-term or ongoing need for access to lower-paid migrants.
"New Zealand cannot return to pre pandemic trends that saw us overly reliant on growing numbers of lower-skilled workers and resulted in the increased exploitation of migrants," he said.
Faafoi said the plan was to "grow skills at home"
Visa holders with visas expiring before 2023
About 20,000 people have been granted six-months extensions or a new two-year visa with open work conditions.
Faafoi said the reasoning was so the visa holders and their employers would not be impacted by the changes, "and we can keep the skills we need within the country".
National’s Immigration spokesperson Erica Stanford said that significant questions remained.
"Labour has no credibility when it comes to actually delivering the skilled workers they promise. Only six of the 20,000 workers promised under the critical pathway announced in January have arrived in New Zealand so far," she said.
"Today’s announcement should have eased the minds of businesses by explaining how the Government is going to get skilled workers into the country right now. However, a cloud of concern remains due to a track record of under delivering. This is despite INZ hiring another 500 staff and spending another $150 million."
Green Party's Ricardo Menéndez March said the changes "fail to guarantee pathways to residency to workers in the types of jobs deemed essential throughout the pandemic, by prioritising high income earners, instead of focusing on the wellbeing of workers and enabling migrants to put down roots".
"The Government is effectively entrenching a two-tier immigration system: one that rewards high-income migrants while keeping low-waged workers on a precarious and temporary status.
"Migrants aren’t just economic units to support employers make a profit. It’s grossly unfair to continue to rely on the fruits of migrant workers’ labour, and at the same time deny them the opportunity to put down roots in their community."