Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern has announced today that New Zealand will fully reopen its borders, including maritime, on July 31 and a rebalancing of the country’s immigration policies will commence from July 4.
Announcing the new systems, which include a priority Green List of highly skilled preferred occupations required in New Zealand, and a simplified Accredited Employer Work Visa application scheme, Ardern reiterated that the state of the NZ economy was one of the ‘strongest in the world’.
Hospitality New Zealand is pleased the Government has heard its calls for an immigration transition plan for tourism, hospitality and accommodation businesses.
“The temporary exemption from paying the median wage $27.76 to recruit migrants on an Accredited Employer Work Visa and instead pay a lower threshold of $25 till April next year will come as a welcome relief to struggling businesses,” says CEO Julie White.
“But the reality is we need people now. This remains an additional cost for businesses to absorb, and will most likely come at the expense of paying Kiwis less.
“There simply aren’t enough Kiwis available to work in hospitality or accommodation so we need to look overseas, we need access to more labour at all levels, not just highly skilled.
“We need a transition plan to give us time to work towards where we need to be. We recently met with the Minister of Immigration, Kris Faafoi and suggested a transition plan to give us time to work towards achieving an immigration rebalance.
“I don’t know one hospitality or accommodation business that can operate at 100% right now due to the labour shortage in New Zealand.
“When operators can’t operate at 100% this then becomes a shared problem for everyone, it affects operators, consumers and communities. It’s a real problem and it needs a real solution.
“A concern under the framework that may result in some businesses not being able to qualify to bring in skilled migrants under the Accredited Employer Work Visa because they won’t meet the criteria.
“They have to have either been profitable for the past 24 months, had positive cashflow for each of the past 6 months, have sufficient capital and external investments or funding, or have a plan to ensure their business remains viable, but after the past two years, very few will satisfy any of those criteria.
“Along with the inflationary pressures the reality will be higher prices for consumers and less choice.
“We’re trying our best to operate in these highly inflated times.
“The bottom line is this: if we don’t get access to more labour, which includes migrants, how are we going to clean beds, or serve and welcome people, or deliver great customer experience, then how are we going to guarantee maanakitanga?”
Read The Room
“The early opening of the borders is necessary and not a moment too soon. They have clearly read the room, and realised they needed to do something about our dwindling workforce and fast,” says Marisa Bidois, CEO of the Restaurant Association.
“Our industry desperately needs skilled workers and with more tourists set to arrive, our businesses need to be operating at 100 per cent to help our sector recover.
“Those coming in on student and working holiday visas make up a critical part of our workforce so we need to start getting those people into the country long before our summer high season.
“Ninety-four percent of our members have indicated that they’ve found it extremely difficult to recruit for mid-high level positions. Businesses should be able to rely on the immigration lever when talent cannot be found in the country.
“Data from Student Job Search (SJS) noted a 52% decrease in applicants for hospitality work in Auckland since October 2021, and a 34% drop nationally. Without the ability to access a migrant talent pool, hospitality proprietors are making serious sacrifices, by not operating at full capacity at a time when there is so much accumulated debt to pay back.
“While the transition arrangement on the immigration rebalance settings for hospitality sounds promising, we look forward to hearing more details on what that looks like.
“After months of advocacy raising awareness of the pressure on our industry caused by staff shortages, this decision will provide relief to many hospitality operators, who have battled 18 months of uncertainty.
“We still have a number of ongoing concerns around the rebalance settings and what this will mean for our industry, and we look forward to meeting with Ministers in the coming weeks to further discussions about the future of hospitality in Aotearoa.”
Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern said 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 NZ$27.76.
There will be exemptions for sectors including tourism and hospitality, with a threshold of $25 per hour until April 2023. 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.
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.”
Kris Faafoi announced further details of the new ‘Green List’, which intends to simplify applications and pathways to NZ residency.
“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”.