SOUTHERN MAN IMMIGRATION BLOG

Skilled Migrants Needed Now

November 1, 2013
Iain MacLeod

I don’t pretend to understand what goes through New Zealand politicians’ heads but “How do I get re-elected next time round” is probably right up there.

Only that thought can explain to me why we are not seeing Government increasing now, with a degree of urgency for next year and beyond, the numbers of well targeted skilled migrants allowed into New Zealand without job offers.

In the past three weeks media headlines have screamed:

  • Business Confidence remains at 5 year high (31 October)
  • Building consents at record levels (31 October)
  • Booming NZ game industry facing skills shortage (30 October)
  • Skills Shortage hamper rebuild (26 October)
  • Are you ready for the economic boom? (21 October)
  • Skills crisis needs fixing (8 October)

Recent statistics suggest that around 90% of all skilled migrants still require skilled employment before they can get enough ‘points’ to qualify for residence. Understandably, given the potentially real or perceived risks associated with getting those jobs, many choose not to join us in New Zealand for fear they will not be successful in their hunt (or as per last week’s Southern Man Letter from New Zealand they will be denied visas to come and look for work or be stopped at the border).

For every ten families we consult with that would have an excellent chance of both securing employment and gaining enough points for residence, probably two actually go through with it.

New Zealand and in particular Immigration New Zealand doesn’t make it easy, so understandably many potential migrants don’t take up the challenge. Of course for those that secure the right advice and guidance, the process is overwhelmingly successful.

On the one hand with local unemployment sitting stubbornly around the 6.5% mark it must be tempting for Government not to be seen increasing the numbers of skilled migrants allowed in without needing jobs. As recently as two years ago they did when around 50% of skilled migrants gained Resident Visas that way.

On the other hand there are very real, concerning and increasing levels of skills shortages across many sectors. Not a day goes by when the headlines don’t scream we are short of architects, quantity surveyors, CAD experts, construction related trades workers, IT professionals and many many more. The Government risks losing the support of some of its traditional business power base at next year’s election if companies feel constrained by a lack of available labour to fill roles vital to their businesses.

Of course politicians the world over know that standing on a platform of increasing immigration wins no one any votes anywhere. This, despite the reality that skilled migrants do not compete with the locally unemployed in this country and skilled locals will always be ahead of migrants in the job queue. So the skills difference between these two sets of people mean their paths will seldom, if ever, cross and politically our Government should be confident enough to call it how it is.

Oh that they were so brave.

In the past two years the Government has issued 18,000 fewer skilled migrant visas than their own programme demands. So far they don’t seem bothered about it but when the good people of Christchurch continue to step over the rubble of their humbled city in a few years or Aucklanders face building costs going through the roof because of a lack of skilled workers it might have some political fallout.

If skills shortages start filtering through into wage/price inflation and all home owners watch their mortgage interest rates increase it won’t do anything for the Government’s popularity.

As the construction boom has moved to Auckland this powerful bloc of voters could easily be turned off the Government if they see their ability to maximise their commercial opportunities impeded by lack of skilled workers or it feeding through into cost of living increases that have largely been absent these past few years with inflation well under control and under 1%.

The New Zealand economy is on a roll – growth is forecast at between 3 and 4% over the next year. Every sector of the economy is expanding. Thousands of jobs are being created and hiring intentions are high and climbing. The country’s terms of trade are the strongest in years.

In recent months net migration has turned positive but not thanks to new residents being granted visas – instead largely by New Zealanders returning home from Australia as their economy cools following the end of the mining boom. This is adding several thousand skilled and semi-skilled workers to the local pool which is a good thing but Government cannot target the specific skills sets we require – we might just be getting back many low to semi skilled workers chucked out of manual work in and around the mines. Again the skills mix might not be what the businesses of New Zealand need.

So there needs to be a sensible balance struck. Right now the Government is on auto pilot when it comes to migration and it would be nice, if only once, a New Zealand Government was proactive and ahead of the game rather than reactive and two years behind.

A skilled migrant who has the points to qualify for residence without needing a job is at least 12 months away and probably closer to two years away from being able to deliver these skills to the labour market of New Zealand.

A sensible approach would be to slowly ramp up the numbers of migrants approved who don’t have jobs but who have excellent English (given linguistic compatibility more than anything drives employment outcomes) and who have the skills sorely needed in New Zealand – Engineering, construction and IT being at the forefront.

A real problem for the skills strapped employers of New Zealand in 2014 is an election year and I cannot see the Government changing its current insistence on the majority of migrants burning bridges at home, travelling to New Zealand, running the airport gauntlet, trying to find work and taking the risk they will be successful.

Perhaps it is time for the politicians to look beyond next year’s election and get bold about migration.

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