The immigration rebalance yesterday is probably the final blow for sections of the Private Training Establishment (PTE) industry which at one point saw tens of thousands of Indian students in New Zealand seeking questionable qualifications while they worked for low wages in menial jobs.

Instead, for students to work while studying here, they will now need to be doing bachelor’s or above degrees though some undergraduate qualifications in specific industries will still carry work rights but only in the industry the student is seeking qualifications in.

There has been persistent controversy over Indian students at PTEs with frequent claims that they were being placed into jobs below the minimum wage as part of their studies in business management and similar topics. Many could not even speak English.

Pre-Covid numbers were consistent at 12,687 in 207; 11,410 in 2018 and 11,410 in 2018.

Yesterday’s move comes as India continues to press for more immigration rights into New Zealand in its preliminary negotiations over a possible free trade agreement.

Both yesterday’s announcement and the obviously slow progress on the FTA talks suggest New Zealand is no longer interested in “open door” migration.

Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern reinforced that in her speech to launch the rebalance.

She said that between 2012 and 2019, the number of migrant workers employed in New Zealand increased by approximately 144 per cent.

At the same time, the New Zealand workforce increased by about 15 per cent.

New Zealand had been shown to have the heaviest reliance on temporary migrant labour in the OECD.

Advertisment

“I want to be clear; migrants shape our society for the better in so many ways,” she said.

“They make enormous sacrifices and massive contributions to New Zealand.

“But we have a duty of care to everyone, that as we reopen our borders, we do so with a plan in place that means we learn the lessons of the past.

“The aftermath of the GFC cannot be repeated.”

Though yesterday’s policy was clearly aimed at the PTEs, it will also have implications  for the Polytech sector, particularly regional Polytechs.

National’s Tertiary Education spokesperson and the former CEO of the Southland Institute of Technology, Penny Simmonds, questioned whether a national “green list’ of acceptable occupations might not work for regional centres.

. “A key issue will be how responsive and relevant the green list of skill shortages is to specific regions,” she said.

“For instance, a chef diploma graduate might meet the needs of skill shortages in the Queenstown area, but will it be included in a nationwide skill shortage list?”

The Green List will be the key to the whole new immigration system because it will offer guaranteed residence pathways for eligible people for specified high-skilled, hard-to-fill occupations.

Employers won’t need to provide proof of advertising for these occupations. The occupational categories are mainly in the health sector, construction or IT.

Eligible migrants in these occupations can come to New Zealand on a work visa from July 4 and apply for residence from September 2022.

There will be a second category within the list that will provide technicians and tradies who can apply for residence after two years.

Otherwise, for occupations not on the list, migrants paid at least twice the median wage ($55.52 per hour) will also be able to apply for residence after two years.

However, a lower wage threshold of $25 an hour will apply until  April 2023 for a whole range of tourism and hospitality jobs.

The Government’s clear intention is that New Zealanders be trained for as many jobs as possible.

So new sector agreements will be put in place for the care, construction and infrastructure, meat processing, seafood, seasonal snow and adventure tourism sectors to provide for a short-term or ongoing need for access to lower-paid migrants.

Each of these sectors will be provided limited exceptions to the median wage requirement in exchange for ongoing improvements.

This will allow these sectors, which have traditionally relied on lower-paid migrants, time to improve working conditions and put significant effort into retaining, training and upskilling New Zealanders or changing labour needs.

There will also be special arrangements for some construction trades and care sector workers.

 Migrants in these occupations will receive a two-year Accredited Employer Work Visa.

When it expires, they can only remain in New Zealand if they receive an Accredited Employer Work Visa for a job paying at least the median wage.

Otherwise, they will need to leave New Zealand for 12 months before returning on a new visa.

There is a clarification of work rights for University students. Those studying for a Master’s or Ph D will be able to work for three years provided they have spent 30 weeks in New Zealand studying; Bachelor’s degree students will be able to work for up to three years, depending on how long they have studied in New Zealand.

In 2023, a new requirement will come into effect, with all employers needing to be accredited to employ any migrant.

Accreditation is intended to prevent employers that do not meet minimum employment and immigration standards, such as those convicted of migrant exploitation offences, from hiring migrants.

Reaction across the board has been subdued, with little criticism evident, an indication that even the business, tourism and education lobbies who have been working with the Ministry of Business Innovation and Employment were by and large happy with the result.

But the Government didn’t only offer the immigration rebalance yesterday. It also brought forward the opening of the borders to tourists who require visas from October 1 to July 1. Cruise ships will also be able to call again from that date.

Possibly the biggest plus for the tourism industry will be the removal of the requirement for all inbound air passengers to have pre-departure Covid tests.

”While we are still working through this transition, it’s fair to say we are confident that pre-departure testing will be removed by the time we come to the final phase of our reopening in July,” Ardern said yesterday.

There is thus now very little left of New Zealand’s once-draconian Covid prevention architecture.

Face masks are still required in most public indoor settings and on public transport, but from July 1, the country may be welcoming its tourists and migrants back really for the first time since March 2020.