Immigration Minister Kris Faafoi

The Government is sending more signals indicating that it is planning for a big cutback to Immigration.

It would appear that the era of large scale immigration is over.

Immigration Minister Kris Faafoi is planning a major immigration policy speech in Wellington on Monday, and some sector groups affected by immigration policy have been invited to come to the capital for that.

But the contradictions within the Government’s policies were clearly evident yesterday. It wants to upskill Kiwis to do the jobs the migrants have been doing and it wants employers to pay more so the jobs are more attractive.

But training workers and raising wages cannot happen overnight.

So how does the country get the jobs were doing done in the meantime?

At the same time there are real human issues facing the migrants who are stuck here because of Covid.

the Government faced a protest at Parliament organised by the Federation of Aotearoa Migrants claiming their right to stay in New Zealand and also for separated family members to join them.

Meanwhile, in Parliament, a Select Committee was hearing from officials that it was the goal of the Government to replace many migrant workers with New Zealanders.

The officials said that the number of Managed Isolation and Quarantine spaces released on Monday for Recognised Seasonal Employer (RSE) workers would not be enough to meet the harvesting needs of the horticultural industry.

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The dairy industry, meanwhile, is only three weeks away from the official start of its next season and has an unprecedented number of job vacancies. It was allocated no MIQ places on Monday.

POLITIK also understands there is a massive backlog of temporary visa applications in the Immigration New Zealand pipeline, possibly in the tens of thousands, and it would seem likely that these will face a savage pruning by Immigration to comply with the Government’s demand that New Zealanders get the jobs.

The Prime Minister set out the broad goals of the immigration policy in a speech to Business New Zealand yesterday.

“The Government is looking to shift the balance away from low-skilled work, towards attracting high-skilled migrants and addressing genuine skills shortages in order to improve productivity,” she said.

Immigration Minister Kris Faafoi addressed the protesters and frankly admitted he could not tell them what they wanted to hear.

There would be no extra visas for separated families or any acknowledgement of unionist Mike Treen’s call for all migrants in New Zealand to have a path to residency.

“I need to be realistic with you,” he said.

“Others will say open the borders to everyone who has family here and wants to be reunited.

But it is not that simple.

“Outside of the travel bubbles which we can be reasonably confident are safe, almost every political entry carries the potential risk of Covid.

“Keeping tight control of our borders and strict isolation systems is what is keeping us all safe.”

But whilst Faafoi’s health and safety argument might apply to the migrants seeking to reunite their families, it was clear from the Prime Minister’s comments at the Business New Zealand lunch that most immigration policy is being set according to economic — and Labour Party policy — parameters.

“Last week, we announced that the Productivity Commission would hold an inquiry into New Zealand’s immigration settings,” she said.

‘The inquiry will focus on immigration policy as a means of improving productivity in a way that better supports the overall well-being of New Zealanders.  

“The inquiry will enable us to optimise our immigration settings by taking a system-wide view, including the impact of immigration on the labour market, housing and associated infrastructure, and the natural environment.”

That was even more explicitly set out at the Primary Production Committee.

The Deputy Director-General, Policy and Trade for the Ministry for Primary Industries, Julie Collins, told the Committee that the Ministry needed to  work with the primary sector to look at how to attract and develop a greater diversity of New Zealanders into careers in the food and fibre industries “continuously improving employment conditions.”

It is clear that the Ministry believes the reason for the labour shortages in the sector is because of wages and conditions. In other words, migrants have been seen as cheap labour; to get Kiwis into the jobs, pay will have to go up.

“Employers will need to look at around what are their employment conditions and how do they need to evolve to enable them to attract New Zealanders into those roles, and actually retain them there,” said Collins.

But though those issues may be able to be solved in the medium to long term, there is a massive labour shortage across all the primary industries right now, and primary employers want migrants to fill those gaps.

With only a fortnight to go before the next dairy season officially starts, A recent DairyNZ farmer survey suggests that the sector’s current labour shortage is between 2,000 and 4,000 staff due to the impact of Covid-19 border closures.

There were  1290 dairy jobs advertised on Farm Source yesterday.

This is over double what is usually advertised in May.

The horticultural industry is also badly affected, with spme Gisborne blueberry growers having to leave fruit unpicked over summer because of a lack of workers.

Horticulture is reliant on RSE workers from Pacific countries like Vanuatu and Samoa to come in and pick fruit, but they have been blocked since the start of the Covid lockdowns last year.

On Monday, the Government released 2500 MIQ spaces for RSE workers to be taken up by March next year.

But Collins admitted this would not be enough.

We recognise in the case of Pacific RSE workers that this number that the government has allowed to come through in MIQ will not be enough to completely mitigate labour shortages over the coming year,” she said.

That defines the pressure the Government is under; a long term restructuring of immigration will not address the labour shortages across industry and agriculture now.

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