Blog: Immigration policy and the future workforce of New Zealand

Blog: Immigration policy and the future workforce of New Zealand

By Jenny Lincoln


This article is not intended to be an exhaustive analysis of all types of immigration and the current and proposed policies surrounding them. It focuses largely on policy surrounding skills based immigration.

Net migration came close to 72,000 people in 2016. That’s an increase of roughly 13,700 people from the year ending June 2015, and is a substantial increase from the net outflow of 3,200 people in the year ending June 2012. New Zealand is a safe, secure, clean, and family friendly country, which makes it an attractive destination for many immigrants. Policy surrounding immigration has become an increasingly contentious topic amongst the public, which has resulted in the immigration policies of political parties coming under closer scrutiny in the public eye. Generally, our political parties seem to be moving towards a stricter approach regarding immigration, with their proposed policies aimed at slowing the present rate of immigration.

The current immigration scheme for prospective residents grades them on a points-based system. This assigns points based on qualifications, skills, work experience, employability and age, among other things. Candidates who have the most points, and are therefore presumed to have the most to offer the country, may be extended an invitation to immigrate to New Zealand. Applicants who are able to fill long term skill shortages in the country may be granted Work to Residence visas. Policy surrounding this system is designed to attract potential residents that will add the most ‘economic value’ to the country.

Policies surrounding other immigrants, including those who enter the country under work visas, temporary work visas (including Canterbury Visas), student visas and temporary visas are generally based on what the immigrant brings to the country. Work visas, and in particular temporary or Canterbury work visas are issued to address a need for essential skills or to address urgent skill shortages in New Zealand. Those immigrants who have a skill that is on the Immediate Skill Shortage List may have their application prioritised, and thus processed faster. This is because there are currently few New Zealand citizens or residents that are available to fill the position.

Recently, in a speech outlining the government’s plan for immigration, Immigration Minister Michael Woodhouse announced the introduction of remuneration bands, which will be used as a proxy for the skills an immigrant is able to offer the country. Permanent resident applicants who do not meet the median New Zealand income will no longer be able to be classified as highly skilled, no matter their actual skills. Those who qualify for an Essential Skills work visa who do not meet the threshold will not be allowed to stay in New Zealand for longer than three years. On the other hand, permanent residence applicants who are currently paid above the New Zealand median income will be able to claim points, even if their jog is not currently listed as skilled. Those who hold temporary work visas and earn over the threshold will not be subject to the same in-time country constraints as those who do not.

Party immigration policies

There is no doubt that if not managed correctly immigration may well have an adverse effect in the long term. This needs to be balanced with the obvious benefits of immigration, which include having skilled immigrants filling skill shortages without the time, training and money it would take to train current citizens or residents to fill the gap themselves, and greater cultural diversity.


National’s immigration policy is aimed at attracting immigrants with skills valuable to New Zealand economically. They have a particular focus on attracting immigrants in high growth industries. National also particularly supports Canterbury visas to attract skilled immigrants to support the rebuild. National does not have plans for a drastic reduction in the current immigration cap.


Labour plans to reduce immigration levels “by tens of thousands” if they win the general election in September, particularly immigration under work visas. Labour plans to fill the skill shortage from within the existing population. Party leader Andrew Little has said that his “…guiding principle is that the system has to be fair, both for people who are already here and for new migrants. The immigration system must make New Zealand a richer place, both economically and culturally.”


Traditionally supportive of open immigration, the Green Party announced a new immigration policy late last year which would cap net migration at 1% of the population. They advocate greater language, social and and financial support for new immigrants. They aim to increase the current refugee quota and prepare for immigration as a result of climate change.


Winston Peters has said that “New Zealand First is committed to a rigorous and strictly applied immigration policy that serves New Zealand’s interests. Immigration should not be used as a source of cheap labour to undermine New Zealanders’ pay and conditions.” New Zealand First’s main focus is on meeting critical skills gaps, and ensuring that “Kiwi workers are at the front of the job queue.”




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