Immigration is a hot topic in the news, stories highlighting an increase in migrant workers often brings a backlash from the public as there is a perception that skilled migrants are taking opportunities for lower pay that could be filled by a local workforce.
So why does New Zealand have to recruit workers from overseas?
Immigration New Zealand’s website currently lists over 60 areas that immediately need skilled workers. These include IT, agriculture, education, the health sector, and trade and construction.
If the job is not in an area of skill shortage, and the visa applicant is not qualified as detailed in that list, current visa criteria requires companies to make significant attempts to fill vacancies with New Zealanders. And it goes without saying that companies would prefer to hire locally. As prominent immigration lawyer Aaron Martin says: “Why on earth would an employer go through the paperwork of a visa application process if they don’t have to?”
But, as the lengthy list of shortages shows, there just aren’t enough Kiwis with the required training and experience to fill the gaps. Talent is the single most important factor in the future prosperity of many industries, in fact the lack of available talent will be the greatest restriction in their growth.
Even in areas facing skill shortages, hires can take months or more. Catherine Clarke of Roam Creative, a leading digital product and innovation agency, told us: “It can take at least two to three months to fill a vacancy. Roam has been recruiting continually all year to fill roles including testers, designers, developers, and product managers. With perseverance and a strong employer brand, we’ve been lucky enough to source some amazing talent recently, but it is challenging as there simply aren’t enough skilled local candidates to cope with the growth of the IT industry in New Zealand.”
Roam recently set up an office in Sydney, but shortage of IT personnel is a problem there, too. With difficulty filling roles in New Zealand, and even stricter immigration laws in Australia, Clarke knows the vacancies won’t be filled quickly.
Crop production is another area on the immediate skill shortage list. Pedro Wylaars, National General Manager of Zealandia, has over 220 staff working to grow and supply millions of plants to commercial growers and garden centre businesses across the country. The company is always advertising for staff, and it struggles even to fill roles that offer on-the-job training.
It’s also a challenge for Zealandia to find New Zealanders with relevant tertiary qualifications. “The universities in New Zealand can’t fill up the horticulture papers,” says Wylaars. “And most of those students end up switching over to the agricultural sciences anyway.”
Wylaars says that if they couldn’t take on staff from other countries, they’d be “in big trouble”.
But aren’t migrants taking jobs from Kiwis who need work?
Both Roam and Zealandia are in industries on the skills shortage list, and are lucky enough to be able to recruit from overseas. But some people think these jobs should go to unemployed Kiwis.
Martin says this is a misconception of the realities of operating a business. “Some New Zealanders have a myopic view of the needs of New Zealand employers who are (often) trying to compete internationally” he says. “Some think ‘being a Kiwi’ is a qualification in itself that should put them first in terms of candidate selection”
Martin believes that employers should be able to choose staff who are the best fit for their company, with the best skills and the highest expertise. “If you miss out on a job to someone from overseas, it means you were not the best-qualified person, and you need to get out and upskill yourself. The best-skilled people get the jobs – it’s that simple”.
What benefits do migrants bring to jobs?
It’s not just skills, training, and experience that migrants bring to roles; it’s a whole different ethos. Drive, ambition, energy, and a willingness to continuously upskill come as part of the package.
Martin credits this to one simple reason: “When you uproot yourself and family, and say good bye to your friends, your professional networks, and the comfort of a labour market that understands your skills, and you drop yourself into a completely foreign country, there’s no room for failure.”
Most migrant employees come from countries where there are several billion people. With intense competition for jobs and employment it’s necessary to adopt a strong work ethic to make yourself shine. New Zealand employers find this incredibly attractive. “It’s not a one-way equation,” says Martin. “It’s not as if migrants are the only ones benefitting – we actually get something that we need, too. It’s a two-way exchange. We get the benefit of their skill and experience. We get an opportunity to learn new things and that knowledge transfer benefits business and local employees.”
Migrants also bring valuable diversity to the workplace. Roam, which creates apps and digital solutions across a variety of industries, finds this hugely beneficial. “Every product we build is designed with the user in mind. Migrants have been so valuable in bringing new insight and different perspectives when it comes to designing products for the user, which gives our Product teams a broader understanding of users on a global scale, empowering us to design products for the global market.”
The skills and experience migrants bring can also help take businesses up to another level. Wylaars experienced this first-hand when he employed an overseas candidate who is recognised globally as one of the top five in their field. “We thought we were already doing a pretty good job,” says Wylaars. “But this new employee has taken us two or three rungs further up the ladder – we’re now getting global attention for some our new techniques and processes.”
What benefits do migrants have on the economy?
Clarke says that areas experiencing skill shortages, such as IT, have become “candidate-driven job markets” where locals can demand high salaries. “In some cases, IT salaries have been driven up because of this,” she says.
High salaries obviously impact employers, with the cost usually passed onto clients. But the claim that migrant labour dampens wages is not the reality of employers experience.
Clarke states: “Our employees are hired for their expertise and their value to the business. Whether they were hired locally or overseas, this is irrelevant. It’s neither fair, nor sustainable to offer migrants lower pay as they’ll just move on to another job”.
International employees use their previous connections with overseas companies to help businesses grow, as well as create new businesses. This helps our overall economic growth. Migrants bring innovative concepts, methods and different perspectives with them from overseas.
“When you look at the net gain on economic activity of New Zealanders versus migrants, migrants perform well as their draw on publicly funds services is often low,” Martin says.
Migrants are less likely to claim benefits and, contrary to popular belief, actually create more jobs, mostly due to supply and demand. “As more migrants come into to the country we begin to see more smaller businesses established,” says Martin. “Migrants are often entrepreneurial and seek economic freedom and control over their own destiny by being self-employed. These new Kiwis create vital economic activity for our country.”
Looking for Immigration advice? If you have a concern about your visa or would like to speak to our expert immigration team for support with a migrant employee application, get in touch today.