Labour must follow through on their immigration promises

For the first time in three years, the Labour government has no barriers to making significant changes to pressing immigration problems. Immigration law expert Aaron Martin from NZIL explains what should be addressed in 2021 for New Zealand to bounce back economically.

2020 is rapidly drawing to a close. To say it’s been a difficult year is an understatement: COVID has caused sweeping changes to New Zealand’s immigration levels and policies, but it’s not the only thing that has impacted immigration policy, either.

Ever since Jacinda Ardern’s Labour government came into power in 2017, they’ve battled with their coalition government, New Zealand First, on immigration policy during the previous term.

Among those controversies was the issue of Indians being unfairly excluded from receiving partnership visas if they were in an arranged marriage, due to stricter controls, with Labour and NZ First taking directly opposing stances on the issue – as well as the tightening of the Parent Category Visa conditions, almost doubling the income test and putting a cap on the number of parents that could come in.

Both of these changes appeared to come as a direct result of pressure from NZ First and Deputy Prime Minister Winston Peters.

The conflicts in party policies were clear.

Now, after a landslide election win, the Labour government needs to address the pressing immigration issues that have been put off because of COVID and the coalition.

Immigration and economic recovery

The pandemic is set to be with us in 2021 and will have a continuing impact on the border and the ability of businesses to bring skills to New Zealand.

With economic issues forecasted from the substantial expenditure to deal with the pandemic, the ability of businesses to access necessary skills is going to be crucial. Therefore, the continued restriction on entry to New Zealand for skilled workers needs to be addressed.

Between 31 March and 10 August 2020, Immigration New Zealand received 2,951 expressions of interest from employers and supporting agencies seeking to have workers permitted to enter New Zealand as Essential Other Workers. Only 570 were approved. An approval rate of slightly over 19% indicates that businesses are being starved of the human resources they desperately needed to develop and grow.

If the government is serious about economic development and recovery, that needs to change. Fast.

The investor category must be prioritised – not choked

Likewise, the priority accorded to the Investor Category needs to be reviewed. The total nominated funds for Investor 1 and Investor 2 applicants who have submitted an application that still remains undecided is valued at over $2 billion! That’s a lot of money that isn’t being poured into the country.

For Investor 1 applications received between 19 March and 30 September 2020 that are not yet decided, the total amount of nominated funds people are seeking to invest in New Zealand is $720 million. The total amount of investment funds nominated by applicants in Investor 2 expressions of interest received between 19 March and 30 September 2020 is over $445 million.

If overseas nationals are seeking to place that amount of money into our economy – a real boon for us – their applications should be accorded priority.

Yes, there is no doubt the border is our first line of defence against COVID. But there is also no doubt it can be managed in a way that allows businesses to access skills and capital that will benefit the economy. This is the 21st century, after all. We put a man on the moon in 1969. Border control is not rocket science! It is important that the grip on the border doesn’t become a chokehold on the economy.

Improving INZ’s bungled processes

Immigration New Zealand also needs to address the woeful underperformance in its visa processing, which has come about as a consequence of bungled and mismanaged change programs.

It is unacceptable that people have to wait 18 months for their residency application to reach an officer for assessment.  Evidently, a global pandemic can wreak havoc far faster than Immigration New Zealand can process a residence case!

Even worse, these are individuals who are seeking to enter New Zealand based on their skills. They, and their employers, should be able to receive a better level of service for the $3,240 in fees they paid to make the visa application.

One thing that would be a big help is if Immigration New Zealand were to abandon the use of ANZSCO to assess skill levels, as they have done recently for work visa applications. The introduction of this tool has created a level of complexity that is both administratively unwieldy and inefficient – resulting in immigration officers being bombarded with huge quantities of paper-based evidence.

Not only that, but almost 50% of appeals against negative outcomes succeed, with the decisions being reversed or the matter sent back to Immigration New Zealand for further assessment. Clearly, this assessment process isn’t working.

Immigration is now in Labour’s hands

It’s definitely time for a revamp of the immigration system – so let’s hope this Labour government is as transformative as its marketing has led us to believe!

Their manifesto certainly made a lot of big promises when it comes to immigration – including bringing more skilled workers into the country, supporting the redeployment of seasonal workers, updating the partnership visa settings so they are more culturally appropriate, and reducing barriers to the parent visa. To name but a few of their proposed changes.

Now it’s time to turn those promises into action. And without the barriers that the NZ First coalition presented? This Labour government should be poised to make it happen. We’re waiting with bated breath.

For more news and information about New Zealand immigration, follow our blog for regular updates.


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