Trans-Tasman bubble offers employers an unexpected silver lining

Opinion piece: Aaron Martin, Immigration Lawyer at New Zealand Immigration Law

While the excitement about being able to travel is understandable, the trans-Tasman bubble has another major impact that hasn’t yet gotten much press: the potential boost to New Zealand employers starved of skills due to COVID border closures.

From April 19, Kiwis will be able to visit Australia without having to quarantine on the way back. The long-awaited announcement, made last Monday, outlined the requirements for travellers flying between New Zealand and Australia.

Since the pandemic, the number of critical workers entering New Zealand has been minimal, leaving many employers scrambling to fill jobs – and significantly hampering economic recovery. The “other critical worker” category requires a heavy burden of proof, and limited slots in MIQ as well as the costs of managed isolation have discouraged many from applying.

Knee-jerk immigration policies hurting NZ economy and reputation

The current “Critical Worker” visa regime is so incredibly restrictive that Immigration New Zealand have declined structural engineers who have job offers with New Zealand engineering firms engaged in major infrastructure projects.

They will decline intra-corporate transfers to support the New Zealand division of a multinational operation, even though they would shore up the company’s market presence and help save jobs. We all heard of the luxury motor vessel going to Australia because the ship’s crew couldn’t be granted visas.

The much-needed skilled migrants who have been treated so poorly in the short term may no longer be keen to come here, now that things are looking up. When looked at from an economic development perspective, it’s clear that the regime has been destructive rather than constructive.

Engineer shortage stymying vital infrastructure projects

A recent ACE report highlighted the difficulties facing the engineering and consulting sector, with 68% being unsure of whether they will be able to recruit enough qualified staff and 25% reporting challenges in bringing suitably qualified staff into New Zealand.

Now that the gateway to Australia is set to open, employers will be able to invite work visa holders from across the ditch.

With the opening of the trans-Tasman bubble, employers can now seek work visas through standard work visa applications – if their prospective employee is in Australia.

That opens the pool of talent not just to Australian citizens and resident visa holders, but also foreign nationals living in Australia on work visas. They, too, will have the ability to move across the Tasman, provided they apply for the appropriate visa using standard visa processes.

My advice: Hire Aussie based talent now

New Zealand employers who have been unable to recruit for skills they cannot fill locally should immediately look at whom they can poach from our Australian cousins. It might take a bit of temptation through the wage packet, but the bubble at least allows employers access to the skills they need to a much greater degree than we’ve ever had since COVID hit.

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