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We need to get our immigration act together!

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When most overseas workers think about coming to work in New Zealand one of the key factors they consider is their ability to obtain residence and to be able to live here permanently. This is understandable given that New Zealand is probably the furthest country from their home, and the cost of relocation will be higher than with other countries who are also competing for their skills. It therefore flows that New Zealand’s residence policy settings play a critical role in the attraction of many migrant workers. A resident visa is also required to be able to buy a house here.

With the re-opening of the Skilled Migrant Category (SMC) in November, after a hiatus of 20 months due to Covid, there are now two residence categories that migrant workers can rely on to apply for residence.

The other category is for roles on Tier 1 of the Green List. These roles comprise mainly construction management, engineering, health and IT roles and applicants must have the specific credentials such as particular qualifications, professional registration or a minimum salary level. While there are many health professional roles listed there are a significant number of in-demand roles which are not (eg; Dentist, Physiotherapist, Pharmacist etc). It has been reported that a list of 30 additional health roles has been promoted for immediate inclusion on the Tier 1 list. While this list is not due for review until May 2023 it is very much hoped that the reality of New Zealand’s current health crises will prevail, and these roles are urgently added.

Registered Nurse is also on the Green List but falls within Tier 2, which does not enable a straight-to-residence application to be made, but rather for a residence application to be made after working as a nurse for 2 years in New Zealand. The Government has dug a hole for itself in continuing to insist that it wants nurses to work for these 2 years before they can apply for residence. What the Government is failing to comprehend is that these much-needed nurses are in high demand all over the world and, with New Zealand pay and conditions below what is offered elsewhere, we only have the “residence card” to play – and, currently, we are just not playing this game!

The SMC is a points-based residence category with points awarded for age, qualifications, NZ employment, work experience etc. Applicants initially submit an Expression of Interest (EOI) and in the recent selection draw some 6,500 EOIs (representing 14,700 people) achieved the required 160 points, and may now be invited to apply for residence. One third of these applicants are currently offshore. This high level of selections reflects the demand that has accrued while the SMC has been suspended. The selection mark will be increased to 180 points in the next draw scheduled for 18 January and this will remain in place until the SMC is fully reviewed mid-2024.

While Green List residence applications are prioritised (with some approvals within just a few days) there is no visibility on processing times for the new SMC applications. With 40,000 applications under the (now closed) 2021 Resident Visa category still to be processed, and now another 6,500 potential applications under the SMC, applicants can expect a long wait for their application to be decided…

If New Zealand is serious about attracting the skills we need, then we better get our act together – sooner rather than later!

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