The wrap: Food sector licks lips at prospect of border opening

by | May 12, 2022 | News

Food industry leaders are chomping following the government’s announcement that the international border will reopen August 1. Here’s what happened this week,  in case you missed it.

Speaking to business groups on Tuesday, the Prime Minister and other others unveiled a suite of measures including an early opening of New Zealand’s border and a simplification of immigration settings. The policy is being called a ‘rebalancing’ meaning shifting emphasis towards attracting skilled migrants to New Zealand.

“New Zealand cannot return to pre-pandemic trends that saw us overly reliant on growing numbers of lower-skilled workers and resulted in the increased exploitation of migrants,” Immigration Minister Kris Faafoi said. “Our plan is to grow skills at home. Over the past two years, over 190,000 New Zealanders have benefitted from Government investment in trades training, including apprenticeships. On Monday we announced an extension to the Apprenticeship Boost scheme which will see a further 38,000 New Zealanders supported into a trade.

“The cornerstone of our rebalance is the new Green List which will incentivise and attract high skilled migrants to New Zealand, by providing a new streamlined pathway to residency for those globally hard to fill roles. The list features 85 hard-to-fill roles including construction engineering, trades, health workers and tech.

The suite of changes include:

  • Border fully open two months early from 11:59pm 31 July
  • Significantly simplified immigration processes that provide faster processing for businesses
  • New Green List that includes over 85 hard to fill roles created to attract and retain high-skilled workers to fill skill shortages
  • Green List will provide streamlined and prioritised pathway to residency incentivising high skilled healthcare, engineers, trade and tech sector workers to relocate to New Zealand long term
  • Visa extensions for around 20,000 migrants already in New Zealand to ensure skilled workers stay in country
  • New sector specific agreements, to help industries transition from a reliance on low-wage, low skill migrant labour, including additional measures to support the rebuild of our tourism sector
  • Cruise ships able to return with the opening of the maritime border from 31 July
  • Full resumption of international education from 31 July
  • Apprenticeship Boost extended to the end of 2023, supporting an extra 38,000 New Zealanders into trades
  • Online visitor visa applications reopen to Pacific Island Forum countries (excluding Australia) from 16 May

What does the food sector make of it?

Pretty much universal thumbs up.

The Restaurant Association is disappointed no hospitality jobs are on the new ‘Green List’  – but does say its lobbying efforts “have resulted in the government giving an exception for our industry in the short term. The Government has agreed to temporarily exempt tourism and hospitality businesses from paying the median wage to recruit migrants on an Accredited Employer Work Visa into most roles. Instead, a lower wage threshold of $25 per hour will be required until April 2023.”

The Hospitality Association echoed those sentiments but added that low-skilled workers are needed too. “There simply aren’t enough Kiwis available to work in hospitality or accommodation so we need to look overseas, we need access to more labour at all levels, not just highly skilled, We need a transition plan to give us time to work towards where we need to be. We recently met with the Minister of Immigration and suggested a transition plan to give us time to work towards achieving an immigration rebalance.”

Business NZ, representing the big business sector, welcomed the news. “It’s great to see the Government is listening, today’s announcement sends a clear message that New Zealand is once again open for business.”

The Tourism Industry Association welcomed the grace period for median-wage requirements. “We appreciate additional measures to support the tourism industry announced today, in particular the Government’s decision to phase in the median wage requirement for the new Accredited Employer Work Visa. This will give tourism operators time to get their businesses healthy again while rebuilding the workforce,” she says.

As for the pundits

Writing in NBR, Ian McLeod, an immigration consultant, says turning on the tap won’t as easy it sounds. “For four years the markets New Zealand is keen to draw migrants from have been seeing and hearing a lot of what can only be described as anti-immigrant rhetoric out of the past two Labour (led) governments. It is naïve, when coupled with border restrictions, to expect those migrants to suddenly pack up sticks and come across to New Zealand. Trust in New Zealand as an immigration destination is waning.”

Quoted in NZ Herald, Malcolm Pacific Immigration chief executive David Cooper said the Green List was too narrow. “Why are they singling out a small group? Why not plumbers and teachers? We need builders and chefs, are they not highly-skilled too? Today’s announcement is not the fix we need.” In the meantime, Cooper said he suspected New Zealand would continue to miss out on migrant workers in careers that still did not offer certainty around residency.

Stuff’s political commentator Luke Malpass says the new policy looks remarkably familiar. “The Government has cast around for two years and come up with a new immigration system that in most key respects resembles the old one – but with a new median wage requirement, new list of fast-tracked jobs and a bureaucratic stream-lining for getting people through the system.”

Newsroom social commentator Matthew Scott backs up the Green Party’s criticism, that the new settings favour rich, white immigrants and discriminate against lower-silled workers from the Pacific and Asia. “There are just over 54,000 migrants in New Zealand on temporary visas who earn less than the wage cap, meaning they are likely to be blocked from the expedited residency pathways. The countries most represented in this group are India (14,373) and the Phillipines (12,052). A wage gap that leaves migrants from the Global South more often in lower-earning categories means there is certainly more to be happy about in today’s announcement for migrants from wealthier countries.”


Photo by Pylyp Sukhenko on Unsplash

About the Author

Vincent Heeringa

Hi, I'm Vincent! I'm a co-founder of The Feed, a writer, marketer and PR expert specialising in food, tech and sustainability. In a previous life I was publisher of Idealog, Stoppress, NZ Marketing and Good magazines and helped establish the Science Media Centre. I'm also the host of a podcast ‘This Climate Business’. When I'm not burning the midnight oil, I'm hitting the town or planting trees with my wife Sarah. Ping me to talk about all things food. @vheeringa

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