The government is introducing a new employer-led work visa that it says will help plug shortages, reduce exploitation, and improve conditions for New Zealand workers.
Six visa categories are being replaced by one temporary work visa which will ensure that there is an employer check, a job check, and a worker check.
Immigration Minister Iain Lees-Galloway said the new visa will be less complex and will help around 25,000 to 30,000 businesses get the workers they need to fill skills shortages.
The new system will require all employers to be accredited to recruit foreign workers.
Mr Lees-Galloway said this will give employers more certainty and provide more assurances to foreign workers.
"The accreditation process that all employers will go through will ensure that no employer that has a history of exploiting migrants or who has a history of not meeting their obligations under employment law is able to employ to migrants.
"So what we're looking to do is to weed those people out before they employ migrants, before they have the opportunity to exploit migrant workers," he said.
Specific agreements will be negotiated between the government and sectors with a high reliance on temporary foreign workers, such as the aged-care, diary, hospitality, and construction sectors.
"We want to work alongside those sectors to make sure that they can get the people that they need and that over time we see the changes the government is looking for in terms of better pay, better conditions", he said.
Mr Lees-Galloway said a regional approach to the labour market test will ensure that foreign workers are able to be recruited for genuine skill shortages in regions with lower numbers of New Zealanders available for work.
But the government is also introducing more requirements and incentives for employers to hire and train more local workers.
"It will also place a lot more onus on employers to look at what they are doing to provide training, support and opportunities for New Zealanders to get into the roles that they have on offer, and to make sure that the terms and conditions that they are offering are attractive to New Zealanders", he said.
Mr Lees-Galloway said he's had good engagement from the sector on these changes and he expects there will be a positive response from most employers.
"Of course we are asking more of these businesses, we are asking that they create better opportunities for everybody working in New Zealand.
"But we're asking that that happens over time at a pace that people can adjust to and I think that has been welcomed by the leaders in these sectors and we're looking forward to working constructively with them", Mr Lees-Galloway said.
Federated Farmers employment spokesperson Chris Lewis welcomed the change, and said they need a smoother process for getting foreign workers, because there aren't enough New Zealanders.
"With a very, very low unemployment rate at the moment, all the good hard-working Kiwis out there have already got jobs, especially in the rural areas. In some places there's no unemployed or very low unemployed, so the only option is to get migrants," Mr Lewis said.
Meat Industry Association spokesperson Sirma Karapeeva said the current system was onerous on business.
The meat sector was 2000 workers short across the country and Ms Karapeeva said the changes were both business-friendly and would mean better results for consumers.
"The point really is to ensure that there are systems in place to enable us to tap into new labour sources which will support us in growing our sector and delivering for New Zealand as a whole," Ms Karapeeva said.
The aged care sector expects the over-85 population to triple in the next 20 years, and the sector already heavily relies on foreign workers.
Aged Care Association chief executive Simon Wallace said they will need 10,000 more workers for the next decade, and they have been lobbying the government to change the process.
"It certainly hasn't been working as of late with very lengthy delays in the processing of visas for our staff," he said.
"On the surface this looks like it'll be a more efficient process."
National's immigration spokesperson Stuart Smith broadly supported the changes as something which would make it easier for businesses to thrive.
But he said there was a lack of detail on what it might impose on small businesses, and he would need to see the legislation.
Mr Smith said New Zealand clearly needed international labour but questions why we're short of workers when jobseeker benefit numbers were rising.
"I think there's a deeper problem in New Zealand that we have so many people appearing on the job seeker support benefit, while we've got very high labour market participation rates, and businesses just can't get staff."
The government said the changes will be rolled out starting next month and the last changes will be implemented by 2021.
Changes to the employer-assisted temporary work visa system include:
- Introducing a new employer-led visa framework that will drive the application process
- Negotiating and introducing sector agreements ensuring there is more planning for future workforce needs
- Reinstating the ability for lower-paid workers to bring their families to New Zealand
- Replacing existing skills bands with a simple remuneration threshold aligned to the median wage
- For higher paid jobs, replacing the current set of skills shortage lists for cities and open access for regions
- Strengthening the labour market test for lower-paid workers