Unions call for residency for migrant workers

11:43 am on 7 January 2021

Labour unions are calling on the government to give residency to long-term migrant workers who now call New Zealand home.

People at the Pathway to Residency petition in Auckland.

People at the Pathway to Residency petition in Auckland. Photo: Supplied / Migrant Workers Association of Aotearoa

Workers who arrived with big dreams say the ever-changing threshold for skilled migrants' pay and points mean their efforts are in vain. A petition started by Migrant Workers Association, Unite Union, One Union and First Union, "Pathway to Residency", has collected 15,000 signatures.

It's almost 10 years since a Bangladeshi man, who doesn't want his name used, arrived in New Zealand. The cafe worker said he was twice invited to apply for residency in 2016 and 2018, but due to an unsupportive former employer, he missed the opportunities.

He has worked long to meet the rising points requirement, which is 160, but early last year, Immigration New Zealand changed the hourly pay rate threshold for his skill level to $25.5 and he is $1 short.

"At this moment, I can't apply for my residency because I don't meet the requirement to apply for residency, and also there's no application that they're taking [due to the Covid-19 pandemic]. I don't know what I'm going to do, my visa is expiring in less than 12 months."

He said he's made New Zealand home but didn't see any future.

"I spent my almost 10 years, half of my youth here. I'm 32 now. I don't know if I go back home next year, what I'm going to do," the man said.

Another man from India has been here for almost nine years, working first in retail and now IT. His two children, 2 and 4 years old, were born and are growing up here but he needs to regularly renew his work visa as well as visitor visas for his children and wife.

"Everytime I have to pay immigration fees, sometimes lawyer fees, and supply police clearance and medical certificates," he said.

He said he doesn't meet the current requirements for points or salary, and even if he were to finally meet the threshold after a few years, he's not confident about the ever-rising bar.

"I can't trust Immigration New Zealand, maybe they will introduce some new thresholds and new points then," he said.

President of the Migrant Workers Association Aotearoa, Anu Kaloti, said they're looking at people who have been here for five years or more and those with highly-sought-after skills.

"These would be people who are already here ... they contributed to New Zealand economy hugely. We're not asking for new migrants to be brought in, we're saying that people who are already here, let's look after them and let's allow them to be here permanently."

There are 189,000 temporary migrants with work rights in New Zealand as of last month.

Kaloti said there are also workers who weren't even able to return to New Zealand after the border closure in March. She said migrants often fall into the cracks in the system and don't enjoy the same privilege as residents or citizens.

"We have to remember that benefits like unemployment benefit and other benefits through Work and Income that comes out of our taxation, so these are migrant workers who've been working here for years and years and contributing to the the economy and paying their taxes."

Unite Union national director, Mike Treen, said with borders closed due to the pandemic, new migrants aren't arriving to renew the workforce, so it makes sense to keep those who're already here.

He said Immigration has made it progressively harder for migrants to become residents, so there are too many people on temporary visas in the country. He said change is needed.

"I think this is a once in a generation opportunity to fix a broken system so we have made it harder and harder for people who we brought to New Zealand with promises of being able to transition to residency," he said.

Immigration Minister Kris Faafoi said the government's priority is getting New Zealanders into jobs and encouraging employers to continue focusing on longer-term workforce planning, training, and improving wages and conditions to attract a local workforce.

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