17 May 2021

Immigration Minister to outline border policy changes

10:15 am on 17 May 2021

Immigration Minister Kris Faafoi will be making the case for policy change during a speech later today.

Kris Faafoi

Immigration Minister Kris Faafoi has been working on reforms to temporary work visas and a review of the Skilled Migrant Category visa. Photo: RNZ / Dom Thomas

Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern told business leaders on Friday to expect an immigration announcement, which would re-focus on attracting highly skilled migrants.

A flurry of speculation followed, with many fearing that the government would cancel existing skilled work applications made by more than 35,000 people, who are queuing for a decision on their residence visas.

Many observers believe that the government - which is reviewing its skilled migrant policy - could use a 'wipe the slate clean' to clear the backlog, as it sets out its vision of which future residents and citizens New Zealand wants.

A spokesperson for the minister told RNZ the speech would not be announcing anything of that kind.

Focus on the border

Faafoi will be talking after a week of attention on immigration, with the government signalling its thinking about reopening to the world - and allowing in more workers - while deflecting calls to help existing migrants.

Last Monday, the government announced 2400 more RSE workers would be allowed into the country by March next year.

The new allocations also include specialised construction workers for infrastructure projects and MIQ spaces for 400 international students.

On Thursday, Faafoi was shouted down at a rally of unhappy migrants at Parliament as they asked for families to be let into the country, to have visa processing speeded up, and for residency visas for those on temporary work visas who would normally be eligible.

He has been working on reforms to temporary work visas and a review of the Skilled Migrant Category visa.

The Productivity Commission has been asked to look further into the effects of immigration, including its impact on the labour market, housing, infrastructure and the environment.

Also on Thursday, Ardern used a pre-Budget speech to set out the government's view on immigration and under what circumstances border restrictions would be eased.

She followed that with hints on Friday that immigration changes to lure overseas investment and employment were due this week.

Speaking at the same 'Auckland's Future, Now' business conference, former chief science advisor Sir Peter Gluckman said New Zealand was rapidly losing the appeal it had won internationally for its Covid-19 response.

"The window of opportunity for New Zealand to attract talent is evaporating rather rapidly as the developed world becomes vaccinated.

"Many Asian countries are now on an aggressive hunt for that talent."