Reform of Immigration NZ admin should be priority - Seymour

5:14 pm on 2 October 2021

Act leader David Seymour says the government should dump its immigration reset, after it announced a record number of residence visas.

Visa and passport to  approved stamped on a document top view in Immigration

Immigration New Zealand needs to improve the way it carries out administration, David Seymour says. Photo: 123RF

Immigration Minister Kris Faafoi this week revealed that 165,000 migrant workers and their families would become residents next year.

He admitted that many of them would have usually had "little or no prospect of residency" and he was asked how that tallied with the immigration 'reset', announced with much fanfare four months ago as a policy to reduce the number of low-skilled workers.

But Faafoi said the policy review continued, although he instead described it as a 'rebalance'.

"In the wider policy sense, we have outlined what we wanted to do in that rebalance work. We're also doing a review of the settings around the skilled migrant category in terms of points and other settings as well," he said.

"This [announcement] gives us a lot of breathing space to be able to do that work, and to have conversations with a whole lot of sectors that have relied on those residency pathways in the past - to have those discussions about what we'd like to do with the rebalance."

The number of business sectors asking for residence options for workers eventually led to the need for a bigger resolution of temporary visa holders' situations in the meantime, he added.

But Seymour said the government needed to concentrate on fixing Immigration New Zealand, not policy.

"No-one even knows what the immigration reset was supposed to be," he said. "They said it was a once-in-a-generation opportunity, to do what exactly? We already believe high-skilled people with lots of money are good immigrants, it's hardly a reset to say that - it sounds like a re-tweak and it definitely doesn't sound once-in-a-generation.

"I don't think this reset was ever a real thing, but what I do know is people are lacking in certainty and we've said they should do three things.

"Number one - dump the reset, if there's going to be a big policy debate, let's do it outside of a crisis period. Number two, find a way for people to get through the border, that seems to be in train - Act, National and Labour largely agree that's going to happen, it's a question of when and how. And finally we seriously need to reform Immigration New Zealand's administrative capacity.

"I simply refuse to believe that an administrative task which is basically comparing information on different forms with a set of standards and rules cannot be expedited and fixed.

"If it was true, the banking system wouldn't work, the insurance system wouldn't work. Can you imagine ASB saying we can't do any mortgages for the next six months?"

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David Seymour, left, and Kris Faafoi are at odds over the need for the country to have an immigration policy "rebalance". Photo: STUFF / RNZ

Assurances given over timeline - Faafoi

Immigration New Zealand (INZ) processes 33,000 residence visas a year at the moment, meaning next year's figure will be a five-fold increase. Faafoi said he had asked INZ for assurances on timeframes "ad nauseam" and had assurances that visas could be expedited as they were online, rather than paper applications.

"One of the things that I have been riding them hardest on is if we make a commitment like this, people aren't waiting long periods of time," he said. "Because of the broadness of the criteria some of those checks now will be relatively simple.

"This one-off residency processing will be the processing priority for Immigration New Zealand. I have spent weeks going through and understanding what the process will be, moving the process from a paper based platform to an online platform which has to be the way of the future.

"I'll be meeting regularly with Immigration New Zealand to make sure that they can keep on target."

Immigration adviser Brandon Han said there were celebrations at the government's humane decision for migrants, but the wider consequences of Thursday's announcement should be considered, including labour market concerns that prompted the reset.

"Resident visa holders under the new policy will surely be less qualified or skilled compared to those under the existing policies," he said. "Will they take low-skilled jobs or positions from New Zealanders?"

Because temporary visa holders could not buy property, there would also potentially be a surge of migrants hoping to buy a home when they get residence.

"Is our residential housing market ready for the extra and sudden 165,000 new migrants?" Han said.

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