28 Apr 2024

'Immigration changes necessary' - Stanford

4:45 pm on 28 April 2024

By Tracy Roxburgh, Mountain Scene of Otago Daily Times

National MP Erica Stanford

Immigration Minister Erica Stanford says the current levels of record migration are not sustainable Photo: RNZ / Angus Dreaver

Immigration Minister Erica Stanford says work has started on a broader accredited employer work visa (AEWV) review and promises she will be "listening to feedback" during that process.

"As part of that review we will consider removing the median wage requirement, as stated in our coalition agreement with Act."

Last week, Mountain Scene contacted Stanford outlining significant concerns raised by Queenstown employers over changes to the visa - announced and introduced on 7 April - and implications for them ahead of what may be the busiest winter, visitor-wise, the resort's had.

Worries include additional steps required to hire an international worker, such as checking with Work and Income New Zealand, and additional processing times - possibly as long as five months.

That could leave local businesses short-staffed again, potentially meaning reverting to reduced hotel occupancy, and forcing hospitality venues to shut the doors a couple of days a week.

In an exclusive statement to Scene justifying the changes, Stanford said the current levels of record migration were not sustainable.

"They put pressure on our education and health systems, and having few checks and balances led to increased migrant exploitation which tarnished NZ's reputation.

"The previous government made a series of decisions that were both irresponsible and unsustainable when they removed almost all checks and balances from the AEWV process and instead just relied on the median wage as a proxy for skill."

That resulted in a surge of lower-skilled workers and a situation where some international workers were being paid more than Kiwis in the same job, she said.

"The changes I introduced were necessary to address the levels [of] migrant exploitation and unsustainable net migration."

Regarding the Work and Income checks, Stanford said that was a requirement to list the job with Work and Income at the same time a business was advertising more generally.

"Work and Income also has the discretion to waive advertising with them if they determine they do not have any job-seekers who would be suitable for the role.

"Employers will still be able to employ migrant workers on AEWV pathways if they are not able to find employable NZers - appreciate that for Queenstown-Lakes this is a particular challenge.

"For seasonal peaks, there also continue to be more seasonal-specific visas available."

Explaining a new requirement for a migrant worker to have three years' relevant experience in a role, Stanford said a potential hospo worker could have three years' experience in that industry, or another where the skills were deemed "relevant".

"Immigration NZ have said they are going to be taking a very pragmatic approach to this and [I am] monitoring this closely."

Mooney: 'I'm on the case'

Southland MP Joseph Mooney said he was doing everything he could to ensure Queenstown businesses' concerns about immigration changes were being heard and understood in Wellington.

Mooney, who was overseas early last week, said he had been having "a lot of conversations on the ground" and relaying those to Stanford and her office regularly.

"That will be ongoing.

"I'm constantly working to try to ensure there's a good communication flow between the [Queenstown Business Chamber of Commerce] and local businesses and Wellington."

While there was no word yet of a visit by Stanford to Queenstown to speak to those affected directly, "I am certainly relaying the [desire] locally for her to come down".

- This story first appeared in the Otago Daily Times

Get the RNZ app

for ad-free news and current affairs