Government steps up action to plug skills gaps

  • Additional workers able to enter country for sectors affected by international labour shortages
  • Aged care, construction and infrastructure, meat processing, seafood, seasonal snow and adventure tourism sector agreements put in place
  • Doubling of Working Holiday Scheme cap for 2022/23 will see an extra 12,000 working holiday makers able to enter New Zealand
  • Onshore working holiday makers visas expiring between 26 August 2022 and 31 May 2023 will be extended for 6 months to keep workers that are already in country, and those offshore given more time to travel.

The Government is taking steps through the revitalised and streamlined immigration system to help relieve workforce shortages facing New Zealand businesses in a suite of measures announced today by Immigration Minister Michael Wood.  

The measures include providing median wage exemptions to crucial sectors through sector agreements, temporarily doubling numbers under the Working Holiday Scheme, and extending visas to retain labour already in country.

“As the world recovers from COVID-19, labour shortages continue to be a persistent ongoing global symptom,” Michael Wood said.

“Our immigration rebalance was designed during the pandemic and included the flexibility to respond to scenarios, such as the global labour shortage we now face. These measures are about providing immediate relief to those businesses hardest hit by the global worker shortage.

“We have listened to the concerns of these sectors, and worked with them to take practicable steps to unlock additional labour, we know these measures will help fill skills gaps, as businesses work towards more productive and resilient ways of operating.

“When we launched the immigration rebalance we heard from key sectors they would need time to transition to the new rules. We have worked urgently alongside industry to develop sector agreements for the aged care, seafood, meat processing, construction and snow and adventure tourism industries that will be put in place from today,” Michael Wood said.

Sector agreements allow for time limited exceptions to the new median wage requirements for businesses hiring skilled migrant workers, keeping wage requirements more in line with those under the old immigration settings as they transition and we build the skills needed for these industries right here in New Zealand.

“Each agreement also includes expectations for improvement, including the implementation of Workforce Transition Plans and Industry Transformation Plans. Performance against these will be monitored and feed into reviews and decisions about future access to migrants below the median wage,” Michael Wood said.

The Government has also announced today changes to help ease casual workforce shortages by temporarily increasing access to working holiday makers by extending visas of those in country and making an additional 12,000 spaces available.

“Workforce challenges are being seen across skill levels and sectors. New Zealand is not alone in this, with countries around the world reporting similar issues.

“Since our borders have fully reopened we are seeing the return of working holiday makers with approximately 4,000 already in country and over 21,000 have had their application to work here approved.

“COVID brought the world to a standstill. While we can ensure the ability for those to come and work here, we acknowledge that people to people movement globally remains slow when compared to pre COVID levels, and this is being particularly felt by the hospitality and tourism sectors who traditionally rely on international workers.

“In order to help such sectors to retain staff we are also extending the visas of working holiday makers already in New Zealand with visas expiring between 26 August 2022 and 31 May 2023 by six months.

“We will also provide an additional opportunity for those who previously held a working holiday visa but didn’t travel due to Covid-19 to come to New Zealand for the summer.  New visas will be issued to people from October 2022 allowing them to enter New Zealand by 31 January 2023. This visa will allow them to be in New Zealand for 12 months.

“We are also doubling the capped Working Holiday Schemes, with a one-off increase, to recognise the spots that were unused last year due to the border closure. This will give the ability for up to an extra 12,000 working holiday makers to be able to enter and work in New Zealand over the next 12 months.

“These changes will have a positive impact on the workforce, and will make the most of the increase in working holiday makers we expect to welcome during the peak summer season,” Michael Wood said.

Summary of final settings for the sector agreements (for full details see https://immigration.govt.nz/documents/employer-resources/sector-agreements-factsheet

Care workforce: Access to migrant workers for care and support workers at Level 3 of the pay legislation ($26.16), a two-year work to residence pathway for migrant care workers beginning when they reach the Level 4 pay rate, and a review in two years’ time.

Construction and infrastructure: Access to below median wage roles without a cap for specified occupations with a $25 wage threshold, with a review in two years’ time. The wage threshold would be updated each year to reflect changes in the median wage to maintain its relative value. (ie 90 percent of the median wage).

A $25 wage threshold is already in place for a number of construction and infrastructure roles and this will continue until the sector agreements come into force from 31 October. 

Meat processing: Access to migrant workers for entry-level meat processing roles in the red meat and pork processing sectors, at $24.00 per hour with a cap on the number of visas set at 320; to be replaced with a Pacific programme from 2024. Migrants taking up these places will receive 7-month visas and the wage threshold will be updated each year to reflect changes in the median wage to maintain its relative value. (ie 86 percent of the median wage).

Seafood:

Onshore processing: Access to migrant workers for seafood processing roles at $24.00 per hour with cap on the number of visas set at 600; to be replaced with a Pacific programme from 2024.

Migrants taking up these places will receive 7-month visas and the wage threshold would be updated each year to reflect changes in the median wage to maintain its relative value. (ie 86 percent of the median wage).

Sea-based roles: Access to migrants on the Foreign Fishing Crew visa at minimum wage plus $4 per hour with a cap on the number of migrants set at 940. The wage threshold will be increased each year towards the median wage, but the cap will remain in place indefinitely.

Seasonal snow and adventure tourism: Access to migrant workers in specified seasonal snow and adventure tourism roles at $25.00 per hour; the wage threshold will be increased each year until the sector agreement ends in 2025.

Transitional arrangements are already in place to allow specified tourism and hospitality roles to be recruited on Accredited Employer Work Visas below the median wage until April 2023.

Summary of Working Holiday Scheme changes:

  • Extend visas for onshore working holiday makers that are expiring between 26 August 2022 and 31 May 2023 by six months from date of expiry.
  • Additional opportunity for those who previously held a working holiday visa but didn’t travel due to Covid-19 to come to New Zealand for the summer.  New visas will be issued to people from October 2022 allowing them to enter New Zealand by 31 January 2023. This visa will allow them to be in New Zealand for 12 months.
  • Double the Working Holiday Scheme caps with a one-off increase to recognise the spots that were unused last year due to the border closure. This will mean around 12,000 more working holiday makers can come to New Zealand over the next six months or so.