New Zealand to reset immigration policy, cut low-skilled workers

New Zealand's net migration fell to just 6,600 in the year to end-March after it sealed its borders.
New Zealand's net migration fell to just 6,600 in the year to end-March after it sealed its borders.PHOTO: AFP

WELLINGTON (REUTERS) - New Zealand plans to reset its immigration policy, cutting the number of overall immigrants, particularly low-skilled migrants, when it reopens its borders following the coronavirus pandemic, the government said.

At the same time, the country of 5 million would look to attract more highly skilled workers as well as rich investors, Tourism and Economic Development Minister Stuart Nash said late on Monday (May 17).

New Zealand's net migration fell to just 6,600 in the year to end-March after it sealed its borders to control the spread of Covid-19, down from a record 91,900 in the same period a year earlier.

"When our borders fully open again, we can't afford to simply turn on the tap to the previous immigration settings," Nash said in a speech.

The pandemic had starkly highlighted the country's reliance on migrant labour, which has contributed to pressure on housing and infrastructure in recent years, he said.

The high number of temporary workers also meant businesses had been able to rely on lower-skilled labour and suppress wages rather than investing in plant or employing and training New Zealanders, he said.

Temporary migrant workers and students have fuelled New Zealand's population growth since the 1990s, while temporary work visa holders make up almost 5 per cent of the labour force, the highest share among OECD countries, the government said.

The government's move would make it harder to find skilled labour, a business lobby group said on Monday.

"The so-called 'low value' people that the government is talking about have helped keep our export industries going and have cared for some of our most vulnerable people over the last year," said Kirk Hope, Chief Executive of Business NZ.