The latest employment report from the Ministry of Business, Innovation and Employment shows that unemployment in New Zealand has slowly been increasing.  While more jobs are coming on-stream, this is being outpaced by net migration – which includes the rising return of Kiwis from overseas.  We’re only talking percentage points here, but a trend is apparent.  This is not good news for people trying to get jobs on their way to Residence.

There are two key reasons to say this.  The first is that employers have often commented to me that, if they have a choice, they would hire a local person over someone who needs a Work Visa.  That is partly because of the extra paperwork required to support the visa application.  But it is also because employers perceive difficulties in getting migrant workers to fit in.  It’s not just a language issue.  Even people from the US find that there is a different workplace culture to adjust to in New Zealand.  A recent Herald article identifies this as a barrier to employment even for those with Resident Visas, and an obstacle to getting paid as well as New Zealanders.

The second is that Immigration New Zealand will no doubt be told by Government to be even more strict about giving jobs to foreigners over New Zealand workers.  This hits home when you try to apply for a Work Visa under the Essential Skills category, the most common type of Work Visa application.  Immigration applies what is called the “Labour Market Test” to decide if local people are available.  This usually involves asking Work & Income (WINZ) to report on whether it has people on its books who could apply for the job.  In many cases WINZ will say “yes”, even though it cannot know whether their people are actually good enough to do the job.  Let’s go go into that one some other time.  Anyway, in the environment that is now developing, it is likely that Immigration will lean even more toward relying on what WINZ tells them, rather than an employer’s heart-felt plea that they simply can’t get decent Kiwi people with the skills to work for their company.

The Government itself will be under pressure in the months to come to keep the job market “safe” for New Zealanders.  A Gallup poll released last month shows that world opinion is split, but a significant percentage of populations in various countries believe that migrants take the good jobs away from them.  This is even more so in “high income economies” of which New Zealand is one.  Yes, these are only perceptions, but for Government, perception is everything.

It’s already tough for Retail Managers and Personal Care Assistants to get a Work Visa.  Look out for the screws to come on for other occupations in the near future.

We deal with this stuff every day.  It’s what we do.  Sometimes we can’t win.  This is especially the case when people come to us part-way through a Work Visa application after Immigration has written a letter saying that they think the application fails the Labour Market Test.  On the other hand, if we get instructions to prepare the application at the start, there is a lot we can do:

  • to ensure that the job is described correctly
  • to get the employer to advertise enough to show that they have tested the market themselves first
  • overall, to submit a robust application which it will be harder for Immigration to knock over.

Now, Immigration New Zealand has a job to do too, and they are under their own riding instructions.  But they must be held accountable, because these visa policies exist for a reason.  New Zealand needs migrant workers.  Successive Immigration Ministers have said that the economy would shrivel up without an inflow of new (and young) talent.  If visa officers develop a culture of “decline unless we are forced to approve” then this will harm the very country which they are paid to serve.  We’d like to help them avoid falling into that trap . . .