There are two key features which are significant for the Work Visa market.  The first is that the flood of Kiwis heading to live in Australia has continued apace this year and shows no signs of slowing down.  Although New Zealand has a target to accept 45 – 50,000 Residents each year, so many New Zealanders are heading across the Tasman that there is a net migration loss.

One has to wonder why Kiwis believe things will be so much better in Australia.  In August, Radio New Zealand quoted Merrill Lynch (US) figures that point to large-scale job losses over there and unemployment climbing to 6 per cent.

The second factor is that the rebuild of Christchurch – when it finally gets underway in earnest – will require a large labour and technical force.  This was confirmed earlier in the year by the Department of Labour.  More recently, DoL indicated an improving overall national outlook for jobs in its Quarterly Labour Market Scorecard:

as economic  activity gradually gathers momentum over 2012, employment growth is expected to  rise strongly, bringing down the unemployment rate in 2012 and 2013

Immigration is clear that their focus is on attracting skilled people to fill out the workforce.   The Minister is fond of quoting figures that show that the economy would contract significantly without a strong inflow of migrants.  However, we are losing not just engineers and IT specialists, but semi-skilled workers as well who are lured by higher wages in Australia.

Employers continually tell us that they find it hard to get New Zealand people to do the hard work in less attractive jobs.  Part of the problem is that many New Zealanders just don’t want to do this kind of work, or they turn out to be unreliable and have to be dismissed.  After all, they can always go on the dole, unlike the migrants.  Yet at the same time Immigration is taking more and more measures to “protect jobs for New Zealanders” by carrying out multiple Labour Market Checks to assess whether people are available.  Usually they get the answer from Work & Income that there are “suitable” people on their lists, even if those people don’t want to do the work.

Although I hardly want to see overseas people getting jobs ahead of New Zealanders who are ready and willing to work, the reality is that New Zealand will soon be unable to afford the protectionist stance of government toward its own demotivated workforce.  There is always the risk, too, that migrants can form an underclass by accepting lower wages than locals.  However, the losers here are New Zealand businesses who cannot keep up their production because the citizen labour force is inadequate.  Those businesses are the drivers of national prosperity and will help the country out of debt.

The Department of Labour must take a hard and grim look at what its role really is.  To be a gatekeeper alone, rather than facilitating productivity, is short-sighted and will ultimately prove to be destructive of New Zealand’s potential.