The common denominator is immigration which has unintentionally, produced an oversupply of low-cost migrant workers, willing to work for sub-standard wages in their desperate attempt to qualify for residence in NZ.

Government has belatedly accepted that the current system is damaged and has proposed changes to the work and residence programmes in an attempt to lift the quality of people able to migrate to NZ.

But, as is too frequently the case when legislation is rushed or produced for political/electioneering purposes, it is the individual worker at the bottom of the pile who suffers the most.

What is changing and who will be affected?

From August, wage/salary levels are to be added into the recognition of skilled employment. This has been proposed by immigration practitioners for some time as it allows employers greater say in how important an applicant is to their business.

Under the proposed Essential Skills instructions:

Positions paying in excess of $35 per hour will automatically be recognised as skilled for both work and resident visas.  This will allow jobs such as some scaffolders or heavy equipment operators who currently are not considered by INZ as skilled, to be granted 5 year work visas and to apply for residence.

Mid-level ‘skilled’ people being paid approx. $24-$35 per hour may be granted 3 year visas. Both the skilled categories will be able to renew their visas and have family accompany them.

Lower-skilled workers, will only be granted 1 year visas and after a maximum stay in NZ of 3 years, must leave NZ for at least 12 months before applying for another essential skills work visa.  Lower-skilled workers will not be able to bring partners or children to NZ, unless they qualify in their own right. Children of lower-skilled workers will be required to pay international student fees.

One consequence of this approach must be a preponderance of young, dislocated men, away from the steadying influence of family, partners and children, trying to get ahead in a foreign culture with minimal, if any support.

The NZ economy is based on:

  • primary exports, in particular, dairy – a large employer of low wage migrants
  • tourism and hospitality – also a low-wage sector

If the government’s proposal are carried out, our key export earners will be facing considerable disruption as employers have to plan and cost for staff having to be replaced every three years.

Or will it force our low-wage industries to lift the quality of their services and their wages?