It appears recent changes to the Skilled Migrant category may have quite an unintended side effect. An interesting article recently appeared in the New Zealand Herald. The article describes the impact that the new salary requirements to be imposed on employment which points are being claimed for in Residence applications under the Skilled Migrant category, may have on restaurants and in particular applicants claiming points for employment as a Chef.

One of the benefits of immigration for New Zealand which is often cited is the diversity that has come with it. This has flowed through in many cases, literally to the diversity in opportunities for “eating out”, especially in places like Auckland.

The New Zealand Herald article cites a Thai restaurant in Auckland CBD, whose Chefs currently hold Work Visas but do not earn at least $49,000 per year, meaning their employment would not meet the new salary requirements for their employment to be assessed as skilled in an application they make for Residence under the Skilled Migrant category . The business owner is quoted as saying his business is “totally dependent” on migrant workers and that “in the 30 years I have been in business I have never been this worried”. This is literally because as a result of the salary requirement the business may not be able to source and retain suitable staff, or alternatively in order to afford to pay them a higher salary, the business may need to increase its prices, with a direct effect on customers who may stay away as a result.

The New Zealand Herald article also mentions Restaurant Association survey of 110 businesses, which found that only one in ten restaurant workers are paid more than $49,000 per year. The impact of the new salary requirements could therefore be widespread.

While immigration continues to be a political football, it certainly is unclear whether the changes to the Skilled Migrant category were made while keeping in mind small businesses such as the Thai restaurant mentioned in the New Zealand Herald article, or the many other small businesses that the Restaurant Association survey indicates may be affected. Indeed it is quite possible that the impact of the new requirements on their situation was not specifically understood at all.  It is doubtful whether many New Zealanders will enjoy paying more for their Thai food or other meals out, or not being able to enjoy such food at all because the businesses have to close for lack of staff. Therefore while big noises are sometimes made about the unwanted side effects of immigration, it is relevant to note in the restaurant and Chef case for example, that ironically new requirements paraded in the media as “advancements” or “steps forward” are themselves likely to have an impact which is unwanted.