Concerns migrants left with few options as special visas close

Corazon Miller
Source: 1News

Migrant workers may have fewer options for a future in New Zealand when the Government's special one-off residency visa closes at the end of the month.

The 2021 Resident Visa was designed to give those workers filling our critical labour shortages certainty here.

Many migrants had earlier applied for the right to stay long term through the Skilled Migrants Category - but selections for this were frozen at the start of the pandemic.

So far more than 200,000 have applied - with 60,000 approved.

Gerlie Navaja is one of those who has just been granted residency. The aged care worker says it is a welcome relief after two years of being unable to leave the country. As a worker on a temporary work visa it's unlikely she'd have been able to return.

Getting residency has given her certainty over here future in New Zealand.

"I had to blink 20 times, because it's just too good to be true," she says. "It's every immigrant's greatest miracle."

Keefe Martinez, who also works in aged care, says being granted residency has given him the option of completing his engineering studies - another skill in high demand here.

Green Party immigration spokesman Ricardo Menéndez March says once this visa closes at the end of the month it could see thousands of other workers miss out on their chance at a future here.

"They are facing massive uncertainty on their future, they deserve some certainty," he says. "There is no real pathway for them if they are not on one of the high-paying, or short-list professions."

Data from Immigration New Zealand shows most of those migrants who applied for the 2021 fast-track visa are from India, the Philippines, China and South Africa. They work across health, construction, teaching and primary industries - all areas that are struggling with a labour shortage.

A number missed out on the one-off visa due to not meeting the required median wage of $27 an hour - or the need to have been in the country for at least three years at the end of September last year.

And now, with the visa category closing entirely; alongside the Government's proposed "rebalancing" of immigration; their pathways to residency are few.

Immigration Minister Michael Wood says the Government wants to address the immediate skill shortages in the country, while ensuring wages and working conditions are improved for everyone.

As part of its plans the Government set up a new Accredited Employer Work visa under which only a select few high-skilled, hard-to fill roles, are eligible for residency.

An even smaller list, of highly specialised roles are put on a fast-track and will be able to apply for residency from September. Though others like nurses and midwives haven't been ranked as highly and therefore need to wait two years.

Wood says the skilled migrants category is under review "to identify which other skills New Zealand wants to attract and retain", thought it is still closed to new applications.