Immigration not a panacea for our problems
However, as the public perception of immigrants has hardened, National is protecting itself from political attack in an election year by tightening up on aspects of immigration policy where it may be vulnerable.
Such policy change has a direct impact on our industry. In April, Immigration Minister Michael Woodhouse announced changes to permanent immigration settings, including the introduction of two new remuneration thresholds for applicants applying for residence under the Skilled Migrant Category.
One threshold is to be set at the median income of $48,859 a year for jobs that are currently considered skilled. The other threshold, which is for those in jobs not currently considered skilled but are well paid, will be set at $73,299 a year or 1.5 times the median income. These changes come into effect on August 14.
The Government also has a proposal on the table that includes changes to temporary migration settings, with the goal of more tightly managing the number and settlement expectations of new migrants coming to NZ on Essential Skills work visas.
The proposal as it currently stands includes the introduction of remuneration bands to determine the skill level of an Essential Skills visa holder. These bands align with the remuneration thresholds being introduced for the Skilled Migrant Category applicants. A maximum duration of three years for lower-skilled and lower-paid Essential Skills visa holders will be introduced, after which a minimum standdown period will apply before they’re eligible for another lower-skilled temporary work visa.
There has also been a tightening of the rules around Essential Skills visa holders bringing their children and partners to NZ and aligning that with the new skill levels and ensuring that the length of the visa aligns with peak labour demand for seasonal occupations.
The new policies are designed explicitly to indicate a NZers-first approach from the Government and it’s expected that employers will do all they can to train and employ NZers.
This, of course, is fine in theory – but for industries such as road transport, hospitality and the horticultural and agricultural sectors there just aren’t the numbers of Kiwis in the right place at the right time… and willing to do the work.
The Government still assures us that employers will be able to recruit temporary migrant workers. The problem for our industry is that the labour market test of demonstrating that there are no NZers available to do the job is not easy.
Ever since truck drivers were removed from the Immediate Skills Shortage List in 2014, RTF has vigorously advocated for their reinstatement. Regrettably, the majority of politicians have become convinced that providing jobs, housing and infrastructure for Kiwis can only be achieved by dampening demand in those things, and immigrants are an easy target.
RTF will continue to encourage political parties to reassess their policies on immigration and the value of migrant labour in industries such as ours. The moral of the story, however, is that to rely on the whims of politicians is a largely unproductive strategy. The driver shortage will only effectively be solved by encouraging and incentivising a larger domestic workforce that can be sustained and expanded to meet the requirements of NZ’s future freight task.
The gala NZ Road Transport Industry Awards are the perfect way to acknowledge outstanding achievement in our industry.