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Government is working proactively with sectors to fill critical skill shortages.

June 14 2021 by Kris Faafoi

Government is working proactively with sectors to fill critical skill shortages.

First of all I want to acknowledge the challenges and difficulties COVID-19 travel and border restrictions have placed on businesses across many sectors of New Zealand, especially in the primary sector, tourism and hospitality.

But the controls on New Zealand’s borders and our strict managed isolation and quarantine regime are key reasons why businesses have been able to operate. That has meant having to adapt and it has highlighted vulnerabilities for businesses which have traditionally drawn workers from the likes of backpackers and migrants.

The numbers tell a stark reality. Normally we would have around seven million people enter New Zealand each year. Between March last year and March this year, just 165,000 people came here.

Our collective efforts and commitment to the Government’s COVID elimination strategy has allowed us to slowly but safely begin opening back up to our close neighbours.

I hope many Australians take up the opportunity their Prime Minister did recently to visit Central Otago. 

Our collective efforts have allowed us, where we can, to make exceptions to allow specified numbers of critical workers to come in under the COVID controls which have kept us safe. That has seen some 14,000 critical workers cross our borders to help support New Zealand businesses and the economy.

We have also just extended Working Holiday and Supplementary Seasonal Employer visas by six months to allow approximately 10,000 temporary workers to stay here and work in sectors like hospitality and tourism. 

New Essential Skills visas for jobs paid below the median wage have returned to 12 months (from six) taking them back to pre-COVID settings. And we have further delayed the stand-down period for these jobs until July 2022. That is on top of the border exceptions granted to thousands of seasonal workers for New Zealand’s horticulture and wine industries. 

We are working proactively with sectors to fill critical skill shortages under our border restrictions. In the ski industry, for example, out of applications for nearly 50 ski industry workers, all but three have been approved for critical worker border exceptions. 

The pandemic has reinforced the need to rethink how our economy operates; where and how we access workers; how we better invest in jobs and skills training; how we offer better career development and provide attractive pay packages and working conditions. 

That does not mean access to migrant workers will stop under new immigration settings. It means both business and government need to look at how we transition to a more resilient workforce that can withstand the sorts of disruption that COVID has created. The Government is committed to having those conversations with sectors to make the transition to better balanced immigration settings. 


- Kris Faafoi