Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern has signalled the stalled residency application queue is next on its to-do list with decisions in “short order”.
Due to Covid’s impact on the immigration office, the Government suspended Expressions of Interest (EOI) selections for the skilled migrant category (SMC) in 2020.
This has seen flocks of professionals, many of those on the country’s skills shortage lists, being forced to leave the country with them and their families’ futures up in the air.
Last week the Herald reported Ōtaki GP Dr Harding Richards, originally from Wales, departed the country for that reason, leaving behind the 1354 patients registered to him.
Immigration Minister Kris Faafoi received advice on managing the situation in April, but is yet to make any decision.
Ardern said today, after previously announcing automatic extensions for those here on temporary visas, next on the list were those who were here and had put in residency applications.
“We will have something to say on that in short order, not months, sooner than that.”
Pressure has been mounting on the Government over its immigration settings, in particular those seeking residency but also migrant families who have been split up since the border closed to non-residents.
A question in the latest Newshub-Reid Research poll found 61 per cent of respondents thought there should be more exemptions at the border.
That same poll saw Labour’s support dive 9.7 percentage points from the last poll in May to 43 per cent.
Today Ardern and Faafoi also announced workers from Sāmoa, Tonga and Vanuatu would be able to enter New Zealand from next month under the recognised seasonal employer (RSE) scheme.
This would be a one-way corridor, entering New Zealand only, and they would not need to go through the standard two-week managed isolation.
There are normally about 14,400 RSE workers a year, but the pandemic and border restrictions have cut that workforce in half.
Those Pacific island nations had not experienced community Covid outbreaks, and any cases they had recorded were managed at their borders, Ardern said.
Like the 2000 RSE workers brought in last year the same conditions – including paying at least the living wage and providing appropriate accommodation – would be enforced.
There would be measures including pre-departure and on-arrival testing, she said.
National leader Judith Collins said it was a good move but should have come sooner, with her party calling for such a policy from March.
“Our agricultural sector has been crying out for workers for a long time now, and they’ve paid a heavy price for the Government’s inaction.”
Act Party immigration spokesman James McDowall said they welcomed the decision but questioned why it had taken so long given the pressing need for workers and the fact Tonga has had no cases of Covid-19, Sāmoa just one and Vanuatu only four – all at the border.
Apples and Pears CEO Alan Pollard said he was “really delighted” for the Pacific nations as they had “suffered terribly through the pandemic” and without the income RSE workers to New Zealand bring to their communities.
“Delighted that they’re going to be able to have an opportunity to participate back in the workforce here and return those much-needed funds back to their community.”
The announcement also brings some certainty to growers for the coming season.
“It was a dreadful season for us, last season growers were stressed and distressed and were facing the uncertainty of what next season might look like.
“Opening up the one-way quarantine free travel from those three countries sometime in September is a huge change.”