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National leader Judith Collins says skilled migrants who have followed the rules deserve certainty about their future in New Zealand with a new “Covid Contribution’ visa.
Her party have announce a policy that would see Immigration NZ instructed to clear the backlog of residency applications and other skilled migrant workers a clearer and more certain pathway to residency.
National also keen to decouple visas from specific employers to stop migrant exploitation, instead bonding migrants to regions.
This comes after Immigration NZ suspended the Expression of Interest programme that allowed skilled migrants to apply for residency to stay in New Zealand, leaving many professionals and limbo, with some leaving the country.
One Ōtaki GP recently decided to return home to the UK despite having 1300 patients on his waitlist.
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“The first thing we will do is clear the residency backlog. We will unfreeze the residency pool and streamline and fast-track residency processing to clear the backlog of more than 30,000 applications,” Collins said.
“Then we need to offer our migrant workers here a pathway to residency. These are our dairy farmer workers, aged care workers, truck drivers, construction workers and hospitality staff who are in New Zealand because there was a skills shortage.
“Finally, we will decouple visas from a specific employer to stop migrant exploitation. A smarter approach is bonding people to sectors and regions which would make sure the right skills are in the right regions.”
Collins said the pathway would be in the form of a “Covid Contribution Visa” expected to help around 35,000 workers and their families over the next two years, which the workers could use while waiting to be granted residency.
“We cannot attract good people to our shores to help boost our economy and our productivity if we have a system that is in complete meltdown.
“By clearing the residency backlog and offering a Covid contribution pathway to residence we can clear the decks and start again.
Speaking to Stuff on Wednesday morning, Collins was asked about a proposal to simply give residency to the thousands of skilled migrants already in the country keen to extend their visas or gain residency.
She said that idea was “worth exploring”.
“We’re hearing constantly about skilled people, skilled migrants who have come here on a particular visa. They’ve done everything right, and they’re either split from their families, because their families can’t get here, or else they’re in this limbo of waiting and waiting and waiting to see if they can get an extension,” Collins said.
“It’s playing havoc with their mental health, it’s playing havoc with their ability to get on and buy a home or have any permanency,” Collins said.
“We’re talking about engineers, medical doctors, nurses, people we need – and we’ve got a Government sitting back saying ‘you can just sit there in limbo’.”
Collins said she didn’t believe in a blanket rule benefiting people who had broken the rules and were overstayers, but for people who had followed the rules National was keen to offer a solution.
“We’re very keen to say, we need to sort this out for them.”
The Government announced in June a six-month extension for people on Working Holiday and some seasonal employment visas already onshore in June.
Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern promised on Monday some kind of fix in the coming months.
Collins said the way New Zealand was treating skilled migrants was disgraceful.
“It’s wrong for them, it’s wrong for their employers, it’s actually wrong for our country and country that prides itself on trying to do the best that we can for people. It’s a disgrace.”
She said other countries were competing to get those skilled migrants, particularly Canada and Australia.
Green MP Ricardo Menendez March said he was pleased other parties were calling for the residency backlog to be clearly and decoupling work visas from employers.
“We would like to see everyone with a current temporary visa onshore and overstayers being given the opportunity to apply for residency so they can fully participate in their communities,” he said.
“We are pleased to see more parties supporting our policies and proposing fixes to our broken immigration system. We hope National gets on board with also removing the barriers for disabled people and low-income workers to access residency visas.”