Number of foreigners in NZ construction industry reaches record high

Figures obtained by Newshub show the number of foreigners coming to New Zealand to work in construction has reached a new record, and one country dominates the numbers - the Philippines. 

Roman Magpantay is an expert scaffolder from the Philippines, but is now working in Wellington. Before arriving here, he was scaling buildings in Thailand and New Caledonia. 

"We are hard worker, we are loyal and reliable. I think we are one of the best in this industry," Mr Magpantay says.

The 34-year-old's presence there as a scaffolder is critical, according to his boss.

Geeves Scaffolding Ltd Director Tim Geeves says right now, fthe demand is as high as it's ever been.

"There's a lot of construction activity going on. Not only in residential, but in the commercial sector as well."

On their current site, there's an even split when it comes to worker nationality. 

"There would be probably 50-50 at this stage, Kiwi workers to guys on overseas visas."

Figures released under the Official Information Act show in the year to May 2018, 8089 work visas for construction jobs were approved. 

Of those, 2231 were carpenters, followed closely by scaffolders at 2195 and steel fixers at 1192.

There's also big demand for other trades, with 304 work visas approved for foreign riggers, 276 painters, 264 wall and floor tilers, 198 bricklayers and 189 plumbers. 

Mr Magpantay said a big drawcard to New Zealand is the weather, because it's too hot in the Philippines.

But while foreigners are coming to New Zealand in droves, the number of young Kiwis wanting to work in construction is also breaking records. 

New Zealand Certified Builders chief executive Grant Florence said it's interesting it's at an all-time high.

The problem is the Kiwi trainees won't be on the tools for a few years yet. 

Scaffolding, Rigging & Access NZ chief executive Graham Burke said "it does take five years to become a good scaffolder or any trade, and we've got an urgent need."

Of the 8089 work visas approved for construction jobs, 4608 came from the Philippines, followed by 798 from Great Britain, 618 from China and 252 from Ireland. 

"A lot of them are now actually in positions where they're helping young Kiwis learn their job," Mr Burke said.

Foreign workers are rising up on commercial building sites across the country - and not going home any time soon.