Survey reveals New Zealand needs hundreds of overseas engineers to deliver Government projects

Last year the Government assured Kiwis shovel-ready projects could be our economic saviour, but a new survey has found hundreds of overseas engineers are urgently needed to get the projects delivered on time.

Geotechnical engineer Peter Basaly hasn't seen his family for 13 months.

"This is a desperately awful situation for all of us," he told Newshub. "Especially for [my youngest child], the last time I saw him he was four months - now he's 17 months. During his first birthday, I wasn't there. When he took his first steps, I wasn't there."

Basaly's wife Germin Gendy and two children were booked to fly from Egypt's capital Cairo to New Zealand on March 27, 2020, just before our country was plunged into lockdown and borders closed. If their flight was just days earlier they might have made it in time. 

"I can't stop crying because of this situation," Basaly said.

With 11 years experience on projects in the Middle East, including the Suez Canal, he's now considering taking his family and his skills to Australia.

"I can't stand it anymore - it's very hard for us… there is a possibility I can bring them there."

Ironically, in 2020 the Government trumpeted a $3 billion fund for shovel-ready construction and engineering projects that would provide jobs and opportunities as New Zealand recovered from the COVID-19 recession.

But those projects could face endless delays if the right experts aren't hired and it's people like Basaly and his wife, who's a structural engineer, that the sector is desperately trying to bring in. 

Waka Kotahi NZ Transport Agency said border restrictions have impacted its ability to recruit experienced, skilled engineers - and it's meant many major projects have had to adapt and adjust work programmes to ensure they're delivered on schedule.

A new survey of the sector reveals 2100 engineers and consultants need to be hired this year - but 460 of those positions need to be filled by overseas workers as human resources are already too tight here. 

Helen Davidson, from the association of Consulting and Engineering, said they have serious concerns about project delays if engineers can't get into New Zealand.

"It's just too hard... what we'd like to see is a targeted and skills-based approach to immigration and MIQ."

Immigration New Zealand said all individual requests for an exception to the border restrictions are considered against the strict criteria as set out in immigration instructions and individuals must meet this criteria to be granted an exception. It's not able to apply any discretion when considering these requests.

Border exceptions may be granted where people have a critical purpose for travel to New Zealand, including:

  • critical health workers
  • other critical workers who are specifically agreed to by the New Zealand government
  • Samoan and Tongan citizens making essential travel
  • New Zealand-based partners and dependent children (aged 19 years and under) of a work or student visa holder who is in New Zealand, and who hold a visa and are ordinarily resident in New Zealand.
  • critical humanitarian reasons
  • some normally resident temporary work visa holders.

Immigration confirmed that Gendy made three requests for a border exemption, but all three were refused.

"To be granted an exception under the 'partner of a student or work visa holder' criteria, the partner and dependents need to have been ordinarily resident in New Zealand," a spokesperson says.

"As Germin Gendy and their children had not previously travelled to New Zealand, they are not ordinarily resident in New Zealand and therefore they did not meet the strict requirements to be granted a border exception."

Time is running out for Basaly, who is desperate to see his family.

"I'm worried about them in Cairo, because of the pandemic and also no one is available to help them," he said.

His one wish is for New Zealand to help his family, so his family can help New Zealand.