Government proposes changes to migrant worker system

The Government has announced plans to change the temporary work visa system, saying it will make it easier for regions and industries to get workers.

Immigration Minister Iain Lees-Galloway says the proposed changes represent a "significant shift" to New Zealand's immigration system.

"It is clear that the untargeted one-size-fits-all approach by the previous Government has been failing our regions and industries with acute needs for labour, while loading enormous pressure on Auckland's infrastructure," he says.

"There are also too few checks and balances on employers hiring migrants, leading to increased migrant exploitation as some employers with poor track records are still able to access migrant labour."

The proposed reforms, released for consultation on Tuesday, will introduce a new framework for assessing all employer-assisted temporary work visas.

They will include checks for:

  • Employers - where approval will be granted to an employer to enable them to hire a migrant
  • Jobs - to ensure no New Zealander is able to do the job
  • Migrants - to ensure they meet character and health requirements.

"The new employer checks will help combat migrant exploitation by lifting the requirements on all employers and enabling the Government to put tougher tests in place for higher risk employers and employers looking to hire multiple migrants," Mr Lees-Galloway says.

"There will be more incentives and support for businesses to employ more New Zealanders, while improving employment conditions and certainty for both domestic and migrant workers."

The proposals include replacing the Essential Skills in Demand Lists with Regional Skills Shortage Lists. Sector agreements will be introduced for sectors which rely heavily on migrant labour.

"Regional Skills Shortage Lists will better reflect the skill shortages that exist in the regions and provide a stronger signal to temporary migrants of opportunities in regional areas," Mr Lees-Galloway says.

"Sector agreements would help businesses in need source migrants more easily in return for commitments by the sector to employ and train more New Zealanders and to address their workforce needs more effectively."

The Government will also review some of the changes made by the previous Government, including the stand-down periods for lower-skilled migrants and family entitlements for lower-skilled workers.