Christopher Luxon says the Government needs to do more to attract skilled migrants to New Zealand to combat an expected exodus of Kiwis.
The Ministry of Business, Innovation and Employment (MBIE) has warned at least 50,000 New Zealanders will leave over the next year as we reconnect with the world.
It comes amid nearly full employment and staff shortages across several sectors. Immigration issues have plagued the country during the COVID-19 pandemic with many migrant workers struggling to bring their families to the country with them.
Residency has also been an issue after the Government postponed selections for Expressions of Interest (EOI) - the first step to gaining residency.
Last year Immigration Minister Kris Faafoi opened the door to 165,000 skilled migrants. But they had to be on a listed work visa of essential skills, work to residence or open work visa, not a working holiday, partnership or student visa.
National leader Christopher Luxon told AM migrants will be key to filling critical staff shortages.
"We are a party that really believes in immigration. We think that migrants have a huge value and a lot of contribution to make to New Zealand," he said on Wednesday.
"Across all sectors of New Zealand we are short of workers at the moment. We have sent a message to the world that we are fundamentally closed for business. If you're a migrant coming to New Zealand, you might be a nurse or a doctor, there is currently no pathway to residency.
"If we want to attract the best we have to be the best in terms of an immigration system and an Immigration New Zealand response and we're not at the moment."
Luxon said the Government needs to ensure migrants feel New Zealand is a place they can come and "make something of themselves".
When asked what National would do to attract migrants, Luxon said he would make it easier for people to get a working holiday visa.
"We've got to do a much better job of making a much more competitive offer for working travellers… that want to come here and work in kiwifruit [picking] or tourism. We should be out there promoting New Zealand.
"We need to waive the fees, we need to extend the age, if you've been here once you can come back a second or third time. The same thing needs to happen, if you think about our healthcare workforce we haven't been approving those people and actually getting them here."
Working holiday visas are mostly targeted at young people. According to Immigration NZ, they're usually available to people aged 18 to 30 but can be up to 35 in a select few countries.
Other criteria include having enough money to pay for a return ticket, and coming mainly to holiday. A working holiday visa scheme opened to applicants from Belgium, Canada, Denmark, Finland, France, Germany, Ireland, Italy, Netherlands, Norway, Sweden, United Kingdom, USA, and Japan on March 14.