Critical staff shortages, record employment and huge demands for goods highlight need for immigrant workers - Business NZ report

Critical staff shortages, record employment and huge demands for goods and services are highlighting the need for immigration workers, according to a new report commissioned by Business NZ. 

Chief Executive Kirk Hope said the report, by Sense Partners, puts some data behind what Kiwis businesses have been saying since the pandemic began. 

Hope said businesses are desperately short of skilled employees and are having significant difficulties filling vacancies.

"There is no spare capacity in the labour market, and it has been made more acute by having our borders closed to immigration for so long. 

"With borders now opening up, we also risk a net outflow of workers from New Zealand and an even bigger skills shortage crisis if we don't get immigration settings right."

It comes after Kiwibank said it expects the number of people migrating away from New Zealand to outnumber new immigrants by 20,000 this year. 

The report said if the Government wants to rely less on immigrants to fill skilled positions, structural changes are needed across the education and training sectors. 

Hope said the report has been sent to Workplace Relations and Safety Minister Michael Wood. He said Business NZ wants an immigration reset that takes into account "the need for immigration to support New Zealand's economic recovery" in the face of the increasing difficulties businesses are facing across the country. 

"Business NZ favours a simple, easy to understand and permissive immigration policy that supports economic growth. New Zealand needs immigration at all skill levels, and we need to welcome migrants back to New Zealand and acknowledge the contribution they make to the economy and our communities," Hope said.

It's a stance echoed by the Canterbury Employers Chamber of Commerce. Chief Executive Leeann Watson said businesses in Canterbury are struggling to find critical staff. 

"For many businesses in the Canterbury region, the ability to access critical workers has been one of the most significant challenges arising from the extended closure of the New Zealand border.

"The state of the labour market remains the biggest constraint to economic growth and is damaging economic activity. Businesses are concerned it is only going to get worse with a brain drain that is well and truly underway."

Watson said at least 10,000 extra staff are needed in Canterbury alone to fill shortages this year. 

"We cannot rely solely on population growth to achieve this. New Zealand needs immigration at all skill levels, and we need to welcome migrants back to New Zealand right now."

Earlier in the month Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern revealed the Government's plan to reopen the border. 

From March 2 vaccinated New Zealanders and other eligible travellers from Australia were no longer required to self-isolate when entering the country. From March 5 vaccinated New Zealanders from all other countries were able to enter isolation free and from March 13 other eligible travellers such as working holiday visa holders and RSE workers were no longer required to isolate.

Additionally, temporary work visa holders, who meet relevant visa requirements, and up to 5000 international students will soon be able to travel here without isolating as long as they are fully vaccinated and test negative upon arrival. This step is currently scheduled to begin in April.

Immigration Minister Kris Faafoi told Newshub the Government is working through details of its immigration rebalance currently. 

"The Government is working through final details on immigration rebalance settings and will have details to announce publicly soon.

"In the meantime, the various steps of New Zealand’s reconnecting strategy are progressively opening up New Zealand’s borders to thousands of offshore workers, and employers are also still able to bring in skilled foreign workers under the ‘Other Critical Worker’ border exception for jobs which cannot be filled with local workers," Faafoi said. 

Several key industries including agriculture and health have repeatedly raised concerns about worker shortages throughout the pandemic.