Finance Minister Grant Robertson reassures business that immigration reset wont be extreme

Finance Minister Grant Robertson has told business leaders he hears their concerns about skills shortages.

At a business lunch today he reassured them that there will more to say in coming months about a loosening of border restrictions.

But he also warned that “there will be restrictions for a very long time”.

“This is not about cutting a ribbon at the airport one day and everybody coming in,” he said.

“It is about saying: how do we use our vaccination process to enable us to start to reduce some of that … in a safe way.”

Speaking to a transtasman Business Circle lunch hosted at Westpac NZ’s head office, Robertson also reassured that the Government’s proposed “immigration reset” would not be a shift from “one extreme to another”.

But he did not resile from plans to review immigration policy and reiterated the Government’s view that the economy had become overly reliant on low-skilled migrants.

Business groups have been vocal about labour shortages and difficulties with immigration processes in the past few months.

Last month Employers and Manufacturers Association chief executive Brett O’Riley told the Herald that businesses’ frustration levels were running high across New Zealand.

The piecemeal way in which the Government was handling the labour shortage issue made it difficult for businesses to plan in the short and medium-term, he said.

“The way we seem to be driving our immigration policy is by exceptions.”

Robertson told the Business lunch that he had been hearing concerns first-hand on a post-Budget tour, from one end of the country to the other.

He said he saw a lot resilience and activity in the business community.

“There is a lot happening, and I had some 2019 nostalgia as the Q&A at each of the events invariably began with questions about lack of access to skilled staff,” he said.

The Government was now in the process of consulting with experts about the options for loosening border restrictions and allowing more workers in as the levels of vaccinations increased.

Those options and all the evidence and advice from the experts would be laid out clearly for the public to consider, he said.

“At the moment we are hearing widespread concerns from the business sector as to the availability of labour, particularly given the necessary restrictions to inward migration as part of our response to Covid-19,” he said.

“It is not our intention that inward migration should switch from one extreme to the other”.

There were areas of high sectoral growth with requirements for specialist skills that New Zealand was unlikely to be able to fill on its own, he said.

“We are working closely with those sectors that are struggling with skills shortages during this period in order to prioritise what places are available within MIQ”.

“However, as Covid-19 has severely disrupted international travel and movement, we have a rare opening to reassess the place of immigration in our economic system.”

But we did need to consider that immigration had played “an outsized role in our economic development” in recent years and that the impact had not always been positive, he said.

“One concern is that parts of the business sector have become too reliant on continued access to low-skilled labour and there have been fewer incentives to increase productivity through investment in capital and new technologies.”

Too much of our economic expansion in the period prior to Covid was based on unsustainable increases in house prices, and high levels of population growth, he said.

“This has been to the detriment of our economic stability, creaking infrastructure and levels of wealth inequality”.

“Too many jobs were created in the low-wage economy and not enough of our firms are exporting into international markets or developing new technologies and products at the global frontier”.

Source: Read Full Article