As 2022 draws to a close, it is clear the Government's May 2022 'Immigration reset' is not working.
Skills shortages and immigration settings remain at the top of chief executives' list of concerns in the Herald's recent Mood of the Boardroom survey. With almost daily reports of labour shortfalls in one industry or another, this should be no surprise.
Many factors are responsible for the reset’s failure. Constant tweaks to immigration settings have contributed to complexity and confusion for migrants and officials. The Government abandoning targets for processing visa applications has led to fewer decisions being made. Immigration NZ's antiquated legacy processes and teething problems with its new online systems have also played a role. And then there has been the Government’s clunky approach to dealing with pandemic-related backlogs.
Yet these issues are all symptoms rather than the cause. The root of the problem is the Government's distrust of immigration. It stems from a belief that productivity improvements will come from restricting the supply of migrant labour. Unfortunately, that belief is not founded on economic evidence. And it risks tarnishing our longstanding record as a favoured destination for skilled migrants.
The distrust also contrasts starkly with the new Labor Government's approach to immigration in Australia.
In her address at the Anthony Albanese-led "Jobs and Skills Summit" in September, Minister for Home Affairs Claire O'Neil declared, "Immigration is one of the biggest levers we have to drive our country forward, and it is fast, and it is powerful."
O'Neil promised her Government would switch from a system focussed almost entirely on keeping people out to one that "recognises that Australia is in a global competition for talent."
"[F]or the first time in our history, Australia is not the destination of choice for many of the world's skilled migrants," she said.
O'Neil described Australia's migration system as "fiendishly complex" with "multiple skilled occupation lists… and an outdated visa processing system that is anything but fit for purpose."
If this sounds all too familiar, the Minister's prescription was anything but. O'Neill promised, "A simple, fast system that's easy for businesses, big and small, and for migrants, to use."
As New Zealand firms and workers battle rising interest rates, a cost of living crisis and geopolitical uncertainty, it is time our Government ended the self-inflicted harm of restrictive immigration settings.
Here's to a Labor Australia-style immigration reset.