Policy Point: Extra quarantine capacity for 'critical workers' is critical

Roger Partridge
Policy Point
3 September, 2020

On August 8, Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern said the Government would consider loosening New Zealand’s border controls and strict visa regime. Ardern said the Government is “keen to get local businesses more access to essential skilled workers to help grow the economy and create opportunities for resident Kiwis.”

The Government is right to be concerned about this issue. Unfortunately, the Government was forced to switch its focus to stamping out the virus and fixing the country’s evidently porous borders.

But with firms and workers now facing the fallout from a second period of enforced lockdown in Auckland and a return to lighter restrictions country-wide, it is now critical the Government address the border bottleneck.

The human costs of the shortage of managed isolation and quarantine capacity keeping Kiwi families apart is well understood. But the bottleneck at the border also risks choking the life out of the economy. With the border closed to international students, the $5 billion export education sector – along with the 50,000 jobs it supports – remains on ice.

But the border problem is not limited to students. Businesses are also struggling to bring in critical foreign workers with niche skills not available in New Zealand.

Many people think “foreign workers” refers to seasonal fruit pickers or dairy farmhands. But New Zealand businesses also rely on highly paid foreign workers with specialist skills. The German sewerage specialists brought to New Zealand to help fix Wellington’s waste-water system during lockdown are a good example.

As the economy struggles to get back on its feet, businesses must have access to such expertise.

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