Penny Simmonds October 04, 2021
Originally published as a column in The Southland Times
Immigration delays are one of the biggest challenges facing Southland at this time.
From the agriculture and manufacturing sectors, to health and aged residential care, our region is being held to ransom by the Government’s poor handling of immigration processing.
A Dairy NZ and Federated Farmers workforce survey, in March, showed 49 percent of Southland farms were short-staffed, or in need of additional people, and by far the biggest concern from farmers were the painfully slow immigration processing times, the lack of family reunification for visa holders and no pathway to residency.
Federated Farmers says it is repeatedly hearing stories of skilled international dairy farm staff ready to head home, and effectively end their careers in this country, because they cannot live with the uncertainty of the immigration settings.
In contrast, the Australian Government is currently encouraging migrants to join their workforce, launching a Farm Working Visa this month, available to skilled and semi-skilled overseas workers in farming, fisheries, forestry and meat processing.
This new visa aims to quickly address worker shortages across the Tasman and it begs the question why our Government continues to sit on its hands.
The problems are not unique to farmers either, our health sector in Southland is also desperate to attract and retain skilled international doctors, nurses and support staff, as shortages in these areas escalate.
The Southern District Health Board currently has 433 positions to fill, with a report to the board’s Hospital Advisory Committee this week highlighting border closures and visa uncertainty as a significant challenge in addressing these vacancies.
I personally know of a nurse who has been working in Southland for some time, but is now returning home to India (check this with Penny) because she can’t bring her family here.
Imagine not seeing your two-year-old son for two years. I’ve had people in my office in tears about their situation and I just can’t understand why this Government would not support these skilled workers and encourage them to stay.
Immigration New Zealand stopped processing residency applications for skilled migrants at the start of the pandemic in 2020 and there are now 11553 applications in waiting.
Alongside this there have been further immigration processing delays, including for visa variations, as immigration staff have moved to working from home under COVID-19 Level 4 settings.
This frozen residency pool is leaving thousands of people in immigration limbo - they can’t access Kiwisaver, or buy a house. They’re fed up and now they’re choosing to leave – it’s the last thing that a province like Southland needs at this time.
National has announced a policy that would address these issues. We would instruct Immigration NZ to clear the backlog of residency applications and give other skilled migrant workers a clearer path to residency.
We are also now calling on the Government to offer residence class visas on arrival to experienced specialist healthcare workers to attract them here.
These are simple changes which could make a significant difference - so why is the Government making us wait?