Some frustrated migrants are giving up and going home because they say new rules make it harder to work and stay in New Zealand.
In the year to April, more than 30,000 non-New Zealand citizens who had been here on a permanent or long-term basis left this country – up 23 per cent on the year before, according to Statistics NZ.
As a result, annual net migration is down 4800 from a high point a year ago. Most were temporary migrants who arrived on student and work visas, experts believe.
Immigration policy changes introduced last year have made it harder for temporary migrants to gain residency.
“There is less enthusiasm for post-study options for international students, who are defined as permanent and long-term if they have been in New Zealand for more than 12 months,” said Massey University sociologist and immigration expert Professor Paul Spoonley.
“But the Government has signalled that the labour market test is under review. This signals an intention to require employers to seek New Zealand workers before recruiting immigrants… particularly true for some areas such as hospitality and retail.”
Spoonley said it was definitely the departures of non-New Zealand citizens that had contributed to the declining immigration numbers.
Donny Lai, 50, a former university lecturer from Hong Kong, will next week be returning home with his wife and young son after three years of struggling to secure a decent job.
Lai describes himself as a “highly qualified IT professional” ande moved here in April 2015 because he believed the education system here was better for his 9-year-old son Justin.
But after sending out hundreds of job applications, the only work he could find was as a low-paid teacher in a private training establishment.
“We still love New Zealand, but it is just simply not possible to settle here when you cannot find a proper job,” Lai said.
“The job market here is also too small for highly skilled people like myself, which is quite ironic because that is what immigration gives points for under the skilled migrant category.”
Lai said most employers also would not give migrant workers who did not have local work experience a chance.
Kary Chung, 23, who last year told the Herald new rules made it impossible for her to meet visa requirements under the skilled migrant category, returned to Hong Kong for good last week.
Chung first came to New Zealand as a student at Takapuna Grammar School and last year graduated with a Bachelor of International Hospitality from AUT. She had been in the country for almost seven years.
Policy changes, which came into effect on January 15, meant migrants must be paid at least $24.29 per hour to be considered in skilled employment. Pathways to residence for temporary migrants have also been cut back.
Chung’s partner Ivan Shum, 24, a Massey University business graduate who also arrived as a high school student at Takapuna Grammar, also left the country permanently yesterday.
Spoonley said there were many “frustrated immigrant job seekers” who were giving up on New Zealand.
He said there remained a reluctance among small to medium enterprise owners to consider any applicant who did not have local experience.
Immigration Minister Iain Lees-Galloway said this was a “flow-on effect” of the high migration that occurred under the previous Government.
“What we’re seeing here is a significant cohort of temporary migrants and those on student visas with post-study work rights leaving the country as their visas expire,” Lees-Galloway said.
“I don’t accept that immigration should necessarily fill shortages in industries like hospitality and retail when the underemployment rate remains high at around 12 per cent, meaning there are plenty of New Zealand workers looking for more work.”
Lees-Galloway said the Government remained committed to making sure the immigration system works for New Zealand.
The Government’s plans on how the system would be better targeted for the growth of regions and industries would be announced soon, he said.
“It is clear that there are industries that are key to this country’s growth, like construction and dairying for example, that need migrant workers especially in our regions,” said Lees-Galloway.
“We remain committed to ensuring that when businesses have a genuine need for skilled migrant workers that they’ll get the workers they need.”
Eric Chuah, founder of Cultural Connections, said sometimes migrants faced difficulties because they were not fully aware of the services and organisations out there to help them settle and find employment.
In 2014, Chuah started the ANZ Migrant Expo when he was head of migrant banking at the bank. The next expo will be held on June 16 at The Cloud, which will focus on employment and start-up business.
“The expo serves as a single platform to help migrants access the info they need, and connect with the right organisation for opportunities, upskilling and networking,” Chuah said.
Restaurant Association chief executive Marisa Bidois said it would be a worry for the industry if New Zealand became less attrative to migrant workers.
“As long as we are still able to access the required workers through temporary visas, the trend is not alarming yet,” Bidois said.
“However if the decline continues and New Zealand becomes a country that is for whatever reason less attractive to overseas workers, this could up significant pressure on an already challenging recruiting environment.”
The net migration gain of 67,000 migrants for the April 2018 year returns migrant flows to a level last seen two years ago.
The gain for the year was made up of 130,500 arrivals and 63,400 departures.
“Interestingly, the number of arrivals increased in the April 2018 year, so it is the larger increase in departures that drove the lower net migration level,” population insights senior manager Brooke Theyers said.
More than 98,000 non-New Zealand citizens arrived but more than 30,000 non-New Zealand citizens left over the same period.