Employers and immigrants are facing an “immigration nightmare” and the Government's policy “reset” got the blame at a passionate public meeting held in Gisborne yesterday.
Leader of the Opposition Judith Collins attended the Chamber of Commerce-hosted meeting, having earlier visited four affected Gisborne businesses, and told an audience of about 200 at Gisborne-Tatapouri Sports Fishing Club that she was “unashamedly pro-immigration”.
The meeting and the visit of Ms Collins, National's immigration spokeswoman Erica Stanford, economic development spokesman Todd McClay, immigration spokeswoman Erica Stanford and agricultural spokesman David Bennett, was arranged by Gisborne Hydraulics co-owner Natasja Paulson.
Mrs Paulson told The Herald immigrants and their families were “in limbo” during the Government's immigration policy reset.
Her business had three staff on Essential Skills Visas, but the entire staff were caught in “this immigration nightmare”.
She told the meeting the Government needed to honour the criteria immigrants had come to New Zealand under.
Her business had checked and double-checked the criteria before embarking on the expensive task of looking for skilled workers from overseas, and the immigrants had done likewise.
“Why else would they sell everything, uproot their entire lives to work (in New Zealand) for three years, and then what?
She said one of her immigrant workers had a 19-year-old son.
“He's stuck, he can't work, study or volunteer because his dad, like so many others, is in an immigration limbo.
Immigrants at the meeting said that because of the policy reset they had to pay expensive immigration fees again for criteria such as the condition of their health and English language skills.
“Have I forgotten how to speak English,” said one of them.
Mrs Paulson said the Government was rethinking its policy, changing its policy, and making it harder and more expensive for immigrants.
Its message to would-be immigrants was “sit tight while I drip-feed you information”.
Her company had recently launched an overseas recruitment drive and only attracted two applicants.
A similar exercise held before the immigration policy reset would have attracted 20 applicants.
New Zealand was losing would-be immigrants to Canada and Australia, she said.
Ms Collins said she was hearing similar stories around the country.
The Government had essentially closed down the immigration service and left families “to live by Zoom”.
“That is simply not acceptable.”
Ms Collins said there were 2000 Managed Isolation and Quarantine spots available.
“It is a shocking shame to New Zealand and we will pay for that with your businesses, lost opportunities for these great people who are in, or want to come to, New Zealand.”
She asked the audience to take their argument to the media, social media and talkback radio because the media was the only entity the Government listened to.
“I reckon we can turn this around.”
Immigrants came to New Zealand to work. They brought energy, commitment and a willingness to work.
National would stand up for them and businesses looking for staff, she said.
Ms Collins and her fellow National MPs also visited Total Parts and Services, McCannics and Gisborne Auto Electrics.
■ New Zealand's skilled migrant category is being reviewed and employer requirements strengthened as part of what the Government in May called a “once-in-a generation reset” of the immigration system. Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern said they want to move away from relying on low-skilled workers, to attracting those with higher skills.