Big changes to New Zealand immigration policies will affect South Africans

The New Zealand government says that it plans to ‘reset’ its immigration policies when it reopens its borders, making it increasingly difficult for some workers to enter the country.

In a statement on Monday (17 May), the New Zealand government announced it would be narrowing pathways for those hoping to migrate and work in the country, particularly those it classed as ‘low-skill’ and low-wage workers.

It simultaneously announced new measures to attract rich investors, the Guardian reported. “When our borders fully open again, we can’t afford to simply turn on the tap to the previous immigration settings,” said tourism minister Stuart Nash.

“Covid-19 has starkly highlighted our reliance on migrant labour – particularly temporary migrant labour. The pressure we have seen on housing and infrastructure in recent years means we need to get ahead of population growth,” he said.

Nash said New Zealand had been moving to reduce its reliance on lower-skilled migrants over time, but the country had still seen significant population growth driven by migration.

“High levels of migration have contributed to 30% of New Zealand’s total population growth since the early 1990s. This has been fuelled, in particular, by increasing numbers of temporary migrant workers and students.”

While there are no fine details on what the changes will entail, it’s been made clear that it will be focused on the temporary and skilled migrant worker immigration categories.

This would include:

  • Strengthening minimum employer requirements to be met before a migrant can be hired;
  • Changing the labour market test required before migrants can be hired;
  • Encouraging local employers to hire, train and upskill more New Zealanders to fill skill shortages, before looking to migrant workers.

Move likely to impact South Africans 

The focus on wealthy investors over skilled workers is likely to have an impact on South Africans, with New Zealand historically seen as a key emigration destination for many.

Data published at the end of 2020 by Statistics New Zealand shows that around 7,100 South Africans moved to the country in the September 2019/2020 year.

This 7,100 figure is not an accurate representation of South African citizens who have permanently emigrated to New Zealand – especially as strict travel restrictions remain in place due to the pandemic.

Many visitors to New Zealand, travelling on a range of visa types, have been unable to departand estimates show that as at 6 November 2020 there are 80,000–110,000 visitors still in the country.

Their prolonged stay in New Zealand is currently contributing to high estimates of migrant arrivals and net migration between late-2019 and March 2020.

South Africans choose to move to New Zealand for numerous reasons, most notably because its safe, is child-friendly, and for job opportunities.

Historically these South Africans have entered the country on residence and work visas, however, the data shows that there has also been an increase in student visa-arrivals in recent years.

While New Zealand’s shift away from welcoming migrant workers will affect how many South Africans can successfully make the jump – rich South Africans will likely benefit from its policy focus on drawing wealth.

South Africa has lost thousands of high net worth individuals to emigration over the years, with analyst group, New World Wealth, noting that a ‘significant’ number of millionaires have left the country in the last year or so.

The group said that over 100 millionaires from South Africa moved to a different country in 2019/20. Among the destinations they went to, Portugal was highlighted as one country that proved particularly popular for South African millionaires looking to relocate.

However, New Zealand was flagged as a nation set to emerge as a major HNWI destination in the future.


Read: Government in talks over new lockdown restrictions for South Africa – what businesses say they should focus on

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Big changes to New Zealand immigration policies will affect South Africans