The Whipped Baker owner Frances Cooper has had just two days off in seven weeks. She says the revamped skilled migrant visa rules will offer no respite. Photo / Alex Cairns
A Tauranga bakery owner who has had just two days off in seven weeks says revamped skilled migrant visa rules will do little to ease the labour shortage because the pay rates will be too
high for employers.
The owner of a city backpackers also says the process of applying to hire migrants is expensive and an “absolute performance” to navigate.
But the Ministry of Business, Innovation and Employment (MBIE) says the Government wants to ensure employers are offering “attractive” wages, conditions and training opportunities to New Zealanders before they look to hire migrants.
The comments come as changes to the skilled migrant visa scheme were announced in June to make it easier for businesses to attract much-needed staff amid a global labour shortage.
Changes to the Skilled Migrant Category, which come into force in October, will remove the cap on highly skilled workers and introduce a new six-point system aimed at giving certainty to those workers on their eligibility, clearer criteria and a faster pathway to residence.
The Accredited Employer Work Visa would also be extended to five years, and a five-year maximum continuous stay would be introduced.
Under the new points system, one of the ways a migrant could be eligible for a skilled migrant visa was if they had a minimum of two years’ work experience and a job or job offer of at least one and a half times the current median wage, or $44.49 an hour.
A migrant could also gain all six points from having a doctoral degree or having a job or job offer at three times the median wage, or $88.98 an hour.
The Whipped Baker owner Frances Cooper believed the changes to the median wage threshold for the Accredited Employer Work Visa were “absolutely ridiculous” and would do little to ease the labour shortage.
Cooper said she had to close on Sundays while she looked for an experienced barista.
“We have got people we can use but you have to be an accredited employer to get a skilled migrant and the median wage is ridiculous.”
The new median wage of $29.66 an hour came into effect in February this year – an increase from $27.76 in 2022 and $25.50 in 2021.
Cooper said she wanted to hire migrants but the changes to the median wage threshold meant she could not afford them.
“These people have come into the country hoping to get jobs but, because the pay rates are so high, businesses can’t actually afford it. It’s letting people down on both ends. We need them and they need to work but we physically can’t afford to pay them.
“We are looking for a baker and a man from overseas said he couldn’t take any less than $35 an hour. There’s no way we can afford that.
“It’s tough on us. I’ve had two days off in seven weeks. Five days off in four months. I’m constantly working to keep both places staffed.”
Cooper said her cafe needed five to six staff members a day to run it but on Sundays it only had three and had to close.
“We pay our baristas extremely well but what the Government is wanting them [skilled migrants] to earn is excessive. I don’t know how businesses can afford it.
“It puts businesses in crisis mode because the price of food, the price of everything has gone up, especially for hospitality.
“We have to pass that price on to our customers, who are in the same positions as us.”
Cooper said becoming an accredited employer was a long process that took months.
“I don’t have the time to wait. I need staff now, not in six months’ time when a visa will finally come through.”
Sarah Meadows, owner of Tauranga backpackers Wanderlust NZ, said the application process for a Skilled Migrant Visa and the Accredited Employer Work Visa was expensive.
The Accredited Employer Work Visa cost $740 for a standard accreditation and $610 for a job check, with the Skilled Migrant application costing between $2700 and $3480 if successful.
Meadows said the process was “an absolute performance”.
“I would never do it again. The whole process was just horrific from start to end. The visa took four months to process for one worker. If you’ve got a position that you’re desperate to fill you can’t wait four months.”
MBIE policy manager Lee Gerrard said the simplified points system was part of the Government’s “immigration rebalance” to support economic growth and give more certainty to migrant workers on pathways to residence.
The points system aimed to attract and retain people with medium-to-long-term skills that were “hard or take time” to fill by Kiwi workers. It also set a “clear and transparent” skills threshold.
Gerrard said the changes, including introducing the median wage threshold for the Accredited Employer Work Visa, were made to help shift New Zealand to a higher wage economy, increase the skill level of migrant workers and encourage employers to offer competitive wages and improve career pathways for New Zealanders.
“The Government wants to ensure employers are offering attractive wages, conditions and training opportunities to New Zealanders before they look to bring in migrants.”
Gerrard said it aimed to process straightforward and “complete” Accredited Employer Work Visa applications within 20 working days and it had received more than 77,500 since July 4 last year. Of those, more than 68,200 had been approved.
Tauranga Chamber of Commerce chief executive Matt Cowley said the recent changes would hopefully make it more attractive for skilled workers with young families and fill other much-needed skilled jobs.
The chamber’s latest poll showed 32 per cent of businesses reported they were still affected by labour market shortages and 19 per cent said they were – but to a lesser extent than last year. Just over 43 per cent said it wasn’t an issue for their business.
Cowley said the poll showed the economy was showing signs of “cooling from the extraordinary shortages from last year”.
Highly specialised and skilled roles, including IT, engineering for cyclone recovery and specialist public and private sector roles, were the hardest to fill with the only immediate solution being to recruit from overseas.
– Harriet Laughton is an Auckland University of Technology journalism student.