1 September 2021

Migrant Exodus in Southland Likely with Uncertainty Over Visas

Migrant worker Christian Roxas has a job offer on the table to shift to Ireland, and while he loves his job in Southland, uncertainty around his visa means he may leave.

He is one of more than 1500 migrant workers in Southland who are on temporary work visas attached to an employer. About 949 work in the primary sector, while the service industry accounts for 380 workers and the construction industry 111.

He came from the Philippines with an expected pathway to eventually gain residency, but now he does not know when Immigration New Zealand will possibly start processing applications again.

Immigration New Zealand stopped processing residency applications for skilled migrants at the start of the pandemic in 2020, and can’t say when it will restart or what new requirements migrants will have to meet.

While countries like Canada and Australia are actively inviting migrants to join their workforce and bring their families, living in limbo is becoming less appealing to people like Roxas.

Roxas is a dairy worker on a Skilled Migrant Visa who arrived in September 2019, with the idea that his wife and children would follow later. If he takes the offer in Ireland he has been assured of residency and his family can join him straight away.

At the time, he needed to work for two years earning the median wage before lodging an Expression of Interest, and then being invited to apply for residency.

The ministry froze Expressions of Interest when the borders closed, and can’t say when the 11,553 applications in the queue will be processed.

He works long, hard hours, but enjoys his colleagues and the job, and gets along well with his boss – who has already bumped his pay to help him meet residency requirements.

“I love New Zealand, I don’t want to go,” he said, but he also misses his wife and children, which is adding to the frustration of not knowing whether he can set down roots.

As an essential worker, working in a field that few Kiwis want to join, he feels short-changed.

“We’re being used to run this country’s economy, why don’t they allow us to become a part of their team of 5 million? There’s no certainty, that’s my dilemma.”

South African forensic psychiatrist Mo Nagdee came to New Zealand with his wife, who is a dentist, and their teenage children, expecting that they would be able to apply for residency.

He’s based in Dunedin and says living in limbo means he can’t buy a house, contribute to Kiwisaver, his children can’t take up casual jobs for pocket money and will be subject to international fees when they are ready for tertiary education in a few years time.

The longer Expressions of Interest are suspended, the more times he has to engage an immigration advisor and reapply for documents like police clearance back home, which comes at a financial cost.

“There are significant implications for prolonging this. I’m not convinced INZ is acting with sufficient urgency,” he said.

A timeline from the Government would help provide certainty, he said.

Immigration Law Advice NZ director Vinay Sood has received at least one call a week for the past six months asking for help with Canadian visa applications.

“I haven’t seen a time when there’s been so much uncertainty,” he said of his 11 years in the industry.

While he completely understood that Covid-19 had put a stop to new migrants entering the country, he could not see why people already in the country could not be processed.

“The applications are piling up. There are thousands of EOIs just lying there. The people who are already here: that has nothing to do with Covid-19. That’s a policy issue.”

Residency applications are only being processed for those who earned more than $54 an hour, which was beyond the reach of Southland employers, Sood said.

Southland Chamber of Commerce chief executive Sheree Carey called immigration uncertainty one of the biggest challenges to Southland businesses and the most complex.

The chamber and others around the country had been lobbying for a resolution, she said.

Minister of Immigration Kris Faafoi acknowledged the uncertainty border closures had brought.

“The Government is currently considering how to best support these onshore visa holders, their families, and their employers by providing them with more certainty.”

Recent migration statistics showed that, in the past year to June 2021, there were fewer migrants leaving New Zealand compared to the previous year, Faafoi said, citing extensions to temporary visas as a possible reason.

Published by The Southland Times – 1 September 2021