The Government is poised to announce a long-awaited policy to fast-track tens of thousands of residency applications for migrant workers stuck in limbo throughout the pandemic.
Immigration Minister Kris Faafoi has been under pressure for months after the Government stopped processing residency applications in March last year, and then put a freeze on expressions of interest this year.
There are over 30,000 applications in the residency queue, and another 11,400 expressions of interest ahead of that, including about 26,000 workers and their families.
Many of those who came here on work visas but were left stranded in limbo have been leaving the country.
This week the Herald reported critical care nurses were leaving as the country battles a Delta outbreak.
In recent weeks Faafoi has been rumoured to have an announcement imminent, but it is now understood to be landing tomorrow morning.
It came after a now-deleted page was published on Immigration New Zealand’s website advertising a one-off 2021 residence visa for migrant workers, fuelling speculation.
Immigration advisor Ben De’Ath of the Regions Immigration Law & Recruitment said they were expecting tomorrow’s announcement to be a one-off residency grant to all those who have been in the country since the first lockdown on median wage or above.
He said it could end up with about 100,000 applications, including workers and their families.
De’Ath said it was understood there would be a form of a priority system to work through the applications, which could take “a couple of years”.
De’Ath, who primarily works with farming communities struggling with workers leaving for places like Canada that offered residency, said it had been a long time coming, with the catalyst for change likely seeing “the exodus of nurses during a pandemic”.
“It will be absolutely life-changing, and well overdue.”
National Party immigration spokeswoman Erica Stanford said the now-deleted policy appeared similar to her party’s policy to grant a “Covid contribution visa” pathway.
She said the minister had no choice but to offer residency to all of those stuck here, which was part of National’s own broader policy.
“The minister has backed himself into a corner with the last three years of inaction with these massive queues. There really is no option but to fast-track those applications and streamline and open up the expressions on interest process quickly.
“People on essential work visas are leaving in droves for places like Canada that offer pathways to residency, whereas there has been no certainty here.”
To get through the backlog Stanford said there would need to be a “massive boost” to staffing”.
“These are changes he could have made a year ago, but the Government had an agenda wanting to limit immigration. Now we have a huge labour shortage in sectors and the Government has finally caught up.”
It is also expected tomorrow’s announcement would include changes to the points system for gaining skilled migrant category visas.
Immagine immigration adviser Iain MacLeod said offering residency to all those on work visas stuck in the country would be “the right thing to do”.
“It will be interesting. The Government has always mentioned the team of five million but it never included the tens of thousands of people the Government invited to apply for residency, but it left literally fearing every dawn they would be chucked out of New Zealand.”
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