OZ changes could stress Kiwi job market


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Australia’s belated change of policy in freeing up a path to Australian citizenship for Kiwis is likely to have a major impact on New Zealand’s tight labour situation.

The previous policy has always been a source of political disaffection between the two neighbours. The changes in effect restore the situation to that in 2001 when Australia introduced the old policy.

Tauranga’s Priority One chief executive Nigel Tutt told the Bay of Plenty Business News that Australia had recently generally been seen to be more active in attracting immigration.

“But I do think this will heighten employer concerns amidst NZ companies.”

Prime Minister Chris Hipkins said in a statement: “This is the biggest improvement in the rights of New Zealanders living in Australia in a generation and restores most of the rights Kiwis had in Australia before they were revoked in 2001.”

From July, New Zealand citizens who have lived in Australia for four years on the current temporary, special category visa provided to all New Zealanders will be able to directly apply for citizenship, without first having to become a permanent resident.

Tight Kiwi job market

It has been clear from media coverage and government comments over the past year or so that New Zealand employers have been dealing with a very tight job market. As the economy has slowed, this tight labour market shows signs of easing, but it still isn’t easy.

Kellie Hamlett

Business News’ human resources columnist Kellie Hamlett, director of the Bay of Plenty’s Talent ID recruitment firm, noted: “Even with an increase in migrant arrivals here, we are still painfully short of workers across all sectors, and this change will surely put even more pressures on our employers over time.”

According to Hamlett’s research into recent migration trends, even pre-Covid there was a provisional net migration loss of 8,100 people to Australia in the year ended June 2022.  The loss in that year was made up of net losses of 6,500 New Zealand citizens and 1,600 non-New Zealand citizens.

And traditionally, there has been a net migration loss from New Zealand to Australia. This averaged nearly 30,000 a year during 2004–2013, and about 3,000 a year during 2014–2019. However, it is unknown how many of these were NZ citizens.

“I think the reality is that in the past we have lost a lot of NZ citizens to Australia,” said Hamlett. “At present we have had 16 months of consecutive net migration losses of people to Australia.”

Australia a favoured target

Australia, being larger and generally more active economically, has always been a favoured target for New Zealanders seeking to start their OE.

“Australia has always offered higher wages, and an overall more attractive ‘package’ with more affordable housing and an arguably better lifestyle, so to some, it has been and is an attractive option,” said Hamlett.

Matt Cowley

Matt Cowley, chief executive of the Tauranga Business Chamber, said migration had been an issue in New Zealand for a long time and we were now seeing it become an issue again in the New Zealand media spotlight.

“Now that Covid has moved on a bit people are beginning to feel more free to move and have more choices,” he said. “There are some sectors [in NZ] that may be more exposed to the development,” he said.

Anecdotally, Cowley referenced as an example the problems faced by fruit pack houses in recent times and their concerns about Covid’s impact on employment over the past few years.

“Anecdotally the immigration shift may [also] be of concern re developing our new business leaders,” he said.

Cowley said he had also heard concerns expressed by bulk housing producers that the market could see a cooling-off in the construction sector.

Generally speaking, he suggested migration was more likely to affect blue collar workers in the Bay, especially in the construction sector.

“It’s too soon to say whether we’re going to see a mass exodus.”

The new citizenship laws were not necessarily going to be disastrous, he added.

Kellie Hamlett said that even with the steep increase in wages experienced in New Zealand over the past two years, New Zealand still struggled to compete with the wages on offer in Australia.

“Whilst the recently announced path to citizenship might not be the reason people leave New Zealand, it certainly is another tick in Australia’s favour,” she said.

What the changes offer

Under the changes:

  • Rights come into effect on July 1, 2023.
  • Applies to Kiwis on temporary, special category, visas who have lived in Australia for four years, and meet the standard Australian citizenship criteria (e.g. pass a character check, adequate knowledge of Australia, a basic English competency, will continue to reside in or have a connection with Australia) and attend a citizenship ceremony.
  • Is retrospective. Those in Australia since 2001 will be able to apply directly for citizenship without gaining permanent residence first.
  • Is affordable (the fee is A$490).
  • Has no minimum income requirement or health requirement.
  • Gives Kiwis access to services and benefits, once they become citizens.
  • Allows Kiwi children born in Australia to become citizens at birth (rather than waiting till they turn 10, as they do now).

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