Time to reinvent NZ’s immigration system

10 Sep 2020 Time to reinvent NZ’s immigration system image

New Zealand’s immigration system wasn’t working before Covid hit, and it is clearly not working now.  Today we have a golden opportunity to reinvent and reengineer our immigration system, which is largely paper based, complicated, and takes too long for applications to be processed. 

In the modern world, where decisions aided by technology are quickly made, it’s time for our immigration system to benefit from 21st century technology.  Many functions could be done by Artificial Intelligence and therefore, rapidly progressed.  To be fair, this process has started, but it could be accelerated, giving us an efficient and effective immigration system that removes the many long delays that are a reality today.

Processing reform is not all that is needed.  The whole system of decisions and checks and balances urgently need reform.  It needs to be updated to deal with the reality of Covid and the fact that Covid is here to stay.  These reforms could be designed to enable Artificial Intelligence to make some of the decisions required.

However, substantive reforms should focus on what New Zealand needs to recover from Covid.  Our businesses need workers with skills to survive the economic downturn and grow our way out of it.  The system also needs to be compassionate and give entitlements not only to the workers but to their families. 

Working on the basis that New Zealand will be one of the more desirable places to live, due to our isolation and improving the management of Covid, we as a country should develop an appealing offer for the people and skills we need for our recovery. 

The new system will, however need to be based on a sound border policy that is effectively and consistently implemented.  The border needs to be made more robust and better attuned to the issues being dealt with.  For example, people travelling from Covid-free countries should not be mixed with people travelling from countries not so fortunate. 

Different conditions should be employed around Covid-free country travellers so when New Zealand shakes Covid off, travel between these countries and New Zealand can be liberalised, with all the risks minimised.  Labour and skills mobility could then be enabled between these countries and ours. 

Today, there are a number of Pacific nations that are Covid-free. In all these cases, a different regime should be applied and their nationals able to enter New Zealand to meet our worker and skills needs.

Unashamedly, we need to maximise New Zealand’s national interest.  We need to adjust our immigration settings to support our businesses and then, with streamlined systems, enable the rapid processing of the workers and skills needed.  The only balancing factor should be their safe arrival in New Zealand, and their Covid-free status being established before they enter into New Zealand from quarantine. 

Now is not the time for quotas and limits: it is the time for business to be enabled by our immigration system.  The world is on the verge of yet another technological revolution.  New Zealand can be part of that revolution but only with new skills, some of which will need to be imported through the reinvented immigration system. 

At the same time, we need to ensure that our existing businesses have the workers and skills that they need to feed the country, and earn valuable offshore finances to fund our recovery and development.

The options are very stark, and there is, in my view, very little grey area.  New Zealand either continues with an outdated and ineffective immigration system that does not support or enable businesses to continue to perform and grow OR, we seize the opportunity presented by Covid and reinvent the immigration system. In doing so, we can support the business growth and financial performance that will ensure employment for all New Zealanders. 

I think this is an easy choice to make.  It’s one that should be on the table in the lead up to the General Election, and it is one that the next Government should do as its number one priority.  But we do not need to wait for the election. 

Steps could be taken now to get this new system under way.  The fundamentals underpinning current immigration decisions need to be changed so we can deal with stranded travellers and the need to get workers and skills back into New Zealand. 

The fundamental driver underpinning every decision should be to support business recovery and growth to enable our financial recovery and the employment of all New Zealanders.

Mike Chapman, Chief Executive