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NZ immigration policy tweaks to push down migrant access, Woodhouse says

Tuesday 11th October 2016

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The government's changes to immigration policy for skilled migrants will exclude senior executives whose age and education doesn't meet the tougher criteria, and sends out the message that "New Zealand is closed for business", says an immigration adviser. 

The New Zealand Residence Programme's planning range for residence approvals for the next two years has been lowered to 85,000-to-95,000 from a previous range of 90,000-to-100,000, the skilled migrant category will impose higher barriers to entry, and the number of places for capped family categories was more than halved to 2,000 per year. 

David Cooper, the operations manager at Malcolm Pacific Immigration, says the higher points requirement for the skilled migrant category will have a "significant impact" and sends a message that "all of a sudden New Zealand is closed for business or it's got tougher". 

"To get to 160 points means you probably have to have a university degree, a job offer, some work experience and be reasonably young to get to that high number of points," Cooper said. "We have got some CEOs, managing directors and the like who have been recruited to the jobs in New Zealand on six-figure salaries who won't get 160 points, so they're immediately affected." 

Cooper said immigration advisers will need to find other pathways for those migrants, either through different visas or to see whether more changes will be made to the point system, which he characterises as a "blunt instrument". 

Immigration Minister Michael Woodhouse said the changes unveiled today would reduce the number of migrants being granted residency, in a period when New Zealand has seen record levels of net migration, largely due to the weakness of the Australian economy making a trans-Tasman jaunt less attractive for Kiwis.

While that's underscored consumer demand and supported economic growth in aggregate, if not in per capita terms, it's also been seen as driving up house prices beyond the reach of the average household in a period where low-interest rates has meant people are more willing to take on debt. 

Cooper said the government had been advised for the past two years to crack down on the number of skilled migrant applicants who had previously come into New Zealand as international students, which "put pressure on the system". 

The country's swelling population has kept pace with jobs growth and limited wage inflation over the past couple of years, though recent economic indicators show firms are finding it increasingly harder to find both skilled and unskilled labour. 

In a statement, Business New Zealand chief executive Kirk Hope said more work is needed to make sure the points system's criteria deliver long-term benefits to the country, and that today's announcement was a step in the right direction. 

Government data show 57,958 people were granted residency in the year ended June 30, 2016, up from 52,447 in 2015. Of that, 31,519 were as skilled migrants in the 2016 intake, the most since the 2008/09 year.

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