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Employers who need workers for ‘significant economic activities’ can now request Immigration NZ to allow them into the country as a ‘critical worker’

Editorial – June / July’20

The Covid-19 Recovery (Fast-track Consenting) Bill was introduced to Parliament on 16 June and is currently at the select committee stage. If passed, the new legislation will enable fast-track consenting and designation processes for infrastructure and development projects, allowing them to proceed without the need for resource consent.

Eleven ‘shovel-ready’ projects have been listed in the bill and will be the first cabs off the rank, should the bill be enacted, which is more than likely. They include roads and cycleways, upgrades to the rail network and water, and housing developments, and are located across the country (although more than half are in Auckland).

Environment Minister David Parker has said “job-rich infrastructure and development projects of different sizes and in different locations around New Zealand will be prioritised”, and more projects will be fast-tracked “to help deliver faster economic growth and more jobs as soon as possible”.

But do we have the skilled workers on our shores that will be needed for these projects? One minute before midnight on Thursday, 19 March, New Zealand closed its borders to most people other than citizens and returning residents. Those entering the country are required to go into self-isolation for 14 days upon arrival. People can no longer enter the country, unless there are very exceptional circumstances, or they are recognised as a ‘critical worker’.

Under the lockdown, ‘critical workers’ were those employed by ‘essential services’ – mainly healthcare and those businesses that were a critical part of the supply chain. Even then, there was a great deal of confusion, with some organisations claiming to be ‘critical’ and ‘essential’, but later being told they weren’t.

In mid-June, Economic Development Minister Phil Twyford announced that as part of the Government’s long-term border management, Immigration NZ would be “strengthening” its processes and criteria for employers who need workers for “significant economic activities”, to stop key projects being delayed or avoid negative impacts on the wider economy. “We need to balance demand for specialist and critical workers while supporting a rapidly changing labour market,” Mr Twyford said.

Employers can now request to bring critical workers into New Zealand while the border is closed on the basis of them being ‘other critical workers’. Already, we have seen two syndicate teams who will challenge Emirates Team New Zealand for the America’s Cup next year, and film crew and executives who will film the Avatar sequel, granted entry.

Immigration NZ says requests will be considered on a case-by-case basis by senior officials. There are strict criteria which must be met, and two categories are available – for short-term (less than six months) or longer-term (more than six months) roles.

Construction companies that are missing the essential skilled workers they need for their infrastructure projects will need to plan carefully and assess the immigration criteria to ensure they have the capability they need, when they need it.

Until next time …
Lynne Richardson, editor

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