A wrap for immigration in 2020

Monday, December 7, 2020

Over the last twenty years in particular, New Zealand’s population and working age labour force has been buffeted by a steady net gain in immigrant arrivals.

In March 2020, with the closing of our borders, the tap that allows New Zealand’s steady flow of immigration was all but turned off.

As 2020 draws to a close, it is useful to take a brief look at the past before we crystal ball gaze into the future.

How did we get here?

In the early 2000’s, now Mayor of Christchurch but then Minister of Immigration, Lianne Dalziel, oversaw a significant period of immigration policy reform. From 2000 to 2008 the population grew by 407,000 with net migration gains contributing 45.5% to this growth.

Following this period and during the global financial crisis years of 2008 – 2013, net migration returned a modest 5% contributor towards overall population growth. Moving into 2014 through to 2020, net migration rose again markedly to 65% contributing to a 480,000 increase in the population.

Why is all of this significant?

In essence, while increasing our population, migration numbers have also offset the decline in fertility rates in New Zealand. Fertility rates are set to decline well in to the 2030’s. Significantly, by 2030, it is projected that 25% of the population will be older than the age of 65.

This is of genuine concern for our regions and their localised economies, which are primarily ageing populations. Populations that will continue to require significant support from offshore talent to support their labour force.

What next?

During 2020, arrivals in New Zealand have been (and remain) dominated by returning New Zealand citizens and eligible resident visa holders overseas. This great ‘return’ of our diaspora has not been seen in such numbers at any point in our history.

Based on a survey conducted by Kiwi Expat Network Group, ‘Kea’, latest numbers estimate approximately 250,000 New Zealand citizens and resident visa holders will return to New Zealand in the next two years. On top of that figure, it is estimated that a further 250,000 may return in the years that follow.

While a large number of these 250,000 expatriates will return with specialised skills and experience who in turn can fill vacant positions throughout New Zealand, skill shortages are likely to remain in a number of industries.

With the above in mind, 2021 is set to be another significant year in terms of immigration policy and direction going forward. Perhaps most significantly, a shift to an ‘employer led’ as opposed to ‘employee led’ immigration landscape, will require employers to be granted accreditation status, before employing an individual requiring a work visa.

In terms of visas with some form of permanency, the Skilled Migrant Category (Immigration New Zealand’s flagship residence programme) remains somewhat stagnant in respect of new applications not being ‘selected’ from the expression of interest pool until at least mid-April 2021. The longer this category remains on hold, the more discomfort that will be felt by those in New Zealand on a form of temporary visa, who have submitted an expression of interest in residency.

Border exemptions

According to a survey conducted by Tourism Industry Aoteroa, ahead of the summer season, 60% of 318 tourism operators throughout New Zealand have sought to employ additional staff during the last three months. Of those operators, 45% noted genuine difficulty and ongoing challenges in their search to find suitable candidates.

A number of the operators commented that New Zealand citizens or residents (residing in their geographic region) were unwilling to take on positions that were not full time and permanent. The survey found that the most important measure required to assist the industry in its recovery is to find ways to loosen some of the controls at the border.

Other industries continue to feel the pain, where just last week, an organisation trying to recruit four animal veterinarians at various clinics around New Zealand had their application for an exemption request (to let those workers in) declined by Immigration New Zealand. This was despite the organisation providing reliable labour market information indicating that there are close to 240 vacancies for veterinarian positions around New Zealand at present.

In terms of adding weight to an exemption application, employers are having to think creatively to clearly demonstrate that genuine skill shortages do exist in the industry they operate in. Immigration New Zealand are not always alive to what is happening in the labour market and the decisions they make are unfortunately often hamstrung by the number of managed isolation quarantine facility spaces available at any given time.


New Zealand was already facing a skills shortage when COVID-19 forced New Zealand into a national lockdown, and since this point, the skill shortage problem remains. Many of our clients are desperately short of the skills they need to grow their businesses and to respond to current demand, and while some workers are being let in across the border, the threshold is currently set very high.

Please feel free to contact our specialist immigration team if you require assistance with any immigration related matter.


Disclaimer: The content of this article is general in nature and not intended as a substitute for specific professional advice on any matter and should not be relied upon for that purpose.

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