05 June 2018

Southland Chamber of Commerce calls for rethink on regional immigration

A New Zealand-wide regional immigration policy is desperately needed to combat significant shortfalls in attraction and retention of skilled people, the Southland Chamber of Commerce says.

The attraction and retention of staff, and skills shortages, have been the biggest issues facing Southland businesses for several years, Southland Chamber of Commerce President Neil McAra said.

This is being addressed in the Southland Regional Development Strategy (SoRDS), with its main goal of 10,000 more people living in Southland by 2025, through initiatives to grow the population, diversify the economy and strengthen local business.

McAra said the ideal scenario would be placing Southlanders in jobs, with the next preference being internal migrants, then new residents to New Zealand, but this was proving exceptionally difficult because of a tight labour market and Government immigration policy settings.

Southland employers across the board were crying out for skilled staff to fill a wide range of positions available in the region.

“Manufacturing and many other sectors are booming but are struggling to get the staff they need to service strong demand,” McAra said.

The chamber was proposing a New Zealand-wide regional policy on immigration to help alleviate the increasingly dire situation businesses all around the country were experiencing when it came to recruitment and retention.

“We are no different here to many other regions as we have the same issues. The exception to this is Auckland, which needs its own policy because of the massive influxes the city is experiencing.”

Reacting to Auckland problems with nationwide policies was hurting regions like Southland, where escalating labour shortages were causing real problems, he said.

McAra pointed to employment figures in the past quarter with Southland sitting on 2.7% unemployment.

If unemployment remained this low, the labour market squeeze would continue, heaping more pressure on businesses, he said.

“We need pragmatic solutions to support small and medium-sized businesses, with a pathway to attract and help retain the skilled people we need to keep Southland’s strong economy rolling,” McAra said.

Immigration and retention services in Southland were fragmented and needed to be streamlined into a wrap-around service that better met the needs of newcomers to the region, he said.

Housing shortages in the region also needed to be addressed, he said.

A key SoRDS initiative was International student growth at SIT and Southland schools, including the retention of more graduates from SIT in Southland, particularly students with families, he said.

In presentations, SIT has outlined that just 20 per cent of SIT International graduates get a job and stay in Southland. However, of those who leave, 73 per cent would prefer to stay in Southland if they could get a good job.

The Chamber supported SIT’s proposal for a cap on the number of International students Auckland based private training establishments could take, and reducing amounts students need in their bank accounts to study outside of Auckland, McAra said.

It also backed SIT’s call to retain post-study work visas for sub-degree graduates, increasing the post study job search visa from one year to two years if studying and job searching outside of Auckland, and increasing the points gained for the Skilled Migrant Category, if taking a job outside of Auckland.