Regional approach welcomed by North Canterbury’s migrant community

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By DAVID HILL

Government plans to encourage migrant workers into the regions, away from Auckland, is good news for North Canterbury’s migrant community.

Rangiora-based migrants advocate Bob Bolanos says he welcomes the recent announcement by Immigration Minister Iain Lees-Galloway that the Government plans to offer support for regions with skills shortages, while encouraging migrants away from Auckland.

“It’s good news. That’s what we’ve been pushing for, for a long time,” Mr Bolanos says.

“It’s always hard for us when a new government makes sweeping changes, but this news is very encouraging, particularly for the dairy industry and construction industry in Canterbury.”

It is expected that net annual migration will fall by 20,000 to 30,000 by tightening the number of people granted student and work visas.

However, Mr Lees-Galloway has said he plans to introduce measures to encourage migrant workers to move to the regions to seek employment.

One option is to create region-specific skill shortage lists, similar to the post-earthquake shortage list in Canterbury.

“Labour was very noisy before the election about reducing migration, but now they have been hearing the voices from construction and the rural sector which is encouraging,” Mr Bolanos says.

“I understand the sentiment that migrant workers are taking jobs away from New Zealanders in places like Auckland, where they are competing with locals.

“But it’s different in Canterbury,” he says.

“I know Filipino plasterers working on the rebuild who are asking ‘do you know any plasterers’ because their employer can’t get enough skilled plasterers.”

Mr Bolanos says different industries have different needs, with the building sector often employing skilled workers such as carpenters or electricians on short-term contracts, meaning short-term work visas made sense. In contrast, in the dairy industry, there are always “vacancies at the bottom”, with many employers keen to employ people wanting to work their way up in the industry.

In such circumstances, the longer-term options of residency are important for both migrant workers and their employers.

“Sadly, there’s not enough young people wanting to go into the dairy industry, so there’s always a vacuum at the bottom.”

While he is keen to advocate for migrant workers, Mr Bolanos says not enough is being done to encourage young New Zealanders to work in the rural sector. He is part of an arrangement with Rangiora High School to offer students work experience and mentoring.

“There should be an emphasis on guidance for young people, because a lot go on to tertiary education and then go overseas or end up in a job totally unrelated to their qualification.”

Employers needed to play their part by encouraging young people and not just giving them the tasks no-one else wants to do.