New Zealand is opening its arms to foreigners who have lived there during the COVID-19 pandemic, creating a new pathway to residency for up to 165,000 people.
On Thursday, Immigration Minister Kris Faafoi announced the new “2021 Residency Visa,” with places for 110,000 workers and 55,000 family members.
The announcement comes after months of advocacy from other political parties and business groups, which feared losing much-needed skills during a time of low unemployment.
“The changes give migrants certainty about their future here, allowing them to continue putting down roots, and will help reunite many families who were separated by the border restrictions that prevent COVID-19 entering the community,” Mr Faafoi said.
Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern’s government shut off expressions of interest from skilled migrants for residency in March last year, when COVID-19 first arrived in New Zealand.
It has offered stop-gap visa extensions since then, leaving many frustrated.
Families that found themselves separated due to New Zealand’s border rules have been especially vocal in their campaigning.
Greens immigration spokesman Ricardo Menendez-March said it had been an unsettling time for many migrants.
“For too long many migrants have not only dealt with the pandemic, but have also faced added uncertainty and insecurity about whether they can stay and make a home here, and the stress and anxiety that creates,” he said.
Immigration NZ estimate the eligible visa holders will include more than 5000 health and aged care workers, more than 800 teachers and around 9000 in primary industries.
Federated Farmers immigration spokesman Chris Lewis said the announcement would see “big smiles in cowsheds and tractors across the country”.
“We have been losing people to Australia and Canada,” he said.
“This gives 9000 of the workers who have stayed on to help run our farms some certainty about their future.
“And they deserve it. They’ve supported us through exceptionally difficult times on farm and we are going to need them even more in the future.”
Opposition immigration spokeswoman Erica Stanford said the new visa was “a really great thing, just a year too late”.
The eligibility conditions are broad.
Applicants must have lived in New Zealand for three years, or work in a skill shortage area, including health, education and some construction and manufacturing roles, or simply earn more than the median wage ($NZ27 an hour, or $A26).
Applications open in December, with those already in the residency backlog to be prioritised.