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Labour targets exceptional migrants

NZ Newswire logoNZ Newswire 12/06/2017 Karen Sweeney

Labour leader Andrew LittleĀ  © Getty Images Labour leader Andrew LittleĀ  Labour wants to cut migration by up to 30,000 migrants a year while still attracting "exceptional" workers, but the government says their plan will stifle growth.

Party leader Andrew Little released his policy on Monday after weeks of speculation, declaring migrants make New Zealand a better place but a better balance needs to be struck.

His plan includes blocking the ability to work before and after study for those in "low-level" courses while introducing 1000 Exceptional Skills Visas for those with special talents and 1500 KiwiBuild construction visas targeting tradespeople.

"We've always sought to manage immigration to match our economic needs with our capacity to cope with population growth," Mr Little said.

"We reviewed the system from top to bottom and found several areas were being abused and not delivering the results Kiwis expect."

The new visa proposals have been welcomed by Business New Zealand but there are fears cuts in other areas would hurt the economy.

And the government agrees.

"The policy you've seen today reflects a view among the opposition parties that the best way to deal with these challenges is to shut down the growth, choke the international education industry, deprive the construction industry of the skills that it needs," Prime Minister Bill English said.

He took aim at the plan to slash 10,000 visas for students enrolled in low value courses and limit the ability of students to work while they're in New Zealand, saying 70 to 80 per cent of students only stay for the duration of their study.

Under Labour limits would also be placed on post study work visas which the party sees as a loophole to longer-term work visas resulting in up to 12,000 fewer visas each year.

The policy also targets 8000 visas through a Kiwi-first plan to train New Zealanders to fill skills shortages and only issue visas for migrants in regions affected by specific skills shortages.

Alongside that, the KiwiBuild visa would only allow construction firms to hire international workers if they also employ a Kiwi apprentice.

But Mr English also took aim at that, noting apprenticeship uptake rates are already high and arguing it cuts construction visas.

"They're talking about 1000 to 1500 KiwiBuild visas. Mate, who thinks you can build 100,000 houses with another 1000 people, that's completely unrealistic," Mr Engilsh said.

Business NZ chief executive Kirk Hope fears some employers will struggle to find workers if they can't rely on immigration.

"The more restrictions that are placed on lower-skilled migrants coming here, the harder it will be for the economy to grow," he said.

But he welcomed the policy as a win for the construction industry.

Federated Farmers also backed the plan which they believe acknowledges rural New Zealand needs support to tackle labour shortages, but warned changes to labour market testing could be stressful for employers and employees.

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