Prime minister Jacinda Ardern also announces shakeup of immigration to attract skilled workers back to the country
New Zealand will fully reopen to the world two months earlier than originally planned, prime minister Jacinda Ardern has announced as part of a wider shake-up to immigration settings.
The country swiftly closed the border in March 2020 to prevent the arrival of Covid-19. It has just started reopening to some non-New Zealand citizens and residents over the past few months – beginning with Australians and followed by travellers from 60 visa-waiver countries.
From 11.59pm on 31 July, tourists and visa-holders from the rest of the world will also be allowed back for the first time in over two years. The original date had been set for October, but the government long maintained the opening could be brought forward if it was deemed safe to do so.
“This will be welcome news for families, businesses and our migrant communities,” Ardern said on Wednesday.
“It also provides certainty and good preparation time for airlines and cruise ship companies planning a return to New Zealand in the peak spring and summer seasons.”
The border announcement is part of a suite of reforms to immigration settings, including streamlining immigration pathways to attract skilled workers back to the country, extending visas for migrants already in the country, allowing cruise ships and international students to return and new settings that will help New Zealand move away from its reliance on low-wage, low-skill migrant labour.
The prime minister, who is isolating at home after her partner tested positive for Covid-19, announced the reforms via video link as part of her pre-budget speech. She also reflected on her recent travels, the war in Ukraine, inflation and promoted the government’s vision for a stable economic future. The budget will be announced on 19 May and will help set the political scene as the country heads towards a 2023 election.
“We have come through the Covid shock better than almost anywhere in the developed world. Our economy is one of the strongest in the world,” Ardern said.
Now it was time to reconnect with the globe, she said. “New Zealand is in demand and now fully open for business.”
The announcement comes a month after warnings the country is at risk of losing high-skilled workers, with government documents estimating 50,000 New Zealanders are poised to leave over the next year.
A key part of the immigration reforms is the “Green List” of hard-to-fill jobs in sectors including construction, engineering, health and technology. The government will aim to attract workers to fill those roles with incentives and a new streamlined application process, the immigration minister, Kris Faafoi, said.
Opposition promises are entrancing New Zealanders as Jacinda Ardern’s star fades
“New Zealand cannot return to pre-pandemic trends that saw us overly reliant on growing numbers of lower-skilled workers and resulted in the increased exploitation of migrants,” Faafoi said.
New Zealand has been shown to have the heaviest reliance on temporary migrant workers in the OECD, Ardern added.
“I want to be clear, migrants shape our society for the better in so many ways,” she said. “But we have a duty of care to everyone, that as we reopen our borders, we do so with a plan in place that means we learn the lessons of the past.”
The government said it will also increase local skills through trades training and apprenticeships.