Nothing in the New Zealand government’s recent changes to the points system for admission of “skilled migrants” looks likely to benefit a crippling shortage of ICT staff and a fundamental change of attitude is needed, says Information Technology Association of New Zealand (ITANZ) chief Jim O’Neill.
The Government has come under fire, particularly from New Zealand First, for being too lenient in its reforms, but it still seems to be under the mistaken impression that given a free choice of countries to emigrate to a significant proportion of people with ICT skills will gravitate to New Zealand, O’Neill says.
Such people are very mobile and have their pick of destinations, he says. “They are looking for somewhere where they can earn well and work in a reasonably sophisticated environment.” Those things being equal, he says, “they will look to the country they can get into with the least hassle.”
At present, New Zealand is unlikely to be first choice in that respect for a significant number, O’Neill says. Though government has earmarked ICT as one of three industries with high-growth prospects, it continues to display an unwelcoming “Don’t call us, we’ll call you” attitude, he says.
The immigration question is surrounded by a huge political context which, particularly in the run-up to a general election, is very sensitive to the “New Zealand for New Zealanders view”, he says. It could be politically counter-productive to be seen as overly welcoming to immigrants, “particularly from the Third World”.
“First of all, we’ve got to be of the view that New Zealand wants and welcomes immigrants, particularly skilled immigrants and will play its part in the keen international competition to attract them.”
“Anyone in charge of delivering a project (in ICT) is really struggling to find good people. We know if we’re ever going to be successful with the Outsource to New Zealand (initiative) we’ve got to be creative about obtaining the right skills.”
Labour and IT Minister Paul Swain and his advisers do not believe O’Neill’s criticism is justified.
“The Skilled Migrant Category has always recognized ICT as a growth area and accordingly awarded bonus points to people with employment, experience and qualifications in this sector,” says Swain. Also, many ICT applications have been entitled to additional points for being “an occupation in absolute shortage” as listed in the Priority Occupations List.
Swain says the recent changes to the Skilled Migrant Category have helped Information Technology applications through amendments which:
— Increase the level of points allocated to skilled employment in an area of absolute skills shortage to 10 points.
— Increase the level of points allocated to work experience in an area of absolute skills shortage to 10 points (for two-to-five years) and to 15 points (for six years or more).
– Increase the level of points allocated to qualifications in an area of absolute skills shortage to ten points.
An IT applicant can therefore expect to receive up to 55 points more than an applicant in an occupation that is neither in a growth area or listed on the Priority Occupations List, Swain says. “The Department of Labour (Immigration) is currently working closely with the ICT industry bodies HiGrowth and ITANZ to revisit the list of occupations on the Priority Occupations List. The revised list is due for release in December 2004.”