This section looks at immigration impacts on the Bay of Plenty labour market.

Key insights

Following the COVID-19 pandemic and the border closure, New Zealand experienced a net outflow of migrants and citizens. For instance, in 2021, there was a net loss of 15,000 people. This resulted in a reduction in the workforce across the whole country. However, by the second half of 2022, the situation began to change with a net migrant gain of 15,800 [7].

Figure 1: Migrant visas as percentage of employment

Migrant visas as percentage of employment graph

However, seasonal sectors such as horticulture and tourism need injections of labour during their peaks. Therefore, programmes like RSE are crucial to the region (see figure 1). Before the pandemic, approximately half of the horticulture workforce was made up of overseas workers. The impact of border closure was felt differently across different sub-regions. Some parts of the Bay of Plenty rely more on domestic and international tourism. For instance, Rotorua and Taupō, experienced an 81% and 76% drop in international spend, respectively, compared to this time last year, versus a 46% drop for the Western BOP (as of August 2021) [8].

Additionally, international education contributed $180M to the local economy with 2,000 students studying in the region in 2019. However, by 2021 this had dropped to 813 students [9]. This drop in enrolments has caused uncertainty about the future of the region’s international education and the loss of skills from the sector.

Our approach

The Regional Skills Leadership Group (RSLG) has begun focusing more deeply on immigration and how it can be responsibly and appropriately leveraged to ensure that the Bay of Plenty is better supported with its skill needs while ensuring equity across the labour market for our local communities.

To support this, the RSLG plans to engage further with priority sectors mentioned above around implementation of immigration settings and with immigration policy advocating for improved methods to help close labour market skills gaps at the local level. RSLG has also been engaging with local regional councils, including around Welcoming Communities Plans in place for the Western Bay of Plenty and Tauranga City [10] and Regional Partnership Agreements with Western Bay of Plenty Council, Tauranga City Council, Immigration New Zealand and Priority One [11] to drive forward workforce planning through council long-term plans and Immigration New Zealand.

People in a lecture theatre.

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Key Regional Workforce Plan aspirations and actions that relate to Immigration

Seasonality aspiration

By identifying peaks and troughs and collaborating across sectors we hope to promote greater access to a range of flexible, secure, and stable opportunities that individuals/whānau can tailor to suit their needs. Due to the contract/piecemeal nature of the work, there is the potential for risk to worker conditions, and an accompanying aim will be to support sectors/ employers to mitigate this risk and combat work exploitation [12].

Seasonality actions

Undertake research to build a complete picture of the seasonality patterns across Bay of Plenty (including migrant workers) to confirm if under-employment is an opportunity area [13].

One potential way to confirm if there are unnecessary barriers to optimal use of skills is to look into the recent example of Cyclone Gabrielle and how migrant skills were leveraged to alleviate pressure on the horticulture sector. The RSLG is aware that the RSE scheme is being looked at around learnings to better use this type of scheme to alleviate workforce pressure and will seek to support this process [14].

New Recommendation

As part of the research action noted above, the RSLG will work to gain a clearer current understanding of how immigration is performing cross-regionally and cross-industry via data insights, sector engagement (including collation of regional plans/strategies). Use analysis to produce actionable insights to then advocate for policy that supports balanced and targeted immigration outcomes for the region.