16 Mar 2009

Minister to 'monitor' migrant numbers

8:59 pm on 16 March 2009

The Immigration Minister says he is monitoring the influx of migrants, following Australia's decision to cut its skilled migrant intake.

The Australian government has announced it is reducing its skilled migrant programme by 14%, or 18,500 jobs, over the next three years, to protect local jobs.

Dr Jonathan Coleman says New Zealand accepts about 45,000 migrants a year, 60% of them skilled labour. He says while this country has kept immigration levels constant, Australia has increased its skilled permanent migrants by 35% over two years.

Dr Coleman says the Government's focus is on finding jobs for New Zealanders.

Critical skills also affected

The Australian cuts will be coupled with deletions to the critical skills list, which specifies which jobs are open to migrants. All building and manufacturing trades will be removed, forcing companies to find bricklayers, plumbers, welders and carpenters domestically.

Employers can bring in foreign workers only if they cannot source the labour locally.

Immigration Minister Chris Evans said the government wanted to ensure migrant workers are not competing with Australians for jobs during the economic downturn.

Australia's Master Builders Association supports the cuts, because unemployment in the building and construction sector is rising. Chief executive Wilhelm Harnisch told ABC Radio the association is projecting a loss of at least 50,000 jobs in the industry over the next 12 months.

The Australian Chamber of Commerce and Industry said there will be trade skill shortages despite the economic downturn, and it would be better to allow the labour market to operate in a more natural way.