Visa processing times are continuing to increase despite millions being pumped into Immigration New Zealand, National’s Immigration spokesperson Stuart Smith says.
“Visa delays are having a major impact on our economy. Businesses can’t get the workers they need and tertiary institutes are missing out on millions of dollars of international student revenue. Fruit will ripen on the trees and there will be no one to pick it.
“Figures from Immigration New Zealand (INZ) show 13 out of 14 of the main visa categories are being processed slower now than under the previous National Government. In the past year alone, the average processing times for residence visas, student visas and work visas have all slowed by at least 50 days.
“Immigration Minister Iain Lees-Galloway has confirmed through Written Parliamentary Questions that the visitor visa processing times have slowed down by a hundred days on average.
“The slowdown is despite INZ hiring an additional 177 staff, costing $11.7 million, to deal with visa processing pressures.
“The Minister should be showing leadership and sorting out these issues immediately, instead he has allowed INZ to change the data they provide to make it look like they are processing visas faster.
“Instead of playing around with how the data is presented, the Minister should be directing his officials to get on with the job and focus on actually processing visas.
“National understands the benefits of sound immigration policy from an economic, social and cultural perspective. We want to see visas processed in a timely manner so businesses can hire the right talent for them and don’t have to sit in limbo waiting for months.”
Minister of Immigration Iain Lees-Galloway must make good on his promise and announce the Recognised Seasonal Employer (RSE) scheme cap earlier than November as seasonal employers are crying out for help, National’s Immigration spokesperson Stuart Smith says.
“Mr Lees-Galloway assured businesses in April that he was looking to make a decision on the cap earlier this year but does not appear to honouring his assurances. When asked in Parliament yesterday when he would announce the cap, the best he could offer was ‘soon’. ‘Soon’ will not cut it for businesses who need certainty to plan for the upcoming picking seasons.
“Meanwhile, a dozen regional businesses have penned an open letter to the Minister, calling on him to announce the cap, signed ‘Yours in eternal hope and desperation’.
“Announcing the cap earlier and providing a two year allocation would allow businesses more time to plan and access workers sooner, so that sectors with earlier harvesting periods, such as strawberries and asparagus, can have greater certainty around their business operations. It would also allow businesses in the wine industry, who are the last cab off the rank for workers, more time to ensure they will have enough workers for winter pruning season.
“The Minister should also increase the cap by a minimum of 1,500 workers to ensure that businesses demands for more workers are met.
“Currently, regions such as Central Otago, Marlborough and Nelson don’t have access to enough workers locally to meet the demands of employers in those areas. Despite these workers shortages, these regions receive less of an allocation under the RSE scheme than regions with more accessibility to local labour. Workers should be allocated based on the needs of businesses and the availability of local labour, not on a regional basis.
“The process of allocating workers also needs to be more fair and transparent. Businesses have a right to know the exact criteria for how workers are allocated, and where they are allocated to. They should not have to deal with this unnecessary bureaucracy.”
Iain Lees-Galloway has admitted he is ‘concerned’ about visa application waiting times, but that won’t help businesses crying out for employees, National’s Immigration spokesperson Stuart Smith says.
“Essential skills visa processing times have almost doubled, to 76 days, since the Government took office. This is unacceptable at a time when businesses are desperate for workers, with reports of some closing early when they can’t cope.
“Visa delays hit the regions particularly hard. Businesses outside of main centres rely on tourists to staff their operations, and processing delays make this near impossible.
“It isn’t just the essential skills visa category that is under pressure – 13 out of 14 visa categories have seen their waiting times increase under this Government. More applications were made under the New Zealand Residency Programme than the current planning range allows for.
“The education sector has an estimated loss of $70 million due to delays in student visas, while visitor visa delays are causing tourism companies to cancel tours.
“Migrants are paying for a service to get their visas processed and Immigration New Zealand is not providing the level of service that New Zealanders would expect.
“The Minister hasn’t provided any clear answers on how things are going to be improved, apart from saying they are hiring some more staff.
“National knows migrants bring skills, capital and connections. They make our country an even better place, providing opportunities and creating jobs for all New Zealanders, as well as helping our economy grow.
“I am calling on the Minister to give clarity for businesses, educators, families and most importantly, immigrants on how he plans to rectify this increase in delays.”
It’s disappointing the Government has rejected a proposed change to the Earthquake Commission Amendment Bill which would’ve streamlined the process for claimants after a significant natural disaster, National’s EQC spokesperson Stuart Smith.
“The previous Government built on the lessons of the Christchurch earthquake and the way in which New Zealand responded to an event of that size. Changes to the claim settlement process were made when the Kaikoura earthquake occurred and a Memorandum of Understanding (MoU) was signed between the Earthquake Commission (EQC) and private insurers.
“This allowed claimants to immediately file a claim with private insurers rather than going through the slow and stressful process of filing a claim with EQC who would then pass it on to the insurer if it was assessed as being over cap.
“My proposed change would allow for the possibility of the MoU to be applied to all insurance claims, allowing future claims to be resolved efficiently and in a timely manner.
“EQC Minister Megan Woods has said in the past she wants to draw on the lessons learnt from the Kaikoura pilot approach to settling claims. But rather than making immediate changes, she is instead waiting for the next piece of EQC legislation to do this.
“But natural disasters don’t wait for bureaucratic processes.
“The success of the Kaikoura pilot approach was highlighted by the fact that 99 per cent of claims were assessed within three months, as opposed to taking over a year for the Christchurch earthquake.
“Private insurers are capable and have a far greater amount of domestic and international resources available to handle and assess a large number of claims, should another significant event occur.
“Assigning the responsibility of handing claims to private insurers would simplify the process and significantly reduce the stress associated with such events. It’s unnecessary for EQC to try and compete for resources with private insurers.
“Instead the Minister is prepared to leave Kiwis in limbo, dealing with an extensive, slow and painful settlement process.
“Dr Woods talked a big game in Opposition about speeding up processes. It’s disappointing because if another significant natural disaster occurs before the Minister legislates these new changes, Kiwi families will be the ones who suffer.”
Kaikōura MP Stuart Smith has welcomed the decision to move forward on Blenheim’s co-located colleges but says that documents released to him show a significant amount of time and money has been wasted by the Minister’s decision to stall the project unnecessarily.
“I’m very pleased that, after months of waiting for Education Minister Chris Hipkins to make a decision, we finally have some progress on this important project for our region. However, we’ve now lost 12 months during which we could have moved forward a great deal towards the original completion date of 2021.
“Documents released under the Official Information Act show that since February, Mr Hipkins had the opportunity to proceed with the co-location but instead he turned it down in order to begin an entirely new business case process.
“Mr Hipkins’ review means the community will now have to wait even longer for the new co-located schools that it voted for back in 2013 during the first consultation process. This also means the project will now be more expensive than the original $63 million set aside by the previous National Government.
“Before the Minister halted the project, plans for the colleges, including extensive community consultation, had been proceeding well as the work did not hinge on a site being identified.
“Instead of continuing with the plan, Mr Hipkins chose to take the entire project back to square one for reasons that are still not entirely clear.
“As the local MP I have fought for this project to ensure that students get access to top facilities and schooling provision. Now a site is secure I will continue to ask questions about the delivery to ensure that the project is delivered as soon as possible.
“National initiated this project because we know that if it is delivered well it can help change the lives of many young people in my region.”
The announcement of a public inquiry into the Earthquake Commission (EQC) headed by Dame Sylvia Cartwright is welcome, but it is unlikely to bring any new information to light, National’s EQC spokesperson Stuart Smith says.
“It has always been our view that an inquiry of this nature is unlikely to reveal any new information that hasn’t already been revealed through the Auditor-General looking into how claims have been handled, the Ombudsman investigation into client rights and privacy or by the Chief Executive and Chair of EQC’s numerous appearances in front of Select Committee.
“The most important thing is that lessons are learned from how we responded to New Zealand’s largest seismic event. We are confident these lessons have been learned.
“We know EQC was not equipped to deal with an event the size of the Canterbury earthquakes. So changes to the client handling model were made and when the Kaikoura earthquake occurred a Memorandum of Understanding between EQC and private insurers was signed to ensure claims were resolved efficiently and in a timely manner.
“This was a different approach than the one used in Canterbury, but has shown to be incredibly efficient and effective. With the claim settlement process progressing much faster after the Kaikoura earthquake, we can see how important these changes were, and we know if another similar event was to occur, EQC is in a better position than it was.
“While New Zealand’s expertise in reducing disaster risks is internationally recognised, it is still important to look back and make sure should an event like the Canterbury or Kaikoura earthquakes happen again we are in the best position to recover afterwards.”
Today’s announcement the Government will pay uninsured former Residential Red Zone owners 100 per cent of their 2007/08 rateable value could create considerable risk for the Crown, National’s spokesperson for EQC Stuart Smith says.
“At the moment New Zealand has substantial cover for disaster insurance, with most building owners paying for disaster cover meaning should there be another event like the Canterbury Earthquakes, we are in a good position to respond and if necessary rebuild.
“For example at the time of the Canterbury Earthquakes, 99 per cent of Red Zone home owners were insured against a disaster, having taken out individual insurance policies.
“However today’s announcement that the Crown will pick up the entire cost for those who hadn’t taken out their own insurance could set a concerning precedent.
“This is fundamentally unfair to those property owners who did pay for their disaster insurance.
“Should people take this as a signal they don’t need disaster insurance, the Crown could end up taking on considerable fiscal risk in the future.
“The previous National government announced the uninsured properties in the Residential Red Zone would be paid 80 per cent of their pre-earthquake (2007/08) rateable value.
“We considered a range of factors, including fairness, financial responsibility, protecting the value of insurance and the homeowner’s wellbeing.
“Each of those homeowners had already been paid 100 per cent of the pre-earthquake value of their land.
“There is now a risk property owners will choose not to pay for disaster insurance and instead wait for the Crown to bail them out.”
The Canterbury Earthquakes Insurance Tribunal Bill is underwhelming and doesn’t provide any substantive relief for people with outstanding EQC claims, National’s EQC spokesperson Stuart Smith says.
“Justice Minister Andrew Little confirmed in Parliament’s Question Time today that the bill fails to offer anything different to what is already available to people with outstanding EQC claims.
“The Canterbury Earthquakes Insurance Tribunal can only decide on simple cases which are not already before the courts, ruling out a vast majority of EQC claims.
“Surprisingly, the Tribunal also has the power to transfer cases to the court if they are too complicated or entirely new to the system. This means the Tribunal has limited powers to make its own decisions and can easily palm cases back to the District Court or High Court.
“The reality is we have 3,600 claims which are still outstanding from the Christchurch Earthquakes, and the vast majority of these are incredibly complex.
“How is a Tribunal supposed to solve these if they are required to transfer complex claims to the courts? This is not ‘speedy, flexible and cost-effective’ as the Government claims.
“What the Government has presented to us is essentially a double up of the existing court structure. Experts and lawyers will be stuck between the Courts and the Tribunal which will only slow things down even more.
“One issue which has dominated headlines is on-sold homes, yet the Government has specifically excluded anyone bringing a claim relating to one of these properties. These people deserve answers, and again we see big promises from the Government, but they have failed to come up with the goods.
“This Tribunal will not be up and running for another year, meaning it has taken this Government over 18 months to get anything started. It’s time they stopped playing games and rolled up their sleeves.”
A Bill to update outdated legislation that governs friendly societies and credit unions passed its third reading today unanimously, Kaikōura MP Stuart Smith says.
“I am proud to see the passing of this legislation which will see friendly societies and credit unions fall into line with modern practises adopted by other financial institutions,” Mr Smith says.
“Some of the most important changes include allowing credit unions to become bodies corporate, allowing them to lend and provide services to other small and medium enterprises, and streamlining the position of associations of credit unions.
“Considerable thought has gone into ensuring this Bill both modernises the existing legislation and ensures credit unions are able to conduct business more effectively and efficiently. These changes will make life much easier for friendly societies and credit unions.
“By streamlining the previously complex regulations, Parliament is handing a vote of confidence to our financial institutions to give them the best chance of success. Credit unions will still be subject to the legal and regulatory requirements under various forms of financial legislation.
“This Bill has been a collaborative effort right across the industry, and also across Parliament. I would like to thank everyone who has been involved throughout the process.”
The Government’s backward and ill-thought through changes to overseas investment regulations are having a perverse effect and driving more land into the hands of overseas investors, National’s Spokesperson for Viticulture Stuart Smith says.
“Forestry is getting an easy pass under the Overseas Investment Act which allows for significant foreign investment in land.
“Meanwhile, other primary industries like viticulture are suffering because the profit à prendre scheme – which allows for the extraction of value from Kiwi-owned land while ensuring it remains in the hands of New Zealanders - is being tightened up.
“Viticulture is an industry which aims to keep land ownership within New Zealand by using profits a prendre. This means Kiwis own the land while overseas companies use it to grow grapes to make wine. This ensures more economic benefit remains in New Zealand while still encouraging overseas investment which creates jobs and boosts incomes.
“But the Government’s changes will make it harder for foreign investors to make a profit by working with New Zealand landowners. This will only mean more of them will look to buy the land they are using, taking jobs and investment with them.
“Additionally, Minister of Land Information Eugenie Sage has confirmed in select committee this week that we need more land to be freed up in order to meet the Government’s promise to plant a billion trees. She has ruled out using steep land for forestry, meaning productive farmland will be used for trees instead of grapes or cows.
“Other industries, including viticulture, are paying the price because of Shane Jones’ pet project. This is a kick in the guts for the regions.
“The changes from the Government will only drive more land sales into the hands of overseas investors – the very thing the Government claims it is trying to stop. It is typical of this Government to say one thing and do the opposite.
“It needs to start giving more thought to the policies which affect New Zealanders not making things up on the hoof. All industries must be subject to the same overseas investment regulations so that no one is at a disadvantage.”