New Zealand posts record migrants, but key sectors missing out

September 20, 2016 11:07 PM EDT

People look at exchange rates displayed at the NZ Stock Exchange in Wellington September 23, 2009. REUTERS/Anthony Phelps


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WELLINGTON (Reuters) - New Zealand's immigration boom struck a record with 125,000 newcomers landing in the 12 months through August, yet shortages of skilled labor in hot sectors like tech and construction is fuelling criticism of government policies.

The latest data, released on Wednesday by the statistics office, will likely add to the growing calls for the government to do more to attract the right kind of workers needed to fill jobs in the Pacific nation.

The country's center-left opposition party, rather than conservatives, has led that criticism, and in July even the central bank called for a review of migration policies.

"The key issue around migration is what is the - for want of a better word - the quality of the people that we bring in," Reserve Bank of New Zealand governor Graeme Wheeler told a news conference last month, reinforcing the call for a review.

"What are the skills they're bringing in and can they add value to the economy?" he added.

Foreigners with experience in areas on the country's skill shortage list had a better chance of gaining a work visa and residency, which offered benefits such as the country's free public health services. However, only eight percent of work visas went to people on that list, according to Immigration Minister Michael Woodhouse.

A housing boom in Auckland, partly driven by increased numbers of immigrants seeking a place to live, and the rebuilding of earthquake-ravaged city Christchurch had created strong demand for construction.

Yet Fletcher Building, the country's largest building company, said the labor shortage coupled with supply constraints meant there were some "unacceptable" delays in Auckland projects.

"The local labor force is stretched and we are looking to Australia and the UK, particularly for project management disciplines," said Fletcher CEO Mark Adamson.

New Zealand's IT scene, the country's fastest-growing export sector, was also struggling to keep up.

The number of technology jobs had grown 35 percent in the past four years, according to the Ministry of Business, Innovation and Employment.

Rod Drury, CEO of Xero, a financial technology firm based in Wellington that is expanding in the U.S. market, said New Zealand's reputation as a tech hub was growing, helping lure workers, but that finding enough workers remained a challenge.

"We've got more jobs than we can fill, we're always looking for people," he said, adding that the company currently fills 70 percent of its positions with recruits from overseas.

(Reporting by Charlotte Greenfield; Editing by Simon Cameron-Moore)



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