Skills crisis: Tech boss says ‘anti-immigrant’ New Zealand moving the goalposts

Tech industry frustration with what the sector sees as a “deepening skills crisis” is growing – at border restrictions and difficulty renewing visas for staff already in New Zealand.

“New Zealand has become extremely anti-immigrant,” Raygun co-founder John-Daniel Trask vented in frustration on Twitter.

Trask, known as “JD” in the industry, took to the social network to vent about what he saw as Immigration NZ moving the goalposts.

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His company, which offers quality-testing and customer experience monitoring tools for software makers, does most of its recruitment locally, but has hired offshore for a number of specialised roles.

Raygun chief operating officer Lana Vaughan elaborated to the Herald that the company had raised the salary of a Wellington-based employee by around $10,000 to $106,080 to meet a skilled worker visa minimum requirement threshold – only for Immigration NZ to move the goalposts to $112,320 while the worker’s application letter sat unopened.

Vaughan now worries the skilled worker will have to leave NZ on December 3 when his talent visa expires. She notes Immigration NZ current lists a 22-month wait-time for applications.

The worker first notified Immigration NZ of his salary increase to the $106,080 threshold (that is, twice the medium wage) on July 13. He was told to put it in writing. He did andVaughan says the agency confirmed receipt on July 19. But it wasn’t until July 21 that Immigration NZ sent an email saying the worker’s assessment had begun. On July 22 or July 23, Immigration NZ updated its website with the new, higher salary threshold.

Because INZ didn’t assess the Raygun staffer’s request untilJuly 21 he is not eligible for expedited processing, by Vaughan’s account.

Immigration NZ missed a deadline for comment.

The episode is a kick in the guts for Trask, who could have taken his startup to Silicon Valley, but instead chose to stay in the capital, and earmark $15 million to expand his Wellington-based workforce.

Same treatment as fruit-pickers and sportspeople

Meanwhile, TechNZ, whose members include most major technology companies operating in NZ, is again calling on the Government to address the tech skills shortage – this time after the Government liberalised visa rules for the primary sector, and the visiting Wallabies, but again ignored IT.

“NZTech is calling for rapid action by the Government to treat critical tech skills with at least the same enthusiasm as they do fruit pickers, actors, sportspeople and other so-called critical workers,” the group’s CEO Graeme Muller said.

The Government is ignoring New Zealand’s “deepening tech skills crisis”, Muller said.

“The Government has the solution to solve the problem by allowing essential tech workers into the country.

“But this is just not happening, which is damaging the economy, causing hundreds of jobs to be shifted out of New Zealand, hurting our home grown global software companies and halting critical tech projects for New Zealand businesses and government agencies,” Muller said.

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“We have surveyed hundreds of NZ tech companies to see what we can be done, we have shared the data with the Government, shown them the impacts and suggested options, but nothing is being done to address the problem,” Muller said – referencing a recent report.

“In theory, it is simply a case of agreeing that with thousands of open roles, these technical skills are not readily available in New Zealand, using exactly the same logic as they did for vets.

“Meanwhile, the impact is that hundreds of jobs paying well over $100,000 are being shifted out of New Zealand every week and critical digital projects across business and government agencies are not getting done.”

Earlier, Muller was one of a number of tech leaders who queued up to express their disappointment at Budget 2021’s failure to offer substantive initiatives to address the tech skills shortage when it was released in May.

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Communications Minister David Clark subsequently rejected a call for a tech visa, however, saying IT companies could use the Other Critical Worker exception (then with a $100,000 threshold). Tech companies including Vodafone NZ and Datacom told the Herald that the other critical worker visa criteria were too hard to fill however, on top of problems with MIQ booking.In June, Immigration NZ said only 15 highly skilled tech workers had come in under an Other Critical Worker visa.

Border not the only issue

Muller received broad industry support for his stance.

But there was a degree of polite pushback, or at least extra context, from Fusion managing director Andrew Gurr, who said while he agreed with Muller’s main point: “The NZ tech industry currently follows a recruit rather than train approach, only hiring staff when skills are required.”

That was short-term thinking and left business with no control, Gurr said.

“If all tech businesses looked forward and invested part of their recruiting budget in internships and training we could all assist in developing a deeper pool of NZ talent, it will take longer but move control of the skills shortage back in the hands of the industry. Let’s think local and work as an industry to start shifting this in-balance ourselves.”

Looking in the mirror

Muller’s TechNZ and a second industry group IT Professionals New Zealand, last month released a co-authored reportreport that acknowledged border restrictions weren’t the only issue.

The pandemic had revealed an over-reliance on hiring from offshore while local training fell away.

The report said both the industry and the education system had to reanimate training efforts, and encourage more people into the industry.

It also pegged a lack of diversity as a key problem, and said addressing that would help top up the funnel.

Muller agreed with all of the steps, but said they would take time. In the interim, the Government had to take urgent steps to bring in more workers, as it has already done in other sectors.

The NZTech boss says an urgent review of what constitutes unique experience and technical skills is needed.

Immigration Minister Kris Faafoi and Communications Minister David Clark have been asked for comment.

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