James Henderson

Is National’s tech and visa policy on the mark?

Attracting top overseas talent, supporting homegrown start-ups and improving private sector engagement are the core pillars of a new National Party policy designed to accelerate technology industry growth in New Zealand.

Under the banner of Boosting the Tech Sector, the new five-point plan will primarily seek to address escalating talent shortages while encouraging entrepreneurial innovation and strengthening ties with the local market.

“We understand that growth comes from the hard work, innovation and risk-taking in the private sector,” said Christopher Luxon, Leader of National. “The government’s role is to partner with sectors so regulations and policies encourage growth and innovation, not get in their way.”

Graeme Muller (NZTech)

Should the party by elected on 14 October, National’s plan will be centred around the introduction of:

  • International Graduates Visa: A three-year open work visa for highly educated people who have graduated with a Bachelor’s degree or higher within the last five years from one of the top 100 universities in the world. This visa will initially be capped at 500 successful applicants in the first year.
  • Global Growth Tech Visa: A residence visa for people with highly specialised skills who have worked at a top global technology company earning at least NZ$400,000pa. This visa will initially be capped at 250 successful applicants in the first year.
  • Digital Nomad Visa: A 12-month visa to attract skilled, highly-mobile people to come to New Zealand while working remotely for an overseas-based company, with the option to apply for a work or residence visa later if they choose to stay. This visa will initially be capped at 250 successful applicants in the first year.
  • Supporting Start-ups: Investigate changes to the tax treatment of options issued by start-ups to their staff to make it easier to attract and retain talent in their early years
  • Minister of Technology: To work with the technology sector to create the right policy and regulatory environment to support more innovation and faster growth

According to Luxon, the aim of the policy is to help New Zealand “find its mojo and rediscover its confidence”, allowing the country to compete with the best companies in the world.

“Inviting the best in the world to join us, makes sense,” he added. “Smarter immigration will help attract top talent to New Zealand so Kiwi technology and other firms access the talent and experience they need to grow, create and innovate.”

Within the same day of National announcing the new policy on 15 September, the framework in principle was endorsed by industry association, NZTech.

“The policy shows clear understanding of the linkages between innovation, skills, access to talent, start-ups and the creation of fast growing companies that are creating the high value jobs and export growth that will fuel New Zealand in the coming years,” said Graeme Muller, CEO of NZTech.

Attracting top overseas talent

Based on the three visa options outlined, the policy is expected to add 1000 skilled overseas workers during the first 12 months through International Graduates (500 applicants), Global Growth (250) and Digital Nomad (250) applications.

Digital Nomad visa holders will already be employed by an overseas-based company however, meaning this will not reduce the talent shortage burden for local companies looking to hire specialised workers.

Judith Collins – National spokesperson for Science Innovation and Technology – said a vibrant technology sector has the potential to support economic growth in New Zealand, driven by high-paying jobs and high-value exports.

“Lack of access to skills and expertise is often raised by technology firms as one of the main barriers to growing New Zealand’s technology and innovation sector,” Collins said.

As outlined by Erica Stanford – National spokesperson for Immigration – the country requires a “smarter approach” to immigration, one capable of recruiting skills, knowledge and expertise to fuel company growth.

“Smarter immigration isn’t about numbers; it’s about identifying the gaps in New Zealand’s skill base and making it easier for people who have those skills to come here and contribute,” Stanford added.

“It’s about making sure New Zealand remains competitive in the global war for talent to help grow our technology sector and drive faster economic growth.”

On this topic, Muller said the market is facing “continuing challenges” accessing the digital skills required to either grow as a business or improve service levels for New Zealanders.

In 2022, a total of 23,433 technology companies operated in New Zealand, collectively employing 118,070 people in the country and thousands around the world. The workforce of the top 200 exporting technology firms grew 10.9% per annum with the average salary of people working in the sector currently over $100,000.

The technology industry is New Zealand’s second largest export sector and exported $9.8 billion in 2022, while contributing $20 billion to the country’s gross domestic product (GDP).

Graeme Muller (NZTech)

“While work is underway to improve the development of local talent, immigration will continue to be critical to ensure we have the skills in New Zealand to take advantage of quickly evolving technologies like AI and cyber security,” Muller added.

A National Government will also work with the technology sector to investigate the best ways to attract and retain talent in the context of start-ups.

“It’s common for technology start-ups to attract employees with an offer of equity in the company if it succeeds,” Collins outlined.

“However, the Startup Advisors Council has identified existing rules – where share options are treated as income when they are exercised and converted into shares, rather than when the shares are sold – as a major concern, so a National Government will look into that.”

Creating a ‘champion in government’

Supporting a revamped immigration system will be the introduction of a new Minister of Technology, tasked with working with the private sector to enable scale and growth.

The position will work with industry leaders and organisations to boost productivity and commercialisation, support research and development (R&D) and ensure emerging technologies such as AI are being used “safely and ethically” in New Zealand. This is in addition to providing the sector with a “champion in government to ensure its voice is heard”.

“It is great news to see National’s commitment to supporting the further growth of the fastest growing part of the New Zealand economy, the technology sector,” Muller added.

Muller said NZTech has encouraged the introduction of a Minister of Technology during past elections, driven by the view that this role should extend beyond just focusing on the technology sector itself. Instead, the position should encompass broader aspects of the economy, society and policies related to technology.

“Technology impacts the entire economy and it needs a strong voice inside the government,” Muller stated. “Technology’s influence is so significant it urgently requires dedicated government leadership and oversight.”

Delving deeper, Muller said the role should also address a wide range of issues that collectively lifts “equity, sustainability and prosperity” for all in Aotearoa, by creating jobs, export growth and impact through technology for good initiatives.

“The introduction of this level of focus should help with cross sector coordination to take advantage of technology where possible and be better prepared to manage any emerging technology risk,” Muller explained. “For example, the role technology should be playing in our emissions reduction commitments.”

In response to the new announcement by National, Chris Hipkins – Prime Minister and Leader of Labour – labelled the framework as “clickbait policy” which looks good on the surface but lacks substance.


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