Irish building new life in New Zealand

Australia attracts the majority of Irish people looking to make a new home Down Under, but neighbouring New Zealand offers a more temperate climate, lush green scenery, a lower cost of living and good employment opportunities, especially for workers in construction trades.

The number of Irish choosing to make their home in New Zealand has increased 10.5 per cent since 2007, with 3,904 people granted visas in the 12 months to last June. For most people emigrating in search of work, booming Australia has been an obvious choice over New Zealand, which was hit by recession at a similar time to Ireland. Unemployment soared from a record low of 3.4 per cent in 2007 to 7 per cent in 2009, and has remained fairly static since.

But the economy is showing signs of recovery, unemployment is falling, and there are acute skills shortages emerging in industries ranging from construction to hospitality, healthcare and information technology that the New Zealand government is looking abroad to fill. Skilled trades people and construction professionals are particularly sought after to assist with the rebuilding of Christchurch, after two major earthquakes destroyed much of the city in 2010 and 2011.

Unemployment has fallen to 6.2 per cent at the last count, down from 7.3 per cent six months previously. Canterbury, the region where Christchurch is located, is outperforming the rest of the country, with a jobless rate of just 4.3 per cent.

Economists are optimistic about the outlook for the country, with many convinced that a recovery is well under way. A report published by the New Zealand Institute of Economic Research last month found economic growth, led by Auckland and Canterbury, was now spreading to other regions, with business optimism at its highest level in three years.

The government has forecast that employment will grow by about 80,000 jobs or 4 per cent over the next two years, driven by primary processing and construction.

Rebuilding Christchurch

“The biggest opportunities for Irish people right now are in Christchurch,” says Adrienne Slattery, a fire safety engineer who moved to the city with her husband, a structural engineer, the day after the second earthquake in February 2011. She runs a website, offering advice to Irish people looking to make the move.

Slattery says she has been “completely inundated” with emails over the past few months. “There are more and more Irish arriving every day.”

About 80 per cent of buildings in the central business district and more than 10,000 homes needed to be demolished after the two earthquakes, and an additional 100,000 houses were in need of repair. The rebuild is expected to take 10 years, at a cost of about $40 billion (€25 billion).

“The Residential Repair Programme and infrastructure repair of roads and drainage is well under way, and the demolitions are more or less finished,” Slattery says. “The bigger commercial projects in the CBD are starting now, and by the end of the year key anchor projects like the convention centre and sports grounds are due to begin, which will need a whole new set of workers.”

An estimated 35,000 construction-related workers will be involved in the rebuild altogether, with about 17,000 new recruits needed before the project reaches its peak in about 18 months’ time.

The New Zealand Department of Immigration says Ireland is one of the main skilled labour markets being targeted by employers, and the number of Irish moving to the region is on the up. In the nine months to the end of April, 373 Irish people moved to the region on skilled work visas, up from 223 in the full 12 months to July 2012 and just 111 the previous year.

Engineers, carpenters, joiners, electricians and plasterers are in particularly high demand, but they need to have official papers to prove their qualifications, Slattery warns.

“It’s not a case that there’s a job for everybody here, even though there’s a shortage of workers. The building industry is tightly regulated, so the need is for skilled migrants rather than people without official papers,” she says.

“If you are trade-qualified the market is very good, especially for engineers with experience. The issue is, some people are arriving without qualifications expecting to be able to find construction work easily, but placing them with a company is difficult for every agency in the city.”

Skills shortages in Christchurch are not confined to the construction industry, however. Despite an influx of construction workers, the population of the city fell by almost 9,000 in 2011 in the aftermath of the earthquakes, opening up opportunities in other areas, too.

Many casual workers in retail and hospitality left for Auckland or Australia, leaving vacancies in hotels, restaurants, cafes and bars. Accountants, bookkeepers, finance and IT professionals are also required, primarily for rebuilding projects.

And opportunities for construction workers are not limited to Christchurch. The rebuild has sucked in workers from all over the country, creating shortages in other cities and regions, especially in Auckland where major infrastructure projects including a new city rail link, cruise ship terminal and convention centre, and $1.65 billion (€1 billion) broadband project are planned. Although Wellington is the capital, Auckland has taken over as the country’s economic centre, with many businesses now headquartered in the city. The population of 1.5 million is expected to increase by about 400,000 in the next 20 years.

Skill shortages

New Zealand has an emigration problem of its own, which is exacerbating skill shortages in areas outside of construction. Large numbers of young graduates had been travelling abroad to work, particularly to Australia and the UK, for many years before the recession began, and the outflow has continued unabated since. Last year, almost 60,000 New Zealanders left the country, the majority to Australia where wages are considerably higher.

Most of these emigrants are young and highly skilled. One in four university graduates move abroad, while one in every three doctors trained in the country now live overseas. One recent survey showed that in the healthcare industry, there are just three employees aged under 30 for every 10 over 55, with similar ratios for farming.

There are three skills in demand lists which facilitate the entry of appropriately skilled migrants to fill these shortages. The immediate and long-term skill shortage lists are updated annually, while a temporary third list for Canterbury, developed to provide workers for the Christchurch rebuild, is updated every three months.

While the immediate skill shortage list mostly features trades and construction-related professions, other workers in demand include farmers, bar and restaurant managers, bakers, truck drivers and accountants. The long-term list contains dozens more, with a particular emphasis on engineers, healthcare and social workers, and IT professionals. Chefs are also highly sought after.

A number of healthcare employers and health boards have been represented at the Working Abroad Expos in Ireland in recent years. “There’s a lot of reciprocity between Ireland and New Zealand with regards to training and qualifications,” sales manager David Walsh says.

“There’s a huge shortage of nurses, doctors and pharmacists in New Zealand, and the Irish are highly regarded. The same goes for engineers and other experienced professionals. There are great opportunities there for people looking for an alternative to Australia.”

Get the visa

The New Zealand Department of Immigration website has a VisaOptions tool to help applicants find the right visa. The majority of workers move to New Zealand through the Work to Residence or Skilled Migrant programmes.

Work to residence: If your skills are on the long-term shortage list, this visa allows you to work for 30 months in the country. After two years you can apply for permanent residency. To qualify, you must be under 53 years of age, be healthy, of good character, have an offer of employment, be qualified through training or experience for the job, and have full or provisional registration if your occupation requires it in New Zealand.

Skilled migrant category: This visa offers permanent residency to workers whose skills are in demand (on any of the shortage lists) but don’t have a job offer before arrival. You must be under 55, be healthy, of good character and speak English. You must submit an expression of interest, and if you claim enough points for age, experience, employability and qualifications, you will be invited to apply. Some workers will be given a job search visa which can be used for up to nine months while looking for skilled employment.

Working holiday visa: Allows people aged 18-30 to work and travel for up to 12 months.

For other visa types, see

Find the job

New Zealand employers place a lot of emphasis on “New Zealand experience”, according to Ciaran Lowney of the Irish People Living in New Zealand (IPLNZ)social network. “Newly qualified and inexperienced graduates or those who have just arrived may struggle against New Zealand candidates, but enthusiasm and positivity in interviews will set you apart.”

He also advises jobseekers not to be too choosy when they first arrive. “My first role was not my dream job, but it was a foot in the door, a chance to start earning, and more importantly, a chance to get New Zealand experience,” he says. Employers are not obliged to advertise jobs, so networking plays an important role when searching for work. Companies also place importance on personal recommendations from existing employees.

The Omega (Opportunities for Migrant Employment in Greater Auckland)mentoring programme helps to link immigrants with similarly skilled business professionals. The Irish community actively helps new arrivals to find work, so linking in with the local Irish association and joining online networks for Irish people can be helpful. Information about jobs and vacancies is often posted by Irish people on the IPLNZ Facebook page. is the biggest jobs website for professionals, while has extensive listings for professionals and blue-collar workers. has a full list of job and recruitment websites.

The Earthquake Commission, the agency responsible for the residential repair programme in Christchurch, advertises directly for workers on its website (, as does the Stronger Christchurch Infrastructure Rebuild Team ( Fletcher Construction is managing many of the repair projects and have a lot of jobs advertised on their website, is a government-run website listing jobs for all occupations and professions in the region.

Recruitment agencies are also hugely helpful, Lowney believes. “Apply to as many as you can, but make sure you are transparent. If you are presented to a company by one agency, make sure another agency doesn’t present you for the same job.” Local recruitment agencies are most useful for temporary office or farm work, while international companies like Robert Walters are better for professional positions. Applicants can register with recruiters before leaving Ireland. Immigration New Zealand has a section on its website on working and finding a job. The Irish Times