Visa workers in the construction sector
Key findings

The construction sector has seen an increase in the proportion of the workforce that is on a work visa. As the demand for these workers fluctuate with economic conditions, it is useful to understand where New Zealand could attract more construction workers and what type of experience is coming in. This study has demonstrated that workers on a work visa now accounts for 6.8% of the workforce, which has grown from 0.6% in the year 2000. These workers are mostly joining the Auckland workforce. Two thirds of these workers come from five countries: Great Britain, Philippines, India, South Africa, and China. Indian and Chinese workers tend to work in construction in Auckland, while Individuals from Great Britain and the Philippines tend to work in other regions, such as Canterbury. This study has concluded that the migrating construction workers are bringing in varying degrees of experience, with 10% potentially having over 5 years’ worth of experience.


The construction workforce tends to increase and decrease alongside the economic conditions. As the demand increases, it can be useful to understand where fruitful sources of new construction workers are. Migrant workers have been an increasing source for construction workers in New Zealand. This study investigates where those migrant workers are coming from, where they are working and what experience they are bringing into New Zealand.

Stream and substream

The chart below breaks down the size of the construction workforce by their entitlement to work in New Zealand. The graph demonstrates that the number of construction workers on a work visa has grown from 1,000 people in the year 2000 to almost 18,000 in 2018. Factoring in the overall growth of the construction workforce, an increase in the proportion of the workforce that is on a work visa can also be seen. In the year 2000, 0.6% of construction workers were on a work visa, whereas in 2018 this proportion has grown to 6.8%. This result may be inflated in 2018 due to the incomplete employer tax records from that year for citizen workers.

By filtering the chart's region below to Canterbury, a significant influx can be observed of over 4,000 migrant workers on work visas between 2010 and 2015. This spike in construction workers on a work visa was potentially due to the rebuild efforts after the earthquakes in 2011. However, Auckland still is home to most construction workers on a work visa with over 10,000 in 2018. during 2018.

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Territorial authority

The below dashboard will allow you to break down the above data further into individual territorial authorities.

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The pie chart below breaks down where individuals on a work visa are originally from. This demonstrates that two thirds of migrant workers come from Great Britain, Philippines, India, South Africa, and China. Individuals from Great Britain are more likely to work outside of Auckland, with those from the Philippines migrating mostly to Canterbury. Individuals originally from India and China are mostly concentrated within the Auckland region.

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Experience (years working in industry)

The chart below demonstrates the experience of a workforce based on their entitlement to work within New Zealand. Citizens have the most diversity in experience level with more of an even spread. Student visa workers have the least experience with 93% of workers having only one years’ experience. 40% of individuals on a work visa have only one years’ experience in construction, with less than 10% having more than 5 years of experience. It is likely that those who remain in New Zealand transition away from a work visa to a resident visa, suggesting that migrant workers are bringing experience into the New Zealand construction workforce.

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Access to the anonymised data used in this study was provided by Statistics New Zealand in accordance with security and confidentiality provisions of the Statistics Act 1975, and secrecy provisions of the Tax Administration Act 1994. The findings are not Official Statistics. The results in this paper are the work of the authors, not Statistics NZ, and have been confidentialised to protect individuals, households, businesses, and other organisations from identification. Read our full disclaimer here.


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