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Press release: Immigration policies opinion piece

It’s not our immigration policies that need a reset but the Government’s broken election promises, writes immigration adviser Ben De’Ath.

Like many people who work and interact with our migrant community in some capacity, I was interested to see what all the kerfuffle was about leading up to this week’s ‘announcement’. So, I tuned in and I listened. I pondered what could only be described as a confusing, although eloquently delivered, speech, and then I began to research. I wanted to ensure I fully understood the background to what was ‘announced’, which led me to two conclusions:

1. The Government believes we have an immigration problem and if that is the case, I can only determine that it is in our major North Island cities and it is not borne out of unemployment.

2. If the New Zealand Government has a plan for immigration, it was certainly not present in this ‘announcement’.

Economic Minister Stuart Nash, standing in for Immigration Minister Kris Faafoi, repeated a mantra about the need for a ‘reset to immigration’. This was vague in the whole scheme of things. We were also informed that New Zealand’s population had increased by 30% ‘since the early 1990s’, primarily through migration.

A bit of digging into MBIE and I discovered 497,000 Business and Work Residence Visa approvals were granted between 1997 and 2017, with a further 295,000 ‘Family’ Residence approvals. Note, in this data, “Partners” total 166,000 over the 20-year span and the data doesn’t distinguish migrant families (partners and the partners of New Zealand citizens and returnees). So, let’s say 700,000 –750,000 positive net migration in that 20-year sample from work and business-derived residence visa’s, and around 500,000 direct work and business resident visas approved.

During the same period, 1997 – 2017, we also saw a 285,000 positive net migration via Humanitarian and Pacific programmes. By rolling together all immigration streams, we have, on average, 54,000 migrants entering New Zealand over the 20-year period, a 1,080,000 positive net migration.

Further research into StatsNZ and I was able to verify New Zealand’s population sat at 3.781 million in 1997, 4.794 million in 2017 and 4.86million today. That equates to a 27% increase from 1997 to today. I was beginning to think Mr Nash and Mr Faafoi had done their research.

However, at the risk of speaking on behalf of our Senior Ministers, they do not appear to be reviewing partners of Kiwis returning home to live and work, nor do they appear to be reviewing New Zealand’s commitment to refugees under our agreement with the UN. Furthermore, their consideration doesn’t seem to extend to our Pacific neighbours. So what we appear to be talking about, when our Government is ‘announcing’ a “reset” to New Zealand’s migration, are the new arrivals (and their families) who are entering New Zealand on business and work visas.

New Zealand jobs for New Zealanders… but what about the rest?

Unemployment is often used as a barometer on which to read a country’s immigration needs. And, as simple as it may seem, it’s a pretty good indication of what our past and future migration might – or needs – to look like. So, I set about figuring out how many jobs have all these new arrivals taken off locals?

Assessing the same 20-year span outlined above, unemployment sat at 7.7% in 1998 only to DROP to 4.8% by 2017. IN the first quarter of 2021, it’s down to 4.7% and let’s not forget that takes the past year into account as well!

So, where are all these new arrivals if they’re not unemployed?

These numbers show, New Zealand welcomed 713,000 new people to our five major centres:

Lets address the insulting & inaccurate terms about “low-skilled immigration”.

I also noted in Mr Nash’s speech, the suggestion that employers need to move away from low-skilled and low-paid immigration and, when they need staff, they’re to look locally.

Mr Nash did not, however, reconcile the historically low unemployment numbers with the search for people, and certainly did not suggest what businesses outside those major centres ought to be doing for human capacity.

Our Immigration system, until 2020 was completely reliant on a 25 year out of date, system ANZSCO, providing antiquated dictionary definitions on which skills were measured for any person in a work visa, thus “low skilled” visa data, is based on flawed (and recently overhauled) measuring instruments.

The jobs that our migrant community are filling across the economy regardless of their remuneration levels and perceived “skill” are, based on unemployment, not able to be filled by anyone else.

We have to ask, are the Government engaging in a crude diversion plan? After all, we all know New Zealand’s infrastructure is under pressure, most visibly our roading and housing prices.  Are we about to see this content morph into rhetoric that positive net migration is/was the problem causing our country’s roading and housing issues?

It should be noted that while it does take us longer to get to work, and houses are more expensive, unemployment is drastically lower since the 700,000 arrivals stepped onto New Zealand shores.

It should also be noted, that not once in Mr Nash’s speech, did he address why the election promises leading into the past two polling days around housing, roads and funding schools were not adhered too. And why are schools still $400million short on the spending they were promised? Why are Shovel Ready projects under 50% complete, and as for Kiwibuild… why are house prices still soaring?

Perhaps that would have been a more balanced speech.

So what’s the plan Mr Nash?

After listening to Mr Nash’s immigration ‘reset’ rhetoric, and researching late into the night, I have come to the conclusion there doesn’t appear to be much of a plan.

What we do have is a few catchy words thrown about with a certain type of ‘never having run a business naivety’. This same naivety is present in the post-lockdown closed border rhetoric. Need staff? Look local, never mind the record low unemployment and soaring job vacancies!

We have already seen in recent immigration policy planning, a similar kind of naivety which focuses on 1.5 and 2 x median wages being a primary focus of economic, professional and geographical ‘need’. No prizes for guessing that those major North Island centres are where those 2 x median wage jobs seem to be. (No consideration for housing and roading in those locations either!)

I ended my data research excursion wondering… is it the poor research to our immigration policy and poor policy settings that allows a few cities to get all the new arrivals? Perhaps it’s the more pressing issues and broken promises that actually require a ‘reset’.


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