Home' Greymouth Star : April 21st 2017 Contents Greymouth Star
12 - Friday, April 21, 2017
policy, it is hard
not to descend
politicians do themselves no favours when
discussing the issue.
Take this 2005 quote from New Zealand
First leader Winston Peters: “ The
Government ’s lax immigration laws are
changing the face of our country forever.
At this rate, it won’t take long for New
Zealand to be unrecognisable.”
With Mr Peters shaping up again to play
a deciding role in this year’s election, the
immigration issue will be one of the most
hotly-debated as campaigning heats up.
It is one that is worthy of discussion.
The influx of people, including temporary
visitors, students, workers and permanent
residents, is at record high levels — and
has been accompanied by a rising level of
Immigration is also linked to another hot
election issue — housing.
The Labour Party’s 2015 release of data
on Auckland property buyers with Asian-
sounding names was a PR disaster, but
it is an inescapable fact that more people
moving to the city means fewer houses to
go around as building lags behind what is
So what is driving this increase and is it
actually a problem?
Firstly, let us look at some basic figures.
Net immigration, the number of people
arriving for a stay of more than 12 months
minus the number of people leaving for a
similar period, is at a record high.
For the year ended in February, there was
a gain of 71,300 people. Compare that
to the year ended June 2008, when New
Zealand had a gain of only 4700.
The Government is quick to stress that
many of these people are New Zealanders
coming back from Australia, attracted by a
While it is true that more people are
returning home than before, that number
has been dwarfed by an increase in
migration from other countries such as
China, India, and the United Kingdom.
It is good to remember the net migration
figures are a rough guide only. They are
based on what people put on their arrival
cards, and permanent and long-term (PLT)
visitors are classed as intending to stay for
12 months or more.
That means that a person may indicate
a stay longer than a year, but leave after
nine months, meaning they would arrive
as a PLT but leave as a short-term visitor,
skewing the stats.
When we look at the number of visas
issued, the figures jump dramatically.
In 2016, 103,214 student visas, 209,514
work visas and almost 50,000 residence
visas were approved.
These numbers are so much higher
because they include people who have yet
to arrive in New Zealand, those who have
applied from within New Zealand, and for
multiple short-term visas issued within the
But whether it is net migration or visas
issued, the numbers have been rising.
Are we recruiting the right people, to the
This will be a question that will form a
large part of the election debate.
Labour does not think so and wants to
look at the number of temporary visas
being issued, especially to those with non-
NZ First believes we are letting too
many people in full stop, while National
has recently implemented some minor
tweaks but has so far held off on large-scale
One question that is being raised is
whether it is too hard for skilled people
living overseas who want to move to New
Zealand, compared to those who are
Under the immigration points system,
bonus points are awarded for those who
have studied and-or worked in New
Labour’s immigration spokesman Iain
Lees-Galloway says this is an area the party
is looking at changing, giving an example
of a low-skilled worker who has already
studied and worked in New Zealand being
ahead on points compared to, say,
an overseas doctor who wants to
Briefings from the Ministry
of Business, Innovation and
Employment (MBIE) to the
Immigration Minister seem to
back this concern up.
The documents, released under
the Official Information Act, agree
the current points system favours
temporary work visa holders who
have a job offer, over offshore
skilled professionals trying to
They show that there is also a
growing reliance on temporary
workers in low-skilled industries
such as dairy, tourism, and aged
care, which could be a “ lost
opportunity” to encourage New
Zealanders into work.
“There are concerns that instead
of attracting the entrepreneurs and
innovators our economy needs to
grow and innovate, we are seeing
lower value investments,” the
briefing papers say.
Mr Lees-Galloway is tight-
lipped on the exact changes
Labour would make to address
these issues, but they could extend
to syphoning migrants away from
Auckland as the city groans under
its rising population.
“ We’ve got to run our
immigration system according to
our needs and if New Zealand ’s
need is to have workers in the
regions and to relieve pressure
on Auckland I don’t think there’s
anything wrong with us saying
‘Look, our system is going to
require people to go to other parts
of the country.’
“As a sovereign nation we need
to be sure we have control of
our immigration system and at
the moment it does feel like the
Government has lost control of
If there is a problem, what are
the current Government ’s plans?
After standing firm for some
time, late last year Immigration
Minister Michael Woodhouse
announced some changes.
He halved the family category
from 5500 to 2000, temporarily
closed the parent category and
raised the number of points
needed for residence from 140 to
160. But the Government ’s stance
is that the country is still in dire
need of people to staff the growing
Last week at Parliament, Prime
Minister Bill English said tweaks
were always being looked at, but it
was about balance.
“The other day I spoke to a
transport operator who had 25
trucks parked up because he
couldn’t get truck drivers,” he said.
Mr Woodhouse was not available
to be interviewed, but in a
statement said the increase in net
migration was largely due to fewer
New Zealanders leaving and more
returning, working holiday visas
and international students.
“The number of essential skills
work visas being issued is actually
lower now than it was when this
Government came into office.”
Employers are required to talk
to Work and Income first to
ensure there were no local workers
available to do the job before
looking at migrant labour, he
said. But this had to be balanced
with ensuring genuine skill
shortages could be filled at a time
of economic growth.
Since 2007, the amount of
people entering New Zealand on
student visas has doubled.
That number is important, but
what happens after people arrive is
a more complex story.
“ International students are
becoming the predominant source
of skilled migrants, we may need
to reconsider our settings.”
Let ’s take those student arrival
figures, for example. In 2016,
24,562 people arrived to study.
Once those student visas expire,
some people then apply for a work
visa and roughly one in five go on
The problem is, more and more
of those people end up working in
Back to those briefings from MBIE.
They contain a breakdown of the median
annual earnings of both skilled migrants
and skilled New Zealanders, by industry.
It shows migrants’ wages are often far less;
to pick one, immigrants working in the
transport, postal, and warehousing industry
could expect to earn about $18,000 less a
Across all industries, skilled migrants earn
a median wage of just under $58,000 while
their New Zealand counterparts receive
just over $60,000.
Overall, the median income of skilled
migrants is lower than when the category
was introduced in 2003.
This is because of a growing number of
people working in lower-paid industries,
with three of the top six occupations being
chefs, cafe and restaurant managers, and
Skilled migrants applying for residency
are also increasingly former students and
temporary workers, the documents show.
In 2008-09, 32% of residency applicants
were from former international students
but that number jumped to 43% by 2014-
There is also a drop in former students
with bachelor degrees applying for
residency, with more holding low-level
certificates or diplomas.
“International students are becoming the
predominant source of skilled migrants,
we may need to reconsider our settings,”
Massey University’s Professor Paul
Spoonley, an expert in migration, says an
increase in the on-shore path to residency
was not necessarily a bad thing.
There was a lot to be said about testing
someone’s suitability by allowing them to
gain a qualification and job while in the
But he agrees the area needs tidying up
and suggests either aiming at the high-end,
skilled international student market rather
than English language qualifications, or
providing an income threshold on a former
student ’s transitional visa that they would
have to meet to gain residency.
If issues are emerging, why do we need so
As well as many genuinely filling skill
gaps in New Zealand and helping diversify
our society, they bring in a lot of money.
A recent report by Education New
Zealand into the economic impact of on-
shore international education estimated the
total contribution to GDP in 2014-15 was
Excluding primary and secondary pupils,
97,950 students were paying $886 million
in fees at universities, polytechnics, and
Over whelmingly, students live in
Auckland with 65% based in the city.
So, while there are concerns about
the increase in international students
moving into low-skilled work, turning
off the tap would have massive economic
Winston Peters looks set to be courted by
both sides of the political spectrum in this
Always vocal on immigration, he believes
we are letting too many people into the
country and wants to chop net migration
down to between 7000 and 15,000.
Mr Peters was too busy for an interview
and to answer exactly where those drastic
cuts would come from.
NZ First ’s media adviser suggested
reading past press releases on immigration
to get the background on the party’s stance.
There is indeed a trove of releases slagging
off the Government for high net migration.
“It’s academic gobbledygook for anyone
in New Zealand to believe 125,000 people
settling here in a year is beneficial,” one
roared. But, again, details of where such a
massive reduction would come from were
Of the 127,305 people who arrived for a
long-term stay in 2016, just under a third
were New Zealand or Australian citizens.
No cuts can be made there.
About 20% were on student visas, a
lucrative source of income as mentioned
above — so any reduction would be a
About 13% were on residence visas and a
third on work visas.
The latter seems the most open to any
squeeze, but again a third of workers were
here on working holiday visas and clamping
down on those would mean the end to
reciprocal agreements for New Zealanders.
This leaves someone trying to work
out how NZ First will reach its target
scratching their head, as Mr Lees-
Galloway points out.
“I don’t know how you would achieve
the number Winston wants to achieve, I
think it would be very, very challenging
and the shock to our economy would be
Prof Spoonley says a reasonable long-
term net migration goal is about 1% of the
He says this means there is a good case
that current levels are too high and it
would be worth investigating if skilled
migrants were of high value and meeting
demand. But this would lead to a lot of
employers complaining they could no
longer staff their businesses and it is hard
to see how cuts could be made to the level
NZ First is touting, he says.
“ You can’t really cut significantly from a
lot of the visa categories without causing
some major economic harm to New
Slashing net migration offers no easy answers
Record high net migration is shaping up as the hottest topic in this year’s election debate, but there are no easy ways to significantly cut the
inflow, despite what some are suggesting. This week the Government announced changes to the immigration policy to control the number and
quality of entrants. SHANE COWLISHAW takes a deeper look at the details and figures underpinning that debate.
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