Responsible Immigration: Sorting Fact From Fiction

On the back of National’s tinkering and the kneejerk reaction from Labour and New Zealand First, immigration looks set to be an election issue. It certainly is important, but we need to have a conversation based on the facts, rather than hysteria and xenophobia. Let’s review a few of the facts in light of the announcements in recent days.

Immigration can make us better off

To be clear: the evidence is that when done right, immigration can have a small but positive impact on the wellbeing of New Zealanders. At The Opportunities Party we think that should be the point of immigration – to maximise the benefits to New Zealanders.

Some people out there seem to disagree – they think that immigration should be about making everyone in the world better off. That would mean opening the borders and letting everyone in. This would drive down the wages of the local population, cram the infrastructure and lead to a massive backlash – bigger than we are seeing at the moment.  Such martyrdom is pure fantasy to anyone but the unfettered idealist.

In our view the humanitarian aspect of migration is reflected in our refugee quota, which TOP wants to double. When it comes to economic migration we should be trying to maximise the benefits for New Zealanders. After all if we are a rich, successful country we can afford to take in more refugees.

When it is done right

This the tricky bit. Immigration can make us all better off when done right. This means focusing on highly skilled migrants, the ones that create jobs and businesses. Lower skilled migrants compete with locals to keep wages low. It might mean you can have a cheaper coffee, but is that really worth the extra strain on our housing and infrastructure, thelower wages for our poorest workers and of course the direct taxpayer costs of more Working for Families? Why on earth would we want to subsidise businesses that only survive because of low cost labour? As we argued yesterday, restricting low skilled migration means that wages can rise at the bottom end, which will help those that are struggling now.

Of course there are some industries that will go out of business without cheap labour. In some cases (e.g. if they are exporters) we may choose to support those industries by letting in migrants – but on a temporary basis only.

Generally speaking the demand for moving to New Zealand is infinite – we are a desirable location. So why not try to get the most skilled migrants we can?

National’s tinkering won’t achieve what is needed

Does National’s policy ensure all migrants make New Zealanders better off? Not in the case of migrants that are getting exploited or coming in fraudulently. We’ve seen this problem in the student visa sector but it is elsewhere too, and needs stamping out. What about the investor category, don’t they bring money into New Zealand? Some of them are great, but others just park their money in the bank for a few years until they get their residency – then out it goes. Hardly beneficial.

The truth is that National’s latest reform won’t change much. In our view their immigration policy doesn’t meet the basic test of making Kiwis better off; it is still biased to providing cheap labour to employers. Meanwhile we still aren’t doing enough to attract the highly skilled labour that we need. More thought and nuance is needed to get the right immigration policy.

Responsible Immigration is NOT just about the numbers

Labour and New Zealand First’s response was equally weak. They focused on slashing immigration numbers. Now numbers are part of the issue, as sheer numbers put more pressure on housing and infrastructure. But a large part of the migrant numbers are Kiwis and Aussies we can’t control. And we need workers to build more houses and roads – why would Labour and NZ First restrict those migrants? Focussing on numbers is a one-dimensional, knee-jerk reaction and is based on shallow analysis. 

Responsible Immigration is about the quality of migrants

What is more important is not just quantity but the quality of migrants. Will the migrants really make a positive contribution to the country? If so, we should let them in and make sure we build the infrastructure to cope. We want New Zealand to be a successful, high skilled economy; we have to support the businesses that are creating skilled jobs with training and if necessary migrants. If low skilled, low pay businesses are struggling to get by, the market should put pressure on them to invest in lifting productivity so they can pay more or go out of business. That is how capitalism should work, ensuring that all benefit from prosperity.

There is just no future running businesses that rely on exploiting people in order to survive. We, the taxpayers pay for that – it’s a fool’s errand.