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Immigration Policy: What's New?

This week, the Government announced some changes to immigration. In Wellington speak: “The Minister of Immigration has announced changes to the way employers support migrant workers for temporary work visas”.

What does that mean in English? The short answer is: not much.

The Government has taken 9 months to “develop the process” and had advised that we should expect “a lot of detail”. But it turns out the detail is “not yet available” and the Government requires a further 18 months to get it to us.

But, hang on! In 2017, didn’t both Labour and NZ First campaign on reducing immigration? Yet now, just shy of two years in power, the Coalition Government has only made a few minor changes in this area. This strategy is getting really old. The Government promises transformational change and then kicks the can down the road.

The Government’s changes are outlined on the Immigration New Zealand website.

Economist Michael Reddell has produced a detailed critique of the policy, calling it a "triumph for the business community (short-term) at the expense of New Zealanders". Laura Walters from Newsroom also lamented the lack of a broader vision underpinning the Government's immigration approach.

Let’s review TOP’s position on immigration. Our stance is not informed by the colour of a migrant’s skin, their culture or, the country they come from. And TOP supports New Zealand doing its bit for refugees. But when it comes to economic migrants, we have to ask if the continuing high levels of immigration are good for Kiwis. There isn’t much evidence that this is the case. In fact, most of the evidence suggests it is hurting us. If you want to dive into the evidence in depth, check out this interview with economist Michael Reddell.

Employer Reactions

While the details aren’t yet clear, employers seem to like what they’ve heard. The new “employer-led visa application process” apparently means employers will have more control and achieve better outcomes – unless they’re just excited about doing more of the admin. Radio New Zealand reports that: “Federated Farmers employment spokesperson Chris Lewis welcomed the change, and said they need a smoother process for getting foreign workers, because there aren't enough New Zealanders”.

Say what?!

TOP doesn’t think that the real problem is “not enough New Zealanders”. That might be the problem for Federated Farmers and some individual employers, but the problems are quite different for our economy, our environment, and most New Zealanders. New Zealanders who voted in significant numbers for parties that campaigned on reducing immigration.

Meat Industry Association spokesperson Sirma Karapeeva reportedly said: “[…] the current system was onerous on business […] the changes [are] both business-friendly and would mean better results for consumers”. Karapeeva must have some real vision. We’re 18 months out from receiving any actual details about “changes to the way employers support migrant workers” and still he sees only benefits for businesses and consumers.

And what about benefits for workers?

The National opposition also likes the changes. According to RNZ, even “National's immigration spokesperson Stuart Smith broadly supported the changes as something which would make it easier for businesses to thrive”. All joking aside for a minute, that really is high praise from a fervent – frequently apoplectic – adversary of the Government.

You’ll remember National – it presided over the highest levels of immigration the country has ever seen, in fact the highest levels of controlled migration in the developed world. The very same record levels of immigration that the current Government promised to slash.

It’s great to see that everything has worked out between the major parties, if not for the country.

But What’s Good for the Economy?

Who among us doesn’t want businesses to thrive? Businesses are good – they employ us, pay our crippling rents and mortgages, produce goods and services we enjoy, and give us something to do between weekends.

But what is good for an individual business and the economy at large is not always the same. It isn’t enough to just run any old business, and some businesses are not much good at all – for our economy, our environment, or even for employees.

The best businesses are those that increase our per capita earnings. We want to encourage and indeed support them via positive immigration, where beneficial.

If we cut immigration as TOP proposes, some businesses will fail. That is sad for that business and its owner, but good for the economy as a whole. Weeding out businesses that perform poorly frees up resources for good businesses to grow. This is what increases productivity.

We hear a lot about productivity from economists, but only rarely from politicians. If we heard more from politicians about productivity, the resulting standard of living for Kiwis, and what they are doing to improve this, we’d all be in better shape.

Productivity is what matters – not GDP. Puffing up GDP with immigration is child’s play, like falling off a log, or falling down the OECD rankings. Just about anyone can do it, and the establishment parties do it with their eyes closed.

Migrants have inflated our GDP statistics and government coffers, but all that record levels of immigration have achieved for the average Kiwi is sky high house prices and clogged roads.

None of these issues are the fault of migrants themselves. We can lay them at the door of our spineless career politicians. The immigration numbers were a deliberate policy choice by both Labour and National over the past 20 years. This isn’t too surprising since there is little to distinguish our major parties from one another. But the shocking fact is that Winston Peters, who campaigned on reducing immigration dramatically, is now party to continuing this policy. And all he can do is hide behind rhetoric claiming that this policy is good for the regions.

By contrast, TOP’s goal is to improve productivity in order to improve our incomes, our standard of living, and our environment. Judicious immigration can contribute to achieving that aim, but it needs to be wielded more effectively than in recent decades. In TOP’s view, immigration can and should be set at much lower levels – at least until our housing and infrastructure crisis is under control.

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