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Smarter Immigration

Smarter Immigration

Aotearoa New Zealand is a special place. Part of that charm is our remoteness, the beauty of our natural environment, and perhaps most important of all, our low population.

Immigration is important to New Zealand’s development – the fact that around 25% of our workforce wasn’t born here is testimony to that. Migrants can be beneficial to an economy, particularly if they are highly skilled. Used properly, immigration will help underwrite economic growth and prosperity, and help us manage the pressures of an ageing population. 

The TOP test for immigrants is: if you can improve our standard of living we welcome you. If not, thanks but no thanks.

Immigration should not be driven by student visas, nor reciprocal visitor working visas it should only be about whether the immigrant benefits us. Of course migrants accepted for humanitarian reasons are a separate issue.

We need to focus on skilled people that are looking for a more liberal and tolerant society in the wake of Brexit, Trump and the march of ugly nationalism engulfing Europe. We must seize this opportunity to make New Zealand the place where ‘talent wants to live’. Why “talent”? Because it creates jobs and incomes for New Zealanders.

TOP will make it quicker and simpler for truly skilled people to live and work here. This will require changes to our visa regime, and international brand. The latter needs to present us as a tech-savvy nation with great lifestyles, to markets such as Europe, the UK, Asia and the US.

There’s a big downside from too many migrants, particularly if they are working in low-skilled jobs. Establishment parties have wrecked New Zealand’s immigration policy by making it a tool of  what they believed was a lucrative foreign education industry. But we’ve ended up selling low quality education packages to desperate economic refugees from India and China. Foreign students have been granted the right to work here while studying and they then stay on in jobs (any jobs that is – glorified dishwashers is a favourite) to get more points to qualify for residency. Government has lifted points for work experience to 60 of the 160 required! It’s a policy rife with rorts, there’s a steady stream of them being reported or investigated. This is not trivial as Ministers are claiming, the regime is rotten.

Details of the failure of immigration policy are in our Immigration Description paper. 

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Page last updated on 3-Feb 2017


Given the inherent volatility of net migration flows it’s pretty difficult to predict when population pressures will strain infrastructural capacity. The only time you restrict or choke off these inflows is when infrastructural bottlenecks from high population can’t be cleared, so it makes sense to throttle back until they can. Right now for instance NZ population growth has lifted from 1-1.5% pa to 2% which is one of highest in developed world and which our own history tells us causes supply bottlenecks. The main reason is a surge in the number of returning Kiwis and fewer Kiwis leaving.

Population growth in the OECD averages 1% and amongst the wealthier nations is less than that. So at 2% pa New Zealand is an outlier for similar countries. That does suggest we need to be sure that at these rates New Zealanders are benefitting. That assurance is difficult to give. Ideally we should cut back on our discretionary categories in response until the bottlenecks are cleared. 

There is no evidence that any government has had this in mind, despite the occasional pleas from business lobbyists that New Zealand needs 5 or 10 million people in order to be a more dynamic economy. At 2% pa population growth it would take another 40 years for us to reach 10 million. The UK, which is of similar land mass has 64 million. That would take us 130 years or more to reach.

We do not accept that it even makes sense for our migration policy to ultimately lift the population density in New Zealand to anything like that of Europe or Asia. Maintaining our low population and enhancing the quality of our natural capital is the key to raising the well-being and incomes of New Zealanders. We’re not aware of any political party proposing that it’s even remotely sensible for New Zealand to replicate the type of infrastructure that is found in places like Singapore, Tokyo or London and to do so we need to lift our population density to similar levels. Such an economic and social model is not the New Zealand that New Zealanders identify with and cherish.

A more realistic model of how to lift New Zealanders’ prosperity is one which relies on New Zealand’s unique endowment of natural and human capital. The quality of foreign immigration is the over-riding priority – which immigrants can provide the best value to us?

This is a question around which we would like to see more respectful discussion as a nation - we suggest the use of citizens' assemblies to get a good grasp of New Zealanders' feelings on the matter.

TOP proposes that an important criteria should be whether immigration can increase the per capita income of Kiwis - not just the total GDP. So outside of humanitarian quota, that should be the first question asked when setting quotas by category. By being smarter with our selection of who we accept, we can increase the benefit to New Zealand without changing the number of immigrants. 

There’s evidence that the path to Permanent Residency is too easy, that we’re not valuing it highly enough. Migrants arrive, get permanent residency after 2 years of residency and then leave with that as a lifeline. So they leave for as long as they like, knowing they can always return. Such behaviour is not hugely beneficial to New Zealand.

A new place in Aotearoa New Zealand should only be created for someone who is really going to contribute so we need to develop criteria that ensures this – including requiring a longer time to be served before permanent residence is provided. 

Those granted temporary working visas are predominantly young, very motivated on their Overseas Experience and happy to take any work as fillers to finance their stay. Kiwis love doing the same abroad so these are grounds for reciprocal bilateral arrangements. 

The boom in skilled, intelligent and energetic temporary workers willing to work for low wages is sensitive because they compete with low skilled (often young) Kiwis for work and of course being higher quality in general, the foreigners succeed. That pleases employers and customers so to that extent is an economic benefit. The evidence that local workers are being displaced is patchy, there’s a counter argument that the hospitality sector especially has expanded as a result of the visitor working visa phenomenon. But even if the evidence is there, our response needs to be more training of our displaced, low skill workers so they can compete fully with this competition. 

Our performance here is appalling, and we must do better - our refugee quota needs to rise. Australia takes twice as many refugees as we do per capita and Canada 6 times. So in order to better meet our ethical and moral aspirations we need to lift our refugee quota. We should remember that refugees are often very highly skilled, and in fact add significantly to our economy in the medium to long term. A quota of around 3,000, up from the current 1,500 would bring us up closer to the average of our OECD peers. 

High productivity companies and jobs that lift the standard of living of New Zealand require highly skilled people, and people with valuable networks. Immigration can be an effective way to broaden the high productivity sector in New Zealand, by filling those sorts of gaps in our jobs market. The kind of migrants who can strengthen New Zealand's exporting productivity add a significant amount to New Zealand's economy. Our unique lifestyle and natural beauty can attract highly skilled people to do this with us in New Zealand, and TOP believes we should be doing more to make it easy and attractive.

This is not to say that we should not also be looking to invite people for non-economic reasons, of course. Refugees, family immigration building closer ties with Pacific nations as per our agreements with them all still play a role. But at least in the economic migration category, we should be looking to maximise the value of these migrants to New Zealand.