New Zealand shouldn’t be afraid of ‘brain drain’ after Australian citizenship deal

Of interest, some similar but different dynamics between USA and Canada although restrictive immigration policies in USA are shifting somewhat the patterns in tech:

For a very long time, the concept of New Zealand and Australia as meaningfully different nations did not make much sense. The Tasman Sea was awash with two-way traffic in the 19th century, when we were outposts of the same empire, with ideas and people floating between the two countries freely. Australia’s 1900/01 constitution famously retains an option for New Zealand to join its federation of states. The two countries did not send proper diplomatic missions to each other’s capitals until 1943, and did not create separate “citizenships” until 1948.

In the decades since we have established ourselves as properly different countries, albeit ones that are extremely closely linked, with over half a million New Zealand citizens living in Australia. Over the weekend those links got even closer, as prime ministers Chris Hipkins and Anthony Albanese announced a huge change to the way New Zealanders can get citizenship, which has been far more difficult since 2001.

Kiwis living in Australia will soon be eligible to apply for citizenship after four years of living in the country, with all their children born since mid-2022 in the country automatically made citizens. This replaces a cumbersome and expensive system by which New Zealanders who had lived in Australia for years had to apply to become permanent residents of Australia first, despite already being de facto permanent residents anyway.

This is a major win for Hipkins and New Zealand. It brings Australia’s system into line with New Zealand’s and will make many New Zealanders lives measurably better, as they are able to access social services for themselves and their children in the country they have moved to. Even NZ First leader Winston Peters, who publicly decries the Labour government as “dishonest” separatists, acknowledged that the deal was a victory.

But before long an old obsession was trotted out to attack the deal: the “brain drain”. Australia is not just a richer country than New Zealand, it is one that distributes those riches differently, consistently paying workers a higher proportion of GDP. Would this not, asked several prominent economists, just send more Kiwis over the ditch for higher wages, contributing to existing skills shortages? One editor even suggested the government may have been “played” by those cunning Australians.

These arguments do New Zealand a disservice.

For one, there is scant evidence that this will meaningfully contribute to more people crossing the ditch. Between late-2003 and late-2022, 778,000 Kiwis migrated to Australia from New Zealand, suggesting that the tougher path to citizenship John Howard introduced in 2001 didn’t really stop many. If you’re the kind of young person who typically did make that move, the prospect of citizenship after four years is hard to see as much of a pull factor – over and above more immediate benefits like higher pay, better working conditions, and that half of your friends are doing the same. It could keep some Kiwis in Australia longer, sure, but anyone who is happy to become a citizen of Australia is likely a lost cause for us anyway.

Source: New Zealand shouldn’t be afraid of ‘brain drain’ after Australian citizenship deal

About Andrew
Andrew blogs and tweets public policy issues, particularly the relationship between the political and bureaucratic levels, citizenship and multiculturalism. His latest book, Policy Arrogance or Innocent Bias, recounts his experience as a senior public servant in this area.

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