‘Special treatment’ – different wait times for NZ citizen applicants

Of note, another country with wait time and backlog issues:

Fadi Hamdan, his wife and twin five-year-old daughters will become citizens at a ceremony next month after waiting for a year.

The Auckland IT engineer, who comes from Jordan, said it was galling to see other people go through the same citizenship by grant process in four months – and some quicker still.

“There are people who get their citizenship in 10 days, exactly 10 days. It’s not only a small amount of people, there are 600 people. So there is a special treatment going on, nobody knows about it.”

He was disappointed at the time it took and the lack of information when he asked for updates, querying why his application had failed automatic checks.

While there were not many practical differences between permanent residence and citizenship, a New Zealand passport could make travel simpler for people from countries where visas were usually needed.

For Hamdan, it became critical when his mother fell ill.

“I’m worried about going to see my dying mum. She had a stroke three times. I lost my father in October 2020 during Covid, because of Covid, and I don’t want to lose my Mum.

“We are not asking for an exception, all we are asking for is to be treated fairly and kindly. It will mean a lot, to be honest. It’s the last milestone that we were looking for since we arrived in the country.”

As of 18 August, there were 29,200 applications awaiting an outcome. Of those 9161 were from last year.

A random snapshot showed that on 17 August this year, 179 applications were approved for 2021 and 238 for 2022.

The National Party’s internal affairs spokesman Todd Muller said the backlog was similar to where it was last year when assurances were given about bringing waiting times down.

People would approach their MPs concerned about why their applications had failed to progress.

“It just gives them a huge amount of anxiety because they’ve understood that now they can move from residency to citizenship, they’re told they’ve got everything in order and then it just gets dropped into a big black hole and they don’t hear anything.”

Internal Affairs seemed to be processing recent applications first, which left those already in the queue waiting longer, he said.

Internal Affairs said it was analysing those who failed automated checks and categorising them to speed up the process.

Sixteen staff had been moved over to deal with the surge in passport applications and would move back there.

“The pipe coming into the organisation is bigger than the number of people that we have who are doing this work, particularly when you think about these are the same people who are also looking at the massive surge in passport demand that we’ve had,” said Internal Affairs deputy chief of service delivery Maria Robertson.

Not requiring migrants from English-speaking countries to prove their language ability had sped up their applications, she added.

Internal Affairs said some applications would take longer if the applicant had changed their name, spent a lot of time outside New Zealand since obtaining residency or had committed offences.

Others could be rushed through in urgent situations.

“Some applicants may not have been required to understand English in order to obtain residency – citizenship legislation requires most applicants to have sufficient knowledge of the English language, so sometimes additional checks may be required.

“It is not always easily possible to tell why an application has not passed an initial automated check. It could be related to data from INZ or another government agency or an answer in an application.

“Frontline staff who answer queries from applicants who have not yet been assigned a case officer do not have access to all the relevant information in an application.”

Source: ‘Special treatment’ – different wait times for NZ citizen applicants

New Zealand temporarily changes immigration rules to hire extra workers

Of note, the geographic distinctions:

New Zealand will make temporary changes to its immigration rules seeking to hire thousands of extra workers to plug a labor shortage, Immigration Minister Michael Wood said on Sunday.

Wood said the government was aiming at temporarily doubling numbers under the working holiday visa scheme.

The visa scheme allows people to enter and work from New Zealand for a period of up to 12 months, or sometimes even more, if they’re from select countries like the UK or Canada.

By throwing open more working holiday visa slots, New Zealand is hoping for 12,000 extra workers over the year.

“These measures are about providing immediate relief to those businesses hardest hit by the global worker shortage,” Wood said in a statement.

New Zealand announces measures to plug labor shortage

Michael Wood said there would be relaxation of wage rules for skilled migrants in key sectors like aged care, construction, infrastructure, meat processing, seafood and adventure tourism so  these businesses are slowly able to build necessary skills in the country.

Wood announced a temporary extension of working holiday visas by six months and an opportunity for those who previously held the visa but didn’t travel to New Zealand because of COVID.

“COVID brought the world to a standstill,” Wood said, adding that a workers’ crunch was being felt most by New Zealand’s hospitality and tourism sectors that traditionally rely on international workers.

While COVID had a major impact on international travel around the world, New Zealand’s response was unusually draconian by global standards. The isolated and remote islands closed their borders almost entirely during the pandemic, hoping to keep the virus out altogether, but ultimately failed in this goal. It finally reopened on July 31 this year.

Unemployment rate at record low, wages high

New Zealand’s unemployment rate remains at record lows, at around 3.3% in the second quarter which runs from April until June, according to Statistics New Zealand.

Annual growth in private-sector wages increased at the same time to 3.4% in the second quarter, their most rapid increase in 14 years.

The Reserve Bank of New Zealand last week lifted the official cash rate by 50 basis points to 3.0% in a seventh straight hike to rein in inflation.

Source: New Zealand temporarily changes immigration rules to hire extra workers

New Zealand launches new immigration visa category, opens from September | Mint

Higher threshold than most, along with focus on active not passive investment:

To attract experienced, high-value investors to invest in domestic businesses, the New Zealand government has created a new investor migrant visa category. The new Active Investor Plus visa category will replace the existing Investor 1 and Investor 2 visa categories. Eligibility criteria for New Zealand’s Active Investor Plus visa category includes a minimum $5 million investment and only 50% of that can be invested in listed equities.

“We have so many fantastic businesses in New Zealand that are making a real name for themselves in the global marketplace. Our Government has a goal to support these businesses to grow into even more successful global brands, and updating our investor visa settings is a key part of our strategy to attract high-value investors,” Economic and Regional Development Minister Stuart Nash said.

Source: New Zealand launches new immigration visa category, opens from September | Mint

Paving the way to Australian citizenship [for New Zealand]

Of note, a long-standing irritant being resolved:

By Anzac Day next year, New Zealanders living across the Tasman should get a better deal, after Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern and her new Australian counterpart Anthony Albanese announced long-awaited changes to their rights.

It will mean an easier route to citizenship, as well as voting rights, putting them on par with Australians living here – ending more than two decades of inequality.

Under the current rules, Australians get permanent residence the moment they land in New Zealand and they automatically have the right to become citizens after five years. All they need do is pass a character test and a basic English language test, and have lived in New Zealand for at least eight months of each of those five years.

Most Kiwis are in Australia on a special category visa, brought in by John Howard’s government in 2001. Their path to citizenship is not so easy – they have to apply on the same basis as any other migrant, it is costly, and it is not guaranteed.

Leanne Carlin, who moved to Australia with her husband Richard and two daughters eight years ago, describes it as a “very weird thing”.

“You can come over here, you can live here as long as you like, you can work here but you’re not automatically a permanent resident,” she tells The Detail.

Kiwis, of course, pay taxes. But they cannot access unemployment benefits, student loans or disability payments, they can’t join the Australian Defence Force, police or fire service, and they cannot vote.

Carlin says they knew what they were in for when they decided to leave Whakatāne and take a chance on a new life in Brisbane in 2014.

“We didn’t expect anything from Australia. When you go to live in a foreign country, I don’t think you should expect them to take special care of you.

“But New Zealand and Australia have this trans-Tasman travel arrangement, so if you’re going to have an arrangement then make it an equal arrangement.”

When the 2001 changes came into effect, New Zealanders already living in Australia were considered permanent residents and could apply for citizenship, and they could access basic social services like welfare payments in the meantime.

Those who arrived after 2001 have had no direct pathway to citizenship.

“The Howard government was of the view that people were using New Zealand as a backdoor to Australia,” says Stuff‘s political editor Luke Malpass.

Malpass was in Sydney last week when Ardern and Albanese announced they had agreed, in principle, to end the situation where people are effectively left permanent temporary residents.

There are promises of a more “harmonised, reciprocal” regime.

Malpass explains to The Detail how relations soured between Australia and New Zealand and reached a low point in 2014 when the so-called 501 deportations started.

“The Aussies got into a habit of not really giving New Zealand anything that didn’t have any political upside,” he says.

“Even if it was bad for the relationship – they basically took the relationship for granted – they said we’ll go ahead and do it anyway.”

Last week’s announcement was a turnaround in attitudes to New Zealanders, both in the treatment of 501s and the citizenship issue, says Malpass.

Ardern has been calling for greater acknowledgement of the contribution New Zealand expats are making to Australia. She’s also pointed to the low rate of New Zealanders who become citizens compared with other nationalities.

According to the 2021 census, about one third of the 530,000 people born in New Zealand and living in Australia are citizens there. This compares to three quarters of expat Fijians being Australian citizens and the same figure for Britons.

After eight years in Australia, Carlin and her family are now on the path to citizenship through her husband Richard, who met the criteria for the skilled independent visa and was able to apply for permanent residency.

Carlin says her family has a good life in Brisbane and she’s happy to become an Australian citizen.

“It’s a means to an end,” she says.

Source: Paving the way to Australian citizenship

NZ Government ‘rebalances’ immigration settings to attract more highly skilled migrants

Of note. Given Canada’s expansion of the Temporary Foreign Workers Program, arguably Canada is moving in the other direction:

The Government is rejigging New Zealand’s immigration systems in what it describes as a “rebalancing” away from low-skilled, low paying jobs and more towards higher skilled jobs in industries facing staff shortages.

The changes, announced Wednesday by Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern and Immigration Minister Kris Faafoi, include the introduction of a Green List of “highly skilled roles identified as being in high demand globally and in ongoing shortage in New Zealand.”

The Green List includes 44 occupations that allow eligible migrants to apply for work visas from July 4, and residence visas from September.

The occupations are mainly geared towards the construction, health care and IT industries and include roles such as civil engineers, surgeons and other medical practitioners, food technologists and software engineers.

The Green List also lists another 16 occupations which will allow migrants to enter the country on work visas and apply for residence visas after two years.

These include medical roles such as laboratory technicians, occupational therapists and registered nurses and other jobs such as secondary school teachers, electricians, mechanics and dairy farm managers.

The rules give migrants applying for jobs on either list a clear pathway to residence.

The partners of migrants in Green List occupations will also have open work rights.

The Government says the Green List is shorter and more targeted than the current skills shortage list, which it will replace.

The visa application process is also being streamlined to make it easier for employers to hire migrants for jobs on the Green List.

The application process will be entirely online, with Immigration NZ aiming to process all Green List applications within 40 days.

However migrants will still be able to apply for work visas for jobs that are not on the Green List.

In general, migrants filling non-Green List roles will need to be paid a minimum of $27.76 an hour (the median wage), which will be adjusted annually.

However there is a long list of exemptions to that rule, which will require a minimum wage of just $25 a hour, mainly in the tourism and hospitality sector.

A minimum wage of $25.39 will apply for migrants working in personal and disability care roles that do not require higher qualifications.

Work visas for these roles will be for two years, after which they can be extended provided the migrant is being paid at least the NZ median wage.

Source: Government ‘rebalances’ immigration settings to attract more highly skilled migrants

Where two years without immigration puts New Zealand

Largely the opposite approach of Canada:

New Zealand’s population has had a growth spurt over the past decade, when compared with the rest of the OECD.

In 2016, unprecedented growth was seen at 2.2 percent a year – levels not seen since the early 1960s.

According to the Productivity Commission, a Crown entity tasked with lifting New Zealand’s productivity, the reasons for this relatively rapid growth were high resident numbers and largely uncapped temporary migration programmes.

Newspaper headlines about the ‘brain drain’ and skilled labour shortages being filled in by recent migrants were common occurrences through the 2010s – and along came a virus.

Overnight, the flow of migrants was cut down to a trickle, calling for fast-tracked changes across almost every economic sector.

Now as the border slowly returns to a more permeable state after two years of stasis, the Productivity Commission is evaluating what this means for New Zealand’s immigration policy and whether the country’s reliance on migrant labour could be labelled an objective over-reliance.

After months of research and public consultation, the commission is preparing a report on the impact of differing levels of migration to be presented to ministers in the Government on April 30.

The preliminary report highlighted the significant role immigration has played in supporting New Zealand’s population growth.

Along with this came a heavy reliance on temporary migrant workers, a potential source of volatility and economic uncertainty in the case of borders being closed.

Before March 2020, New Zealand had an annual population growth of just over 2 percent, around two-thirds of that from immigration.

Since then, it has dropped to a growth rate of 0.6 percent. That means this country went from having some of the highest annual growth rates in the OECD to being bang on average.

Massey University sociology professor Paul Spoonley specialises in how social change and demographics affect political decisions.

He said the issue of immigration is a difficult equation for New Zealand to balance, with benefits and consequences on either side.

“There are two sides to the issue because as we’ve seen, lots of the labour market in New Zealand rely on either temporary or permanent migrants,” he said. “So to actually build houses or infrastructure like roads, we’ve become very reliant on migrant labour.”

On the other hand, he noted that rapid growth also requires a matched pace in infrastructure development, especially in quickly growing cities like Auckland or Tauranga – two cities Spoonley said have “an historic deficit in terms of infrastructure”.

If infrastructure already isn’t fit for purpose, he said rapid population growth can enact enormous pressure.

So there’s a delicate balance to strike if New Zealand moves back to its prior reliance on migration. Other factors to consider include benefiting from other countries’ investment in human resources.

“What we get in terms of our skilled migrant category, where the majority of our permanent migrants were approved, is somebody whose life up to this point, including their skills, training and experience has been paid for by another country,” he said. “If we’re getting the surgeon from South Africa or the roading engineer from India, we didn’t make the investment but we are going to be the beneficiary of their skills.”

New Zealand’s immigration profile has changed in recent years, shifting from a focus on permanent migration to more migrant workers being here on work, student or visitor visas. Temporary work visas in particular have grown to represent a much larger chunk of all arrivals since around 2010.

The commission pointed to this increase in the temporary visa load as a result of policy choices made by governments in response to demands from employers for workers, an increase in international students and the points system for New Zealand residency privileging those who have already had work or study experience within the country.

But as the dust of these initial Covid years settle, many countries share the same gaps in the labour market that they are now likely to try to fill.

Spoonley says it will be a competitive market as migration resumes over the next two or three years.

“The labour crunch which Covid has accelerated is common to other countries, so what we are then doing is competing for migrants with Australia, the UK, the USA or Canada,” he said. “At the same time, they will also try to recruit out of New Zealand, in particular skilled New Zealanders.”

Could this mean a return to the ‘brain drain’ days of 2012, when a group the size of a packed-out Eden Park left for Australia?

Spoonley’s best guess is the number of Kiwis packing their bags for environs further afield will be somewhere between those seen in 2012 and now.

“I don’t know to be honest, but will we see our new graduates and some of our skilled workforce leaving to another country? Absolutely,” he said. The outflow will be seen particularly to countries that can put a premium on attracting people – whether with higher incomes or lower cost of living, pull factors that have long had Kiwis set their sites overseas.

“Australia can pay a third more,” Spoonley said. “So will we see a net outflow of New Zealanders? Almost certainly. I’m just not clear on the size of that. What I am clear about is that many of them will be highly skilled and we can’t afford to lose them.”

He said it’s a looming retention issue for the New Zealand economy, where the biggest reasons for people to stay put will be family or friends.

“Other countries will be outbidding us in terms of pay and conditions.”

Source: Where two years without immigration puts New Zealand

New Zealand: Ethnic minorities want ‘crude’ MELAA classification changed for Census 2023

Of note (overly broad category):

Kiwis from minority ethnic communities say census results need to stop lumping them together in the same basket.

Currently, people who are Middle Eastern, Latin American and African are rolled together in one category called MELAA, an acronym of the ethnicities, even though they are from very different demographics.

Dr Diana Albarrán González moved to Aotearoa from Mexico in 2015, and was surprised to find herself in the same ethnic category as people from Lebanon or Somalia.

“When I first arrived, I was confused about MELAA because there is a lot of diversity within that classification, said González, who is a deputy director of design at Auckland University.

“Africa for example is a huge continent and diverse within that continent. Then you have the Middle East, and again, they have their own histories, and their own cultural backgrounds, and then the same within the Latin American community here in New Zealand.”

González said the MELAA classification was incorrectly homogenising minority ethnic groups.

“It’s important to have numbers and a register of the population, but when those numbers become policies to improve health or employment outcomes, this ethnicity classification is not serving us.”

Dr Matthew Farry​ identifies as a Lebanese New Zealander, and said the MELAA category reduced a “huge” amount of racial, ethnic and cultural diversity.

”The reason they’ve put us together is we’re all non-white European ethnic groups. It lumps people of colour into one category, when the only thing we have in common is that we’re all non-European in our origins.

“I’m a third-generation New Zealander whose parents are Lebanese ethnically. We always used to get upset because there was never anything in the census that said Lebanese, when we’ve been here for 130 years.”

Farry is executive director of the Courageous Conversation South Pacific institute, which works to improve race relations in Aotearoa.

The number of MELAA people in New Zealand is statistically small – at the 2018 census there were just 70,330, representing 1.5 per cent of the country’s population.

A Census NZ spokesperson said people were able to provide their actual ethnicity on the census form, which meant statistical data could be provided for different ethnicities within MELAA.

“MELAA was established to give more prominence to these ethnicities in statistical reporting as a level one (the highest level) statistical grouping, in the same way there is a statistical grouping for European, Pacific Peoples, Asian.

“It is currently used in output data where the focus is not looking at ethnicity in detail, but in combination with other detailed concepts, or when a high-level overview is most appropriate.

“The majority of core census outputs on ethnicity that Stats NZ produces are available at more detailed levels of the classification.”

Farry said the experience of MELAA communities echoed how Māori had been treated in a colonial setting.

“Their stories were suppressed, their histories suppressed, they were dispossessed. That set up a New Zealand that doesn’t deal with racial, ethnic and cultural diversity very well.

“So when we come here, we enter an already single narrative New Zealand and symptomatic of that, is MELAA. It is a reduction that doesn’t enrich me.”

Justin Benn​ said the MELAA classification was “crude”.

Benn, who is president of the West Indian and Caribbean society in New Zealand, moved here in 2011 after growing up in London with a family from Trinidad and Tobago.

“I am from the Caribbean community,” he said. “It’s different from coming from Africa or the Middle East or Latin America.”

Benn added that the classification “weakened a sense of inclusion”.

“It communicates a disregard that is probably not intentional, but it does need addressing. If we’re looking at opportunities to be more inclusive, here is a clear example of how we can do that.”

Guled Mire, a community advocate and public policy specialist whose family fled Somalia as refugees, said the ethnicity classification should be updated immediately.

“Statistics population data is really essential for public policy,” he said. “That is information that is used to then plan, develop and implement public policy measures.

“If we’re not recording and classifying ethnicity data for some of our most vulnerable communities in a way that is appropriate, that harms us in terms of how government is able to respond to our needs.

“We have asked for this to be changed for years.”

Stats NZ ran public consultation in 2019 to seek feedback on the classification of ethnic groups, the Census NZ spokesperson said.

“The MELAA grouping was highlighted as an area of concern for a number of people. Stats NZ has recently commenced a review of the Ethnicity NZ Standard Classification. The MELAA issue will be considered as part of this ongoing review.”

Any changes made as a result of the review will not be implemented until after Census 2023.

Source: Ethnic minorities want ‘crude’ MELAA classification changed for Census 2023

#COVID-19: Comparing provinces with other countries 9 March Update; New Zealand changes its tack on surging COVID-19 cases

Overall decline in infections and deaths continues. Numbers from China have a further significant increase since last week, from 315,000 to 608,000 infections and from 5,380 to 6,923 deaths.

Vaccinations: Some minor shifts but convergence among provinces and countries. Canadians fully vaccinated 82.4 percent, compared to Japan 79.5 percent, UK 73.5 percent and USA 65.9 percent.

Immigration source countries are also converging: China fully vaccinated 88.3 percent (numbers have not budged over past four weeks), India 58.9 percent, Nigeria 4.2 percent, Pakistan 46.6 percent, Philippines 58.4 percent.

Trendline Charts:

Infections: Ongoing signs of omicron and other variants plateauing, more so in Canadian provinces than comparator groups.

Deaths: G7 still not plateauing.

Vaccinations: No major relative changes although Japan is now ahead of California.

Weekly

Infections: No relative changes. Infections per million in China have increased from 226 per million to 436 per million.

Deaths: Major change again is with respect to China with deaths per million increasing from 3.9 to 5 per million.

New Zealand changes its tack on surging COVID-19 cases

Back in August, New Zealand’s government put the entire nation on lockdown after a single community case of the coronavirus was detected.

On Tuesday, when new daily cases hit a record of nearly 24,000, officials told hospital workers they could help out on understaffed COVID-19 wards even if they were mildly sick themselves.

It was the latest sign of just how radically New Zealand’s approach to the virus has shifted, moving from elimination to suppression and now to something approaching acceptance as the omicron variant has taken hold.

Experts say New Zealand’s sometimes counterintuitive actions have likely saved thousands of lives by allowing the nation to mostly avoid earlier, more deadly variants and buying time to get people vaccinated. The nation of 5 million has reported just 65 virus deaths since the pandemic began.

But virus hospitalizations have been rapidly rising, hitting a record of more than 750 on Tuesday and putting strain on the system.

Across the country, the explosion in cases has left people stunned. Just a month ago, case numbers were around 200 per day. Now, the outbreak is affecting everyone from frontline workers to lawmakers.

Opposition Leader Christopher Luxon became the highest profile politician yet to announce he was infected on Monday, saying he felt fine and would continue working from home.

One factor that hastened the outbreak was the return of thousands of university students to campuses around the country last month.

Ralph Zambrano, the student president at Victoria University of Wellington, said the virus had spread rapidly through hundreds of students in residence halls, taking a toll on their mental health and well-being.

“The campus would usually be buzzing at this time of year but it has a very eerie feeling to it,” he said, adding that most students were opting to learn remotely. “There’s lots of anxiety and tension.”

He said the outbreak had strained the food supply system in the halls, with some students being offered only a protein drink for breakfast or a piece of cold meat and some peas for dinner.

The university said case numbers in the halls were now reducing as students recovered.

Professor Michael Baker, an epidemiologist at the University of Otago, said the variant had proved as ferociously infectious in New Zealand as it had in other countries.

He said cases appeared to be plateauing or even starting to dip in the largest city of Auckland, while still rising elsewhere.

While much of the world was breathing a sigh of relief after two years of terrible problems, Baker said, New Zealand was at its worst point yet in the pandemic and was coming to terms with the fact the virus would remain in the country permanently.

He said he was concerned health authorities had lost the ability to properly track the outbreak, as they struggled to shift from a system where they carefully monitored a few cases to dealing with thousands of self-reported results from rapid antigen tests.

Dr. Caroline McElnay, the director of public health at the Ministry of Health, told reporters the number of hospitalizations would grow, but that patients with omicron generally had less severe illnesses than previous patients had experienced with the delta variant.

She said the rising number of both patients and infected health workers had prompted the relaxation in the rules around when health workers could return to hospitals.

She said infected workers would only be allowed to work with patients who already had the virus, and if there were no other options.

“It’s an extra tool that enables our health system to keep running,” she said.

Source: New Zealand changes its tack on surging COVID-19 cases

New Zealand: Immigration ‘reset’ could link migrant numbers to building consents, and tightly limit migration

Always interesting to see how other immigrant-based societies adapt and change policies, generally from a much more restrictive approach compared to Canada:

A Government immigration “reset” aims to make it harder for migrant workers to find jobs, and could see immigration policy linked to building consent numbers.

The Ministry of Business Innovation and Employment (MBIE) is conducting discussions behind the scenes to prepare industry for a big shock after the border opens.

Based on documents seen by Stuff and discussions with some who have been involved in the stakeholder forums, the scheme will allow accredited employers in selected industries with sector agreements to bring in a quota of temporary lower-paid workers.

It may also be harder for skilled migrants who move to New Zealand to bring their partners and family members across with them, and those who come over may have to satisfy separate skills and labour requirements.

IntoNZ Immigration adviser Katy Armstrong says she also understands a “green list” of specific occupations will also be exempt from the reset restrictions.

“That will be what some people in the country will love because they will think it’s great that Government steps in and uber-controls, but it’s a delicate balance isn’t it?

“Because employers also need the freedom to get the right people to do their jobs and I think they’re going to be constrained.”Those industries without sector agreements will have to recruit lower-cost temporary workers who are on open work student visas or working holiday visas.

However, it will be much easier for businesses across the board to hire migrants for highly skilled, highly paid roles.

An MBIE document accompanying the discussions says a key outcome of the changes will be to: “restrict the set of jobs that potential migrants and their families can pursue to work in NZ”

“Some businesses, sectors and regions will find it tougher to adapt.

“Sectors that use large numbers of migrants to fill low-paid, low-skilled roles such as tourism, hospitality and retail.

“Businesses in regions where there are thinner labour markets such as tourism and primary sector businesses in places like Queenstown.”

One of the core aims of the reset is to encourage greater productivity, but Sense Partners economist, Shamubeel Eaqub, says blocking low-skilled migrants, and making it easier for businesses to hire highly-skilled, highly paid migrants from overseas, might actually discourage the creation of a more highly skilled workforce domestically.

“Essentially what we’re saying is that there are these highly paid, highly skilled jobs that are available, but they will be filled by migrants.

“But if you couldn’t do that what would the business do? They would probably train up somebody who was close enough, they might create career pathways, training pathways, scholarships.

“If you are always going to bail-out businesses that need highly skilled people, how are you going to create pathways to become highly skilled in New Zealand?”

The number of work visas issued will be linked to residency places, and residency places will be linked to a measure of the “absorptive capacity” of the economy.

Officials are allegedly exploring measures to better measure this link, including linking residency places to long-term trends around building consents, or the infrastructure deficit.

Some officials are also allegedly warning stakeholders that residency criteria will be tightened too. Presently people who apply for residency need to meet a points-threshold.

After the reset Immigration officers may continue counting points beyond this threshold, and prioritise applications with higher scores. They are also allegedly exploring introducing distinctions like whether a person’s university degree was obtained from a university with a higher international ranking than a New Zealand university (a measure which could benefit European and North American university graduates).

The proposals look set to attract fire from both ends of the political spectrum, with National MP Erica Stanford criticising the approach as the Government “picking winners”, and the Green Party MP Ricardo Menendez March saying it is “a way to sneak in a population policy which would be led by companies”.

March also worries the big role employers will play within the scheme will lead to a large power imbalance between migrants and employers.

With such tight restrictions he argues it may also prove difficult for migrants to switch between employers and jobs.

Eaqub says this is a concern of his too, and it could be difficult for migrant workers to escape an exploitative employer, because they might not have the freedom to take on a different occupation under the proposed system.

Immigration Minister Kris Faafoi was presented with a detailed list of the alleged ideas under discussion, but said they “do not accurately reflect the choices under consideration”, and declined a request for an interview.

He said an announcement around the Immigration reset would be made in the coming weeks.

Sources have told Stuff Finance Minister Grant Robertson is another important force pushing for the changes, however, he too has declined to comment.

March says giving businesses and industries a quota of migrants, that they lobby for, is effectively “devolving these important nation-impacting decisions” to private companies.

“Any move towards have a population policy deserves to have a very fulsome discussion that should be Treaty-led.”

However, it is understood no single population target will underpin the immigration reset, because of fears it could be labelled a “population policy”.

Eaqub sees the lack of a population target as a big weakness within these proposals. Many of the ideas appeared to be about limiting immigration, but equally the country could face issues with a lower than expected rate of population growth too.

A population target could help the country correct for an underwhelming level of population growth, while the current proposals were more about limiting the inflow of skilled migrants.

“Whether or not you’re going to have 10 million people in 50 years time, or you’re going to have 4 million people, actually matters a lot.

“Without that population policy, it’s quite hard to know what kind of capacity we should have as a country.”

However, Eaqub says the alleged immigration changes would represent a real change, because prior to the pandemic New Zealand businesses had access to a range of different migrants, but under the new changes the range of businesses and occupations would be more tightly controlled by the Government.

“What we will have is a bunch of industries, rightly or wrongly, who will have access to workers, and others won’t.

“I don’t know how much faith you have in the skills list that Immigration has used in the last decade or so, but most of the evidence from people in the industry I speak to is the skills list is not accurate, it’s quite dated.

“There’s a real risk that a centrally planned approach will have that issue.”

Stanford says she is worried about a policy that picks favoured industries as winners, and singles out others as being unable to access migrant labour.

“They’re going to a much more highly restricted approach at a time when there is a worldwide labour shortage where we’re competing against other countries in the world for the top talent, and yet we’re making it more difficult.

“If we need people like truck drivers, for example. Well truck drivers won’t have degrees, and if they do, they may not be from a great university, but do we care?”

The Government’s immigration reset has been a magnet for controversy since it as announced, and the Government has provided few details about what it might entail.

Immigration Minister Kris Faafoi was unable to attend the announcement and his fill-in, Stuart Nash, struggled to answer detailed questions about the proposal on day one.

Then announcements around temporary visas, like working holiday visas, filtered through, which appeared to contradict the overall thrust of the policy.

Now, the “Immigration Reset” has been rebranded as an “Immigration Rebalance”.

NZ Initiative chief economist Eric Crampton says one of the problems with the “reset”, or “rebalance”, is that it is targeting a problem that doesn’t exist.

He argues New Zealand has a housing and infrastructure problem, not an immigration one.

“You’re not running out of new cars or used cars because migrants are taking them all. You’re not out of haircuts at barbers’ shops because immigrants have taken up all the haircuts.

“There is nothing else where you’re seeing ‘oh my God the migrants took all these things’.

“It’s just pressure in housing, because we’ve got infrastructure supply that’s been heavily constrained, because the financing of it is a mess, and local councils don’t have abilities to keep up with that.”

Crampton says the root of this problem lies not immigration, but in the supply of zoned land for housing. He points to cities like Atlanta, in the United States, which has maintained a stable level of housing affordability despite high levels of population growth.

To keep house prices down Crampton argues councils need to zone much more land for apartments, townhouses, and other residential dwellings, than they need.

Crampton says making immigration contingent on housing consents, or similar measures, could actually lead to councils zoning less land for housing.

If lower than expected immigration levels are fed into back into future population growth estimates, then councils would have even more reason not to consent more land for housing.

Eaqub also questions the link between population growth and housing affordability. Population growth has been very low over the last two years, yet the number of building consents issued have reached historically high levels – something you might not expect with forecasts of lower population growth.

He believes things like the number of houses being built relative to population are much more based on the political appetite for investment in infrastructure.

“I think all the evidence on housing is that it doesn’t matter if it’s high [population growth] or low, we just suck at building houses.”

Source: Immigration ‘reset’ could link migrant numbers to building consents, and tightly limit migration

NZ: Productivity commission report reveals immigration is both good and bad

“On the one hand…”

Some interesting observations. Canada does not have the same degree of mismatch between temporary and permanent residents given the large number of the more highly skilled (IMP, students) who transition, but with some similar issues in relation to lower skilled:

You can now add our own Productivity Commission’s work to the global pantheon of studies looking at immigration. Like many of its predecessors it seems to conclude immigration can be both slightly good and slightly bad.

The public will have until December 24 to provide feedback on its conclusions and suggestions.

As far as these studies go, the political context around them often matters. The Productivity Commission report was initiated at a time when anti-immigrant sentiment was running high, and is coming out while the Government is trying to encourage skilled migrants to stay.

Institutions like hospitals are chronically understaffed. One Filipino nurse told Stuff recently that the renal ward she works in is more understaffed than any hospital ward she has worked at in the Philippines.

“I was so shocked, I never thought it would be this worse compared to the Philippines to be honest,” she says.

“Even if I’m on my day off my unit will call me, even if I don’t want to pick up the shift.”

Successive reports into immigration have concluded that immigration is either good for productivity, or bad for it, that it has a negative impact on wages, or enables higher wages to be paid, and this report has not come to any strong conclusions either way on most of these issues.

The Productivity Commission also adopts a better late than never approach to the Treaty of Waitangi, saying Māori should be given more of a say on immigration, decades after the country’s most significant waves of immigration have ended.

As it happens, the report notes “overall, New Zealand studies find very minor and mostly positive impacts on the average earnings and employment of local workers”. However, the report covers a much wider range of topics than wage levels.

The commission finds public sentiment is not nearly as negative towards immigration as politicians might suggest. Since 2011 less than 10 per cent of the country has harboured negative attitudes towards migrants, with support predictably lowest amongst New Zealanders “who had no friends born outside New Zealand”.

Australia has had, and is having, a similar debate. The core problem in both countries has been an almost wilful mismatch between the number of temporary migrants and the number of permanent residency places available for them.

The reasons for this have been political. Immigrants make a convenient political scapegoat, but both countries need them. As such, politicians in both Australia and New Zealand have capped permanent residency places while leaving temporary migrant visas (student and work visas) uncapped.

Noel Ballantyne moved to New Zealand in 2018 when his skills as a truck driver were in high demand. After a fruitless fight to become a resident, he has decided to leave.

Frustratingly, for politicians wanting to have it both ways, most people are only willing to up-end their lives and move countries if they think there is a realistic prospect of them being able to settle.

So, in a bid to keep the migration tap flowing Governments have had to be less than up-front with temporary migrants about their prospects of actually being able to live here long-term.

The Productivity Commission’s report, puts it this way: “This broad flexibility appears to have created expectations among some migrants of achieving residence that cannot realistically be met.”

The commission is suggesting the Government publish its intentions for temporary and long-term migration in a Waka Kotahi-esque Government Policy Statement (GPS) to avoid a similar mismatch in future. It would be revised every three years, and the public would also be able to feed into this process.

However, if the aim of the GPS is to avoid large unfair shifts in policy, between governments, it would seem an imperfect mechanism for it. Planning for the immigration GPS would presumably be separate to the infrastructure-planning process.

In the area of transport, the GPS has seen a re-allocation of funding away from roads and towards public transport, which caught the civil contracting industry off-guard. It would be significantly more unfair if the GPS were to cause similarly sudden shifts in the prospects of human beings who moved here in good faith.

The Productivity Commission also wants the Government to de-link visas from employers, which could cause problems when it comes to an incoming Government policy to strengthen the link between employers and migrant workers through an “employer-led” accreditation system.

The commission also wants better prioritisation of people in the “points” queue for residency, and to not let any immigrants through unless there is enough infrastructure for them, which includes people to staff the schools and hospitals needed for all the people we have already let in.

A change in the number of New Zealanders staying here has impacted migration flows.
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A change in the number of New Zealanders staying here has impacted migration flows.

Many of the report’s suggestions would require a massive increase in the size of the immigration bureaucracy. It is unlikely many of these functions could be funded solely through the application fees paid by migrants, as was the case pre-Covid.

Prioritising applications by points filed would mean immigrants would likely file for all the points they are eligible for right from the get-go, making it easier for officers to predict how many people would be eligible for residency if a future Government wanted to cut back on residency places.

Migrants can qualify for residency through a points system where they put an application in if they meet a certain threshold – currently 160 points.

With delays piling up, a lot of migrants decided not to file for the full points they were eligible for, guided by the theory that filing for more points than needed might eat up officer time as they double-checked the authenticity of each claim.

This threw a spanner in the works when it came to Government attempts to reduce the number of people eligible for residency, because even if they increased the number of points required they couldn’t be sure it would reduce the number of people who might be eligible.

As for the report’s conclusions on the larger questions, the problem is immigration often has effects that go in both directions.

Take the report’s headline conclusions on infrastructure: immigrants place strain on housing, but they also enable better economies of scale for other types of infrastructure that would just not be very cost-efficient without large numbers of people using them.

Another problem with the whole immigration versus infrastructure debate was noted in a report from Infrastructure Australia last month: you need immigrants to build infrastructure.

The lucky country’s much-lauded infrastructure pipeline has been thrown into disarray by Covid-19 border restrictions. By mid-2023 Australia will likely be short of people for 105,000 positions needed to keep the pipeline on track: 70,000 engineers, scientists and architects, 15,000 structural and civil trades, and 19,000 project management professionals.

Annual population growth took off after 2012, far ahead of our OECD peers.
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Annual population growth took off after 2012, far ahead of our OECD peers.

Like an earlier Australian Productivity Commission report into immigration, the New Zealand report focuses on the “absorptive capacity” of the economy to accommodate new arrivals, however the report notes this capacity is not fixed.

By OECD standards, a very large population increase took place between 2012 and 2020, caused by something never really forecast in many of the studies referenced in the Productivity Commission report.

In essence two things took place, more migrants came into the country and fewer New Zealanders left. The Productivity Commission says this likely caused the most recent wave of migration to exceed the country’s “absorptive capacity”.

While New Zealand lets in high numbers of migrants by international standards it also has a significant outflow of its own citizens and permanent residents, during normal times they can return at any moment.

The commission suggests restricting the unlimited right of permanent residents to return to the country could smooth out some of these flows.

“The economy could potentially accommodate more people without negative effects on housing or infrastructure if policy changes were made to ease regulatory constraints and increase investment rates … such reforms would have significant wellbeing benefits for New Zealanders and should be pursued regardless of immigration levels.”

New Zealand has a very high proportion of foreign-trained doctors and nurses.
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New Zealand has a very high proportion of foreign-trained doctors and nurses.

Where productivity is concerned the report notes a number of effects. Productivity could cause firms to rely on migrant labour rather than invest in machinery. It could also stimulate non-export industries at the expense of export industries by holding up the exchange rate. However, immigration can also allow productive firms to expand.

The Productivity Commission report wants a better “feedback loop” between education and industry when it comes to skills shortages, but it is unclear whether even this will be enough to plug the gap if migration were to be cut back.

The Filipino nurse who spoke to Stuff is part of this cohort of gap-fillers. The Productivity Commission report points out that, as a percentage of our total healthcare workforce, New Zealand employs the second-highest number of foreign doctors in the OECD, and the highest number of foreign-born nurses.

The nurse wants to be anonymous, for fear it might worsen either her employment or immigration situation, and when she speaks it is clear why she thinks it might.

Her ward is chronically understaffed, filled with migrant nurses who are already overworked and have been caught in different immigration messes from MIQ capacity to residency issues.

“Every night I’m praying, is it really good that I’m here? Is this what I dreamed of before?”

Source: Productivity commission report reveals immigration is both good and bad