New Zealand will hold a General Election on 19 September 2020 and the date is approaching fast. Political parties are positioning themselves in order to win votes, including on the issue of immigration.

The New Zealand First party says it will cap immigration numbers to 15,000 per year and has said that the party obtaining the immigration portfolio would be a “bottom line” for coalition negotiations it enters into. New Zealand First Party leader Winston Peters is quoted as saying “we were bringing immigration down – but not nearly fast enough – because we weren’t in charge. That’s why we want the immigration portfolio”. In the year July 2019 – June 2020, 30,055 people were approved Residence in New Zealand. In the year July 2018 – June 2019, 34,515 people were approved Residence in New Zealand.

New Zealand First has long held a stance that could be described as anti-immigration and each time an election approaches, media tends to report this with increased attention. The New Zealand First Party’s stance will likely continue to create fear in the minds of migrants who want to make New Zealand their home. Expert economists also say the proposed immigration cap would have a negative overall impact on the New Zealand economy.

The Labour and National Parties have been reported as refusing to comment on the New Zealand First Party’s latest statements about reducing Residence numbers. However the Labour Party’s immigration policy, listed on their website states that they want to reduce net migration numbers by 20-30,000 per year through the following measures:

Student VisaLimiting visas and ability to work for low value coursesA fall of 6,000-10,000
Post Study Work Visa – OpenRemove work visas without a job offer for lower level qualification graduatesA fall of around 9,000-12,000
Work VisasRegionalise the occupation list and ensure that employers hire Kiwis firstA fall of around 5,000-8,000

Therefore at least two of the three Government coalition parties appear committed to reducing immigration numbers should they win the September election. A review of the National Party’s website reveals the party has not yet issued a clear Immigration policy, while the policy displayed on the Green Party’s website does not give numbers.

Also of significant note in recent weeks has been the departure of the Minister of Immigration, Iain Lees-Galloway, after he was fired by the Prime Minister for an abuse of power. An article on boldly suggests that the former Immigration Minister “will not be missed by migrants, after an attempt to cut immigration and put Kiwis first created a whole host of bigger problems”. The Labour and New Zealand First parties campaigned in the lead up to the 2017 election on reducing immigration numbers, but on being voted into power, have presided over one of the most significant backlogs in unallocated Residence applications in recent history.

Certainly here at Laurent Law, in recent times we have come across many people who have been facing long waiting times for their Skilled Migrant Residence application to be allocated and assessed. It appears on average it is now taking nearly 18 months for a Skilled Migrant Residence application to be allocated for assessment and up to 2 years for a decision to be made. This is despite the structure of the Skilled Migrant category remaining unchanged since the National Party lost power in 2017.

The situation around international students continues to be a hot topic, with many saying the economic value they bring to New Zealand justifies allowing them to return to New Zealand sooner rather than later. Government has said that international students will not return during 2020, but is considering ways it might allow them in to arrive in 2021. It looks as if international students will need to pay for their managed isolation. Due to New Zealand’s virus free status, we are now the top ranked destination for international students looking to study. Perhaps we should be finding a way to safely take advantage of the positive reputation we have earned.

Meanwhile, interest in New Zealand from badly virus hit United States and United Kingdom has increased, with visits to Immigration New Zealand’s New Zealand Now website from the United States in June 2020 up 160% compared to June 2019. It does appear New Zealand is becoming an increasingly attractive destination for people worldwide. Some even describe New Zealand as a “utopia”. It is interesting that as interest in migrating to New Zealand increases, politicians campaign for votes by saying they will reduce immigration numbers. In the future, policy changes may mean it becomes more difficult to migrate to New Zealand than it has been in the past. It might be a case of getting in before it is too late.

In further recent announcements, Government says it plans to invest $50 million over the next four years to combat migrant exploitation. New measures include:

  • Creating a new visa that will support migrants to leave exploitative situations without negatively affecting their immigration status.
  • Setting up a new dedicated free phone number, online reporting and better triaging to make it easier to report migrant worker exploitation.

The National Party has said this is “too little, too late”. It seems likely there will be more announcements from politicians prior to election day.