In April the Labour Party made claims that the upswing in net migration to New Zealand is causing runaway house prices in Auckland and Christchurch in particular.  Its solution is to cut immigration numbers.  This issue has not gone away – it will become a key Election debate.

A couple of years ago our net inflow of migration was only a few thousand a year.  At present it is running toward 40,000.  However, note that this is “net” migration.  It is the difference between the numbers coming here to live permanently and those leaving.  The big change that has occurred is that less Kiwis are going overseas (especially to Australia); and more particularly, a lot of New Zealanders are coming home, often to escape worsening economic conditions in other countries.

The Government operates a Residence Programme (the NZRP) which sets a quota of between 45,000 and 50,000 places per year.  This has remained the same for at least the last decade.  Far from there being a great tide of foreign migrants, the fact is that in the last year or two Immigration New Zealand has not met its quota.  While there were 46,000 Residence approvals in the 2008-9 year, only 38,000 visas were granted for 2012-13.  Anyone who is really keen can check this on the Statistics maintained by INZ.

The reality is that the pressure on the housing market is generated by the movement (or lack of it) by New Zealanders, not by migrants.  Of those migrants who do buy houses here, the Government claims that they account for only 11% of the market.   Academic opinion is that migrants don’t skew house prices very much.  Last week the Editor of the Dominion Post asserted that figures he’d seen indicate that this figure may only be 8%.  It’s not a trivial figure, but it is not the great bogey which the Opposition claims.  Certainly it is no justification for the sort of drastic cut in the migration cap which has been suggested recently.

By contrast, the National-led Government has proclaimed its welcoming stance to foreign nationals.  It is not often that the main political parties are at odds on immigration issues.  Usually they see little to quarrel about, such as when the subject of refugees arises.  But this time they are taking opposing positions.  Both National and Labour Ministers of Immigration have, in the past, declared how immigration is vital to the Labour hopes to pander to Kiwi xenophobia.  National is keen to be seen as the inclusive “nice guy”.

By the look of it, this will be a point of difference which both sides will capitalise on as the country heads toward the polls in September.  For my part, National’s stance is opportunistic but is less unpalatable than Labour’s.