Yesterday the New Zealand Labour Party announced its immigration policy in the run-up to the September General Election.  As today’s interviewer on Morning Report picked up on, it appears Labour appears to be lining itself up alongside the xenophobic New Zealand First party; and its aims to strike at unskilled employment is oddly contrary to its normal stance of standing up for “the workers”.

Post-Study Work Visas Axed

To be fair, Labour leader Andrew Little is right that previous settings were incentivising foreign students to aim for work – and then Residence – after doing some undergraduate Diploma or other.  As a result, a large number of (mainly Indian) migrants qualified for Skilled Migrant Residence while being underqualified and relatively inexperienced.  The party aims to nip this issue in the bud by removing the open “Job Search” Work Visa option entirely for anyone doing less than a degree-level course.  The hope is that this will discourage overseas students from trying to stay on to work, or even to apply for Student Visas in the first place.

But the Opposition is too late.  The Government has already unveiled its plans to open Skilled Migrant Residence only to those who earn over the median wage, along with other measures that will reward experience over mere qualifications.  This was signalled in our blog in April.  This is an indirect attack on the problem from the other end, and may produce a similar effect.  What it does not do, is to harm that all-important export education market directly, as Labour’s plan would undoubtedly do.

To be cynical, the National Government wants to preserve the significant tax revenue from the industry, while Labour wants to be seen as tackling the supposed immigration problem head-on with a policy change that is easy for voters to understand.

Cut Education Industry Corruption

Another policy-rollout does appear reasonable: that is, to tighten up on the ability of institutions to offer courses to offshore students unless they have been vetted by, among others, NZQA.  Our industry colleagues and other stakeholders have argued for years that a number of the courses and colleges on offer are tainted by corrupt practices including the selling of certificates.  But to attack the root of the problem, go back to the education agents offshore (again, India in particular), and subject them to licensing in the same way as the immigration advice industry has been regulated for the last 10 years.  And set an enforceable limit on the percentage commissions that colleges and universities pay these agents.

And . . . the Old Chestnut

Yes, here we go again.  Mr Little continues to claim that migration is responsible for high house prices and traffic congestion in Auckland.  As Guyon Espiner pointed out this morning on national radio, how many of those low-qual students whom Labour has demonised buy houses?  And how many own cars when they most often live in high-rise apartments on Beach Road or Hobson Street?

Just another example of how the immigration stance of all players in the Election game is founded on rhetoric.  It is indeed time for a reasoned conversation about what migration really means to New Zealand.  Somehow, I don’t expect that we’ll get it before the voting starts.