On Monday evening the Minister of Immigration spoke at a dinner hosted by the Immigration & Refugee Committee of the Auckland District Law Society (Inc.).  Here are a couple of things that he talked about.  It is also interesting to compare what follows with my comments on last year’s Ministerial dinner.  In some respects, the more things change, the more they stay the same . . .

Lies, Damned Lies, and Immigration Statistics

While I am hardly an apologist for the Government, I agree with the Minister’s comment that the figures being bandied around about the supposed flood of migrants into New Zealand.  I commented about this in a recent post, and I take heart from some common sense being talked by the likes of Nigel Latta.

Hon Michael Woodhouse pointed out that the “long term migrants” being talked about as pouring into the country equals anyone who ticks on their Arrival Card that they are entering NZ for 12 months or more.  They become part of the statistics Winston Peters, the populist media, and even some who should know better (like the Reserve Bank) love to wave about.  But what if they don’t stay for 12 months?

For instance, we welcome tens of thousands of under-30s on Working Holiday Visas who are allowed to stay for a year – so of course they’ll tick that box.  But in fact many of them don’t stay the full time for a number of reasons.  The simplest reason is that if they remained for more than the full 12 months then they would risk overstaying, so the better option is for them to arrange to leave a little early.  Or else their plans change and they decide to trek through Nepal or the Andes.

Now, when they leave New Zealand they are asked on the Departure Card, “Were you living, working or studying in New Zealand for 12 months or more?”  If they tick No, their data is not collated – it is only those who tick Yes, and who then go on to answer questions about how long they will be away, who are noticed.  As a result, the number of people entering New Zealand long-term is being skewed by the manner in which the information is gathered.

Sure, there are a lot of people coming here, and the numbers will increase – for instance, the volume of Chinese visitors is predicted to hit a million every year with the increased volume of flights from Asia.  But are they the people buying all the houses and stealing all the jobs?  The answer is: to some extent, yes, but it may not be the epidemic that the hysterical faction would have us believe.

Review of the Skilled Migrant Category

Early in August I attended a meeting of the Immigration Reference Group, a round-table of stakeholders and Immigration New Zealand senior management to talk about strategic issues.  One item on the agenda was an overhaul of the Skilled Migrant policy, which accounts for about 70% of the places on the Government Residence Programme.  At the time it was floated as an informal thumb-suck, not on the Government’s schedule of planned changes, but rather a proactive look ahead to what might be done to correct some perceived problems with the type of migrants we are getting under SMC.

Well, it turns out that the review is very much on the official schedule.  I put a casual question to the Minister about it, not expecting anything definite.  In response he announced that moves were underway to draw up a significant revision of the policy.  He told the audience to expect changes to the Skilled Migrant Category in early 2017 – that is, in the next 6 months.  That, for Government, is quite quick work.

So what would this review look like?  No details are available as yet, but from the Reference Group discussions I can say that a couple of things might be on the cards:

  • Points may only be awarded for qualifications at degree level and above.  Anyone studying a Diploma or Undergraduate Certificate with a view to Residence could already be wasting their time;
  • Immigration may adopt and apply salary bands to each occupation, so that if you are not getting paid enough, your job will not be recognised as skilled for that reason alone;
  • Additional weightings could be applied to favour people with backgrounds in occupations that New Zealand wants to import – IT and engineering rather than “management”.

For those considering permanent migration to New Zealand, watch this space.