Is it just me, or does the immigration talk in the news seem like it’s about to reach fever pitch? It seems scarcely a day goes by without some talk about the impact of immigration, changes to immigration policy, scandals within immigration… and we haven’t even started the official election campaign yet!

We’ve said this for a while and it now seems abundantly clear where the focus of this election will be heading – immigration is a great battle cry for the political parties, especially those seeking a boost in the polls.

Taking aim at migrants can be a real boost to some parties; it’s probably safe to assume that, in general, the electorate is fairly conservative when it comes to immigration, so pro-nationalist policies can attract widespread support.

At the same time, most migrants can’t vote (unless they have a Permanent Resident Visa, by which time they will have already been through the most difficult stages of the residence process), which means that it is very rare to lose a whole heap of votes for taking a tougher stance on immigration.

However, I sense that this view has changed somewhat over the last few years. Many people acknowledge the benefits of immigration, not only in economic terms, but in social and cultural terms as well. Migrants can bring skills and experiences which develop and enrich our communities. Generalizing about the impact of migrants (“They don’t want to integrate! They are taking our jobs!”) doesn’t reflect the dynamic reality of immigration in our small market economy.

It’s with this in mind that the recent changes to immigration policy seem to be pandering to the worst aspects of our nature. The NZ Herald covered the changes to immigration policy and how this is having a real world impact on people who are contributing and providing for the country. The axe is well and truly being swung down on pathways to residence for many people, especially those in roles which (let’s face it) many Kiwis don’t want to do.

We are already seeing the impact that this is having in the community. Businesses, especially small businesses, are very concerned about the impact these changes will have on staffing. Many businesses, particularly in the hospitality industry, simply don’t attract locals to the jobs they want to fill. It’s not realistic to expect that locals will simply plug the gaps where migrant workers once were – the reason so many people apply for residence as chefs, retail managers and restaurant managers is that Kiwis don’t want to take up the work.

At the same time, these changes will force out valuable staff members who have been in positions for years, simply because the Government has decided that they are surplus to requirements. Businesses will be gutted out, with key staff holding key knowledge and experience of the running of these businesses forced to leave because they are not deemed “skilled”.

My fear is bigger changes to the family categories. The Government has already taken a hard line on this, from removing the Sibling Categories back in 2012, to the recent closure of the Parent Category, among other changes. I certainly hope that we don’t see an adoption of a financial-based criteria for Partnership Residence like in the UK, which would seem a logical extension of current policy requiring financial contributions to obtain residence.

But this is where things stand – many people, who have come to New Zealand to study or work, making a real difference through their efforts, with a reasonable expectation that their contributions might lead to residence one day, are being cast aside in the name of more votes. What we might gain in a short term sense of fulfillment (as if cutting migration will be the silver bullet, cure-all for all of New Zealand’s social issues), we may lose out on over the long term. While it may be a perfectly legal approach to take, I’m not so sure it is the moral route to take either.

I prefer the approach advocated by others – let’s have a smart debate on immigration. Relying solely on outlier stories, scare mongering and downright falsehoods won’t get us anywhere. While there are legitimate grounds to say that we should fine-tune our immigration policy, whole-sale reactionary change just seems to be the wrong way to go. Let’s do this the right way.