Labour Leader questions the skill levels of migrants; suggests work of Chinese chefs could be done by locals; talks of turning down migration tap; Key criticises Labour stance

Labour Leader questions the skill levels of migrants; suggests work of Chinese chefs could be done by locals; talks of turning down migration tap; Key criticises Labour stance

By Bernard Hickey

The migration debate has flared again as a slight shift in Labour's rhetoric blew up into a debate over whether Chinese migrants should be doing work as chefs in Chinese restaurants that locals could be doing.

The spotlight fell on Labour's stance after a seven paragraph report in the Upper Hutt Leader emerged from a trip by Labour Leader Andrew Little to Upper Hutt last week. In it, Little was quoted as saying New Zealand needed to look closely at its migration rules, particularly around skill levels.

He pointed in particular to the hospitality industry where an influx of lower skilled migrants, often students and those on holiday work visas, had affected wages.

"We know that's happening, particularly with a lot of, you might say, ethnic cuisine. So your Chinese, your Indian. A lot of folks come here from overseas to get into the hospitality industry with those particular cooking skills and I think the question is, you know, can we actually source those labour needs internally?," Little was quoted as saying.

His comments around the need to re-assess or tweak migration rules to keep skill levels up were little different to those he has made elsewhere in recent weeks, and in a panel debate on The Nation on Saturday.

In the debate with New Zealand First Leader Winston Peters and Green Co-Leader James Shaw, Little commented on skill levels and the need to tweak settings.

"There is a case to turn down the tap when the pressure is on, and we are a country that has been dependent on bringing in skilled labour from overseas, certainly at the high-skill end," Little said.

"Actually, a large number of those who are coming in, settling here, are in the semi-skills sort of category, which we can actually source that labour internally. So I think there is a case – turn the tap down," he said.

But the introduction of the ethnic cuisine element unleashed a particular type of criticism yesterday that echoed the furore around Phil Twyford's release of data on 'Chinese sounding names' buying homes in Auckland last year.

'No Chop Suey?'

Prime Minister John Key said he couldn't work out where Little was coming from.

"One minute they're saying they don't want people with Chinese-sounding names buying houses, now they're saying they don't want people with Chinese-sounding names making chicken chop suey," Key told reporters before Question Time.

The reporting around these comments in the TV news segments concerned Little enough to issue his own blog post on Labour's site late on Wednesday night to explain himself more fully. He said he was baffled by the reporting and concerned that he may have offended anyone.

One News illustrated its story with a interview with an Indian migrant, Monty Patel, who arrived to work in his brother's dairy 30 years ago and has since built a successful curry and pie business. Patel opposed the reported cap on migrant chefs.

Little said he pointed during his Upper Hutt visit to a clause in the FTA with China that allowed the recruitment of Chinese chefs for Chinese restaurants and that he expected other ethnic communities would be able to recruit chefs.

"I said there was an issue with semi-skilled people being recruited under skills shortages categories, but I doubt whether this related to chefs," he said.

He said Labour's migration policy hadn't changed.

"We need to moderate our intake at times when we are struggling to find jobs and houses for newly arrived folks as well as locals," he said.

'Closer to NZ First'

Little's comments around migration do indicate a change in tone from Labour around migration, bringing it closer to New Zealand First's views. This closer alignment with New Zealand First policies is an element that has not been highlighted much in recent months and could be a factor in any post-election negotiations.

Little has dropped Labour's capital gains tax policy, which brings it into line with New Zealand First, and has kept its policy on banning foreign purchase of existing homes, which is also attractive to Winston Peters. Little's abandonment of Labour's delay in the retirement age has also brought Labour closer to New Zealand First, which may make coalition negotiations easier in the event of a tight election result.

This debate about the skill levels of migrants also has some substance from an economic point of view.

Former Reserve Bank economist and now independent commentator, Michael Reddell, commented in a blog post last year on the skill levels of migrants granted permanent residence, which he based on data supplied from OIA requests to MBIE.

Chefs, registered nurses, retail managers, cafe or restaurant managers and IT support staff made up the five most popular skills categories in 2011/12 and 2012/13. A later post showed the same ranking of skilled migrant categories for 2014/15.

We welcome your help to improve our coverage of this issue. Any examples or experiences to relate? Any links to other news, data or research to shed more light on this? Any insight or views on what might happen next or what should happen next? Any errors to correct?

We welcome your comments below. If you are not already registered, please register to comment.

Remember we welcome robust, respectful and insightful debate. We don't welcome abusive or defamatory comments and will de-register those repeatedly making such comments. Our current comment policy is here.


Chop Suey is of course, Mr Key, is an American dish, not Chinese....

Labour are clueless. Stop mentioning or singling out specific ethnicities! Even though the Asian population in Auckland has more than doubled in the last decade, these types of comments lead to perceptions of inferiority. Otherwise i completely agree with Labours message.

I believe that some hospitality workers send money home and have an annual holiday at home if possible.
I have no problem with that, specialist skills are real, but I see no reason to offer them residency.


Labour maybe targeting the swing voter in the middle. As a swing voter myself labours messages are what i want to hear. If your national leaning swing voter - you may like the message that labour is putting out - cause at the moment you have been gazumped on the housing front – and national seem to be ignoring the large elephant/panda in the room with flag debates. At the end of the day my kids want to have a home - and i dont see that happening until everybody’s motivations are aligned.

Why do we have massive migration ?


..we have massive immigration because without it the property market will die, along with it the growth forever growth is wonderful, growth will solve everything pholiosophy of Key and Co. They continually beleive if they grow this or grow that that somehow things will be day. Auckland is at a standstill, yet tbey want to export the Auckland madness to Tauranga, Hamilton and eventually to the the rate we are gong we will soon be an over populated, corruption filled and polluted Pacific back water...but maybe we might have a nice new flag.

tell the people at bus stops this morning that uncontrolled growth is good

..gawd...the mind boggles as to how Auck traffic will cope with the construction about to commence (tunnels, roads, sky conference centre etc... not to mention the ongoing immigration flood). Absolute chaos with traffic at a standstill...hours and hours to commute anywhere......Can these baffoons not see we need to 'pause for a cup of tea' as Mr Lange once said? Meanwhile, I'll enjoy the spectacle via the traffic cams.

the poblem is he goes about it hamfisted, if he had just stated why do we need to bring in chefs or retail staff etc why are we not training our own the message would go down better

....why does he miss the target so often? How about no 2 on the list (nurse) and then site the numbers of nursing students graduating who cant find work? Or the number of retail managers...retail is dying...does selling sock in the mall really count as a retail manger? The oppurtunities are endless for labour...


And café manager? Is this list serious? Are we really so retarded we can't run our own cafes? Labour could have a field day.


Just saw dairy cattle farmer. Lol.


Looking at that list, one has to question why many of these people are being allowed into the country and where our priorities are. We still have a lot of people who are under employed and unemployed who I am sure could be trained into these roles. I know of several young nursing graduates who struggle to find decent permanent employment and try to get by with a series of temporary and unsatisfactory positions, or leave the country, or profession. We certainly do need immigrant nurses. Carpenters and electricians are readily trained. Why are we falling short in this area. Similarly as Andrew little says the whole food and hospitality industry. The euphemistically labelled dairy farmers are more likely cheap immigrant farm labourers who are required because even our unemployed are not willing to be treated like dirt. Some decent labour laws might overcome this resistance by our own citizens and strengthen the arm of welfare authorities requiring the unemployed to work.
The burden that these immigrants are placing on economy are both obvious in terms of housing but also ripple through the rest of the whole economy. How much of our national debt is a results of the demands for extra houses, schools, hospitals, roads etc, etc. Has any body sat down and done the arithmetic to evaluate the costs and the benefits.
Underlying all this is something that this country seems to ignore, productivity. The most effect way to address some of these so called needs is to significantly crank up our national productivity - do a lot more with less people. That way we get what we want without incurring consequential costs and problems associated with immigration.
Unfortunately I have the impression that immigration is being used to fuel our ponzie economy, keep house prices rising and look after a handful of vested interests. The inevitable consequences of the ponzie scheme will be some body else's (ours) problem in the future.


answer is low wages, low wages. lower wages
thats the reason not skills

Yep, many jobs on that 'skills' list are really just low paid roles that could be trained if they made them more rewarding.

Perhaps the trademes,seeks out there could set up an app for jobseekers in Nz that people of any age or ethnicity could enter their details, work history, type of work they're capable or willing to do. This would use our existing population and fill up those not so skilled jobs.
For example, our chinese neighbours, the grandfather in the house catches the bus into town 4-5 days a week and work 4-6 hours a day making dumplings for a chinese restaurant. It gives him something to do and atleast hes contributing.There must be many types of these jobs that can be internally sourced.

Quite right sharetrader, I work in IT and there has been an influx of Indian and East European IT developers come into NZ in recent years on residency visas, who are quite willing to accept much lower rates of pay (until they realise they need to buy a home), and a lot have poor standards of English, especially written. Not much point knowing how to code, if you can't communicate with your colleagues!

..Labour needs to visit this site for campaign/policy advice....their current advisors are useless.

Little made a valid point but in a wrong way.

Valid point: some of the top occupations shows up in the list are and should NOT be considered highly SKILLED! They are the occupations that offer low wages and the worst working conditions, which make NZers (citizens and residents) rather stay on dole. So, Govt should not bow to such business needs and should force them to raise the bar by paying more and creating a better working environment.

Wrong way: Chinese takeaways and India dairies; they are bunch of hard working ppl paying their fair share of tax, bringing up kids responsively and giving them best education by sacrificing their own enjoyments, committing nearly no crime.

Little is plain stupid.

Paying their fair-share of tax

Want to bet on that?

Check out the details of the current Masala restaurant chain investigation

Check out the fats food hall at the Albany Mall - watch how the till remain open but nothing gets rung up. Also my local Chinese has an 18 year old slinging the frying pans - how hard is it then?

Also keep an eye out for the places with separate 'cash' and 'card' tills.

We all know you always use eftpos at the local takeaways and bakeries to try and make sure some money at least gets to the IRD in terms of gst etc. How they continue to get away with it amazes me.

that trick has been around for years, in diarys it was newspapers, they never rung them through the till instead the change sat on the top drawer.
work out how many newspapers you would sell in a day and times that over a year adds up to a nice little earner

We all have power in this. If you think a place of trade is dodgy, just avoid it.
Everything is interlinked.

And report it. Immigration, DoL and other agencies only have the capacity to investigate so much, but at least get it into the system and known.

Same with every Indian corner dairy, and then you see them buying trolley loads of stock at the local PanSave for cash. We can see it, why can't the IRD get out from behind their desks and have a look. While they are at it they should look around all the restaurants and do a few sums on the rental and other outgoings, compare this to the number of customers going through and work out whether they are making any money or are just money laundering operations. A friend once told me that often Indian families are financed into diaries by a shadowy group which wants to use them as a front for money laundering. It is going on all over the place in front of our noses and the authorities are doing next to nothing other than a few box ticking exercises (to be seen to be doing something) or it is so blatant that it hits the headlines before they will act.

Little said it right, it was reported as a sensationalized misrepresentation. This is why Trump is doing well despite his poor treatment in the media. Most of us now can see straight through the BS shovelled out by the media who either carelessly distribute what they have been provided by the PR team or they don't get paid.
As for the business acumen and tax take of the businesses you use as an example, most are cash businesses for a reason and likely would stand very little investigation on tax matters.

Well said, one has to differentiate between fly by night migrants and settlers who contribute long term to NZ economy and society. Blowing the same immigration dog whistle is not helpful. It is also high time that citizens are to be involved in decisions on vital things like migration. Referendum on flag is a joke. We need to focus on more important referendums.

With 600, 700, 800 specialist (??) chefs arriving each and every year, you gotta ask yourself how many full service sit-down Indian and Chinese restaurants are there in NZ, or are the bulk of them greasy-spoon take-aways importing cheap labour


Why don't we set up a training school and bring in half-a-dozen top Asian chef-cook-trainers and train our locals - even train some trainers


Why isn't there any spillover from these skilled chefs passing on their skills to locals?
Do the local establishments ever train anybody? - doesn't seem so

The message is important, not the delivery.

Andrew Little is right to question this, I have to say I am quite surprised at some of the jobs/careers in the list, but he has attacked it in the wrong way again, Labour needs a decent leader now, before we get any closer to the next election.


Sorry People a paid up card-carrying member of the National Party, I am with Labour on this one .

John Key is losing touch with us ordinary folk who put him there , we don't want everyone's " huddled masses" .

I have no problem with migrants who come here , find work , pay tax , integrate or assimilate , abide by our laws and contribute to our GDP .

I do have a problem with people making this a second home, running highly profitable businesses elsewhere, and paying no tax here.

Or foreigners buying houses with cheap foreign money and then getting Kiwis to pay them off as tenants .

Or , letting people in with seriously low-level skills as part of our open-door policy

Our immigration policy is creating more problems than solutions .

Quite apart from the distortions in Auckland housing and traffic , some ( and they are NOT Chinese) migrants come here from places where things like paying taxes is considered abhorrent, and should be avoided or evaded.

They bring this culture of being anti-payment of taxes with them, but are quite happy to take advantage of our generous free social services , free first world Education and free first world Healthcare .

Who the hell do they think pays for all of this?

Don't they understand we all pay tax as part of a social contract with the State , who provides us with all these free things in return ?

I am also fed up with foreigners buying up much of New Zealand with money borrowed at 2% overseas , when we Kiwis pay 6% on floating mortgages to local banks . This is not a level playing field , and its wrong on every level.

Its got to end , or we need to vote in a Government who stops this nonsense, and promises tighter migration policies and land-ownership laws ............ like Australia has done.


'Politicians and diapers must be changed often, and for the same reason'

...seems everybody is as p##d off as well....all except for Mike Hosking and MSM.

Yes - looking at the Herald for example there doesn't seem to be an "either side of the fence" review of events. You have the Key Clones, Wiiliams and Hosking ranting straight from National Central, then you have dear ol Fran sitting on the fence but there's no one presenting an alternative view. Whats going on - do we have a NZ Pravda?

@ Boatman - Brilliant summation and exactly where I am too.

I have voted National my entire adult life but for me the cumulative affect of these issues and the absolute denial of them by the PM / Government is a vote changer.

Exactly. Even migrants who had come in earlier, a few/several years ago on PR and who have settled in well here are appalled at the quality of people coming in now and how they are affecting the morals and financial dealings and living quality/standards here. The whole social fabric is undergoing massive change, not for the good. Time may come when the earlier migrants will sell off and go to live elsewhere, retaining their NZ citizenship ? To Canada or Sweden or Denmark ?

A indian workmate of mine opened a indian takeaway and is doing very well.
Chefs are a continual problem, long hours, low wages, want to go home.
He told me all the dishes are built on a simple set of sauces that he mastered very quickly.
Draw your own conclusions.

Hamfisted maybe ,but Little is right here. As Bernard alludes Winston has been saying these things for decades. Unfortunately this debate quickly gets lost in cry's of xenophobia when actually the underlying issues are real and require addressing. Hopefully one day we can have a reasoned debate about this.

We have exported our jobs to Asia, and let them use the proceeds to buy the houses our young people have a right to live in, making them tenants. Now uncontrolled immigration is making it even harder for our children to find meaningful jobs or get on the property ladder. Utter madness!

Hold on mate, many, many Kiwis own second homes as investments, especially in holiday areas like Central Otago. I even know of two families who have moved from Auckland to Central Otago for work reasons but have decided to rent out their Auckland homes and rent accom here themselves ( from other Kiwis) as rents are cheaper here than in Auckland. So there are 4 properties in the rental arena with that Kiwi family alone.

Time for chop suey and butter chicken cooking courses in the Universities here ?

Stuff the universities - enrol at the police academy, that's where the jobs will be the way Key is running this show.

The immigration policy the National Party promotes is naive in the extreme. Why does Little wear the abuse when the guys in government with all the power and resources don't.
What about Mr Joyce promoting international education when anybody around Auckland would identify examples of the rort very easily.
The current government are playing in a serious matter with all the skills and perception of children.

...he needs to learn to articulate the message.. be better prepared..imagine if he had answered back with some of the suggestions here ie do we need 600 or so chefs a year/ why dont we train our own young to be takeaways chefs, employ our kids as nurses etc. I want to see the man perform... I want to see him go on the offesive over this, not look defensive or run scarred. Fingers crossed cause i rekon its a vote changer.

Maybe I'm misunderstanding the figures, but according to the NZ Herald today in the last five years 20,962 work visas were given out to 'chefs' who came from overseas, and yet according to the 2013 census 22,300 people identified themselves as 'chefs', therefore there wouldn't be many other people outside of those who came in on work visas working as 'chefs' in good ol' NZ.

I do hope Immigration NZ are doing the job they're being paid to do, or is there some sort of rort going on?

For an insight into life as a chef watch the very funny, charming "100 foot journey"
They are itinerant for good reasons and you measure the number arriving but not the number departing.

I see, so the work is so bad, that no one here wants to do the work, and those who arrive on a work visa soon give it up, and then the next person arrives on a work visa, and ....... so on and so forth.

Or they may magically transition to being a manager or a taxi driver.

yes they do, that's their career path, once they get their residency it's taxi driving

I think everyone is fed up of lack of leadersip from the government. They have lost touch with reality and dont really care. I have a suggestion for any one in this group who have vented their feelings here, start a facebook page and call it VOTE THEM OUT. Spread the word get thousands of people to comment/like the page and then send the link to John Key and co that will get their attention alright. Post the link here, you will get heaps of votes, I promise you mine.I am not against migrants, the policy is flawed and that is what most people are unhappy about. It is time to remind the government they need to get their priority sorted.

Leader Wanted: Must have gonads, guts and gumption and be able to operate independent of Crosby/Textor bs system. Please apply to NZ People a.s.a.p.

Ireland's trend of net emigration was reversed as the republic became a destination for immigrants.[36] This significantly changed Irish demographics and resulted in expanding multiculturalism, particularly in the Dublin, Cork, Limerick, and Galway areas.[37] It was estimated[who?] in 2007 that 10% of Irish residents were foreign-born; most of the new arrivals were citizens of Poland and the Baltic states, many of whom found work in the retail and service sectors. A study conducted in 2006 found that many Irish people regarded immigration as an important factor for economic progress.[38] Within Ireland, many young people left the rural countryside to live and work in urban centres.[citation needed] Many people in Ireland believe that the growing consumerism during the boom years eroded the country's culture, with the adoption of American capitalist ideals.

I might have mentioned this before, so apologies if I have... John Key told me in person, he'd be quite happy to let in a million hard working immigrants.... That was in January 2014, how many have arrived since then?
Ps I agree with boatman and his semi-rant above...

As much as it is correct that NZ's skilled migration program is a joke, it is also true that in its last election programme Labor made a commitment to let in more "refugees". Has Labor ever rescinded this? I have not heard about it.

One should know what Labor is planning on "refugees" before getting hung up on the definition of skill in another corner of immigration policy. It is in my view a lot more relevant whether Labor is still planning to flood NZ with Arab Muslims who migrate directly into social security and potentially - just have a look at Merkel-Europe - destabilize society as whole.

Dont let Labor con you. Labor is traditionally the party of immigration chaos. I want to hear a commitment that Labor will leave the intake of "refugees" at current levels or - better - reduce it to zero before going into Chinese chefs. I rather have Chinese chefs than Arabs whose main qualification is of the Cologne type.

These days this would probably translate into

The skills demanded are quite high actually.

In terms of policy it pretty much has not changed in 2 decades (except got more expensive) so throwing this crap at Labour feet is not justified.

The chef shortage is critical in the Queenstown Lakes area, and people are being employed (out of desperation) without suitable skills, to the detriment of the industry.
Andrew Little needs to get real - we urgently need skilled labour in the hospitality industry, regardless of their ethnic origins or name.

Out of curiousity how does an Indian/Cantonese/malay/ /Thai et al chef or anyone employed in hospitality relocate on relatively low incomes and sustain a life in Queenstown. Is it necessary to pack them into accommodation and be treated as second class members of society.Desperation indeed , how does one acquire skills in the first place. Possibly the hospitality industry should pay more for locals , restaurants are everywhere , tourists are not coming to New Zealand for the restaurants whether they are in Queenstown or Gore