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Why we'd all be better off being more welcoming to migrants' elderly parents and improving the quality of education offered to international students

Why we'd all be better off being more welcoming to migrants' elderly parents and improving the quality of education offered to international students

Wellbeing - it’s set to engulf gross domestic product (GDP) to become the main way to measure the success of government policy.

Treasury released a paper exploring the concept in 2011, yet it’s taken until now for a government to fully endorse a wellbeing framework.

While the National-led Government’s targeted social investment approach aligned with it, the Labour-led Government has gone so far as to saying it will assess bids for spending against a wellbeing framework in its 2019 Budget.

This will be a world first.

Treasury has accordingly drawn on the OECD’s How’s Life? analysis to create a Living Standards Framework. By the end of the year it intends to develop a dashboard of indicators - social, human, natural and financial - that policymakers will need to consider.

Consulting economist, Julie Fry, and New Zealand Institute of Economic Research principal economist, Peter Wilson, have just published a book - Better Lives: Migration, Wellbeing and New Zealand - that explores how a wellbeing framework would change the way migration policy is made.

Speaking to in a Triple Shot Interview, they say considering a wider range of factors, in addition to GDP, would see a different mix of people immigrate to New Zealand.

Elderly migrants and international students 

Currently we welcome young, healthy, trained migrants who can contribute the most to the labour market, Fry explains.   

We try to avoid letting their elderly parents in because they don’t pay tax, but need superannuation and have greater healthcare needs.

A wellbeing framework would recognise the value this group of people could add. For example grandparents could help with childcare and encourage their families to stay connected to their home cultures and languages.

Wilson explains a wellbeing framework would also see us take a different approach towards international students.

“The previous government really increased the number of international students coming in, because again, they’re young, they don’t use healthcare, they don’t get benefits, but they pay a lot for their education.”

A wellbeing framework would consider the impact of our migration policy on the students themselves.

Recognising the fact many students come to New Zealand with unrealistic expectations around getting citizenship, Wilson says, “You’d want to make sure that the students were getting a very good education - so quality education as opposed to some of the short-term language schools.

“And that they’ve really got a prospect of genuine employment afterwards.

“So you’d target more on their wellbeing after education, rather than just thinking of them as a cash cow that’ll boost the economy while they’re here.”

Wilson says the key thing with using a wellbeing framework is that you can’t cherry pick which indicators you do and don't want to meet. In other words, only consider the impact international students have on the housing market.  

“You’ve got to put it all together."

Transparency and predictability 

He says the value of the framework is that it makes the trade-offs policymakers need to make more transparent and predictable.

The Government’s decision to ban new offshore oil and gas exploration permits is an example of the fact it already considers more than GDP when making decisions.

Yet Wilson says a wellbeing framework would encourage ministers to say, We do put more weight on the environment than the previous government, so that explains our decision.

Generally speaking, he maintains the decision-making process is opaque.

"You don’t know what is influencing ministers and they should make that more transparent...

“It also makes it easier… to hold the government to account. To say, Hang on, last time you said the environment was important. This time you’ve put more emphasis on jobs. What’s happened? What’s changed?

Complexity a price worth paying

Asked whether policymakers would realistically have the time (or inclination) to report back on how they've considered a broader range of impacts of their decisions; the Government’s call to ban new offshore oil and gas exploration being an example of a thorough consultation process being skipped, Wilson answers yes.

He says lots of decisions are made on the basis of white papers and consultation processes.

Yet he warns a wellbeing framework shouldn’t be seen as a checklist.

“It does make decision-making more complex, but we think it leads to better, more transparent, more accountable decisions…

Fry agrees.

“At the moment we primarily focus on GDP impact, and sometimes we think about labour market impacts and sometimes we think about housing impacts, but we don’t do that in a systematic way. We don’t think about all the things that people care about when they’re living a life they value…

“That means we are setting policy that isn’t based on the things that matter. We’re missing out on important things.”

Wilson acknowledges trade-offs will still always need to be made.

“The book’s called Better Lives for a reason. It’s not Perfect Lives. What we’re looking for is an improvement on the current process.”

See this story and this one for more from Fry and Wilson on wellbeing, and this story for Arthur Grimes' perspective. 

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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.



We could improve our well-being even more by sending them back to their elderly parents.

This is next level of immigration shilling by the NZIER and it should scare the living bejesus out of everyone if these loonies get this kind of chain immigration going.

New Zealand really has lost its way.

I agree with you if you are saying there are simply too many immigrants (I am an immigrant 2003); even Prof Paul Spoonley has said numbers are out of control although he is reluctant to say what we should do to cut the numbers.
And I agree that NZIER seems to fudge statistics (for example the NZ born children of recent immigrants are counted as 'native born' when NZIER do a 'receive fewer benefits analysis').

However I do think the arbitrary freezing of the family reunion category was unfair. There should have been a debate before they changed the rules. I know a teacher at my son's college has returned to Scotland after decades in NZ so he can look after his elderly parents. So we have lost a useful person who might have stayed if his parents could come to NZ. Obviously there should be no financial loss to NZ taxpayers but that is not hard to arrange (health insurance, pensions).


One reason to allow young people in is so that the age profile of NZers is improved (lowered). To allow in the parents and grandparents of these people makes the age profile worse.
Residency is the main aim of a good number of these so called students. Residency so that they can get their aged, sick parents out of their home country.

Is there any where, any location that has achieved success on the basis of chain migration?

Age profile depends on how they count the children: nativeborn or immigrant?? The age profile is reduced but not by say 20 years which would be significant but merely a year or two so like myself (immigrant) they will get older and retire and then what does NZ do - bring in exponentially more to keep that age profile down? Maybe putting some effort into keeping the average elderly Kiwi healthier would be a better solution.
I really don't think the students are thinking about getting their parents here. The scheme has been suspended for two years and even when it was available you had to prove no other children or grandchildren in country of origin and that you were not sick. And of course INZ can impose any finance (health insurance) rules it likes.


So much for the well being of New Zealanders that looks like it comes second now. How much extra strain is this going to put on the health system. There is a reason this is a world first as no one else would be silly enough to do it.


So these economists are pro-immigration ?

So am I

But only when we have the infrastructure in the form of hospitals , schools and roads etc that can cope with the numbers .

I got the impression that they were both pro immigration but only after NZers needs for employment had been met.

Elderly parents increase the well-being (of whom?) by providing childcare and language tuition..... WTF? You know this is a direct reference to China's one child policy.

My USA nephew married a Filipino who was an only child and when her father died her mother who was still active and in her 50's had no other living relatives. So she moved to the USA to the benefit of all concerned. I am guessing the USA government insisted on finance being OK: pension and health insurance.

Any thing in this book should be checked against treasury paper 14-10 As Julie Fry seems to be changing her tune?. I would be wary of NZIER ever since they told us we should have a population of 15 Million. See Changing Policy Expectations in Julie Fry's paper.

CORIN You don’t want immigration to fall, though, do you? I just want to say something. I saw you in a speech after the Budget, and you were speaking to a big room of businesspeople – some of the biggest business minds in the country – and you stood up and you said, “Don’t worry about Treasury’s figure or estimation that it will go back to the trend of 12,000.” You were confident it was going to be a lot higher than that.

JOHN I just think it’s unlikely it will go to 12,000.

CORIN But it was like you wanted immigration to go up, because you were telling them, “Don’t worry. The demand in the economy is going to stay there. That’s what’s keeping New Zealand afloat.”

I think we have an amazing infrastructure facilitating immigration including the mainstream media, Asia NZ foundation (Government funded does the polling), HRC, Susan Devoy etc, etc.

This "well being framework" idea seems rather feminine.
Encouraging their families to stay connected to their home cultures and languages.I can't imagine the patriarchy ever coming up with this idea. Up until recently the focus was on assimilation, which I guess is a form of conquest - a masculine pursuit, as is acquiring wealth as a measure of success.

Did you have to work really hard to come up with something so pathetic or did it come quite naturally?

Interesting, PocketAces, that you seem to find my comment unworthy. Don't you think that with the drive to include more women in leadership roles there would be different ideas being presented? Wasn't that the whole point of the exercise, to produce different, more feminine, outcomes which were seen to be lacking in a male dominated society?
Well here it is, I simply observed it.
Oh I see, we are not supposed to comment on the difference between men and women from a male perspective

Actually I think you will find it is bull shit and therefore masculine.

The first thing wellbeing needs to be assessed in, is the existing population and how immigration is affecting it. I suggest you would come up well short among those who have been displaced or dispossessed by immigrants.

"grandparents could help with childcare and encourage their families to stay connected to their home cultures and languages.""

Seems to go against the very grain of PR or citizenship i.e to assimilate. May explain why some people despite being here for years do not speak or understand English, import values, habits etc alien to NZ . Perhaps dubious benefit is to import $$$$ to speculate in property etc yet in creative ways evade taxes, avail of benefits, access social care)

With the best intentions and course documentation in the world, if a university lecturer has,say, 20 international students in their class, they cannot miraculously teach at a higher quality level as many of these students are completely out of their depth, academically, language-wise, and industry-readiness-wise.
However the universities etc are forced into heavy international recruitment to keep financially viable.

So we are told that the white pale and stale brigade are bludgers, a drain on society, should simply get out of the way etc yet aged immigrant parents miraculously are desirable. What am I missing?

I thought male pale and stale was more to identify people whose voices have been too influential in the past and now they should now shut up, pay their taxes and let a 37 year old show them the error of their ways. It’s ironic that a male stale and partly pale dinosaur put Taxinda in power. Mind you he’s disappeared (not down the mine unfortunately) and Taxinda spends her time talking to school kids. Is this the most inept government we have ever had? That’s a rhetorical question. No lefties need reply.

Hang was pale, stale males who were overseeing this massive increase in the number of taxpayer-subsidised reunified families and required services for these. That's what you're missing.

First thing that should happen. Asking all kiwis how many people we actually want in nz and why? If we are trying to focus on the well being of kiwis, let’s at least include them in the conversation.

Not a bad point. I suspect between the small number of racist nutters at one extreme and the open border anarchists at the other extreme the majority of NZ want immigration and are not too bothered where it is from so long as (a) there is sufficient infrastructure where they intend living (b) can speak English (c) the immigrant clearly improves NZ. The last point is mainly to avoid low paid immigrants because they take jobs from unemployed Kiwis, reduce wages for low paid Kiwis and they end up being exploited while propping up corrupt businesses unfairly competing with honest Kiwi businesses.
Then again that is just my opinion, so why not ask all Kiwis.

I recollect Winnie pre-election making noise about elderly parents being sponsored for residence.They then sit around, pay zero taxes and 10 years later reap NZ super.

Wonder now that he is in govt (deputy PM to boot) whether he is still enthusiastic in giving teeth to his words and whether the rules on eligibility have been tweaked.

I had the same fear about unearned super. So I looked at the stats INZ used to produce and it was clear that the family reunion visa was (a) fairly low volume (b) many from countries where your state pension is absorbed by NZ Super, eg UK (c) which left Chinese as the main category and they were mainly over 60 so would never qualify for super anyway. Maybe our Dept of Immigration is not as dumb as we all think.

Unfreeze that category, stick to the requirements of no relatives living elsewhere and pass the health test and then just insist on health insurance and purchased pension and I can see no problem other than very few could actually afford it (my guess millionaires only).

These elderly foreigners would not be putting children into our schools nor becoming prostitutes nor under-cutting low-paid kiwis. They would be bringing money and spending it.

So why are u saying elderly Chinese immigrants won't get the pension anyway? Where are u reading that? Immigrants with permanent residency can qualify without having worked day in NZ and/or without paying any income tax in NZ simply by living here for 10 years of which 5 years are after turning 50 (not 60).

I'm not saying it didn't happen in the past. Nor am I saying anyone deserves full super after just 10 years (mine was 11 years and still don't think I deserve it).
Until a year ago the INZ published a immigration database which mysteriously they have stopped doing. When it was available being a retired database programmer I decided to check out approvals for reunion from 2013 to 2016 when they arbitrarily stopped the scheme. Most of the Asian's approved were in the age group 60+ and they only publish data for 10 year age ranges so with data for 50 to 60yrs it was impossible to determine how many were under 56. If you arrive aged 56 or older you cannot attain those magic 10 years residency to obtain super.
It is a pity INZ will not publish the data but my reading was very few getting in to obtain superannuation - not a surprise when you consider how fussy the INZ can be.

Not correct, e.g. If you arrive at age 57 then you get it at 67. If you are 60 you get it at 70. There are also the abandoned elderly parents who are on welfare despite no being 65 cos their kids have dumped them in NZ and gone to Aus etc. When asked the then Minister said their so called signed undertakings to look after them are unenforceable. Pathetic.

If what you say is true and I've no reason to doubt you then INZ was dumber that even I suspected - basically full super is the equivalent of being given about half a million dollars so we used to let INZ do it on a rather random basis. Glad it is frozen.
As previously said it is quite possible to organise it so the money required to insure elderly immigrants for health and pension is held in an account before they arrive.

There's still a potential societal cost of elderly migrants being abandoned by the families who sponsored their entry:

Even if NZ doesn't provide superannuation, the taxpayer will still provide other welfare.

True. But INZ can be very fussy. If they do reintroduce the scheme the health and pension financing ought to be water-tight by policy not left to the discretion of the INZ official.

I recollect Winnie pre-election making noise about elderly parents being sponsored for residence.They then sit around, pay zero taxes and 10 years later reap NZ super.

Wonder now that he is in govt (deputy PM to boot) whether he is still enthusiastic in giving teeth to his words and whether the rules on NZ Super eligibility have been tweaked.

I propose that we pay elderly immigrant folk a living wage for the good work they are doing. It doesn't bear thinking about what could have happened and these kids lost touch with their home culture and language and, shudder, assimilated. Foreign cultures can teach us all a lot, an awful lot....of stuff. We were clearly on the wrong path back in the fifties and sixties.

Anyway we have got to get away from measures such as wealth and the strength of our laws and institutions or even the power of our armies - that last one is so lame and overly masculine.

Different folks have different ideas about wellbeing and we need to acknowledge that.

Taggers for instance. Such creativity and a clear yearning for expression and a place in the world, your world, your front fence to be specific. These people should probably be paid as well.