David Hargreaves says the Government needed to address the immigration issue - but has gone about fixing it in entirely the wrong way

David Hargreaves says the Government needed to address the immigration issue - but has gone about fixing it in entirely the wrong way

By David Hargreaves

It is indicative of the huge pickle this Government has got itself into that a pretty substantial change to the country's immigration settings has been styled by the Government as a "small change".

The Government really doesn't want to draw attention - particularly overseas - to the real extent of the poll-driven, knee-jerk action it has just taken.

I have been a fairly strong and regular critic of this Government's inactivity on rising immigration levels, so probably need to explain why I'm now also critical of the action it has just taken. If you will indulge me for a moment, I will get there.

But first, the Government's problem is this: It has cynically used rising immigration to pump up the economy. This has been achieved through liberal issue of work visas, liberal issue of student visas and crucially on the latter point, a Government policy change implemented in October 2013 that allowed students to work during their study. The latter change has clearly encouraged people to seek to migrate here permanently through taking not-so-demanding courses, often through the private institutions, and then looking for full-time work.

Immigration boom

Looking at the 12-month figures up to August 2016 (September figures will be out soon), there were over 125,000 permanent and long term migrants who came into New Zealand. That's a rise of nearly 40% since 2012. Over that period the number of students coming in has close to doubled (to over 26,000 in the latest year) and the number of people on a work visa has increased by well over a third (with nearly 40,000 coming in during the past 12 months).

There's a reasonable lead time between people coming into the country on temporary permits and then seeking permanent residence. Given the massively rising numbers of people coming in - and the fact that so many students are looking to settle here - It has been clear for some time that applications for permanent residence were going to start pushing up against the official targeted figure of permanent residence approvals of around 50,000 a year.

In the event over 52,000 applications were approved in the 12 months to June (up from just 43,000 the year before) and NZ Immigration has conceded that without a policy change the early indications were about 54,000 would get approved during the next year.

So pushing the target back to effectively between 42,500 and 47,500 a year is a pretty big change, not a "small one" as the Immigration Minister Michael Woodhouse is claiming. If you take the lower figure in that range it could, for example, reduce the number of approvals by about 20% over the next year.

The killer

But the real killer with the new policy is new much more stringent English language requirements. I absolutely agree that people who migrate to another country should be able to speak the language. And this applies to English speakers going overseas too.

However, I would just say too that, while I am a migrant, I've always had a reasonable grasp on the English language courtesy of having been born in England. Additionally, working daily with the English language as a journalist for 35 years has hopefully helped too. But I've got to say, I had a look some of the sample questions involved in one of the recommended testing programmes and I thought that it was REAL HARD. I'm sure a lot of English as a first language speakers would struggle. Many Kiwis would not pass this test.

To me this has been inserted as a deliberate barrier and it's inevitable that certain places and yes, I will name India and China - are likely to think they are being 'picked on'.

The point is what the Government's done is almost like retrospective action. What they needed to do was bring in measures that stopped people coming into the country in the first place - or at the very least made it clear, unequivocally, that people could come here temporarily but would not have a chance of getting permanent residency. Apparently both work and student visa numbers are now being looked at, with vague suggestions from Minister Woodhouse that something might be forthcoming later in the year - but this has been done the wrong way around. Those things should have been looked at first.

Bad luck

There's no doubt a lot of people who are in New Zealand now in the belief that they will be able to get permanent residency will find they can't.

The problem with the approach the Government has taken is that it's effectively trying to push the problem into the future.

For now it's going to allow people to keep pouring in thinking they will be able to get permanent residency and then effectively close the door on them after they are already in the country.

That's just not fair and it will cause trouble.

It should be made clear to the likes of students before they ever get on a plane to come here that they in all probability will not be able to stay. This of course from a Government that has previously sent exactly the opposite signals.

What they should have done

What needed to happen first in my view is a reversal of this Government's ill-starred loosening of the work policy for students. That policy has undoubtedly encouraged people to come here looking for permanent work - under the guise of being students.

The second thing the Government needed to do was take a very hard look at just what categories of work are being approved with the work visas.

The Government's trying to have it both ways with this half-cocked change. Seemingly keep the numbers of people coming in short term, keep wage growth low through this source of cheap labour, keep the economy pumping, keep the education sector pumping. And then when it's finished with the people who have helped with this short-term agenda, kick them out again.

Well, as a country, I don't think we are going to be able to do that without consequences.

The education sector might suffer. Our international reputation might suffer. Who knows, it could even affect the attitude of would-be tourists. How many people come here for a holiday thinking that they might actually quite like to live here?

Panicky and poll-driven

The Government's had plenty of time to address a problem it has helped to create. It has come out with a panicky, poll-driven, quick-fix that in my view is likely to result in problems down the track. By that I mean problems both within New Zealand from people who had expected to be able to stay and now won't - and from outside of New Zealand in the inevitable damage to our reputation.

Look, it's a country's absolute right to either let migrants in or not.

This Government needed to address the problem it helped to cause of large numbers of people without necessarily high skill levels coming in.

But there's right ways and wrong ways of doing things...And this is wrong.

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?

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Yes David, it is a country''s right to let migrants in or not. And for the people who will miss out on residency, it's hard. But there is nothing New Zealand can do about that. Those who came in made a decision, it was always a risk, and for some it just hasn't worked out. What about those who came in on the 'student side step scheme' ? While many of them made a reasonably accurate calculation they could creep through to residence. They rolled their dice and their calculation remains their responsibility.

"It should be made clear to the likes of students before they ever get on a plane to come here that they in all probability will not be able to stay. "

In all probability?

Small probability they wont right as a majority will still gain residencey ie 80/90% will still gain residency

The total is dropping by 5k not 50k

Hasn't Woodhouse said there are changes being planned to rules for international students working in NZ that will be announced soon?

Thank you. I have added in a clarifying sentence to reflect some of comments the Minister made to reporters after this announcement was made.


David you are correct. Problem with national government is that they are always in denial mode be it homeless situation, housing crisis or immigration and when the situation goes too hot or are forced to act under pressure ( now election approaching) come up wil half baked solution as intent is missing.


Maybe that English test should be a requirement to comment here on interest.co.nz.

Automatic fail for anyone who confuses "loose" with "lose".

What about there and their? Or brought instead bought? Or it's instead its? Or should of done instead should've done?
I think more than 20% of kiwis would fail. Even my boss makes these mistakes..

What does it matter? As long as they get the jist of it.

Jist? I think you mean gist.

Well done

i'm starting to get the jihadist of this conversation?

Gif or Graphics interchange format?

My outright fave (pet peeve) is aye or ay instead of eh

Or "real hard" instead of "really hard" ?

I was always under the impression that this was part of the "Kiwi slang" such as pluralizing the word "you" into "yous", etc.

or really hard instead of very hard.

Haha! Like one of those you are not a computer "captcha" things? But along the lines of you are not a troll...

I agree, its just setting us up for another "dawn raids" scenario.

You are correct government approach is trying to push the problem to future - hoping after election.


this government pushes all solutions for problems they have not addressed after nine years in power onto future governments
public services
we are all going to pay for there lack of action

First allow asian students to buy inflated priced houses with money from their overseas parents and then pull a plug on immigration policy to stop those students bringing in their parents. Good move.


I know someone this just happened too, and whilst I feel sorry for them, I also could see the lack of benefit to NZ of this policy and agree it should be stopped.
if the parents are skilled enough to gain the points and able to contribute to NZ on their own merit welcome, otherwise sorry we don't need you, that may seem harsh but our hospitals are straining with our current population we don't need more demand on them without a return


I generally support immigration, provided the benefits for NZ are AT LEAST as great as the benefits for the immigrants.
I think many immigrants really do 'give back' to NZ. More than half the staff at my mum's dementia home are immigrants - mainly Filipino and Indian - and without exception they are wonderful.
What I STRONGLY object to is immigration that uses NZ for the benefit of immigrants at the expense of the country. Good examples are immigrants who come here and set up businesses off the back of suspect money, or the parent scheme where the elderly parents provide little benefit to NZ yet dig into our welfare.
It's the same with foreign property investment. There needs to be a dividend for NZ as well as the foreign investors. So, at the very least, if we impose a stamp duty on foreign property investment, that is extra revenue that can be plowed back into essential social services or infrastructure.
This govt seems to have been very happy to provide all sorts of benefits to immigrants and foreign investors with no / limited benefits to kiwis, and even significant costs to kiwis.
Again, who is our government supposed to be looking out for?

The whole fiasco is a bit like doing running repairs while in motion in a car race , and these quick fixes dont often work as intended

Here comes the bribe....


I'm surprised the government haven't offered international students $5k to go and live somewhere else.. the same daft policy they used to put a band aid on homelessness in Auckland.

I'm astounded at the lack of strategic planning this government has around it's implementation of policy.
The advisers to government need to be sacked and Smith, Woodhouse and Key can board a one way rocket to Mars...piloted by Obama!

Agree. This govt is total rubbish. Lack any policy or strategy nous. Are just reactive and poll driven, and beholden to their crony capitalist mates.
Seriously let NZ down.

Yes this mess has been a long time coming and it is going to get worse as the government panic increases closer to the election. Anything that they do now is hardly going to materially effect anything before the election as the lead times are so long. I said some time ago that this excessive immigration would result in a backlash that would harm our foreign relations and trade. In these and many matters the saying - " it is better to under promise and over deliver" applies. When you are encouraging people to pull up their lives and travel half way round the world it is the only responsible path.

Another waaa waaa waaa piece....Heavy on government criticism and very light on any substance...Words like knee jerk, poll driven. Another weird hit piece for the #JK EXIT movement.


Its pretty easy to criticize this government keywest!
The next government has a huge mess to clean up(or ignore if its National).
Auckland is gridlocked, the roads and motorways are full. This one problem alone is going to cost the taxpayer countless billions to fix, not to mention lost productivity.
The cost of one sewerage pipeline from new west Auckland subdivisions is over a billion dollars.
We made carbon commitments in the Kyota protocol. There unachievable with billion $ penalties.
We keep selling our productive industry into foreign ownership along with the productive land.
Weve sold our housing to foreign landlords, anyone anywhere in the world can purchase NZ houses and/or up to 5ha of land by just emailing the realestate agent. The taxpayer will top up the rent if the tenant can't afford it.
We are selling our low population! Whats left to sell now keywest?You don't even choose to live here, you have voted with your feet and then criticize our criticism of our government. You got out of Dodge, what do you care? We love our country and want what we had for our kids and grandchildren.

Auckland is no more gridlocked than any other major city in the world. Who says all businesses base themselves in central Auckland? Many are based in East Tamaki or by the Airport / Ellerslie. Not sure on your point about sewerage? We wont pay $1 dollar in the Kyoto protocol so don't let that worry you. I think the point you miss out on is that in the case of Trademe we sold that to Australia and the money that we got for it; some of it is invested into New Zealand. Everyone seems to forget that the money coming into NZ buying things means we are a richer country for it. Those foreign landlords make me and other NZ'rs richer. P.s. in most countries you can just buy their property, take for example US or UK you can, so why does NZ have to be different? Just because you live in NZ and I live 11 moths of the year offshore does not make your voice any louder or more important than mine. I have sent back more money to NZ from my earnings than most people will earn in a lifetime. But then again you'd know best.

'Auckland is no more gridlocked than any other major city in the world.'

But we are not a 'major city'. At most, we are at the lower end of a mid size city. Auckland's transport problems would be a lot more defendable if we had 3million people rather than 1.5 million

'Auckland is no more gridlocked than any other major city in the world.'

But we are not a 'major city'. At most, we are at the lower end of a mid size city. Auckland's transport problems would be a lot more defendable if we had 3million people rather than 1.5 million

'Those foreign landlords make me and other NZ'rs richer.' How can you even begin to defend that view?

Foreign investment has massively pushed up NZ house prices, so that in real terms has made most kiwis poorer

the whole of Auckland is gridlocked and slowing down, the airport area Is terrible at the moment with all the roadworks, I can leave work and walk 2ks home and not get passed by work mates in their cars that leave at the same time. and that is after peak hours as a lot of people have changed hours to try to make it easier
as for the shore it is just as bad. we now have the NZTA telling people not to drive when accidents happened.
but as JK says a good problem to have squeeze those people in and don't build the infrastructure to cope with the numbers

oh yes, a 'good problem' to have a dysfunctional traffic system, at least partly due to a poorly thought out and possibly cynical immigration policy, not to mention fundamental underinvestment over many years.
A good problem to have along with astronomical house prices. What a joke.

I am very fortunate I have a nice, short commute. Avoiding a nightmare commute is simply a non-negotiable for me.

Would you prefer we didn't have this conversation Keywest? I mean it's only the future nature and substance of our country we are talking about.
We need to resist the attempts by the likes of yourself to muzzle honest discussion, even if that discussion might be found offensive by some. We are going to be faced with an existential question over radical Islam that won't be for the faint hearted to sat the least.

Peaceful , moderate Islam is fine, it's just that Islam, especially in large concentrations, generally seems to inherently foster violent fundamentalist nutters. I for one am glad we do not have a large Islamic population.
Oh tut tut Fritz, so non-PC

A War against Modernity: The importance of the culture war underlying the Jihadists’ hatred of Westerners cannot be understated. In their eyes, we are modernist devil worshippers. Women should be kept at home, devoid of any rights. They should be virgins when they marry. Adultery is a sin punishable by death, as is homosexuality. The fact that many citizens of Muslim nations do not share these views does not seem to matter. Consider Iran: the majority of the people value democracy, and even look favorably on the US. But so what? The Mullahs and the Red Guard rule with an iron fist, as we have seen during the recent elections when the candidates favored by most voters were stricken from ballot list. Moreover, Iran’s autocratic leaders are out in front in an effort to fund terrorist groups, in one form or another.

Consider the words of the eminent Simon Schama in a recent March 26 Financial Times Op-Ed piece:

We are not talking fine points of Shia-Sunni theological controversy here. By every means possible Isis is at pains to let us know they will kill as many of us as it takes to sow such mayhem in the heartland of the kaffir world that it will be impossible to resist mobilising the “Crusader” army for the promised apocalyptic showdown out of which the Caliphate will emerge forever victorious.

Also consider the comments of Professor R. Vaidanathan of the IIMB in Bangalore:

Radical Islam is not fighting Christianity – which anyhow is dead in Europe – but it is fighting modernity. Islam is frightened of modernity destroying their religion and culture, however unacceptable this culture may be to European liberals.....

Europe thought – à la Merkel – that they can buy peace with radical Islam by “requesting” them to integrate. But integrate with what? Integrate with “immoral Europe” where women are exhibited as “open meat”[(in the words of the Australian Imam] who are “poisonous.” [https://rvaidya2000.com/2016/03/23/idea-of-europe-is-dead/]

Contrast ISIS’ moral resolve with the pusillanimous attitude of Westerners. Most assert their disapproval of fundamentalism, of course. But their live-and-let-live attitude sees it as a “right” for people to “express their views” and espouse any religion they wish – including the Religion of Hate. The problem with this view is that the Religion of Hate is unlike any other religion in espousing the murder of all non-believers. Excessive tolerance further undermines the will of the West to fight back against Jihadism in a resolute way.

I haven't got time to go into your comment in depth, just to say that for some time I have felt we are almost entering a gender war, you only have to look at some of the views of American conservatives particularly and most of them try to use "God" as their guidance for demanding that women do not get to have life choices. I believe the rise of Donald Trump has both catered to and fueled this.
Economies are running out of the ability to grow as they inevitably do after war. That is another subject, as I think we are not far from reverting to it so we can start the whole growth thing again, once we've done with killing each other.
At the moment the economy is cannabalizing itself, and I think this almost total reliance on residential investing as a means of gaining wealth is part of it. It was unheard of years ago, people had actual things to do to make a living.
I do not see the future in a positive light, my concern is not for myself, I am too old for that, but for my children and grand children I do not know what the future will hold.

Do the National Govt really want another term?. Line up looking very tired and lacking in ideas.

Migration is not the only botch up [personal insult deleted. Ed] - looks like Housing NZ in strife too https://www.tvnz.co.nz/one-news/new-zealand/housing-new-zealand-have-no-...

Wow....totally incompetent government. Hopeless.

and their reason for taking a dividend from HC was to instill a good culture. more like another solid energy, load up with debt and suck it dry to make the books look better for BE
now we know the real reason for no dividends

piece on this please www.interest.co.nz

Can't see anything on Granny Herald

The test that David links to is a university level English test, so it would be hard for any English speaker not educated to university (or well read at that level). It's much more difficult to pass than at a conversational English level. However, for those applying for student visa's, you'd expect English at university level. And certainly, immigrants at the Highly Skilled level should have this level of comprehension too.
I've always heard that it's possible to cheat these tests though, so whether or not it will cause a higher fail rate is another matter.

as long as the test is run correctly, if they are outsourced for students to the education institutes I don't expect to see much change, why would they stop their meal ticket

"I thought that it was REAL HARD. I'm sure a lot of English as a first language speakers would struggle. Many Kiwis would not pass this test. To me this has been inserted as a deliberate barrier"

But of course it has been inserted as a "deliberate barrier". Why do you say that as though it were a bad thing? Isn't the whole point of your article that you think Government should do more to prevent - ie, place barriers to - people coming to live and work here?

Yes, many Kiwis would not pass this test. That, again, is the point. We already have in this country quite enough people whose literacy and numeracy skills aren't up to much. We don't need any more of them.

We could, however, benefit from the presence of more of the sort of people who can pass this test.

Agree. The same people who can pass such tests will also likely take jobs away from Kiwis (if they even want to come in the first place).

Exactly M de M !

Your intelligent and considered comments are why I read these pages.

Auckland has been so incompetently run, that it is now unable to cope with normal urban population growth. Some people have decided to blame immigrants.

What is "normal" growth? I suggest that 2.5 or 3% (say a thirty year or once per generation doubling) is far from normal; lets do the maths for Aucklands population with that growth rate.
2015 1.5 million
2045 3.0 million
2075 6.0 million
2105 12 million
2135 24 million.
And so on........

Auckland's population gain has coincided with the creation of a housing crisis and a housing shortfall likely to last until mid-century. Brisbane's going to have a housing surplus in 2018.

Which of these two places has had the largest population gain over the last 5 years?

I think the government is in for a shock when they realise how much money they will have to contribute to Auckland's immigration-fed infrastructure problem. Phil Goff has been implicitly hinting the government's commitment thus far has been a joke. The recent $1 billion pledge is one example.

The only thing immigration has to do with Aucklame's housing problem is that 5-10 years from now immigration will have solved the problem. We'll all leave.

God willing.


yes,. It's already happening. I know quite a few people who have left for Tauranga, Hamilton or Hawkes bay, and quite a few more who are doing it soon or strongly thinking about it

Tough luck if you took a punt that you might (or might not) be accepted as a resident, by masquerading as a student. It has never been a given that you’d be allowed to stay. There may be some temporarily annoyed noises from Asia but those governments are well aware that student and guest worker policies in other countries are similar and even tougher. As for this policy change curtailing tourism; not a chance. There is an unstoppable build-up of middle class Asians heading this way for holidays, most of whom will be completely disinterested in the machinations of NZ immigration policies, even on the off chance they knew about it. Bring on tighter English tests – language proficiency is a proxy for the more highly educated people we need and want and also a predictor of quicker adaptation to NZ culture. David is on the money however, saying this policy change should have been implemented some time ago.

[ Come on, now. You know better. Keep the insults out of our comment stream. Criticising ideas and policy positions is fine. Just don't make it personal. Just because others have a different point of view to you does not excuse personalising insults. Ed ]

[ Don't bite when it gets personal. Sadly, the American election campaign this time around has opened the floodgates. But that does not make it right. Stick to assessing ideas. Personal insults are not acceptable here. It's childish. Regular commenters should know better. Ed]

there should be a rule for list MPs, ten years is all you can do then out you go
the thing I do not like about MMP is the public do not get a say in voting for the ranking of list MP"s
and we have a couple of shockers there that should be booted out by now

Thank you for returning this thread to a critique of ideas, away from the insults.

This is the future Auckland that John key is building

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