The Government's changes to migration settings are a move in the right direction - but much more is needed

By David Hargreaves

The Government's latest change to immigration policy settings is a curious, but skillful, bit of engineering.

The change appears to have a twin focus: First, to now cut down the numbers of people getting work visas here and second, to disguise the extent of the problem that has existed - and how much of a racket has been going on in terms of cheap, perhaps slave labour, entering the country.

In this I would liken the Government to the errant son being left in charge of the family home while mom and dad go on holiday, having a BIG party in which all the windows are smashed, then replacing them all with new windows and aluminium framing and telling the oldies when they get home he just wanted to do something nice for them.

Yes, National is trying to fix a problem without letting us in on just how extreme the problem has become; a problem it created through finding an easy way to pump up the economy in the short term. Pour cheap migrant labour into the country, ignore skills training for the young, keep wages down, and watch the economy tick along.

The immediate response of the Labour Party in describing the policy setting changes as 'tinkering' I think betrays both intellectual laziness on its part and a sense of befuddlement about what the new National policy settings actually mean and what they will lead to.

My reading is that this is not tinkering, but to really know how fundamental the change is, I guess we need to know just how many people have been coming into the country and taking 'skilled'(?) jobs at under $49k. Sorry if I'm insulting anybody, but I find putting 'skilled' next to '$49k' a very contradictory experience.

A shift in stance

The shift in policy settings move is also interesting given the Government's previous attempts to say there was no evidence low wages being paid to migrants were suppressing wages being paid in this country, or substituting for unemployed New Zealanders. I think it's fair to speculate that a heck of a lot of people have been coming into this country and taking jobs for less than $49k. No wonder we haven't had any inflation.

If, as I read it, this policy does put a minimum wage floor on what migrants are being offered to work here, then it does mean that there will be a greater reluctance on the part of employers to bring in migrants - which should assist local people looking for jobs. And that's definitely the right thing to do.

The baffling and insulting previous comments made by this Government about some of our young people and not working and drugs etc are worse than counter productive. The fact is New Zealand is stuck with anybody who was born here. If we intergenerationally breed lower skilled, poorly motivated people we are giving ourselves a social timebomb. If we are producing poorly motivated unskilled young people then we need to fix that - not just cast those people to one side and fill jobs with migrants.

My best guess is that this move will have quite an impact in terms of numbers of people coming in and when coupled with the moves from last year to tighten up language requirements, the expectation can be that migrant numbers will now start to ease.

Not tackling the student issue

But one thing that the Government made clear it is not touching is international student numbers - and that's a mistake.

It smacks of laziness on the part of the Government.

Attracting international students here is, on the face of it, terrific. It can pump very substantial amounts of money into the economy.

But, and it's a big but, there's been a clear pattern of attracting students, particularly into private training institutions, to do courses that are not necessarily of very high quality. Once they've done the courses though they then get jobs here. So, our tertiary education system's been used as a conduit to fast-track migration for people. 

It's a problem and it's one that needs untangling.

We can't possibly sell this country as one offering high quality education - and expect to keep getting big numbers of students paying big fees - if the tertiary education industry here is seen as some sort of low grade migration machine.

The Aussies rate

There are numerous organisations that rank the world-wide performance of universities and I suppose all things are somewhat subjective. But I had a look at The Times Higher Education World University Rankings. Sure enough, names like Oxford, Cambridge, Stanford, Harvard and Princeton stand out. But what's real interesting is that between numbers 33 and 78 among the 980 institutions ranked are no less the SIX Australian universities. Our highest ranked one is Auckland, at 165th on the list.

We could do better couldn't we?

The Government needs to roll up its sleeves and delve into this issue properly. Education and migration have to be separated. There are not and should not be two sides of the same coin. We should be selling our universities as purveyors of first-class education and aiming to attract the highest calibre of overseas students paying, yes, handsome fees.

The latest policy shift by the Government is a step in the right direction. But it's a baby step - and it needs to be followed by much more substantive reforms involving realistic long-term migration policy goals, a coherent tertiary education export earnings strategy and long-term skills training and employment motivation programmes for the young in this country.

But no, I'm not holding my breath.

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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I thought the gov was going to move on the student thing. I'm fine with us selling our citizenship but we are doing it at bargain basement prices and even worse we are aren't benefiting from it.


Totally opposed to our citizenship for sale bargain basement or billionaires buying up and fencing NZers out. Earn your citizenship

I was born here and automatically a citizen - hardly earned it. But if a billionaire wants to live here, and won't be a burden to NZ taxpayers, as well as generating jobs I am all for that. Every country sells its citizenship.

"perhaps slave labour"

Now I know this is just trolling, but this claim really is an insult to the memory and lives of people who have endured actual slavery.

There is currently slavery in New Zealand. Bloke exploiting fruit-pickers was convicted of slavery just last year. Tip of the iceberg.

Yes, but that case was for human trafficking, (the movement, deception or coercion of people for the purposes of exploitation) and not slavery in the sense you might be implying, and

(a) that bloke is one single incident that represents the first case in New Zealand history, and

(b) the victims returned home of their own will.

To mix metaphors, a single swallow does not an iceberg make.


Correct, this is a tiny baby step but is not to control immigration or work in that direction but is only a symbolic /cosmetic step being election year.

They (National) need a sound byte when giving interview and talking to media being election year and though they may not accept but the fact is that housing and immigration will be one of the main issues that election will be fought besides other issues.

It will be hard for national to manipulate a win in September.


Question is will people fall for national election gimmick.

People voted national 3 times to serve the people but instead they choose to ruled to help affluent few ( even serving overseas buyer is to help affluent kiwi) instead of all section of the society.

This is just a symbolic gesture to have something to say when facing the people as cannot avoid people and media, being election year.

One significant situation that arises is that even if a natural non English speaking student has qualified as a PhD they can still be virtually unemployable particularly if they have made no effort to understand the NZ way of doing things. It may well be that inside the university while they are qualifying they have enough fellow academics to provide the language support but it does not cut it once in the real world.

I am no National apologist, however looking at this objectively I think this is quite a good change.
We certainly need more skilled immigrants. What we don't need is lots more convenience store and petrol station workers.
A focus on quality, not quantity.
BTW, I wonder how much of NZ's struggles attracting skilled migrants with good English is down to a big drop away in migrants from the UK? In 2006 one pound equalled three dollars, now it's two dollars. Plus NZ housing has gone up so much. Presumably the financial case to move from the Uk to NZ is much weaker than it once was.

Yes low wages and high cost of living/House prices plus the fact it is fairly remote does mean it is hard to attract Highly Skilled migrants.

It is a shame with so much money diverted to housing that could be invested into start up tech businesses etc

I'd really like to see a really significant land tax, with a compensatory drop in business tax.

NZ reputation.

This too may be a result of progress in NZ as per National.

Even if the claim of wage supression is accurate a lot of sme businesses could not survive surging wages as their costs could not be directly passed to customers. Those that can will start a sprial of inflation that will spread everywhere and punish savers and the retired who have no ability to increase their income. Surely better to unwind the underlying pressure point, being the stupid house prices. Only loosers there are the debt junkies and the banks.

would that not work in reverse? increase in inflation will lead to increase in interest rates meaning the savers will get more income.
those hurt will be the ones servicing debt as interest rates go up


National have done nothing in there 3 terms except fill the country up with people and sell off our power stations. They have denied the housing crisis saying its a celebration to be popular. They have eroded the quality of the NZ lifestyle by creating population pressure. They have created a need for us to spend over 100 billion dollars on infrastructure to support the enlarged population of people. Our export earnings have gone down which means our standard of living has gone down as there are now more people to support with less income. Our rivers are cleaner because National doubled the allowable ecoli count for measuring water quality. And now they are trying to fix immigration settings that they previously said were bang on.
John Key ever the statesman finally stepped back to view his handywork and muttered BUGGER what a mess, best we get out of here.
Nationals great achievement for three terms being an announcement of pest free by 2050! Which we all know is pure Disneyland.
I'm glad my kids don't remember the old NZ, they don't know what they missed out on, for them this is normal.

Well said. You could add they have afflicted us with an avalanche of new rules and regulations which suddenly become essential as there are more people everywhere. They see this as an achievement. We see it as degradation.

It is a simple logic. More people more demand. Immigration is 70000 more demand for house, rent and everything and if this is a sign of prosperity than have 150000 immigrant and will than be more demand for everything and as than supply is bound to be short (Being a small island with limitation) and will be more sign of prosperity and than their will be bidding even for rent and more people on road. Money is might rule will apply (imagine what that will lead to)

How come all so call experts not able to see through this and let government get away.

Not against immigration but anything in extreme is bad and goes for everything be it medicine, which is good for treatment but in extreme will have adverse affect or water which is must to survive but when in extreme even that is harmful.

Also unlike Australia and many other countries which are a big country, NZ is a very small island to expand (physically) increase immigration from here to where is the question that everyone should ask policy maker / national government as of today.

If for national the only way to progress is by immigration type of demand and prosperity than it has to and should go.


I am not a National party supporter. I did not vote for them last time and will not be voting for them this time,but I am fed up with people saying that 'they sold off the power stations'. They sold a minority stake and remain the controlling shareholder. They got the pricing wrong and should have raised more capital,but making these companies accountable to the market was and is a good idea.
For evidence,just consider the ports;Tauranga,Marsden and Southport are all quoted companies,but with regional authorities as their majority shareholders and they perform well for all their shareholders.I hold shares in 2 of them. Ports of Auckland was removed from the market and all indications are that it has performed less well. Governments are not good at running commercial businesses efficiently.

the selling was done wrong,
they should have sold them all except one company that had assets in both islands, it should have kept its dividend in a future fund
it would be there if you need to add supply quicker as private companies will not outlay capital unless the return is worth investment and would rather prices rise to please us shareholders
and at the end of the day a good steady cheap supply of electricity is good for the country

If a business can't pay 40k for a skilled job there's something wrong with the business

the biggest question is if someone is so highly skilled and successful, why would he/she want to come to NZ?? WHY??

The changes are welcome ( for me at any rate ), but there are 2 important issues .

Firstly we need to slow down the inward migration until we can catch up the backlog of housing and infrastructure .

And ,

Secondly , the Government needs to be more open and transparent about the intended migrant numbers they want to accept , so we can plan and be prepared and make business decisions accordingly .

This nonsense of being suddenly confronted with record migration numbers of over 1,000 new people every 5 days ( and only being told about it months afterwards ) is just not acceptable .

Its irresponsible , unfair , and has unintended consequences......... and is just plain stupid to not be open and transparent with the country and its citizens about something as important as this

I think the changes are a measured approach to being careful with immigration.
The South Island 2 year soujourn seems short but the number of jobs in the South is low compared to the north so impact is limited.
Also work demand varies and it may suit to have workers move north as an alternative to even more immigrants.
Income now determines residency, below $48k only work visas with requirement they must leave the country after the visa completes.
That will slow the student education racket down.
Thats how I see it.

I see Andrew Little has gone crazy in the House this morning saying he would reduce migration by 'tens of thousands '

Do we believe him or is he being opportunistic , because Labour has also had a history of playing Bullrush with migration over the years

He probably could.
There is a fortnightly selection for resiidence from a pool of applicants.

He may or may not but is at least making a promise to look into immigration realising that immigration in extreme not ideal for NZ.

Compare to National, whose policy is increase immigration to support their type of prosperity.

Me too am immigrant but anything in extreme is bad so my vote for anyone but not National.

National after 9 years has to go.