The episode when Alex and his political advisor Sandy try to dig through the numbers in an attempt to come up with a coherent immigration policy

The episode when Alex and his political advisor Sandy try to dig through the numbers in an attempt to come up with a coherent immigration policy

By Alex Tarrant

The scene: Alex, a Member of Parliament who may or may not be in Government or Opposition, has called in Sandy, his political advisor, to discuss a key policy as the General Election approaches.

S: Morning Alex. You mentioned on the phone something about devising a new immigration policy?

A: Morning Sandy. Yeah, well this morning I was listening to my favourite talk-back radio programme and they were saying we let 72,000 people into this country last year, when there’s double that number of unemployed locals. That’s outrageous. We need to do something about it.

S: Sure. Stroke of luck actually – I was going through the figures myself yesterday…

A: 72,000 physical people from overseas, coming to live here, when all these New Zealanders are on the dole!

S: Well if you’re going to be throwing numbers around like that, then actually 129,518 physical people arrived here to stay permanently or long term in the year to March.

A: What? That’s even more outrageous! Where’s that figure from? Why aren’t we talking about that number?

S: Well, 57,586 people left the country over the same period. So that’s why we talk about that net 72k figure.

A: Still, 129,000 people being let in when we have scores of people queuing for supermarkets…

S: That’s generally what you do in supermarkets

A: …queuing for supermarket jobs, Sandy. We’ve got to stop letting so many people in.

S: 31,995 were Kiwis coming home. And 6,124 were Australian citizens.

A: Well we can’t keep them out, I guess. Still, that leaves…

S: 91,399 who were not New Zealanders or Australians arrived during the past 12 months to live here…

A: …taking Kiwis’ jobs no doubt.

S: Well, of those arriving, we gave 43,725 of them work visas.

A: And what about the rest?

S: 16,763 already had residency visas, but they’re not citizens; 23,861 were students coming here to study – remember your promise to boost exports? Dairy prices dropped and we haven’t really done anything to boost value-added, so we’re now relying on tourism and education a bit more…

A: Yeah, yeah and we’re not anywhere near our goal, thanks for reminding me…

S: …6,327 of them were classed as ‘visitors’ and 693 were ‘other’.

A: So, last year we issued 43,000 work visas to foreigners while Kiwis sat there unemployed?

S: No.

A: But you just said…

S: I said, ‘of those arriving’. Actually in the year to March 2017 we issued 226,362 work visas.

A: Say that again.

S: 226,362.

A: But you just said only 129,000 arrived here, and 30% of them were Kiwis and Aussies.

S: 170,529 work visas were issued onshore – to people already here. That leaves…

A: 55,833 work visas issued to people who were outside the country last year.

S: That’s a fancy calculator.

A: Yeah I bought it during the leadership battle. So, at least 170,000 people are in the country on temporary work visas and 56,000 may or may not have arrived, and we had the power to not issue to them because we’re concerned that they’re taking Kiwis’ jobs?

S: Hmmmmmm not quite.

A: Arrrgghhh

S: The latest government figures I could find are that we had 132,781 people in this country on temporary work visas as of 30 June 2016.

A: That’s almost a year ago! What about those numbers until the end of March you were talking about?

S: 226,362 work visas issued during the year to March 2017.

A: Where were these people from?

S: Well, 108 from Afghanistan, 13 from Albania, 9 from Algeria, 1 from Andorra.

A: How many from China?

S: 22,335

A: India?

S: 36,445

A: And most of them are applying for visas from onshore? How did they get here in the first place?

S: Well, some were students and they want to stay, some are here on working holiday visas and want to extend…

A: I’m not worried about Working Holiday Schemes. Anyway, tough to cut them if we don’t want reciprocal moves. Take them out of whatever number we’re working with.

S: Ok, 226,332 minus 74,704, that’s 151,658. While we’re at it, we should probably take out foreign vessel shipping crews, humanitarian migrants and rich entrepreneurs. That takes us to 148,920 in the year to March.

A: 74 thousand?! Well, still plenty of room to cut. You said some of them were students – I take it you were using past tense and not dropping into that habit of reported speech you have. They came and they haven’t left?

S: That’s right, they’ve finished their studies, and if they have an acceptable enough qualification we give them a bit of time to find a job here.

A: Acceptable enough…like a Bachelor’s degree in Engineering? Construction diploma?

S: Yeah. Or a level 4 National Certificate in Animal Management.

A: Like a vet?

S: More like being able to implement a health and safety plan in an animal care or training facility and ensure compliance with regulatory procedures. For people who want to be pet sitters. It’s on the skilled occupation list.

A: Hmmmm. So how long can these people stay in the country looking for a job then?

S: 12 months.

A: How do they afford that if they don’t have a job?

S: Well they can work in any job for 12 months until they find one that matches their qualification.

A: No shortage of pet sitters I’d bet. How many people were given this visa last year then?

S: Give or take a few, about 21,000.

A: Jeepers. And they can take any job for a year?

S: Any job.

A: Don’t they get lonely? They’ve just spent a bunch of time studying here away from their families and now they’re going to take an extra year trying to find a job. I know I would.

S: Yeah, perhaps the ones whose partners aren’t here on relationship work visas with them.

A: Relationship work visas eh. Come on then, how many?

S: 37,078. But that includes Entrepreneurs’ Partners, Partners of people on work visas, partners of NZAID students, partners of students, the Partnership Visa and Partnership Deferral.

A: Heavens. Who’s left then? And make it quick. It’s getting late on a Friday afternoon and I didn’t think this would take that long. Why can’t we just talk about that 72,000 figure? Too many numbers.

S: Evidence-based policy…

A: Oh yeah. Keep forgetting about that.

S: There’s also a corrella…a link, between the Australian economy doing well, and fewer people wanting to come to New Zealand. So, the amount of people coming here should drop away when the Australian economy starts to get better – you won’t be seeing such a high net figure – that 72,000 you were talking about – once the Australian labour market recovers.

A: Will that happen before the election?

S: Probably not.

A: Good. That number’s going to be gold-dust on the campaign trail. Ok, who else did we issue work visas to last year then?

S: Well, 1,963 came under the ‘Approved in Principal’ category. That’s one of the Essential Skills ones under which employers are allowed to hire a bunch of people on the skills shortage list.

A: Well that isn’t many. What else? What about all those people who come in to pick fruit? You know, the ones with small ha…

S: We call them RSE workers. 11,110 of them approved last year.

A: We can’t cover that ourselves?

S: Well you know young people these days. Smoke too much dope, don’t they. And there was something about the social consequences of moving people around the country multiple times a year due to different seasonal work being in different places.

There were 33,285 work visas issued under ‘other’ last year. Exchange work, consular staff, Graduate Work Experience…

A: We just went over graduates.

S: This is another one. Basically, if you do have an offer for work. Anyway, to be fair, half of ‘other’ relates to Specific Purpose or Event visas – about 15,000 of those were issued last year.

Another one you might be interested in is a Section 61 Visa.

A: What’s that? For spies or something?

S: No, it’s the visa you apply for if you’re in the country illegally.

A: That just doesn’t sound right in my head.

S: 2,167 last year. Oh, there’s also Work to Residence – 3,813 last year. That’s a two-year visa if you can cover a long-term skills shortage.

A: Skill shortages, yeah hold on, let’s talk about those. What about these Essential Skills migrants then.

S: 38,320 under the Skilled Work substream last year. And 205 under the Skilled Migrant Category.

A: Taking skilled jobs from Kiwis!

S: Or filling jobs that we can’t fill ourselves.

A: Like pet groomers?

S: Yeah, alright.

A: 38,000 skilled worker visas issued last year, and we can’t even find enough truck drivers. Barry down the pub the other day told me we were turning away truck drivers. Can you believe that?! There’s a shortage of truck drivers in New Zealand and we’re not letting them in…

S: 621 foreign truck drivers were granted visas to come to or stay in the country last year. British, Fijian, Hungarian, Indian, Dutch, Irish, even a Zambian truck driver was given a visa.

A: Oh.

S: Maybe he’s just not offering high enough rates of pay to attract the workers – locals and foreigners?

A: Who, Barry? Nah Barry’s a good guy. His anecdotes have backed up heaps of my policies…

S: I thought I’d warned you to stop relying on anecdotes?

A: …last year Bazza was saying how much better it is for the economy to transport freight with trucks driving on highways with regular motorists than it is putting the freight on trains.

S: But wouldn’t putting more freight on trains help reduce the truck driver skill shortage gap?

A: …

S: We were talking about immigration…

A: Here’s an better idea. Let’s wait until everyone else has put their policies out then nick the best bits. I’m hungry. Afternoon tea?

S: There’s that new café around the corner.

A: Great idea. Pierre makes a wicked soufflé. He was telling me the other day how much he enjoys living here.

S: Well, Bakers are on the shortage list.

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If the article is correct with number than it seems 5 months is too long a wait for national to go out of office.

Thanks Alex for the stats as in NZ ( may be other places also) data is manipulated to suit vested power but in other countries have strong media to expose unlike NZ.

It is an eye opener and wonder now what NZHerald bosses have to say.

Being election year, it is the job of the media to bring facts to public domain and expose all lies and manipulation for people to think and Vote.

This should not be a one of article but hard questions should be asked from government at all time but more so in election year.


The NZHerald have an agenda to push.


Bought and paid for .....

I dont believe the NZ Herald has a particular immigration agenda of its own to push - they are in business to make a profit - they are not going to burn off their big advertising customers - if the head oligarch from the biggest property agency in town tosses a few shekels at a couple of columnists to push a particular view then thats what you are going to get

Similarly when politicians want to run a particular point of view you are going to get bought and paid for columns in the news media

This year we have seen a constant stream of a particular point of view in the Herald supported by similar themes from the NZ Initiative all promoting a positive theme

They have been bought and paid for


The low skilled entries is a scam, you know it - we all know it.

If orchardists, trucking companies, 2$ shops, takeaway shops, farming etc have to budget on paying these low wages to foreigners then their model is kaput.

The government is complicit in all this and need to be run off. They are simply helping the rich end of town and could not give a toss for the rest. Unfortunately this "rest" are typically not big on voter turn out and this needs to change if the cancer that is National is to be consigned to the dustbin.


Thanks Alex, that is an excellent piece. It explains all the nuances extremely well and in an entertaining manner.
In terms of the students - have I got this right. Ravi comes from India and studies a diploma in project management. Upon graduation, he struggles to find a job in that area, so works in a petrol station. After 12 months what happens if he has't found a job in project management - presumably he has to go home? Then the critical follow up question - how well is this monitored and enforced?


So for that 12 months Ravi will work at low wages and once 12 months is over either Ravi will buy job offer letter or will go home and kiwi employer will have another Ravi to work on low wages and this continue.

Is this the skill job that national is talking about. No wonder employer will find one excuse or the other to employ under paid low wage immigrant

Agree : Vote for change though other political party may or not help but definitely national will not help. Also need fresh approach and ideas as 9 years is too long for national in power.

See below - problem could be largely solved by only allowing a 3 month period to find a qualification-related job


This is a link to UoA research on migrant worker exploitation:

"People in New Zealand are working 80-90 hour weeks for $500, being paid for half the hours they work and paying their own salary to “buy” permanent residency, a new study reveals.

The study - the most wide-ranging of its type to date – suggests exploitation of migrant and New Zealand-born workers is widespread across many key industries, including horticulture, hospitality and construction."


Seems to me, as much as actually changing immigration settings, this country needs a lot more resource put in to policing and enforcing illegal activity


yes I have met both types, and if you follow the process it is not easy BUT if you have money and the right contacts it s a lot easier.
as usual the government has under resourced this department to catch those profiting and our laws are to weak to deal with them.
also we don't deport all those that come here and break our laws because we can find a reason for them to stay.
time to harden up those residents that commit a crime punishable by 1 year in prison should be sent home
and those new citizens that commit a serious office , murder, manslaughter , rape, drugs, pretty much anything that has a prison term over 5 years strip them of the citizenship and send them home
these case make me sick
especially lawyers now using discharge without conviction because of deportation to get people off
FFS domestic assault is minor


Yep. Alongside importing unemployment, we've imported a hell of a lot of organised crime and corruption. Need to be a bit more hardarsed about deporting the offenders.

Radio NZ link

Come to NZ where you get a fair suck of the saveloy ... and you won't get deported

quote:- "Tajinder Paul Singh was 29 when he was jailed for six years for the rape at a neighbour's party in Christchurch. Mr Singh had also been convicted of drink driving, passport fraud, dangerous driving and failing to stop after an accident"

This tribunal has created a permanent lifelong welfare dependent family which NZ will have to pick up the tab for

Who will employ this guy and under what circumstances ... he's got a rap sheet ... the local curry shop down the road might give him $3 per hour .. he can't pay $20,000 ... he is better off on the unemployment heap forever ... plus his wife ... plus his child

Thanks Doris. If you hadn't posted this I would and I hope all readers of this blog click on your link and if they don't have time to read the whole report at see pages 35-38 (pages 50 to 55 of the pfd).
I have plenty of opinions about NZ immigration but the reason I'm reading this blog when I have plenty of fun things I could be doing is complete emotional outrage at the exploitation described in this study. This is a moral issue that must be fought. The minister of immigration has the power to stop it. This study makes it clear that fiddling around with pay will make no difference except to give priority to the corrupt and exploited over honest employers and employees.
I have been voting all my life but for the first time I am donating to political parties purely because no Kiwi even an immigrant like myself should accept this corrupt system.

I am sure transcripts from the national party policy meeting would look like this:
Why would any politician in their right mind want to believe a subject matter expert. Just because this intelligent person has a doctorate and extensive knowledge gained over years of research on this field does not make them a credible decision maker in this field.
Let's instead ask businesses with a vested interest in suppressing wages on whether more immigration is a good idea. We don't really needs to ask entrepreneurs running value-adding high-tech businesses since quality of migrants is not an important aspect. Let's rather ask dairy farmers and retail store owners.
Tourism is an industry crucial to NZ, why bother about professional services. Clearly tourism-centrist economies like Spain and Greece are more successful than the likes of Luxembourg and Switzerland.


The problem is the stats are rubbish. The most up to date monthly figures are the boarding pass stats -these are the numbers which the media go to all the time -but so many people change their immigration plans in country -they are essentially meaningless. Check out Croaking Cassandra website if you want a fact based analysis on immigration.

This government are very manipulative when it comes to 'big data' -we do not have accurate numbers for how many foreign buyers there really are and we have a very opaque understanding of who, why, how long...... immigrants are coming into NZ. But clearly immigrant numbers are increasing. Auckland is growing by a Rotorua every year -which has massive social and economic consequences. It isn't kiwi returning that make up the bulk of Auckland's new Rotorua a year (the net number of kiwis moving in/out of Auckland has moved up to a little under zero) -Auckland's growth is driven by some natural population increase and immigration of non NZ citizens.

Adjusting the immigration rate is a legitimate policy choice -no country runs an open door policy. The public should have access to accurate numbers -so that sensible policy decisions can be agreed on.

As a health worker I find the manipulation of big data - the hiding of uncomfortable figures -very concerning. Because apparently that is how the government wants to run my sector in the future.

Brendon: Actually they do publish plenty of data and it is easy to drown in it. For example W1 - Work Apps Decided by FY (data) and W3 - Occupations of Work Apps Approved (data)_2010-16 have monthly data to march 2017. Having a love of databases I can deduce they are extracts from a Dept of Immigration database summarised by month so individuals cannot be identified. By reloading them into a database reports can be extracted. But they generally give much the same data that the department does publish a year or two later. I've done a little data-mining and found there is less gender bias than I expected (but more detailed by nationality might be interesting). The most interesting fact I've found is Chinese totally dominate "Investor Category 2" which is not too surprising but out numbering Indians but 50 to 1 was surprising.
I think Alex Tarrant's article is a good introduction.

Bob do you ever comment on Michael Reddell's CroakingCassandra website? If you have some better data/insight I am sure he would be interested. I know he is frustrated by the delay in releasing some important immigration statistics.

P.S I am working on a reply to your city centre question on the Landblog article. It was a good question and deserves a thoughtful reply.


The business end of town is addicted to cheap, low-end, low-skilled, work-visa people

It is so addictive they cant get off it - they need it now - they are hooked

How many businesses would fold if the immigration and work-visa gates were closed


The so called prosperity / business will fail if business have to pay full wages. This business survive only on migrant low underpaid wages or will fail.

Today NZ does not have the same reputation that it use to enjoy. All in the name of so called prosperity. May be more $$$$$$$$$ to few but what about social care and inequality. It is not the same as it use to be - all thanks to corrupt policies and definition of good living.


Closing down businesses that only exist to facilitate immigration scams is no loss.

Than what happens to national prosperity


National poverty is better than tolerating Slavery. Your argument was used by pro-slavery confederate politicians.

Yet another example of the government willingly sacrificing the lot of young Kiwis for the profit of its older voters.

Could the 12 month period for students finding a job in their qualification field be reduced to 3 months?
After all, they could / should be using the last few months of their study to be seeking opportunities.
If they can't find a job after three months - well it's just too bad. and perhaps indicates that:
- they or their qualification isn't that good; and/or
- that field of work is not desperately short of workers

Fritz, forget 3mths, student visas are temporary and should be treated as such, they should not open any doors whatsoever to residency (just as they don't in other countries). Offering a 'residency' carrot to prospective students, in addition to allowing them to work here while they're studying, is madness. It just ensures students are coming here for residency not education. This has huge implications regarding the 'quality' of the students, and explains why most of them enrol in low-level qualifications at pop-up 'institutions' no one has ever heard of (which only exist to cater for this artificial demand).

I'm not against 12 months per se. It took me 9 months when I first graduated a leading NZ university to get my first full time job (worked part time in the process of getting there).

However, we need to change the PTE sector from a crappily-educating visa mill into a legitimate educational sector providing high-quality candidates ready for the NZ market, albeit a lower volume of them than is currently being jammed through as fast as possible.


A Sir Humphey gold award to Alex Tarrant for excellence.

There are so many classes of visas and so many loopholes for all this to make a sensible immigration policy for a small country like NZ to manage effectively. We need just 5/6 kinds of visas only. Why should those on student visa's be able to get their partners to come in on work visa and similar loopholes...May be we should outsource the simplification of our policy to Trumps Administration ?


Thanks Alex. The spirit of John Clarke is alive and well.

May be in election year correct overseas buyer data will be put in public domain.


The never-ending need for exploited work-visa victims

The domino effect - This is house prices in reverse

It only needs one to start the process then the ripple effect takes control

If a business recruits and exploits migrant labour at $2 per hour and the intending work-visa holder then has to pay $20,000 to the business owner then that business is far more profitable than its nearest competitor next door. Can and will cut prices. The now struggling competitor has to do the same thing which then squeezes the 3rd guy down the road who then squeezes the 4th guy and so on ad infinitum until they are all in the same boat all doing the same thing, competing against one another - they are back to where they started

Now they all need a never-ending supply of exploited temporary work-visa victims to stay in business

NZ Society is much the poorer for it and has to pick up the tab in infrastructure, schools, health, welfare etc

Totally agree.

We all agree except those with ulterior exterior motives.

Does national government Agree or does it falling next category.

Is this the employment equivalent of "bad money driving out good"?


I agree too. And to quote a retired chinese friend: "I wouldn't run a fast food outlet today because you can't compete against the immigrants" And to quote an Indian businessman and friend "they are bringing in the wrong type of Indian".

have also had that conservation with indian friends about low caste Indians buying there way in as it is a step up especially if they can get family in later.
there words to me you have no idea who you are allowing in.

Having spent a considerable amount of time in India, I can vouch for the quote on "wrong type of Indian".
The Indians working in high-tech export industries on the West Coast of US are all IT engineers and computer scientists from South and West India. Sundar PIchai and Indra Nooyi are from Chennai, Satya Nadella from Hyderabad. These communities are driven by success and prosperity.
The North Indians on the other hand (Canada and New Zealand get more than a fair share of these migrants) are not the brightest of Indians and often end up on the wrong side of media coverage for crime and related notoriety.

Good comment

Keep an eye on the issue and see if it gets traction in the corridors of power


Nice Alex... Trying to unpick the web of BS we are fed in regards to the numbers of people arriving and working here in NZ. Some of those visa's seem designed to encourage the exploitation of vulnerable migrants, what a mess.. Not by accident are most of our migrants are from low wage or no wage economys. This last 15 years of organised immigration chaos has changed the face of NZ. Some say for the better but not me personally , i would prefer less not more, and i would prefer we train and teach our own than import cheap labour... In the uncertain times to come i do not see having a larger population as being advantageous.


This is such an eye-opener. Winston Peters was right about the number of Asian migrants. It is sad how the government has concocted numbers to mislead locals into believing it has a hold over migrant numbers when that is not the case in reality.


Correct. It seems that Winston Peter was 100% correct in highlighting the manipulated and wrong analysis of the data. Spoke truth and was termed racist - This is the reality - Corrouption.

the brief for the incoming minster in 2014 shows they knew dam well the trends
3. New Zealand has one of the highest per capita inflows of migrants in the OECD. One in four of the workforce is a migrant and in Auckland the figure is 44 percent. Migrants bring global skills and talent which help to make a wide range of local firms more productive and globally competitive.(cheaper labour costs) Business investor migrants and entrepreneurs bring commercial nous, international linkages and networks to boost the economy. Migrants also help fill labour shortages, notably in hospitality, dairy, agriculture, horticulture, viticulture, the Canterbury rebuild, aged-care and fishing.(all low paid employment)

Let it be a reminder that everything untoward that has happened since then - including pretty much eliminating Kiwi FHB from the Auckland market - are things that National has with foreknowledge chosen to do.

Given the state of the migrant's home countries and those countries' future prognosis we will be under immigration pressure forever. Much of the rest of the world is not that nice. We are no longer a secret or even that hard to get to. Having a national conversation through the ballot box makes sense. It is about time and both National and Labour are too invested in the status quo of our existing economy to be honest about the causes of our present ills and the future consequences. If this concerns you then 2017 is the year to do something about it with your party vote.

The wealthy have made millions out of house prices and paying low wages.
They are mostly big backers of the National party who are returning favors by keeping immigration high.
These wealthy people may soon complain when they have to use helicopters to get to the airport from their ivory towers to the airport to attend their tax deductible "business conferences" overseas as roads will be impassable.

The wealthy have made millions out of house prices and paying low wages.
They are mostly big backers of the National party who are returning favors by keeping immigration high.
These wealthy people may soon complain when they have to use helicopters to get to the airport from their ivory towers to attend their tax deductible "business conferences" overseas as roads will be impassable.

Student visas are temporary and should be treated as such, they should not open any doors whatsoever to residency (just as they don't in other countries). Offering a 'residency' carrot to prospective students, in addition to allowing them to work here while they're studying, is madness. It just ensures students are coming here for residency not education. This has huge implications regarding the 'quality' of the students, and explains why most of them enrol in low-level qualifications at pop-up 'institutions' no one has ever heard of (which only exist to cater for this artificial demand).

Offering residency carrot as the National government too knows that students are coming not to study but for residency.

It is a big scam supported by government.

A good friend of mine who works in the area of attracting international students to study in NZ, tells me the first question 99% of Indian students ask him when he is in India, is can they stay in NZ after study to work and to get permanent residence. So that should make intention crystal clear and needs to be added to the policy makers matrix for considering the real numbers.

Also, it is clear NZ companies are now offering jobs to international students with lower salaries and a greater than 40 hour contract. NZ companies have twigged they can employ an international student graduate for a third less than a Kiwi and they will be contractually required to work longer days, and often every Saturday. The international students know they are getting ripped off but need the job to get their work visa and eventually permanent residency. So it would appear Kiwis can go to the back of the employment line. Seems like a good deal for employers.