The pre-Covid rates of immigration into New Zealand appear to be unsustainable, the Productivity Commission says.
It bases this conclusion on "the inability or unwillingness to build the infrastructure needed to support and settle people in the community".
The commission has released the preliminary findings and recommendations from its immigration inquiry.and these are contained in its draft report: Immigration - Fit for the Future.
Submissions are now being sought by December 24, with the final report to be presented to the Government in April 2022.
Commission chair Ganesh Nana said immigrants make an important contribution to New Zealand society.
"Immigrants bring diversity and much-needed skills to workplaces across the country, and have supported the delivery of important public services either directly (through their work as teachers, nurses, doctors) or through their net contribution to the Government’s finances.
"But New Zealand has struggled for a long time to absorb and accommodate more people well. Infrastructure and housing supply has not kept up with population growth, creating pressures that affect the wellbeing of both migrants and New Zealanders," he said.
"To ensure immigration contributes to the productivity and wellbeing of New Zealanders, governments need to build the assets and infrastructure needed to support a growing population, in preparation for the number of new residents, ahead of time."
The Commission is recommending a number of changes to ensure that future immigration settings are better connected to other government objectives.
The law should be changed to require governments to explicitly consider how well New Zealand can support and settle more people. And the Government should be obliged to publicly state its objectives and priorities for immigration, and the steps it will take to ensure that public investment matches need, Nana said.
"A country that treats its guests well is more likely to attract migrants, retain their capabilities and enjoy their long-term contributions."
The Commission wants the Government to remove visa conditions that tie a migrant to a specific employer.
"These conditions make migrants more vulnerable to exploitation and limit the ability of migrants to find jobs that best meet their skills and experience," Nana said.
"The number of temporary migrant visas with pathways to residence should be linked to the number of residence visas on offer.
“Large queues for residency have left many migrants in flux and unable to settle. The mismatch between migrant expectations and the reality of residence falls well short of manaakitanga, and is not good for our international reputation as global competition for some skilled migrants intensifies”.
The commission highlighted the following key points and key actions from its report:
• New Zealand’s immigration system is highly adaptive, and able to respond promptly to emerging needs and opportunities. Currently, immigration policy does not undergo the same level of transparency, public scrutiny or robust policy assessment requirements as other public policies.
• High resident numbers, largely uncapped temporary migration programmes and reductions in departures by New Zealanders, have contributed to New Zealand’s comparatively rapid population growth over the past decade.
• Immigration policy’s disconnection from other policy areas has meant that migration and population numbers have grown ahead of the stock and flow of public infrastructure, contributing to burdens for the wider community. It also means the education and training system is less responsive to generating the skills New Zealand businesses need.
• Overall, impacts of migration on the average earnings and employment of local workers are very minor and mostly positive, though overall outcomes can mask impacts in some regions and on some workers. The immigration system endeavours to manage the risk of New Zealanders being displaced by migrant workers, however, there are known deficiencies with the current Labour Market Test and skills shortage lists.
• The years immediately preceding the pandemic saw large and unprecedented increases in net migration, driven in part by large growth in migrants on temporary visas. In addition to putting pressure on the country’s ‘absorptive capacity’, this growth also saw a notable shift towards temporary migrants filling vacancies in lower-skilled occupations.
► Governments should be required to issue regular policy statements on immigration, outlining short-term and long-term priorities for immigration and how performance will be measured. The Government should be required to give explicit consideration to how well New Zealand can successfully accommodate and settle new arrivals.
► The Treaty interest should be reflected in immigration policy and institutions. The Treaty was developed and signed in response to immigration, and directly refers to immigration. The Crown also has a duty to actively protect Māori interests.
► The number of temporary migrant visas with potential residence pathways should be linked to the number of residence visas on offer. Large increases in the number of temporary migrant visas have contributed to uncertainty and mismatched expectations of an actual path to residence.
► Governments should better utilise tools for prioritising migrants when there is high demand. This includes being more selective and transparent with the points system and developing more data-informed and dynamic skills shortage lists.
► Visa conditions that tie migrant workers to a specific employer should be removed. Allowing migrants to move reduces the risk of exploitation and permits them to find jobs that better match their skills and experience.
► The Commission is exploring options for managing volume pressures. These include making greater use of data, evidence and evaluation in designing visa categories and identifying skills shortages, and possibly managing overall numbers of inward migration.
► The Commission is considering options for how to promote migrants’ commitment to New Zealand. Options include recognising efforts to learn te reo in decisions about residence or permanent residence, and limiting rights of return for permanent residents who re-migrate.