A balanced approach to immigration benefits migrants and employers

Immigration should be fair, transparent and progressive for all: Immigration Minister speaking at the Indian Newslink Lecture on February 27, 2023 (INL Photo by Vikas Devarakonda)

Venkat Raman

Auckland, March 1, 2023

New Zealand is committed to promoting a robust, responsive and resilient immigration policy but all decisions should be based on fairness, productivity and security, Minister of Immigration Michael Wood has said.

“We are focused on rebalancing immigration to ensure that migrants arriving in New Zealand are treated with respect and dignity and are able to settle well and raise their families, he said, delivering the Indian Newslink Lecture 2022 at JW Marriott Auckland on February 27, 2023.

The theme of the Lecture was ‘Rebalancing Immigration to optimise human capital.’

Striking the right balance

He said that since he took charge of the portfolio on June 14, 2022, he has been listening to businesses, associations, community groups and individuals on policies and practices followed by Immigration New Zealand (INL).

“Immigration is an emotional issue for individuals and a necessity for many businesses. While we recognise its importance, it is imperative to strike a balance, taking into account the means and aspirations, satisfying the norms of justice and remaining meaningful and useful to the economy and the country,” he said.

Mr Wood said that since July last year, his ministry, along with INZ, has been responding to the changes occurring in the economy and the high demand for skilled migrants following the re-opening of borders.

“Immigration will always be an integral part of our growth and the bloodline of our businesses and the economy. It is therefore not surprising that the number of visas (in various categories) issued has increased multi-fold in the past ten years. We wanted to challenge the system and make it better. The challenge is also to protect migrant workers arriving here on short-term visas against low wages, exploitation and other unacceptable practices. We are focused on highly skilled migrants of high quality on high wages,” he said.

Three-point approach

According to Mr Wood, Balancing Immigration entails a three-point approach. These include (1) A long-term strategy that looks at balancing skills with needs (2) Managing short-to-medium-term pressures and (3) Opening pathways for migrant workers to integrate

“A long-term strategy is critical to ensure that migrant workers are progressive and realise their individual aspirations on the one hand and ensure the success of immigration policies, systems and procedures on the other. Short-term pressures, such as the shortage currently being experienced in some areas must be managed properly to enable businesses to function well. This is a challenge being faced by all countries that need foreign workers. It is also the responsibility of governments to provide opportunities for migrant workers to achieve their aspirations. It is also important to address the problem of exploitation including low and non-payment of wages, poor working conditions and similar issues,” he said.

Although stated to be confined to a small percentage, there have been increasing instances of exploitation of migrant workers, including cases of former spouses being victims.

Some of our guests at the Indian Newslink Lecture on February 27, 2023 (INL Photo by Vikas Devarakonda)

Two major announcements

Mr Wood announced at the Lecture that effective immediately, victims of family violence will be offered a six-month work visa to regularise their stay, freeing them from the threats of their partners. A similar facility is already available to whistle-blowers- foreign workers who are threatened, bullied and exploited by employers in New Zealand.

Lifting productivity is a major concern for Mr Wood since New Zealand is at the bottom of the OECD productivity measurement.

“We are conscious of the recommendations of the Productivity Commission. These are being studied for implementation,” he said.

The Commission released its report titled, ‘Immigration: Fit for the Future’ in April 2022.

It said that freedom of movement was critical for job satisfaction and increased productivity.

“Enabling job-to-job mobility is one route to improving productivity. When monopsony power is enabled by regulation (such as requiring migrants to stay with a single employer), workers may not be in firms where they can be most productive. Tying migrants to a single employer can lead to negative labour-market outcomes for migrants (including through exploitation) and local workers by increasing the monopsony power of employers,” he said.

The Report gave credit to the current immigration system for its flexibility but said that it does not undergo the same level of transparency, public scrutiny and robust policy assessment that most other public policies require.

“Immigration policy can be changed without consideration of (or public reporting) other policies that could achieve the same objective, how the policy balances certain trade-offs or the evidence on which the policy is based. The current residence policy does not sufficiently prioritise migrants who would make the greatest contribution to the future of New Zealand,” it said.

Visa processing improved

Mr Wood said that as a part of the immigration resetting, visa processing has quickened but the backlog created by the closure of borders and immigration offices worldwide and the suspension of the parent category by the previous (National) government have compounded the problem.

“Despite these challenges, there have been improvements in the number of visas processed. Temporary Visas (such as work permits), peaked at more than 110,000 in the first quarter of the calendar year 2018 (from about 45, 000 in January 2012), and reached 40,000 in January this year. The number of Resident Visas approved which was less than 4000 in July 2012 reached almost 20,000 in July 2022. Since last year, we have issued more than 50,000 visas under the Working Holiday Programme,” he said.

Mr Wood said that the one-off Pathway to Residency Programme announced in 2021 is doing well and that 76% of the estimated 220,000 applications have been approved.

“We hope to reach 80% by June 2023. We have been approving about 1500 applications every week, which is a massive exercise,” he said.

New Zealand is a signatory to the United Nations Refugee Convention of 1951 and under that obligation accepts about 1000 refugees every year.

Mr Wood announced that the intake will rise to 1500 this year, as a part of New Zealand’s commitment to giving a new life to people seriously affected by wars and other disruptions.

Immigration ties with Maori

The Productivity Commission has advised the government to reflect Te Tiriti o Waitangi into settlement policy in partnership with Māori.

It asked the government to direct INZ to work with Māori on actions to incorporate manaakitanga (respect) and other relevant te ao Māori concepts within the design and implementation of activity included under the Settlement and Integration strategy.

“The government should increase funding for iwi involvement and partnership in the expansion of the Welcoming Communities initiative so that migrants have opportunities to connect with and learn about te ao Māori as part of the expansion. The government should also engage with Māori on how the immigration system could positively recognise migrants’ voluntary efforts to learn Te Reo Māori and about te ao Māori,” it said.

Many experts have in recent years said that New Zealand does not limit the ability of Permanent Residents to re-enter the country after they re-migrate; nor are Permanent Residents expected to return to New Zealand regularly to retain their right of re-entry.

Obligations of Residents

The Productivity Commission Report said that migrants need to stay in New Zealand only for two years after gaining their Resident visa before they can move on to a Permanent Residence visa (which provides the unlimited right to return).

“As a result, re-migration rates increase notably after the two years. Skilled migrants in Australia and Canada must renew their right of return every five years and migrants with residence and work rights in the US risk losing them if they are outside the country for more than 365 days without a re-entry permit,” it said.

India’s High Commissioner to New Zealand Neeta Bhushan gave her ‘Reflections’ on the Lecture which appears in a separate report.

Diversity, Inclusion and Ethnic Communities Minister Priyanca Radhakrishnan was the Master of Ceremonies along with Labour MP Vanushi Walters.

Auckland Mayor Wayne Brown delivered the Welcome Address, while Snowy Hydro Limited Company Secretary and Group Executive (Governance) Praveena Karunaharan provided the Concluding Remarks.

Earlier, Legal Associates Partner Raj Pardeep Singh outlined the objectives of the Indian Newslink Lecture which was established in 2011 and gave an overview of the Indian Newslink brands such as Business Awards, Sports, Community, Arts and Culture Awards, the Festivals of South India and soon-to-be-launched Bharata Natyam Festival.

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