Immigration Policy disconnect results in multiple systems failure

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(From the New Zealand Productivity Commission Report)

Venkat Raman
Auckland, November 13, 2021

New Zealand’s immigration policy lacks vision, does not engage with the people and is disconnected from reality leading to multiple systems failure, a top economist has said.

Dr Ganesh Nana, Chairman of Productivity Commission has said that New Zealand’s immigration system conspicuously lacks a clear and single over-reaching strategy or set of priorities and that there is no long-term strategy.

His 68-page Report, released on Monday, November 8, 2021, takes a comprehensive view of New Zealand’s Immigration regime to assess the extent to which new arrivals have helped to improve productivity and if the overall purpose of immigration is being achieved. As an economist and as an experienced bureaucrat in various government agencies and departments, Dr Nana is aware of the difficulties in transforming vision into practice, especially with the change of political parties and governments but the overall impression is that more needs to be done to make immigration work.

Infrastructure, Education unable to cope

Dr Nana has said that New Zealand’s immigration policy 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,” he said.

He said that New Zealand’s immigration system is conspicuous for lacking a clear and single overarching strategy or set of priorities.

Dr Ganesh Nana, Chairman, The Productivity Commission (Photo Supplied)

“The main piece of legislation (the Immigration Act 2009) provides little guidance, stating simply that its purpose is to ‘manage immigration in a way that balances the national interest, as determined by the Crown, and the rights of individuals.’ The government is not currently required to publish how it interprets ‘national interest’ in relation to immigration. Most insights about how ministers consider questions of immigration objectives and outcomes have been revealed through interested members of the public requesting advice under the Official Information Act 1982,” he said.

For far-reaching consequences

Dr Nana said that the absence of a long-term strategy or any process for the public to engage in the overall immigration settings has several consequences and cited four such factors.

“First, there is no common set of goals against which performance can be assessed or trade-offs made. The various visa categories effectively operate independently, and efforts to reform the system as a whole in the absence of clear goals can look ad hoc, be difficult to explain in a compelling manner or create internal inconsistencies,” he said.

According to him, a lack of a public engagement mechanism has led to the expression of opinions through elections, with some political parties campaigning on immigration policy.

As such, policies need not necessarily be based on the long-term interests of the country.

“Immigration policy settings are not clearly linked to other relevant areas, such as education and training or infrastructure investment,” Dr Gana said, mentioning it as a third factor.

“As a result, decisions on the numbers of new arrivals are not complemented by decisions on other areas that matter for the wellbeing of them and other residents. Finally, the absence of a longer-term strategy means that there is little visibility about how the government is thinking about and planning for pressures that could affect immigration supply and demand in the future – such as global ageing populations, and climate change,” he said.

However, not everything is gloom and doom and Dr Nana recognises the immense good that immigration has done for the development of the country.

(From the New Zealand Productivity Commission Report)

Some positive aspects

His Report commences with the adulation that New Zealand’s immigration system is highly adaptive, able to respond promptly to emerging needs and opportunities, although at present, the 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. 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,” he said.

Dr Nana said that before the onset of Covid-19 in 2020, New Zealand experienced 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.

Role in population growth

“Immigration has played a significant role in supporting population growth, particularly over the past decade. In the seven years before the Covid-19 pandemic, New Zealand had one of the fastest population growth rates in the developed world and also experienced considerable volatility in population growth over that period, largely reflecting changes in net migration

It is commonly thought that the growth of the workforce is due to existing residents reaching working age, ‘topped up’ by immigrants. However, the number of new permanent and long-term migrant arrivals (aged 15-64) has, in recent years, exceeded the number of New Zealand residents turning 15 (and who could potentially enter the labour force).

Additional Reading: The debate grows on the role of Treaty in Immigration and other stories coming up

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