National will overhaul Immigration but unsure of stranded migrants

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The current mess will pose a quandary for years ahead

Clockwise from top: Rashna Tata, Venkat Raman, Vasu Kunapuli, Ishant Ghulyani, Erica Stanford and Paul Patel at the Indians Living in Auckland Facebook Group on February 12, 2022 (Screen Grab)

Venkat Raman
Auckland, February 16, 2022

The National Party will modernise the immigration system and make it more responsive to the needs of the country if elected to govern in the 2023 general election but Immigration Spokesperson Erica Stanford is not sure if the issue of stranded migrants offshore can be effectively addressed.

Her concern is that the current government is too involved in clearing the estimated 165,000 applications coming under its ambitious, one-off, ‘Pathway to Residency Programme’ in itself will be a challenge.

Broken, ineffective system

“Immigration New Zealand (INZ) is already far too behind in processing the applications. My concern is that it does not have the capacity. Every single resource available has been put on the ‘Residency 21 Programme,’ and officials do not have time to do anything else,” she said.

Ms Stanford, who is also National Party’s Education Spokesperson, was speaking at the ‘Indians Living in Auckland Facebook Group’ organised jointly with Indian Newslink on February 12, 2022.

She said that all other types of visas, including Work, Residence and Visitor Permits are on hold until at least October this year.

“The main reason for borders not opening sooner and for the serious backlog of applications in every category is because INZ does not sufficient human resources to handle them. The Labour government has closed all the INZ offices overseas and as a result, ironically, INZ itself is facing labour shortages. The Immigration Minister is expected to announce Immigration Resetting in July 2022 and hence we have to wait and see,” she said.

Erica Stanford, National Party Spokesperson for Immigration and Education
(RNZ Photo by Samuel Rillstone)

Migrants stranded overseas

Ms Stanford said that her heart went out to thousands of migrant workers who are stranded overseas (about 790 of them in India) for the past almost two years and accused the Labour government of ineffective management.

“The Minister is saying that people whose visas have expired should reapply. While other countries such as Canada and Australia have extended visas, New Zealand has done nothing. It is still unclear as to when the stranded migrants will be allowed to come back. My concern is that by the time we come into government over the next 18 months or so, will be too late to do anything,” she said.

She said that while a National government will not ‘change everything,’ there is a recognised need to improve the systems and procedures, provide more staff and money.

“New Zealand thrives on immigration and hence we should have a proper plan of attracting talents from all over the world. We must provide certainty to migrants so that they can clearly see their pathway to residency. The current government is living in the past. Why would anyone want to come to New Zealand when other countries can attract them,” she asked.

According to Ms Stanford, the immigration system will eventually be changed to make it more responsive to the needs of the economy and the changes going on elsewhere in the world.

Culturally-Arranged Marriages will go

“The Culturally-Arranged Marriage Visas for instance is a problem created by INZ. It does not work and the decline rate is huge. The traditional understanding of arranged marriages has undergone significant changes. We must upgrade and modernise our system,” she said.

Ms Standford ruled out providing amnesty to overstayers, saying that it is ‘relatively easy’ for people to regularise their stay here.

On resuming parent category visas, she said, “National had put this on hold, hoping to revise it after the 2017 general election (which the Party lost). The situation has now been made more difficult by the huge number of Pathway 21 applications. While I personally welcome opening this category, we need to consider various other aspects,” she said.

Median Wage being tweaked

Ms Stanford said that she had some leaked information from the Labour camp. According to her, Immigration Minister Kris Faafoi will revise the Median Wage and a sector agreement.

“We must be realistic and make sure that we allow highly skilled migrants to come to New Zealand. Some sectors will not be able to meet the minimum wage. This government wants to control everything. My concern is that they are going on a treacherous path. Hospitality and tourism are important to our economy but we cannot rely on holiday working visas. I am interested in the free-market approach with reasonable control. We already have mechanisms in place to ensure that there is not only minimum but also median wage,” she said.

Discounting the popular belief that migrants tend to drive down wages, Ms Stanford cited the report of the New Zealand Productivity Commission, which said in its report published in November 2021. Please read our story here.

“The Productivity Commission has said that migrants do not drive down wages and there is no evidence to suggest this suggestion. We have a ‘Productivity Disease.’ We are working more to earn the same salary as Australians,” she said.

Liberalising Work Visa

The hospitality industry including restaurants, takeaways and hotels are suffering from an acute shortage of staff, including chefs and hence there is a need to liberalise the system.

“As Immigration Minister, I will ensure that the industry gets the right talent to survive and stop the current poaching and exploitation. But the issue of leading them to the Pathway to Residence remains to be explored. It is also important to provide with decent wages,” she said.

Ms Stanford said that she will convene a Policy Forum later in the year to understand the needs of employers, businesses and others. Professional organisations, chamber of commerce, immigration lawyers and licenced advisors and other stakeholders will attend the Forum.

Failing young students

Ms Stanford believes that New Zealand’s place as a country of quality education is slipping.

“Our children are falling behind in mathematics and other subjects. Providers of trade training turn away more than 50% of applicants because they lack the basic literary and numeracy skills. Our Maori and Pacifica children are in a far worse situation than others,” she said.

“There is nothing wrong with our NCEA system but a shortage of teachers and our inability to allow qualified people from overseas is a major problem,” she said.

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