Skills-based migration: q to v

I’ve had quite a few comments and questions on these data.  I want to be clear what they are.   They are drawn from an MBIE spreadsheet, usefully posted on their immigration statistics page, which contains all work visa applications over the years 2010/11 to 2014/15, over 300000 of them.  Around 60000 were declined, and I’ve just deleted those.  Another 60000 or so don’t specify an occupation.  That includes working holiday visas and a variety of others.  I’ve also not looked any further at those.  The charts in this series have been taken from the remaining 190000 or so successful applications.

And 190000 is, of course, not some net inflow of people over that period.  Some of the applications might have been people here for only a few weeks or months (eg specific event visas).  There are plenty of “variation of conditions” approvals, which are presumably multiple approvals for the same person.  And the same position might have been filled over five years by, say, five different foreign job-holders.    All I have sought to show that, of the large number of work visa approvals over the last five years a surprisingly large proportion have been for positions that don’t appear particularly highly-skilled, and which aren’t what most people (well, me anyway) had in mind when they hear of a skills-based immigration programme  (and this should, presumably be the most skills-oriented component of the overall programme –  refugees and family reunification visas have a different focus).

With that prelude, here is the chart for the letters q to v

work visas q to v

And what caught my eye this time?  A surprising number of truck drivers (if all ours really went to the West Australian mines, higher wages here would have been the market response I’d have thought), and huge number of aged-care nurses (to complement the even greater number of aged-care workers we saw the other day).

And then there was the retail sector –  more than 7000 retail supervisors and retail managers, mostly applying under an “Essential Skills” category.  Every single one of those shelf-fillers also applied under the Essential Skills category.

Somehow it doesn’t have the feel of a productivity-enhancing skills-focused programme.      Too often these have the feel of something where employers in particular sectors are rewarded for their lobbying skills in getting the particular occupational “skills” they want to employ on the approved list.  By contrast, the usual market response to shortages in particular occupations is for the relative wage for that occupation to rise.  And if the shortages are pervasive enough  –  unlikely over recent years when the unemployment has lingered around 6 per cent –  monetary policy tightens to keep overall demand in check.  Running approved lists of “essential skills” or areas of skill shortages is, in any case, a flawed strategy. It eases pressures on employers of that particular occupation, but since in the short-term demand effects of immigration outweigh supply effects (the standard result in New Zealand macro studies), any gain for employers in a single sector is outweighed by the additional demand pressures elsewhere in the economy.

One thought on “Skills-based migration: q to v

  1. I’m surprised someone in MSM/MPs hasn’t picked this up and asked a difficult question or two. I agree that some of the skills hardly seem to fit into the ‘essential’ category.

    There is of course a separate debate to be had about whether immigration should be limited or not, but if it is going to be limited, by having an essential skills visa, then it should be implemented properly.

    I don’t know it is possible/practical/worthwhile, but it would be interesting to see each occupation given a number to reflect the level of skill required, and then immigration could be allowed only for roles above a certain level. Probably too difficult and problematic.


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