MBIE does a pretty good job of releasing annual immigration data, albeit with quite a long lag. Their Migration Trends and Outlook publication is full of interesting charts, and the accompanying spreadsheets have a rich array of data about people applying for visas to live in New Zealand, temporarily or permanently. But the 2015/16 issue, covering the year to June 2016, was released in late November last year. But it is now late April 2017 and we won’t have any official data made generally available until, presumably, late November this year. Given the significance of immigration in the New Zealand economy, let alone in the political and social debate, it is staggering that only annual data are available, and even then with quite a long lag. I’m surprised that, for example, Statistics New Zealand does not put more pressure on MBIE to bring its immigration statistics up to the sort of standard we expect in other areas of the economy. Apart from anything else, nature abhors a vacuum, and in the absence of good timely (readily useable) immigration approvals data, people fall back on using the Statistics New Zealand permanent and long-term migration numbers, which (a) aren’t that accurate, as SNZ research itself has found, and (b) aren’t a good basis for analysing immigration policy developments (immigration policy affecting only non New Zealanders).
And in this day and age, the data must be quite readily available internally – it isn’t, presumably, as if they are using paper-based systems and only compile the aggregates once a year. I’d urge MBIE to look at upgrading their publication of statistics. Key data – approvals under each visa stream and main category – should be able to be made available monthly, within days of the end of the month, and should (as relevant) be published on a seasonally adjusted basis (as most other official economic data are). The sorts of detailed tables published with Migration Trends and Outlook should be published quarterly, and again it is difficult to see why we should expect, or tolerate, a lag of more than four weeks after the end of the relevant quarter. It takes SNZ much longer than that to calculate GDP, of course, but immigration approvals data is all generated inside MBIE. All this data should, in turn, be made available on the Statistics New Zealand platform Infoshare. To the usual complaint, when better data is sought, that “there is no money” my response is twofold: first, this is a really major component of New Zealand and social life, and timely information would inform a better debate and analysis, and second, immigration (including the associated research and analysis) is supposed to be self-funding. If the fees aren’t quite high enough to cover the regular production of good data (all from internal systems) put them up (a very little surely). In the meantime, it is tempting (but would be tedious) to lodge an OIA request for the data on the last day of each month, which would at least ensure it was available 20 working days later.
As an inadequate, but perhaps convenient for them, substitute for good generally-available data, MBIE does seem from time to time to provide bits and pieces of data to selected journalists. That is no way to run a democracy.
A small example leapt out at me as I read today’s Herald over lunch. In an article on yesterday’s announcement we find that:
In figures released exclusively to the Herald, a Ministry of Business Innovation and Employment sample of more than 600 skilled migrant category applications being considered as at March 1 found more than two in five would not have met the new income threshold.
Just 42.5 per cent of applicants earned over the New Zealand median income of $48,859 per year and 14 per cent earned over $75,000.
The figures are staggering. Recall that skilled migrant principal applicants make up only about half of those granted approvals for residence. These are (the bulk of) the “best and brightest” of those we bring here – others are partners, children, family members, refugees, and Pacific Access people, who themselves wouldn’t get over the Skilled Migrant category thresholds.
Now, sure, it is a small sample (600 of the SMC applications being considered) – and there seems to be a potential contradiction between the two sentences in that paragraph – but at best it seems that only around half of the skilled migrant applicants earned more than the new, quite modest, income threshold. Sure, the median income numbers cover people of all ages, and most SMC principal applicants are between 20 and 40, but….these have been the transformative skilled migrants MBIE and successive governments have been counting on to help transform the economy, and lift our dismal productivity, and that is all they can command in the labour market? Really?
I suspect the Reserve Bank and Treasury are now paying freshly minted 21 year old economists, with just an honours degree, at least that $48,859 per annum by now. And those people will achieve significant pay rises in the following few years. In fact, on checking teacher salaries, a primary school teacher with a BA starts on $48165 per annum. These will all be able people, but they are 21 or 22. How can it make sense – if our immigration programme is really skill-focused – to be letting in as residents so many people who at, say, an average age of 30 can’t even command what a starting primary teacher makes?
Even though the official rhetoric has long been skills-focused, it increasingly looks as though we’ve actually been somewhat closer to lower-skills end of the immigration spectrum. There hasn’t been anything much in the way of productivity spillover – which could really only come from the very able and innovative, and we’ve not attracted many of them – and the evidence suggests that the low-skilled migration hasn’t done much for us either. Recall that the advocates of high immigration both argue that high immigration of relatively low-skilled people hasn’t dampened native wages and that we benefit economically from low-skilled migration. But if wages haven’t been dampened, it can’t – under the totally orthodox neoclassical economic model – have done any good for New Zealanders as a whole either. And if they have….well, we know that despite all those inflows business investment has been weak (share of GDP) relative to population growth, the tradables sector has been weak, and we’ve seen little sign of any other sorts of gains.
Perhaps the data MBIE provided the Herald aren’t quite as bad as they look. But we can’t tell, because MBIE provided the information simply to one media outlet and we rely on what their journalists made of it. As a material piece of background to a major government policy announcement, that really isn’t good enough.
UPDATE: This interest.co.nz article, informed by MBIE, adds a bit of detail
An Immigration NZ spokesman told Interest.co.nz that the department undertook a random sample of more than 600 live SMC applications on 1 March. All applicants were claiming for employment at skill levels 1, 2 or 3 under New Zealand and Australian classifications (ANZSCO).
Of the sample, 57.5% were for roles offering less than the new threshold of New Zealand’s median wage, the spokesman said. That meant 42.5% were for roles with wages above $48,859. Meanwhile, 14% earned above $75,000. The results were given a margin of error of plus or minus 5%, the spokesman said.