Which countries did Essential Skills visa grantees come from in the last year?

As I’ve said, MBIE do release approvals data monthly, but it is hard to use (at least for a lay person with a spreadsheet). The temporary approvals spreadsheet is some half a million lines long.

But I decided to brave it anyway.  The spreadsheet contains approvals up to the end of March 2017.  And I was curious as to whether there was anything in the Essential Skills approvals (those for some of the more –  supposedly –  skilled roles) to back the suggestions being made by the Herald and Professor Paul Spoonley.  To minimise my effort –  and the last column of this little table took the best part of an hour –  I focused just on approvals of people from the 10 countries that were top of the list in the latest summary MBIE data (that for the year to June 2016).

There is some overlap in the last two columns.  The first two columns are June years (the basis of MBIE’s summary data) and the final column is a March year (seeing as it is still April now).

Essential skills visas granted, by country
2006/07 2015/16 12mths to Mar 17
Philippines 1695 5,408 6174
India 1943 4,812 4904
UK 4692 3,686 4086
Fiji 2145 1,973 1756
China 2749 1,823 1801
South Africa 2003 1,382 1807
Ireland 481 969 824
Brazil 1376 923 1066
South Korea 1145 828 767
United States 1493 820 837
Total all countries 31015 31766 32775

But there isn’t much sign of the patterns having changed in the most recent year.  Of the European countries, UK approvals are up a bit, but still below where they were a decade ago, and Irish approvals are down a bit, but still above where they were a decade ago.  And by a clear margin, approvals of people from the Phippines and India top the list.

Two other things caught my eye.   Total approvals haven’t changed much  –  in the last year, or in the last decade (although they did dip during the recession).  And approvals for people from China have been tailing off.  The peak year for Chinese approvals was, in fact, 2004/05.


Work visas outstanding – a simple chart

To repeat my point in my earlier post, I don’t greatly care which country our economic immigrants come from.  The skills and ideas they bring are what matter most in terms of the prospect of economic benefits to New Zealanders.  The data suggest that typical skill level is a lot lower than successive governments have suggested.

But in this chart I simply take the annual MBIE data on the country of citizenship of holders of outstanding work visas (all types of work visas, but not including students here on student visas but with work rights) and group the countries by continent.   The data are all from MBIE’s Migration Trends and Outlook tables.

share of work visas

Over those years, the number of outstanding work visas increased from  94,370 to 132,781.

The advantage of these data is that they show outstanding stocks, so remove all those who have come and then gone again.   The disadvantages are that:

  • the most recent data relate to the year ending last June.  However, as the chart suggests, the patterns don’t seem to change that much from year to year.  The chart is unlikely to be misleading about the current position,
  • the chart includes people on working holiday visas.  Ideally, we would look at them separately, but for those focused on the Asia vs other split the working holiday vias numbers are dominated by European countries (UK, Germany, France, with only South Korea and Japn in the top 10, well behind the big three)
  • the chart doesn’t include those here on student visas exercising their legal rights to work.    Those numbers will be totally dominated by people from Asian countries.

To repeat again, I’m interested in the policy settings, and the overall (including distributional) economic effects.   But it is still worth clearing away attempts to muddy the water, and the Herald’s suggestion, using inadequate PLT data, that temporary migrants on work visas are not dominated by people from Asian countries, is misleading at very best.

Questionable Herald analysis

I wasn’t going to write about immigration  today at all, but a radio station rang up last night and invited me to go on their show this morning to discuss an article in today’s Herald that runs under the headline Top source countries for migrant workers are not Asian.

Since I had to get up early anyway, and since the article gives me the chance to make two points, I thought I’d respond.

Perhaps my key point is that flawed articles like this really should reinforce the message to MBIE, that I made in a post the other day,  that while MBIE’s annual immigration approvals data are good and useful, they are only available with a long lag,  and the monthly data they provide is limited, little-known, difficult to use, and therefore largely overlooked.    If people can’t readily use that – accurate, official, adminstrative –  data they will use what they can easily get.  In this case, that is the permanent and long-term migration data derived from arrival and departure cards, and reliant on the self-reported intentions of people when they cross the border.  It is published monthly and hogs the headlines, but for actual analysis of immigration policy (which affects non-citizens) it just isn’t very good at all.

The Herald builds an article around this opening

A rise in work visas has been the driving force behind record immigration numbers but the main source countries are not from Asia.

A Herald analysis into immigration data found work visa arrivals increased from 16,787 in 2004 to 41,576 last year.

The top five source countries for work visas last year are the United Kingdom, Germany, Australia, South Africa and the United States of America.

They get those numbers not from data on the number of work visas issued, or outstanding, but on the basis of PLT arrivals data.   When people arrive at the airport they complete an arrivals card, indicate whether (at that time) they intend/expect to stay 12 months or more, and the reason for their visit.    The “reason for visit” isn’t tightly mapped to the various different visa classes, and all the non-New Zealand arrivals are grouped under four main headings (Residence, Student, Visitor or Work) and a small “Other” category.

So these data are correctly reported by the Herald, but:

  • SNZ only publish the data by previous country of residence, not country of citizenship (although they must have the latter data).   The Herald should have been a little wary when they noticed Australia high up on their list, since Australian citizens don’t need work visas to live and work here.  Published data don’t let us work out which country (citizenship) those people were actually from, but if someone worked in Australia for a couple of years and then came on to New Zealand there is no meaningful sense in which they are “Australian”.
  • The PLT data only attempt to capture the visa people held at the point they crossed the border.   Huge numbers of people change their visa while here –  more than 70 per cent of residence visas are granted to people who were already living here.  Perhaps more importantly in this context, many people who come on student visas –  probably almost all of those in the PLT (more than 12 months) category –  now have work rights while they are here.  And when they complete their qualification, many can acquire a “study to work” work visa.  So if we are trying to understand which country the migrants (temporary or permanent) who are working here come from, the PLT numbers are barely any use at all.

In fact, MBIE knows exactly who has an outstanding work visa (which doesn’t include students working while on a student visa), and which country those people are citizens of.  They now publish the data each year.  Here are the top 10 countries as at 30 June last year.

Outstanding temporary work visas by country, as at 30 June 2016
India 25,479
United Kingdom 15,040
China 12,192
Philippines 11,980
France 6,126
Germany 5,011
Fiji 4,912
United States 4,431
South Korea 3,443
Japan 3,102

The UK is still important, but it is swamped by people from India, and China and the Philippines aren’t far behind the UK.   We only have this particular data since 2009, but back then the UK was the largest source country for people with outstanding work visas.  Since then the UK numbers have only increased a little, while the Indian numbers have more than trebled.     And all that is so even though these stock numbers include the numbers here on working holiday (work) visas, where European countries (Germany, UK, and France) dominate the annual approvals numbers.

What about approvals data?  Here are the top 10 countries of people granted Essential Skills work visas in 2015/16.

Essential skills visas granted, by country, 2015/16
Philippines 5,408
India 4,812
United Kingdom 3,686
Fiji 1,973
China 1,823
South Africa 1,382
Ireland 969
Brazil 923
South Korea 828
United States 820

A decade ago, the UK was clearly the largest source country.

And here are the top 10 countries of people granted Family work visas (note, work visas –  these aren’t the residence approvals).

Family work visas granted, by country, 2015/16
India 7,720
China 4,012
Philippines 3,216
United Kingdom 2,566
Fiji 1,895
South Africa 1,407
United States 1,186
South Korea 865
Brazil 643
Sri Lanka 584

Again 10 years ago the UK was the largest single source country.

MBIE don’t provide this breakdown for those granted “study to work” visas, (even though the number of those visas granted has increased from around 6000 in 2005/06 to around 22000 last year.   And since student visa numbers are totally dominated by people from Asian countries

Student visas granted, by country, 2015/16
China 25,931
India 19,920
South Korea 4,888
Philippines 3,996
Japan 3,604
United States 2,914
Thailand 2,176
Brazil 1,961
Fiji 1,886
Germany 1,850

…we might reasonably assume that almost all of the study to work visas have gone to citizens of Asian countries.

And finally, of course, there is the residence approvals programme.     The overwhelming bulk of these approvals are granted to people already living in New Zealand, who arrived on one or other of the temporary visas programmes and eventually qualified for residence.  Here are the top 10 countries, for 2015/16 and for 2005/06 , 10 years earlier.

Residence approvals by source country
2005/06 2015/16
China 6,773 9,360
India 3,334 8,498
United Kingdom 14,674 4,934
Philippines 1,252 4,614
South Africa 4,033 2,970
Fiji 2,366 2,230
Samoa 2,188 2,156
United States 1,838 1,288
South Korea 2,260 1,125
Pakistan 140 882

Total approvals didn’t change much over that decade, but the composition (by source country) did.  One forgets I suppose, but I was a little surprised to realise that even 10 years ago the UK was still far and away the largest single source country.

Which country our temporary or permanent migrants come from isn’t a big concern of mine, and has never been a focus of my analysis of the possible connection between immigration and economic performance.  I don’t much care where migrants come from, but about what skills and talents they bring.   That said, I was interested in the new study by Harvard researchers that I linked to a few weeks ago, suggesting that if there were economic benefits from immigration (and that particular study reckoned there were) they were most evident when the migrants were from countries that are richer than the recipient country, or from countries with a degree of cultural similarity to the recipient country.   Perhaps that result won’t stand up to close scrutiny over time, but it does make quite a lot of intuitive sense.   On that residence approvals list, only the UK and the US are richer than us.

And as a final note, I repeat my plea to MBIE to markedly improve the availability of such summary data on immigration approvals (and outstanding visas).  They hold all the data, and there is no reason why these data could not be available, and easy to use, on a monthly or quarterly basis within a few days of the end of the relevant period.     Debate about immigration policy is often difficult enough, but it is made more so when the good timely data just aren’t made easily available, and people fall back on what they can find, inadequate for purpose as it often is.