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.

12 thoughts on “Questionable Herald analysis

  1. Couple of points…

    Firstly, the Herald, like most news organisations have delusions of adequacy when it comes to maths and data analysis. You can bet they are wrong simply because it is journalists that are doing the analysis.

    Secondly, I completely agree with your comments on the pathetic level of stats in New Zealand, the lags in provision by MBIE are completely unnecessary and pointless. They have to do better.


  2. Please relink the Harvard study – I missed it.
    Is this the Working Holiday Visa? You can’t extrapolate much from that. My niece had one years ago and choose to do no paid work but did some Woofing; another relative was considering NZ residence so took a 23 month working holiday visa and spent 8 months working as a retail shop assistant and then decided to permanently return to Europe.
    I met an American couple who were maximising their NZ holiday by working the minimum hours required to finance their next adventure – a few days welding at a farm and then climb Mt Taranaki.
    Having countries with reciprocal working-holiday visas seem a good idea – it may smooth out a few temporary work shortages such as seasonal fruit-picking. They may chose temporary unskilled low paid work for their convenience but they cannot be exploited unlike those working to permanent residency.
    Citizenship == Family
    Residence == De facto family
    Tourist == Visitor to my home
    WorkingVisa == Visitor staying a few nights.


    • I”ve now included the link in the post but here it is

      and here is the post where I discussed it

      As I said in the post, the working holiday visas are included in the data on the stock of work visas outstanding. But they aren’t in the essential skills, family work, or study to work visas approvals data. And the WH people are the least Asian of any of the classes of working/resident arrivals.

      I have mixed feelings about working holiday schemes. In principle, they are probably a fine idea, although I understand that now far more foreigners use them here than NZers use them abroad (at least beyond the UK). My scepticism is partly about the motives that appeared to drive the raft of new WH schemes – ie garnering votes for a Security Council seat. Even the Treasury worried that the large increase in working holiday visitors might be having adverse effects on wages on lower-skilled NZers (I don’t have any data to support – or question – that claim).

      Plenty of working holiday people do do a lot of work. I recall running into a couple when staying with family on a dairy farm last year – here on a working holiday visa and never having (as i could tell from our conversation) having dealt a cow before, they were looking at six months of quite hard work on the farm. What staggered me at the time was the suggestion that after six months – when their WH visas ended – they might well be able to get a work visa as (presumably) skilled dairy workers.

      Liked by 1 person

      • Thanks. I remember that post only 6 weeks ago but I must have skipped the study – 63 pages!
        Your explanation of your mixed feelings is persuasive. One advantage of a WH system is that when Mr Little turns off the faucet they will exit via the plughole whereas the residents will remain in the sink.
        One of my sons has a French passport and many years ago (maybe 17?) he discovered there was an annual quota of (from memory) 300 NZWH visas and he was too late in applying so he went to Australia for is gap year. So your concerns could be handled by adjusting each countries quotas so the system remained roughly reciprocal.


      • It is unlikely Andrew Little will do anything about turning off the Migrant worker faucet. He has difficulty even finding the sink. It was not so long ago he was out there amongst the illegal Indian students about to be deported trying to get the government to allow them to stay.


    • That’s all good if you can afford to travel to another country. Unfortunately a hell of a lot of New Zealanders do not have that option


  3. It’s the headline – clickbait – specially crafted
    Top source countries for migrant workers are not Asian

    The Headline could have read
    Top source countries for migrant workers are UK and EU

    The headline SHOULD have read
    Top source countries for Temporary work visas are UK and EU and US

    The identity of the authors wouldnt have anything to do with it would it?
    Lincoln Tan, Harkanwal Singh
    Chinese and Indian

    Journalistic Bias by any chance


  4. Just typical of the Herald, they have of late been shameless property and immigration shills.
    We have hundreds of thousands of Kiwis living in Aussie and all of the associated broken extended families associated with that diaspora. Australia is running a higher unemployment rate than we are so one would expect the vast majority of our labour shortages (such as they are) to be filled from that source firstly. My Paternal Grandfather came to NZ from Aussie as a young man in about 1910 when we were relatively better. In recent decades its been mostly one way traffic with our end of a total of an almost twenty million working population pool undercut by our governments misguided immigration policy.
    We have had this dream, promoted by various governments, of lifting our living standards to that of Australia with which we share a common labour market. There has been no progress in that direction nor in improving our sluggish per capita productivity. It seems to me the quantity and quality of our immigration is largely responsible for both failures. We have high levels of immigration from some of the least productive countries in the world, desperate third worlders willing to work for $3/hour driving down wages for regular Kiwis and providing little incentive for companies to raise productivity per employee. Its a race to the bottom that must be of increasing concern across the ditch.

    Liked by 1 person

    • The workers you refer to are not working for $3 per hour

      They are working for $3 per hour plus a fraudulent promise or are being subjected to blackmail

      Macro people never get out from behind their keyboards and meet the people
      Yet macro analysis is the sum total of that exploitation

      I doubt if Holiday Workers accept those arrangements


      • Point taken Iconclast, I’m sure the $3/hour thing is fraud as you say but, in the industries where it is common (and usually combined with tax evasion) the effect is the elimination of legitimate businesses in opposition; a race to the bottom.
        In three years the median working income has increased only 6.9% or just over 2%/year yet we are being fed this line about about the need for the worlds highest immigration rate to satisfy our chronic shortage of workers; skilled and unskilled. Something seriously doesn’t add up.

        Liked by 2 people

    • Actually it works more like this. New migrant offers to employer $50,000 to work for them. Employer is supposed to pay the employee what was given to them by the employee so the employer would pay minimum so he gets to keep the maximum amount. But the problem comes around and bites the Employer in the proverbial backside when the application for residency gets declined. Employer declines to refund the $50,000 as he treats that as his fee and employee complains to department of labour he was not paid to work.

      Therefore the pay threshold does not stop workers reaching the threshold. They just have to find more dollars for the employer to pay them.


  5. This is a train wreck of the governments making and another example of reckless mismanagement. It’s repeated in many areas. Policy based on short term profit is stupid and the results are there for all to see. ‘BRIGHTER FUTURE” Yeah, nah. This disaster will affect generations to come.


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