Who has been getting residence visas?

Someone called Keith Ng (who is apparently quite pro-immigration), has gone to the effort of downloading some of MBIE’s (not at all user-friendly) visa approvals data and formatting it in a reasonably readily usable way.  The resulting spreadsheet is here.   I was particularly interested in the analysis by occupation, and particularly that for those granted residence here.  (He has provided the data for work visas as well, but it conflates all sort of work visa types, short and long term, and isn’t that informative as it stands –  I suspect that 30000+ tour guide visas in the last seven years or so mostly captures a lot of people who are here for very short periods of time.)

In their annual Migration Trends and Outlook publication MBIE do provide a table of the occupations of the principal applicants for skilled migrant category residence visas.  But, unlike most of their tables, there is no time series provided.  In 2015/16 –  the latest publication –  these were the top 10 occupations.

Chef 860
Retail Manager (General) 675
Cafe or Restaurant Manager 598
Registered Nurse (Aged Care) 520
ICT Customer Support Officer 372
Software Engineer 323
Carpenter 281
Developer Programmer 267
Baker 213
ICT Support Technicians nec 206

I was a bit curious how many chefs there were in New Zealand in total.  At the last census, there were only 16218.

But Ng’s table enables one to easily look at the main occupations of people being granted residence over the last decade or so.  He presents the data for  each of the years 2006/7 to the present, with only partial data for the incomplete (June) year 2016/17.  Here are the occupations with more than 1000 approvals over the decade.

Occupations of approved residence visas applicants: 2006/07 to present
Chef 6729
Retail Manager (General) 3765
Registered Nurse (Aged Care) 3609
Cafe or Restaurant Manager 3585
ICT Customer Support Officer 1993
Software Engineer 1943
University Lecturer 1789
Secondary School Teacher 1656
ICT Support Technicians nec 1439
Registered Nurse (Medical) 1393
Developer Programmer 1338
Baker 1294
Carpenter 1214
Early Childhood (Pre-primary School) Teacher 1192
Accountant (General) 1191
Office Manager 1145
Motor Mechanic (General) 1080

And this is the most skilled half of the people who are granted residence (others get in on non-skilled bases –  family, refugees, Pacific Access etc).

The list is quite dominated by the first few entries, and those occupations don’t stand out as occupations of exceptional skill, even though MBIE used to like to tell us that our immigration policy was a “critical economic enabler”.    And remember that this is about people getting residence, not about work visas which, notionally at least, are supposed to partly reflect specific temporary areas of skills shortages (and, hence, where one might expect bunching in particular occupations, but where the particular occupation would change over time).

The large numbers of aged care nurses (and there are many more, and aged care workers, in the work visa numbers) stands in striking contrast to the recent pay equity settlement. In that settlement, the government concluded that employees in the sector were so badly paid that a direct government intervention was needed to drive up the wages.  I don’t usually focus much on the arguments about whether immigration lowers wages –  my focus is more on overall economic performance –  and I’m not (at all) a fan of “pay equity” interventions, but it is hard to look at these two things and not conclude that there is a certain incoherence about policy.   Had fewer aged care workers from abroad been granted visas, it seems likely that market wages in that sector would have been rather higher.

Of course, among the occupations on that list are some that seem genuinely quite highly-skilled.  My eye was caught by the number of university lecturers and “developer programmers”.

The number of developer programmers getting residence visas has increased from almost nothing, and at an even faster rate than the (presumably) rather less skilled ICT Customer Support Officers.

res approvals IT

On the other hand, rather fewer university lecturers (and secondary school teachers) have been getting residence.

res approvals teachers

How early childhood teachers qualify at all is a bit beyond me.

And just in case you, charitably, supposed that some of the less skilled occupations were becoming less important over time, here are the food-preparation ones on my list.

res approvals food

And here are the trends in the remaining top five roles

res approvals other

If there is a serious economic strategy behind all this, it is pretty hard to spot.  No wonder the government was casting around for other ideas when they ran into the Monahan brothers and came up with the global impact visas.  But just because something different needed to be done, didn’t make  “just anything” –  especially something with a rather hip or with-it feel to it –  a sensible thing to do.

The only really compelling story that makes much sense of the residence approvals numbers is official (political and bureaucratic) determination to drive up the population.  If that is the goal, I guess one can’t be very picky and we get a bunch of modestly-skilled people coming.  But there isn’t much sign that driving up the population has been a successful economic strategy anywhere –  unless, of course, one counts survival as a precondition, which partly motivates the Israeli policy of open doors to any Jews –  particularly not in places that remain heavily dependent on what they can do with fixed natural resources.    Sometimes rapid population growth can be a complement to economic success –  people will be keen to come and there might be plenty of prosperity to go round.  But New Zealand’s policy –  and Australia’s actually –  continues to put the cart before the horse, as if drawing more people here will somehow conjure up great new higher-productivity opportunities for them and for us.     But there is simply no basis –  and certainly not in New Zealand’s experience –  for such a belief.




21 thoughts on “Who has been getting residence visas?

  1. Many thanks for publishing that Breath-taking Jawdropping Revealing spreadsheet from Keith Ng

    A brilliant follow up to yesterdays treatise on “Global Impact Visas” and the dumbfounding bureaucratic puffery from whoever gets paid to produce that type of utter nonsense

    So there are 16000 chefs nationally spread around New Zealand, but the vast bulk of the 6000 resident chef approvals are locating themselves into Auckland which would suggest there is a very high attrition rate once they obtain residency

    Does the census figures reveal how many of those 16000 are located in Auckland

    There is often repeated claims about the benefits of cultural diversity obtained from culturally diverse cuisine

    The disappointment for you must be the low numbers going to Wellington limiting your diversity experience

    Liked by 1 person

    • Diversity – just part of a seemingly endless stream of myth and pseudo science we are expected to accept without question. Fortunately there are some that prefer to rely on actual research:

      Click to access TheSuperdiversityMyth.pdf

      Back in the eighties we were told to believe that if you gave folk self esteem they would be successful; turns out to be a complete hoax originated by one man in California: https://www.theguardian.com/lifeandstyle/2017/jun/03/quasi-religious-great-self-esteem-con

      How long must we suffer these delusions dressed up as reality and promoted by what is supposed to be a sane and secular institution – our government.
      “All our science, measured against reality, is primitive and childlike – and yet it is the most precious thing we have” Albert Einstein.

      Liked by 1 person

    • Chefs will remain the most skilled labour for some time whilst tourism and international students which is a $15 to $20 billion industry and remain our top export earner. Expect even more chefs that will accompany the Americas Cup syndicates when they start to arrive into NZ.

      The key about these skills really boils down to foreign food and foreign language skills. These are not skills that you can train a local to do. Industry is screaming for these people.


  2. ….i guess additional bodies and minds are required to support the complex & dynamic supply chain related to the burgeoning demand for: avocado smash.


    • We’ll struggle by. Within half an hour’s walk I could get to multiple Indian restaurants/cafes, a couple of Chinese ones, one Thai, one Mexican, two Italian, one Korea, one Brazilian. one Turkish, one other Middle Eastern as well as the usual assortment of Anglo places. I suspect the median chef isn’t earning very much.

      Liked by 1 person

      • The new foreign chefs will now earn a minimum $49k. Unfortunately the government in its haste to tighten up skilled migration after huge pressure recently from misdirected economists have just given foreign chefs a very nice payrise. Good for these foreign chefs and new foreign speaking front desk receptionists but will cost local industry. These skills are a need not a want. There is a distinction which misdirected economists fail to understand.


  3. Excellent analysis once again, Michael. I agree 100%.

    I’ve mentioned this before, but it bears repeating. Back in the 1980s, Auckland chartered accountant A.D. (Tony) Sage wrote a series of articles published in the NZ Herald saying exactly what you’ve been so consistently saying. I agreed with him, too! However, just as the powers that be are ignoring you, so did they ignore Tony Sage.

    Liked by 1 person

    • The government did act to increase skilled migrants wages to be a minimum of $49k. These are skills that are needed. I have 2 migrants in my team of book keepers. One with Permanent residence and the other applying as a skilled migrant after completing her studies. The PR migrant I have to pay $65k. The new skilled migrant applicant I am paying $35k to do the same job. It saves my native kiwi boss $30k per annum which he can pay himself. But since the criteria now has changed to a minimum $49k, guess my native kiwi boss will be missing out as we will have to increase the pay to meet the new salary criteria for new skilled migrants.


      • Interesting

        So, just to check, you are arguing that immigration is lowering wages in New Zealand? Many of the advocates/defenders of the programme don’t accept that. I have a reasonably open mind on the issue myself – I suspect there is some wage-dampening in those specific sorts of roles where particularly large numbers of immigrants have been used (rest-home workers being a seemingly obvous example).

        Liked by 1 person

      • If the $49k is not invoked next August will your boss be employing a 2nd new skilled migrant applicant at $35 and sacking that expensive $65k PR migrant?

        see https://www.auckland.ac.nz/en/about/news-events-and-notices/news/news-2016/12/worker-exploitation-widespread-study.html the introduction is: “People in New Zealand are working 80-90 hour weeks for $500, being paid for half the hours they work and paying their own salary to “buy” permanent residency, a new study reveals.”

        Liked by 1 person

      • The difference in wages is the driven by the level of proficiency in the english language. Migrants that speak and write english clearly can compete directly with native kiwis with similar skills and can demand similar wages. New migrants usually have a language issue and that affects their marketability. Therefore in backroom bookkeeping you can hire a new migrant offering excellent skills at a much lower wage rate.

        New migrants have a different need. Their first and most important need is the permanent visa which means that they can sacrifice a higher wage.

        NZ business is very competitive due to the low volume. Therefore in order to make a profit you must drive costs down. Therefore new migrants do help dampen wages to the benefit of native businesses.

        In the less skilled areas, migrants can have a upper hand due to language skills in servicing foreign tourists.


  4. I’m all in favour of reforming the criteria, but even if we had the world’s best practice immigration programme and could import people with, say, an average IQ of 106 and two years of post secondary education, I don’t think it would create much productivity. That’s much more influenced by the accumulated capital, IP, brand value and distribution channels owned by firms in the host country. Which in NZ’s case are very modest.

    In the context of a small, low performing economy though, importing a bunch of chefs was probably pretty close to optimal, if you are going to have mass immigration. They work hard, they operate in a competitive industry and they create a lot of value for their customers. Contrast that to the European countries whose immigrants seem to go on the dole and join wacko religious sects.

    Liked by 1 person

      • I really think chefs are different – I’m assuming they’re making mainly cheap food for busy working people on modest incomes. As for the nannies and gardeners, I take your point.


      • You are heading towards the point George Borgas makes in the US context. In the canonical model there are gains from immigration (esp in countries where fixed natural resources no longer matter so much) but they come from driving down the cost of one set of inputs (relatively modestly skilled labour). There are real – but small – potential gains there, which could in principle be shared around so that everyone was a net beneficiary. The concern is that in fact, the relatively lowly-skilled natives end up worse off because the redistribution simply doesn’t occur. As Borgas puts it then, the question is “who are you rooting for?’.

        And for the really poor, (a) McDonalds is (I’m told) typically cheaper/easier than ethnic food, and (b) home-cooked is cheaper still (granting your “busy” point).

        Liked by 2 people

  5. A few weeks ago on a more down-market blog someone wrote “we have to import caregivers because Kiwis won’t wipe bottoms for a living”. The image stuck in my mind and Andrew Little’s “no more immigrants except builders” with builders replaced by Filipino care-workers seemed like a idea. Then I borrowed “The British Dream” from the library and in an aside it mentions the same issue in the UK until they tightened up the rules for immigration of care-workers. Then wages and conditions improved and British natives started to take jobs in that industry.

    Liked by 1 person

  6. My 2 cents immigrant chiefs are skilled and hardworking vs retail managers not so.But in the end investment spins the productivity numbers and like most western countries we have under invested in infrastructure for 30yrs so the catchup should resolve a key part of the productivity puzzle.


  7. The concern is that in fact, the relatively lowly-skilled natives end up worse off because the redistribution simply doesn’t occur.

    Ah not in NZ of course. The Maori Economy is worth how much and it gets topped up by how much more?
    The problem here being one of Distribution of the spoils and the Maori elite.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Distribution ‘inefficiencies’ are hardly a problem of the so-called Maori economy which is, of course, a subset of the NZ economy. There have been several analyses by BERL (arguably designed to to support TPK promoting investment into productivity strategies on Maori land).

      As for the Maori elite, the are more beholden to non-elites than, say, Pakeha, Chinese or Arabic elites as evidenced by Maori corporate models (Trusts) and Maori land legislation (being reviewed).

      As for the topped up meme, Maori would remind you of the rather cheap land available by government colonial policies of the 19th and 20th Centuries.

      Liked by 1 person

  8. The minister who gave US billionaire Peter Thiel citizenship says he’s been a “great ambassador” for the country ever since – despite the fact Thiel kept it secret for six years.

    It emerged today that Thiel only spent 12 days in New Zealand as a resident before becoming a citizen.

    Usually potential citizens have to spend at least 1350 days in New Zealand over a five-year period (70 per cent) before being eligible, but Thiel was granted a special circumstances grant when he became a citizen in 2011.

    Dotcom was another but at least he actually became a resident and spent a lot of his money here.(No comment on the ensuing politics and disgraceful behaviors of others since).


    The 12 days in the five years were spread over four trips.

    On bakers, which is something I know a little about. The bakers are the Asians who come in , work for another and then buy or start another. Being going on for years and having had the experience of employing some during the period of the Vietnamese boat issue I can say confidently they are not bakers in anyway shape or form. At least not as we would normally classify a baker. They learn quick but in the case of the Vietnamese soon moved on and before long owned several and continued to import more. Mind you a lot of the pom bakers who came here after the war weren’t much better. They had city and guilds quals but were hopeless.

    We could say all this is propped up by the polytech’s who are running courses in baking at $60k a pop.

    Now if you have an ethnic restaurant not far from a major wharf and you need chinese cooks, once you have a bundle of passports you can revolve them round without anybody knowing. You pay them not much, rent them beds upstairs at whatever cost and round and round they go.
    Who is ever going to look and check these guys as they come and go.
    No one and it is happening.

    Liked by 1 person

    • When Auckland celebrated the Americas Cup win with a 1 minute fireworks display on the harbour with tens of thousands of disappointed on lookers. I did think back to Kim Dot Com and his fabulous firework displays and wondered why we are stooges of the FBI. Clearly the FBI had no jurisdiction and it is still doubtful if a crime had actually been committed in NZ for the poor chap to be raided and harrassed by our justice system on behalf of doubtful cooperation with the American FBI.


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