New Zealand First’s immigration policies

I was briefly half-encouraged when I heard that Metiria Turei had been attacking New Zealand First for having “racist” immigration policies.  Mostly it seemed like a further rather depressing attempt to suggest that any serious debate about New Zealand’s unusually large and ambitious immigration policy was illegitimate, all the while trying to look like the Greens were taking the high moral ground, even as their co-leader actually descended into mud-slinging and name-calling herself.   But….there was the hint there that perhaps New Zealand First actually had some distinctive immigration policies.  The last time I’d looked on the NZ First website what was notable mostly was how little material there was on immigration policy, and how few significant policy proposals.

But, no.    When I checked again yesterday, there still wasn’t much there.    From listening to Winston Peters over the years, or even just listening to the reaction to him, you might have supposed New Zealand First had some far-reaching and specific proposals that would change the face of immigration policy in New Zealand.  Instead what you find is this.

New Zealand First is committed to a rigorous and strictly applied immigration policy that serves New Zealand’s interests. Immigration should not be used as a source of cheap labour to undermine New Zealanders’ pay and conditions.

There have been numerous instances of administrative failure to apply immigration rules and standards.

New Zealand First will strengthen Immigration New Zealand to give it the capacity to apply immigration policy effectively.

New Zealand First will:

  • Make sure that Kiwi workers are at the front of the job queue.
  • Ensure that immigration policy is based on New Zealand’s interests and the main focus is on meeting critical skills gaps
  • Ensure family reunion members are strictly controlled and capped and there is fairness across all nationalities.
  • Ensure that there is effective labour market testing to ensure New Zealanders have first call on New Zealand jobs.
  • Introduce a cap on the number of older immigrants because of the impact on health and other services.
  • Make sure effective measures are put in place to stop the exploitation of migrant workers with respect to wages, safety and work conditions.  In Christchurch and elsewhere there is evidence of exploitation of migrant workers.
  • Develop strategies to encourage the regional dispersion of immigration to places other than Auckland. Auckland’s infrastructure is overloaded.
  • Remove the ability to purchase a pre-paid English lesson voucher to bypass the minimum English entry requirements.

And that is it.   I’m guessing that no one (or at least no political party) is going to disagree with anything in the first three mini-paragraphs.    But if no one is going to disagree, those words aren’t saying much either.

What about the specifics?   Everyone is going to sign on for avoiding the exploitation of migrant workers, even if reasonable people might differ on quite where the line would be drawn.  Even the current government took some steps in response to the Christchurch evidence.

The current labour market testing system may, or not, be working well, but on paper there are requirements in place that are supposed to prioritise potential New Zealand workers (three of the eight NZF bullet points).  Again, no one much  –  perhaps not even ACT or the New Zealand Initiative –  is going to disagree with the general goal, and nothing New Zealand First says here is very specific.  It all seems pretty mainstream stuff –  probably putting too much faith in the capabilities of MBIE for my own tastes.

New Zealand First wants to cap family union entry, and also cap the number of older people getting residence visas.  But again, how different is that to current policy, where applications for parent visas are currently suspended altogether?    Perhaps New Zealand First wants to go further in that direction than most, but it hardly has the ring of something very dramatically different.

And in calling for a larger proportion of migrants to be encouraged to places other than Auckland, NZ First seems quite consistent with the government’s policy of offering additional points for people with job offers in the regions.  And Labour want to allow regions to develop their own priority occupation lists.  Personally, I think all three are daft, and simply tend to lower further the average quality of the immigrants we get, but (sadly) there is nothing out of the mainstream in the direction NZ First seems to be proposing.

And that leaves the final bullet about English language requirements.  Without knowing anything much about it, on paper what NZ First is proposing looks reasonable enough (if we are going to have English language requirements, a prepaid voucher for a course one may never bother attending doesn’t look like much of a substitute.    But it is a level of detail that hardly seems likely to divide parties deeply.

And quite what qualifies as “racist” there –  and Turei was explicitly talking about “policies” –  is beyond me.  Except of course that she and her co-leader (the latter in his speech last week) seem determined to insist that no legitimate discussion or debate is possible about New Zealand’s unusually large immigration policy –  unless, of course, they are proposing things, in which case presumably we can all be assured of their virtue and rectitude.

What is more striking is that, for all the speeches and interviews, there is nothing in that New Zealand First list that would make any very material difference to the expected net inflow of non-citizens.   In particular, there is nothing at all about the overall level of residence approvals.  Reading this list, NZ First appears to be comfortable with a residence approvals target of around 45000 per annum (three times, per capita, the US rate of approvals), and it is the number of residence approvals that will, over time, determine the contribution of immigration to population growth, pressure on resources or whatever.     There is also nothing at all on provisions around international students, nothing about working holiday visas, and nothing specific on temporary work visas.

If one took this page of policy seriously, one could vote for NZ First safe in the expectation that nothing very much would change at all about the broad direction, or scale, of our immigration policy.     Of course, there would be precedent for that.  The last times New Zealand First was part of a government, nothing happened about immigration either.

Perhaps there is still some major announcement with some more substantive policy specifics still to come.  I see that the New Zealand First conference is being held this coming weekend.    Perhaps that will be the occasion.   But at present, there is very little there, and most of what there is isn’t a million miles from where the other parties –  including the government –  seem to have been.