On the off chance that anyone thinking about negotiations with New Zealand First might also be considering immigration policy options, I thought it might be time for a refresher on the numbers (as well as yet another dig at MBIE for not making accessible data readily available on a timely basis). Since much of the accessible data MBIE do release is for June years, for this post I’ll mostly use data for the year to June 2017.
Recall that the headline writers focus on net permanent and long-term migration, calculated from the declared intentions of those (New Zealanders and foreigners) crossing the border. If you are leaving and expect to be away for at least 12 months, or are a non-resident arriving and expect to be here for at least 12 months, you are in the PLT statistics. Plans do change, but the new 12/16 data I wrote about a few weeks ago suggests that during the current cycle the PLT numbers have been capturing pretty well not just declared intentions but what actually happened. In the year to June 2017, a net 72,305 people arrived as PLT migrants. Just slightly more than that number of non-New Zealand citizens arrived, and 1284 New Zealanders (net) left.
As people often stress, a lot of the variance in the net PLT series is typically accounted for by changes in the choices of New Zealanders (net outflows have fluctuated between around 0 and around 40000, and there have been quite big fluctuations – hard to predict – every few years). The choices of New Zealanders are not a matter of immigration policy.
But policy has pretty full control over the number of non-citizens arriving (Australians are allowed in without advance specific approval, although the numbers typically aren’t large). And sometimes you will see this chart, which uses PLT arrivals data (gross, not net) to show what sort of visa people were on when they crossed the border as PLT arrivals (the “not applicables” are New Zealand and Australian citizens).
But this chart doesn’t tell us anything much about immigration policy. In the year to June 2017, 16711 people arrived on residence visas. But during that year, MBIE granted 47331 residence visas, the overwhelming proportion to people who were already here (and who typically will have entered first on a student or work visa). Perhaps it is worth noting, for all the talk of the success of the export education sector, by far the biggest increase in arrivals in recent years (absolute and percentage) has been in people with various types of work visas: around 24000 in the year to June 2012, and around 45000 in the year to June 2017.
If we want to look at immigration itself, it is much better to turn to the administrative data on the numbers of people approved for various classes of visas. Unfortunately, unless you like playing with spreadsheets with half a million lines, MBIE only produce data annually, for June years, and the data for the year to June 2017 hasn’t yet been released. Having said that, it doesn’t look as though there will have been big changes when the data do finally emerge.
Here are the numbers for visas granted to new workers under various policies (ie excluding renewals etc).
|Number of new workers by policy|
|Study to work||9,319||9,131||6,259||9,610||16,097|
|Work to residence||1,653||1,558||1,426||1,483||1,717|
and there has been a big increase in the numbers granted working holiday visas
Fortunately, Education New Zealand don’t seem to mind the half million line spreadsheets, and produce a nice monthly product on student visas. Here is the chart of outstanding valid student visas by class of institution for the last few years.
Numbers are growing, but in the last year or two there has been quite a switch from private training enterprises (which will have included some of the more questionable institutions/courses) towards universities in particular).
What of residence approvals? I did download the huge spreadsheet for that subset of the data to get an overview of the 2016/17 numbers. Here are residence approvals in the last few years.
|Number of residence visas approved|
Recall that (a) there is a “planning range” (in effect, a target) for the number of residence approvals granted. That range was 45000 to 50000 per annum, but was cut to 42500 to 47500 late last year. Actual approvals fluctuate around the target, rather than being mechanically managed to meet it month by month or year by year. The 2015/16 approvals were high, but the numbers have been cut somewhat in the most recent year.
Recall that most of those getting residence visas were already living here (on work, study, or related visas).
In terms of nationality, in 2015/16 these were the top source countries
I didn’t calculate all the numbers for 2016/17, but the patterns looked pretty similar.
I hadn’t seen this data in the published MBIE summaries, but I was a little surprised to find that among the residence approvals 1937 were for people in a category of
|Uncapped Family Sponsored Stream||Dependant Child|
These aren’t the children of principal applicants who are themselves getting residence visas (as those children are approved with the parents). Around half of all these “dependent children” were Samoan, and of them 242 were aged 20-29, not typically what one thinks of when one hears of “dependent children”. I’m not sure how or why such a policy exists, but when I get time I might have a dig around.
So that is the numbers. Perhaps the key thing to keep in mind is that the residence approvals planning range – the centrepiece of the immigration programme – has been pretty stable for a long time (modest cut last year). Much of the variability in the headline PLT numbers is New Zealanders, and most of the variability in the non-NZ net inflow relates to policy streams other than the residence approvals programme.
Of course, variability is only part of the picture. The striking thing about the residence approvals programme is its sheer size: equivalent to almost 1 per cent of the population each year, and in per capita terms three times the size of the US “green card” issuance (under both recent administrations). We have a very large number of legal temporary foreign workers here by international standards, but most of them will eventually go home. What really marks us out is the size of the residence approvals programme – bigger per capita than in almost any OECD country, and far bigger than most. I’ve argued for cutting programme back to, say, 10000 to 15000 per annum (a similar size, per capita, to the US programme.)
As I’ve noted here previously, if one looks at the New Zealand First website there isn’t much specific on immigration policy. Winston Peters has sometimes talked of lowering the annual inflow to something like 10000 to 15000, but quite what is meant by that hasn’t been clear. Most naturally he may have wished to suggest a net PLT inflow of around those numbers. If so, it would have to be treated as an average over time, since annual PLT flows are almost wholly unpredictable (given the variability in the net flow of New Zealanders).
Having said that, one could make some estimates of a trend net outflow of New Zealanders, likely to resume as the Australian labour market improves. Assume that outflow is 20000 on average over the cycle (a bit less than in the past), and you might lower the residence approvals target to 30000 to 35000 per annum (the net of the two flows on average producing something like a 10000 to 15000 inflow per annum). That doesn’t sound terribly radical, and frankly there looks to be plenty of room to (a) drop off the lower-skilled portion of the current approvals, while (b) removing the sort of absurd bureaucratic hassles really skilled people (eg the teachers profiled in the Herald the other day) can face.
One of the other, rather general, strands of New Zealand First’s immigration policy is
Ensure that there is effective labour market testing to ensure New Zealanders have first call on New Zealand jobs.
I’m sceptical of the practical means to do this, even if I’m somewhat sympathetic to the concerns that motivate it. I don’t think bureaucrats should be trying to decide which job is really in excess demand, let alone try to reach Soviet-type judgements on which regions should be favoured, or whether wages for those particular skills should just be left to rise. But in various recent presentations, I have included an option for reforming the work visas system (in addition to substantially tightening up on student work visas and post-study visas, for those with lower level qualifications)
Institute work visa provisions that are:
a) Capped in length of time (a single maximum term of three years, with at least a year overseas before any return on a subsequent work visa), and
b) Subject to a fee, of perhaps $20000 per annum or 20 per cent of the employee’s annual income (whichever is greater). [To limit risks of exploitation, require the employer to prove that the employee has been paid at least $10000 above the mimimum wage, with no “fees” allowed to be paid back to the employer or related entities.]
The key element is the second one. If your firm really needs a highly-skilled person (surgeon, lawyer, CEO or whatever, earning say $200000 or more), and can’t find one on market in New Zealand, the annual fee is unlikely to be prohibitive given the key short-term such a person is like to be playing. But, equally, there aren’t many of those sorts of people/roles, and many won’t want to stay here forever. So I’d make it easy to recruit them, but with a strong emphasis (because the visa is non-renewable) on the need to identify a local permanent person. At the bottom end of the labour market, if the business your firm is doing is really so valuable you can afford the $20000 annual fee on top of the annual salary, that might be a reasonable pointer to serious scarcity. But it seems unlikely that we’d be granting many visas to lower-end chefs, or dairy workers, or aides in rest homes. And that would, over time, be a good outcome for New Zealanders.
(And MBIE could you please please make the monthly data more easily available in an accessible format, as Statistics New Zealand and other agencies do.)