How can NZ get the most from immigrants? Teach them te reo and bring the Treaty into policy considerations, report says

If  the government believed   it   would  gain  some profound insights   into immigration  policy  when  it  sought  a  report from  the  Productivity  Commission,  it  may  have  to look  elsewhere.

ACT leader David  Seymour  was one  of  the  first  out of the  blocks  to  give the  report  (and  the  government)  a  whack, saying   the Productivity Commission’s latest report confirms Labour isn’t seriously committed to growing productivity.

The commission has proposed that migrants should learn te reo to gain

“… insights into te ao Māori and tangata whenua […] promote better understanding of New Zealand’s bicultural nature [and] acknowledge the status of te reo as an official language and taonga.”

Seymour said this is a nice-sounding idea, but the purpose of the commission is to lift productivity, not to improve race relations.

“NZ has a serious problem with low productivity. We’re not going to be able to afford better pharmaceuticals or a cleaner environment if we ignore it, focus on pursuing other goals, or decide instead to measure nebulous ideas like loneliness and identity….Requiring migrants to learn a language that is irrelevant to their job will hurt rather than help productivity”.

Seymour  pointed  out that,  just last week, the NZ Initiative insisted NZ needed policy to improve productivity. Printing money and sharing it around for political reasons won’t work. We’ve used soft money to hide real problems, while the government has mismanaged COVID-19 and waged war on productive people with its social agenda.

“Labour has attacked the extractive industries, threatened 1890s-style labour law they call ‘fair pay’ agreements, unleashed an avalanche of regulation on farmers, and made it harder for foreigners to send money to New Zealand by tightening the Overseas Investment Act,” Seymour said.

The commission has just released the preliminary findings and recommendations from its immigration inquiry. These are contained in its draft report, Immigration – Fit for the Future.

Submissions are being sought by December 24, with the final report to be presented to the Government in April 2022.

In  the  report the  commission says the pre-Covid rates of immigration into NZ appear to be unsustainable.  It bases this conclusion on “the inability or unwillingness to build the infrastructure needed to support and settle people in the community”.

Commission chair Ganesh Nana said immigrants make an important contribution to NZ society.

“Immigrants bring diversity and much-needed skills to workplaces across the country, and have supported the delivery of important public services either directly (through their work as teachers, nurses, doctors) or through their net contribution to the government’s finances,” he said.

“But NZ has struggled for a long time to absorb and accommodate more people well. Infrastructure and housing supply has not kept up with population growth, creating pressures that affect the wellbeing of both migrants and New Zealanders.   

“To ensure immigration contributes to the productivity and wellbeing of New Zealanders, governments need to build the assets and infrastructure needed to support a growing population, in preparation for the number of new residents, ahead of time.”

The commission is recommending a number of changes to ensure that future immigration settings are better connected to other government objectives.

The law should be changed to require governments to explicitly consider how well NZ can support and settle more people. And the government should be obliged to publicly state its objectives and priorities for immigration, and the steps it will take to ensure that public investment matches need, Nana said.

“A country that treats its guests well is more likely to attract migrants, retain their capabilities and enjoy their long-term contributions.”

Ho hum.

The  commission  goes on to make these points

  • Immigration policy’s disconnection from other policy areas has meant that migration and population numbers have grown ahead of the stock and flow of public infrastructure, contributing to burdens for the wider community. It also means the education and training system is less responsive to generating the skills New Zealand businesses need.
  • Overall, impacts of migration on the average earnings and employment of local workers are very minor and mostly positive, though overall outcomes can mask impacts in some regions and on some workers. The immigration system endeavours to manage the risk of New Zealanders being displaced by migrant workers, however, there are known deficiencies with the current Labour Market Test and skills shortage lists.
  • The years immediately preceding the pandemic saw large and unprecedented increases in net migration, driven in part by large growth in migrants on temporary visas. In addition to putting pressure on the country’s ‘absorptive capacity’, this growth also saw a notable shift towards temporary migrants filling vacancies in lower-skilled occupations.

Giving the ubiquitous Treaty a role to play in immigration policy is the second of several action points highlighted in the report.

Government should be required to issue regular policy statements on immigration, outlining short-term and long-term priorities for immigration and how performance will be measured. The Government should be required to give explicit consideration to how well New Zealand can successfully accommodate and settle new arrivals.

  The Treaty interest should be reflected in immigration policy and institutions. The Treaty was developed and signed in response to immigration, and directly refers to immigration. The Crown also has a duty to actively protect Māori interests.

 The number of temporary migrant visas with potential residence pathways should be linked to the number of residence visas on offer. Large increases in the number of temporary migrant visas have contributed to uncertainty and mismatched expectations of an actual path to residence.

  Governments should better utilise tools for prioritising migrants when there is high demand. This includes being more selective and transparent with the points system and developing more data-informed and dynamic skills shortage lists.

  Visa conditions that tie migrant workers to a specific employer should be removed. Allowing migrants to move reduces the risk of exploitation and permits them to find jobs that better match their skills and experience.

  The commission is exploring options for managing volume pressures. These include making greater use of data, evidence and evaluation in designing visa categories and identifying skills.

Given    that  skill  shortages  have  become more  pronounced  as a  result of the  pandemic, and key  services  and industries  are  desperately short of workers,  the government should  seize  those  last two  recommendations and  put  them  into  action  immediately.

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