Govt needs to rethink hostile approach to skilled migrants

Dr Eric Crampton
The Dominion Post
17 May, 2021

Potential skilled migrants deserve a few warnings about what they are getting into in moving to New Zealand – the kinds of disclosures that are often mandatory in the private sector to ensure consumers can make informed decisions

The Fair Trading Act’s provisions against deceptive and misleading conduct do not seem to apply to Immigration New Zealand. Caveat emptor.

It isn’t just immigration of course. One of government’s best tricks is exempting itself from the regulatory regimes it applies to the private sector.

But if a private firm with a government-enforced monopoly invited potential clients to submit applications, with hefty application fees, with little intention of ever processing those applications in any timely fashion, there would be consequences.

Engaging in deceptive or misleading conduct, and making false representations, is forbidden by the Fair Trading Act.

But Immigration New Zealand can take skilled migrants’ application fees with little intention of processing visa applications, and the consumer protection side of MBIE never seems to notice.

The world is a big place providing a lot of options for skilled migrants. And a lot of countries seek to attract skilled migrants.

Where New Zealand bans new migrants from purchasing a home until they have achieved residence, Portugal grants residence visas to new migrants who purchase a home in Portugal.

In 2020, Italy enacted a special tax regime for inbound workers. New migrants benefit from generous tax exemptions: up to 90 per cent of migrants’ income is exempt from taxation for up to ten years.

These kinds of tax exemptions are a terrible idea. They make a mess of the tax system and badly distort labour markets.

But they reflect a fundamentally different attitude towards migrants than that evidenced more recently in New Zealand.

Potential migrants should know that the New Zealand government’s general attitude, since 2017, has been fundamentally hostile.

Broken urban infrastructure funding models mean that the substantial income tax, GST, and company tax paid by migrants never make it through to the water and roading systems needed to accommodate urban growth.

This has resulted in a substantial housing shortage.

Government often likes to blame migrants for the shortage, as that is easier than fixing the underlying problems in local government finance.

And it has led to greater public hostility against migrants. If you come here, you will be blamed for taking someone’s house, and politicians will often be the ones pointing the finger.

And while New Zealand’s Covid-free status can make the country seem rather attractive, further caveat emptor warnings are needed.

Strong border restrictions are an essential part of New Zealand’s approach. They are necessary.

But the border system has not been designed to accommodate very much travel at all. Spaces in managed isolation are consequently very limited.

Hundreds of skilled migrants attracted in by prior calls for assistance in easing critical labour shortages are now in desperate circumstances.

Many migrant families arrive separately, with one member coming early to sort out accommodations while the other stays back to close out affairs before arriving later.

The border’s closure last year split families. The government sees no reason to allocate spaces in our managed isolation and quarantine system to let migrants bring their spouses and children in to join them.

Hundreds of America’s Cup workers could be allowed in, even including team nutritionists and the families of race crew who would only be here for a short period.

But as far as the government is concerned, there is no room for the spouses and children of many skilled migrants who are already here.

And while the rest of the world is quickly becoming vaccinated, there seem to be absolutely no plans for easing entry processes for vaccinated people from places with high vaccination rates and low Covid rates.

If you come here, you should expect there to really be no way to leave and return, or for family to visit you, for perhaps another year.

Even for people who are vaccinated, and even if they are from places from the UK where high vaccination rates have suppressed the virus.

Hopefully, Minister Faafoi’s announcement will signal a substantial change in attitude and in policy.

But caveat emptor applies. Migrant beware.


On Newstalk ZB, Mike Hosking discussed Eric's column. You can listen to his summary below:


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