Immigration policy under “free market” economies are designed to keep working people down – not out.
Capitalist “democracies” love to have large segments of the working class with no, or very few, rights – and that is true for New Zealand as well.
The US has at least 11 million so-called “illegals”. Some estimates put the number nearer 20 or 30 million. Maintaining their status as a pariah sector of the working class through periodic deportations of some is designed to keep those millions free to be exploited to the fullest extent possible.
In New Zealand, it is difficult for people to simply cross our border so this government has implemented a policy to achieve the same goals “legally”.They have done this by dramatically increasing the number of workers on temporary work visas while making it harder to transition to permanent residence.
While there a few tens of thousands of “overstayers” those that have overstayed a visitor or work permit, there are hundreds of thousands of workers legally in New Zealand on “temporary” work or student visas who are desperately hoping to transition to being a permanent resident, who often can’t change their employer, who are free to be abused and exploited.
Parallel with the work visa exploitation there has developed an industry to attract fee-paying students to do courses of little educational value just so the student can a get a leg on the ladder that for one in six of them may lead to permanent residence. There is evidence of corrupt behaviour at all stages of the process from recruitment, training, and qualifications gained.
There are horror stories being reported almost weekly in the media. Workers being paid a few dollars an hour, workers paying the boss their own wage, workers paying tens of thousands of dollars for a job sponsorship.
The current government vastly expanded the number of students and workers being given temporary work visas each year to its current combined annual total of around 250,000. A whole new sector of Private Training Establishments (PTE’s) has grown up to provide courses to the desperate students. But the state education system as a whole from high schools through to polytechs and universities, after being squeezed of funding by the government, have become dependent on fee-paying students to survive.
This was essentially admitted by Mark Flowers the chairperson of the Metro group of six big metropolitan institutes of technology, who told Radio NZ: “We have absorbed cost increases for some years now without really the ability to raise fees. It is getting tighter, there’s not as much head-room as there was. On the other hand increasing international revenues has definitely assisted, and I think we’re putting in better systems.”
The government hopes to double the size of this industry from its current $2.5 billion to $5 billion by 2025. To achieve that goal the government radically increased the range of students able to work while studying. Currently, there are about 100,000 fee paying students. They have been told they can get work while they study, and job offers when they graduate, and ultimately permanent residence with ease. Many of them have taken on loans to fund their studies.
Once New Zealand started sourcing new migrants from anywhere in the globe using “objective” criteria, government’s have been able to manipulate flows to suit their own agendas. With China and now India becoming a major source of migrants there is also an almost unlimited potential inflow depending on policies adopted.
Given New Zealand has for some decades been losing around one percent of its population to Australia each year, that loss has had to be compensated for if New Zealand capitalism was not to have a deep going crisis. Big business needed labour to exploit at the cheapest price they can get away with and a domestic market to sell to.
Over the last three decades, that migration has transformed New Zealand society with approximately one in four of its population born outside the country. In the main city Auckland nearly 40% of its 1.4 million population was born outside New Zealand. One in four Auckland residents are Asian.
The current government appears to be opening the tap on migrants for a number of reasons. The economy appeared to be stalling in 2013 and again in early 2015 after an initial period of recovery following the 2008 financial crash and subsequent recession. Foreign labour was deemed important for the rebuild of Christchurch following the 2011 earthquakes. An aggressive recruitment of overseas students was agreed on in October 2013 which included liberalising the right to work while here.
Employers in certain industries (tourism, hospitality, farming, horticulture) were complaining that they couldn’t attract enough staff (at the wages they were offering). In some industries that Unite represent staff like tourist hotels and fast food, the bosses confessed that 30-40% of their staff were on temporary visas.
The combined impact of these changes has been significant. For 22 months through to May 2016 every month saw annual numbers of permanent and long-term (PLT) migrant numbers increase. The May annual net gain figure of 68,400 was a new record. This involved a record 124,00 PLT arrivals less 56,400 PLT departures.
The using MBIE data for the 2014/15 year 170,814 temporary work visas were issued that year as well as 84,856 student visas. A policy change to allow more Indian students in has seen their number go from almost nothing a few years ago to be the largest country of origin group at over 10,000.
This report also noted that only 17% of students were able to transition to residency five years after their first student visa. Similarly, only 18% of temporary work visa holders had transitioned to residency by three years after their first work visa.
While the government has massively increased the number of student and temporary work visa holders they have also significantly reduced the number able to get permanent residency from 50,000 a year to 43,000. That has been achieved by reducing the skilled migrant approvals from 35,000 to 23,000.
The government has removed a range of categories that were able to be used to get a residency visa including that of “restaurant manager”. We had members of Unite who had spent tens of thousands of dollars on bullshit courses and worked for companies like McDonald’s and Restaurant Brands to get promoted to a manager’s role, suddenly told that it was all a waste of time and money.
Even Treasury, a government department known to be on the side of the bosses in nearly all matters, has questioned the economic wisdom of the current policies.
Bernard Hickey reported in the June 12 NZ Herald that Treasury “released a series of papers over the past year that showed its growing discomfort with the increase in low-skilled migrants and the risk that they are displacing local workers and keeping wages down. As the Treasury officials noted:
Current policy settings may not be doing all they can to support the growth of higher productivity firms and industries, including facilitating the flow of higher-skilled migrants to sectors of the economy where skill shortages may be acting as a significant constraint.
In addition, our current approach to selecting migrants may have encouraged reliance over time on lower-skilled labour in some parts of the economy.
This may have been discouraging some firms from either increasing wages and working conditions or investing, either in training existing workforce or in capital.
When Treasury looked at the 21,000 migrants given residency in 2014/15 under the “Skilled Migrant Category” (SMC) they discovered that a “significant proportion” now works in low-wage occupations. The top ten SMC categories are Chef, Dairy Cattle Farmer, Cafe/Restaurant manager, Retail Manager, Carpenter, Dairy Cattle Farm Worker, Retail Supervisor, Aged or Disabled Carer, Truck Driver, Registered nurse (aged care)
This is simply a cruel and heartless policy that sees overseas students and workers competing with each other in a desperate and ultimately futile dream for over 80 percent of them to achieve New Zealand residency.
Workers in this country and around the globe need our own policy on immigration. Ultimately we can never stop workers seeking a better life. That is true for New Zealanders going to Australia or workers coming to New Zealand. We should support every step that equalises the status of workers here, whether they were born here or not. As a first step, that means that no worker on a temporary visa should be tied to one employer. Any worker must be free to change employer at any time. Workers currently in this country brought here by the government and bosses to use and abuse should have the first choice on staying.