GUEST BLOG: Alan Johnson – Calling our immigration policy for what it is


The National Government has done a great job at silencing criticism of immigration from the liberal-left.  Until recently any mention of concern over the deluge of migrants coming into the country under various guises has been greeted with claims that critics are zenophobic or even racist.  Thus the reactionary right in New Zealand First has been able to rattle the immigration cage by pointing out the volume of migrants we are receiving and the readily apparent truth that many of them don’t appear to be doing hugely skilled work.

It appears that the migration tap was opened up in late 2013. No justification or even an announcement was ever made- it simply happened.  It is difficult to believe that this spike is simply a policy miscalculation and not politically directed. Over the three years to 30 June 2016 New Zealand had net migration of 166,000 people compared with net migration of just 9000 people for the three years before that.  At least half this growth has been into Auckland which has of course exacerbated housing shortages and congestion in that city.  

This sudden surge of immigration is due to two factors only one of which has been talked about by Government.  The most commonly offered explanation is that there are fewer New Zealanders leaving for Australia and elsewhere – as indeed happened.   Net migration of New Zealanders shrunk from an exodus of 101,000 people between 2010 and 2013 to just 21,000 between 2013 and 2016.  But at the same time the numbers of people from other countries grew from 110,000 between 2010 and 2013 to almost 187,000 between 2013 and 2016.  Arguable as fewer New Zealanders left for other countries the immigration tap should have been turned down a little – but inexplicitly the opposite occurred.   

The National Government’s growth model has always been a three act circus with one act being a freak of nature and the other two being illusionists.  The Christchurch re-build unlocked tens of billions of insurance pay outs many from off shore thus generating economic growth and buoying up the whole economy. The dairy boom was never going to last but on any account it was facilitated by free access to water rights for corporate farmers and a licence to pollute with the lowering of a water quality standards.  The third illusion has been immigration into Auckland.  

For the Government immigration is a boom.  It gets to clip the ticket on the resulting GST revenue from immigrants’ spending as they set up home and shop. But the costs are borne locally and particularly in Auckland.  Aucklanders pay these costs in increasing congestion and in higher rates and rents.  National Party supporters as home owners, property speculators, builders and landlords of course benefit from this growth and spending as well.

As the Christchurch rebuild was winding down and as the dairy prices collapsed the Government needed to ramp up immigration to keep people interested in their circus.  After all without solid economic growth of 2% to 3% annually Bill English will struggle to balance the books and find the $600 million he needs each year to fund John Key’s superannuation pledge.  It doesn’t matter that the economic growth isn’t sustainable or even sensible we only need to get to the next election.

But the real costs of this growth model are felt by the young and the vulnerable.  In particular, by young workers on the margin of the job market and by renters.

There is strong evidence that younger workers are finding it tough in the present labour market and some of this evidence is presented in The Salvation Army’s recent report on youth unemployment.  For example over the past ten years the New Zealand economy generated a credible 280,000 jobs yet employment amongst the 15 to 24 year olds grew by a mere 8000 jobs.  This has meant that the 15 to 24 year old NEETs (those not in employment education and training) have remained at around 75,000 people since the GFC.   

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One of the reasons for this is that many of these new jobs have been taken by recent migrants – especially over the past three years.  Since 2013 the so-called working age population has grown by more than 200,000 people and perhaps as much as 80% of this growth has been through migration.  Over the past three years approved student visas totalled 71,423 where as for the three years from 2010 to 2013 there were 43,731 visas approved.  

It is quite wrong to make immigrants the scapegoats for persistent youth unemployment. They have come here seeking opportunity and good for them.  But it is also quite wrong to ignore the impacts of immigration on housing and labour markets for fear of appearing xenophobic or mean spirited.  This sells short those at the bottom of these markets but then these people have never been of that much interest to the urban liberals who dominate policy and media circles.  It is so much better to focus on such things as diversity and the rich variety of restaurants we can visit – some of which no doubt readily exploit migrant labour.  

It is quite reasonable to pitch some blame toward immigration policy and the fact that it has paid little or no regard to the impact of migration on local labour markets. For example of the 209,000 work visa applications approved for the 12 months to June 2016, just one third of applicants had a prior job offer and for just 13% of these approvals was any prior labour market check recorded.      

New Zealand like all western countries has an aging population.  Every week 900 New Zealanders reach the nominal retirement age of 65 and this will continue for the next 15 years or so.  However employment amongst those aged over 65 has expanded by 50% over the past five years or by over 50,000 workers.  While this growth in numbers may continue for a few years yet, it will eventually taper leaving New Zealand with potential labour shortages.  Clearly the inclusion of every younger person in the job market is an essential response to these shortages but we will also need to rely on migration if we want a growing economy.  

The immigration debate risks turning into a reactionary, petty spectacle if we don’t insist that it be undertaken rationally and inclusively.  In such an inclusive debate we need to consider the interests of every New Zealander including the young as well as those who have arrived recently.  There has been no such debate to date because the Government has simply and quietly met employer demands for more compliant and sometimes desperate workers whom they can pay and treat poorly.  Such a ploy was never going to end well and we all deserve better.


Alan Johnson is a poverty analyst for the Salvation Army and Child Poverty Action Group


  1. Yeah, if we get rid of those immigrants then the young Kiwis can get those insecure jobs with poverty wages.

    Let’s not talk about minimum wage, property speculation from Kiwis, weak renter rights, a Labour Party for landlords, and neoliberal employment legislation (ERA 2000).

    As long as young Kiwis get insecure jobs on poverty wages, then problem solved!

    • The Key neolib National for landlords and foreign speculators government has been in power for over 8 years Fatty, it’s time to hold them to account.

      • Yes, and it’s time to hold the Labour-for-landlords party to account too.

        National sux, we all know that. But romanticizing Labour’s landlordism is also a problem. Labour need to stop pandering to the root of our housing crisis

  2. Well , Mr Johnson , … does this sound like a govt that has the best interests of all New Zealanders at heart or does this sound like a govt that cares little about the best interests of New Zealanders and only thinks of ways to appear good managers and to hell with the future consequences?

    I think , and huge growing number of fellow New Zealanders now think , it is the latter.

    Therefore, putting all arguments of whether it is xenophobic or racist aside , it is time we stop taking on guilt put on us by the neo liberals about being ‘ racist’ and start to perceive their real motives in all of this.

    1) to destroy the unions

    2) to create downwards pressure on wages and conditions

    3) to create a compliant working populace – and in the case of immigrants – using the fear of losing their visa’s as a club to keep them in line.

    4) justification by National party members ( including John Key and Bill English themselves ) in demonizing NZ workers ie : ‘ they are lazy ‘ , ‘ they are all drug addled ‘ ‘ they are hopeless’ and other such derogatory remarks. Nice to see they have such encouraging words for their own population – a population that elected them to serve US.

    I think if we really wanted to get to the heart of the matter it would be wise to stop with the ‘ its all conspiracy theory stuff’ and start to let it sink in that there has indeed been a 3 decade long subversion of our social democracy – starting with the 4th Labour govt and its Finance Minister , Roger Douglas.

    It all got worse under Nationals Jim Bolger with his Finance Minister , Ruth Richardson.

    Both these were board members of the Mont Pelerin society – a far right wing think tank that had such neo liberal luminaries as Milton Freidman as their front-man.

    In tandem with this , we had the Business Roundtable ( now the New Zealand Institute ) which lobbied and helped draw up such legislation as the Employment Contracts Act.

    This in turn put people on contracts as opposed to award rates won by collective bargaining by unions – and opened the door for dismantling of our public sector and the sell of of SOE’s.

    So now,.. 32 years after Roger Douglas and his treason , we have a John Key . An import from the failed Merril Lynch finance house, – who were bailed out by American taxpayers money as being one of many who were deemed ‘ too big to fail’… corporate welfare.

    And this odious little man came back to our shores with a mission – to replace the harsh exterior that Don Brash’s Orewa speech created and instead present a softer face . This is why Key did this :

    And Key has done the exact opposite from what he came to power on.

    And this is why he surreptitiously opened the floodgates to unbridled immigration , as you have mentioned. There was no public consultation , there was no mandate given – they did it to boost the coffers because they knew their economic management would crash without it.

    And all the while they and their punters saddle us the public with being ‘ xenophobic ‘ or ‘ racist’ if we object.

    And that is a very vicious and manipulative emotional bludgeon to use on the populace – effectively neutralizing debate, discussion and argument on what is in fact , every concerned Kiwis right and privilege to have an opinion. Regardless of where an immigrant comes from.

    We have every right as citizens of this country to question the validity and rationale of a govts decision to implement measures that are having an adverse effect on our country and our children’s futures.

    And its time this govt was called to account for this irresponsible unbridled immigration – which only serves their purposes – not ours.

    • yes WILD KATIPO, you are so right here.

      This NZ Inc. is such a corrupt lot that can rightly be called “scavengers”.

      Key would sell his own shitter if he thought there was money it. he is the lowest of all the criminals that parade around this planet as financial wizards and they are just scavengers living of the poor and middle class.

  3. Yes, National opened up the floodgates wider, but the immigration feel good economy game was started under Helen Clark and Labour (who also signed the free slave agreement with the world’s largest dictatorship, with National’s approval). Further, no political party seems to want to mention that prospective migrants get points towards permanent residency for owning property in New Zealand; perhaps because the vast majority of our parliamentarians own one or more properties – how many MPs are renters with no interest in the property market? A glance at donations to political parties by private training establishments would also highlight that many of these visa factories of dubious educational quality also donate predominantly to the National Party. How will the opposition ever get into power when the incumbent party is importing hundreds of voters per week? Yes, cries of “racist” and “xenophobe” have been used to shut down any attempts at intelligent debate since the time of Helen Clark’s prime ministership. This whole train wreck is going to end very badly indeed. I predict a civil war, though no one wants to entertain that notion, which increases the likelihood of one eventuating. “The truth will prevail.”

  4. Agree 100% with this article. Migration at the levels it is today, is a side effect of globalism and neoliberalism.

    As well as the movement of people through migration to prop up the super rich there is also the free trade agreements. This is a great article about CETA in the EU but the effects are the same for most of the free trade agreements.. extract

    “it presumes that laid-off workers “will rapidly find new jobs” – whatever the industry, however far away the employer. A car engineer can up sticks and turn into a software engineer. And if there aren’t any actual jobs, they can deliver takeaways for Deliveroo.

    The assumptions are both laughably far-fetched and, in the cost citizens are expected to bear, disgusting. No wonder the EU would rather there was as little public discussion as possible.

    Using a model employed by the UN, Kohler and Storm found that the benefits of Ceta become microscopic next to the costs. For at least the first seven years after the agreement is brought in, unemployment will rise, wages will fall and economies will see their growth rates decline. Governments will lose revenue, and so increase austerity.

    The burden will fall hardest on the poorest, the lowest-skilled, older people and those with disabilities. A senior lecturer at Delft University of Technology, Storm summed up for me the consequences: “The weaker your position in an economy, the more strongly you’ll feel the fall-out.” These aren’t people and regions who are left behind: they’ve been chucked off the train by their own governments. This is the settlement free-traders, left and right, are fighting to impose on voters. ”

  5. AFKTT…. I like all your comments, but could you please enlarge , for us lesser mortals, on ” another three years or so”. Is that just a guess or ‘a perfect storm’ coming?


      1. Back in the early 2000s there was a lot of discussion about the peaking of global oil extraction, with notable organisations such as ASPO suggesting the peak would occur around 2007 and that a ‘cliff’ would arrive some time around 2015. Sure enough, there was a massive energy crisis in 2008, and since then the world has been staggering on, increasingly dependent on unconventional oil which is difficult and expensive to extract and which has a low EROEI. Current pricing does not provide enough financial return and many companies (and entire nations) are slowly going broke. However, high prices are not possible because high prices would immediately wreck the global economic system. So we will continue down the slope until a very severe crisis is reached.

      2. Since the so-called GFC of 20007-2008, interest rates and financial markets have been heavily manipulated to generate the perception that everything is fine when it is not. There is no yield for institutional investors or individuals, and the system is cannibalizing itself to stay alive.

      3. Every year that passes the global environment gets made substantially worse, and the overheating that is now taking place is causing ever greater damage to infrastructure and food systems. Ancient aquifers are being drained to keep the system alive a little longer but there are telltale signs serious trouble is imminent. e.g. the extraordinarily low level of Lake Mead and the drought across America. The situation is not simply deteriorating, it is being made worse at an ever faster pace, as is clear from the rate of increase of atmospheric CO2.

      4. The US has lost its economic, financial and military dominance, and is at the stage of thrashing about like an angry bear, squandering huge amounts of non-renewable resource trying to hold its empire together, and failing spectacularly. Meanwhile, China has adopted every idiotic aspect of Americanism and is in the process of polluting the world in order to establish unsustainable living arrangements.

      The overall picture was worked out back in the 1970s and is playing out much as expected if humans continued to behave insanely and governments continued to promote all the wrong things, which is exactly what happened, of course. And continues to be the case.

      Present living arrangements and the present human population are both totally unsustainable and will collapse. ‘No one’ wants to talk about that or do anything about it, of course, which is a guaranteed mechanism for generating catastrophic collapse.

      • Thank you – I especially relate to no. 4. However I do feel the end game scenario is still a bit of extrapolation on your part, and is probably accurate. Thanks for taking the time.

  6. Great article thanks Alan.
    I am worried about older immigrants here for 10 years and accessing NZ Super . We have our shonkey policies for deducting state pensions from NZ for immigrants from selected countries but not for countries with no state pension regardless of how wealthy the person.
    It has been very difficult to talk about it

  7. And this, ladies and gentlemen is why I will vote for a party that makes purchasing of property something only New Zealand permanent residents and citizens can do. Other countries have same or similar restrictions, so why cannot we?

  8. Alan Johnson has to be NZ’s best social comentator. HIs reports on the State of the Nation (Salles) and his regular coments on poverty and the NZ economy are remrkable. Thanks, Alan

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