Every political party is lying about migration.
They do this by fudging the numbers.
Most importantly the fail to distinguish between those being admitted as permanent residents, those who come as students or temporary workers and those who come and go on a permanent or long-term basis.
Firstly, let us look at what the government doing with the recent changes to how people qualify for permanent residence. They have made it much harder for less skilled, less highly paid workers to access permanent residence. I will leave aside the value judgements being made around the skill of a low-paid nurse aid in aged care versus a high paid advertising executive.
The government have adopted policies that will result in tens of thousands of workers who are here as chefs, nurse aids, hospitality and retail workers being stopped from ever getting the chance to access permanent residence. Some of them have been working and studying in the country for a decade. Many have spent literally hundreds of thousands of dollars on qualifications now rendered worthless.
I am also convinced that large parts of the private export education sector will collapse. If there is no chance of using the degrees obtained in more modestly paid work then all incentives to study here will be eliminated.
Under the new system, the government is actually allowing 4,000 workers and their families in the South Island a one-off amnesty from the residence points system. The fishhook for them is they have to stay with their current employer for two years and in the industry for another two years. I assume most of them are dairy farm workers. Effectively, they’re being forced into a bonding scheme to their current employer and industry if they want residence within some of dodgiest bosses in New Zealand. This is obviously a recipe for exploitation to me. It is telling that the restrictions being imposed treat these workers as bonded serfs rather than free labour. Capitalism was meant to be a system based on free labour. We are supposed to have the freedom to sell our labour to whomever we please. The dairy farm in Southland has become an exemption to this rule. In fact, it is confirmation that the whole system is designed to have workers in the most vulnerable position possible so the can be exploited without mercy.
But if we can have an amnesty for this group of workers, why not for all the others in New Zealand brought here under false pretences. And the amnesty should be granted without the worker being forced into bonded servitude with particular bosses but with the freedom of all workers to change jobs whenever they want.
Permanent resident approvals
The government has a target to admit 95,000 people over a two year period as permanent residents.
This number has not changed much for the past 15 years. Every year the government has admitted between 40,000 and 50,000 permanent residents. This was true also during the period when New Zealand First leader Winston Peters was in government from 1999-2008. New Zealand First is another party that refuses to distinguish between categories of immigrant.
As Peters knows, it is actually difficult to change this number much from year to year. It is made up of skilled workers who qualify – as well as refugees, family reunification, parents, investors, Pacific quota, Samoan quota, and a dozen more categories.
Because it has many parts, it can’t actually be changed very much in the short term. It is certainly difficult to reduce it significantly without impacting on the key variable which is the skilled worker category.
But this number is critical for the operation of the entire system of migrant labour exploitation.
New Zealand has used the fact that we usually lose one percent of the population each year to Australia and elsewhere to have a category of visas that allowed permanent residence after studying and working in New Zealand.
The hope of eventually getting permanent residence was critical to the operation of the system.
Around 20% of those who start as students or on a temporary work visa managed to obtain permanent residence eventually. Points were awarded for studying here and getting job offers. Almost half of the skilled worker category of around 20,000 a year who transition to permanent residence were former students.
The desperation of many to achieve that goal allowed employers and shoddy educational institutions to take advantage of them.
That is what makes it a system of exploitation.
The export education and temporary work visa system needed the possibility of permanent residence for some to make the system of exploitation work.
Permanent and long-term visitors
Over this last few years, there has been a surge in net arrival numbers for the category of people who tick a box saying they are going to stay for a year or longer versus those who say they are going to leave for a year or longer. This is not a particularly scientific number but it does give a picture of population flows. It has recorded a net gain of over 70,000 a year for the last year or so.
This number has become a target for those who want to blame migrants for social problems that exist. By pointing the finger of blame on the migrant, the failures of the capitalist system to deliver decent housing, jobs, health care and public transport can be ignored.
The government seems to have accepted that the permanent or long-term (PLT) visitor net flows inwards has to be reduced. It is this number the government is targeting with the most recent changes announced for consultation just last week.
There have been three main drivers of the increase in net PLT arrivals over departures. One was a relatively sudden swing around from average net losses of New Zealanders of around 20-30,000 a year over several decades to a net zero in 2012. Second, was the government’s desire to boost the so-called export education sector which they did by loosening entry restrictions and allowing the students greater work rights once here. Third, was an expansion of temporary work visas for relatively unskilled work.
This was connected to the student flows because the right to work for a few years following graduation is an integral part of attracting students. They get a work visa for a few years that then allowed them the chance of getting work with the points needed for permanent residence.
Although this was dubbed the skilled work category it actually often included jobs that would not be considered that skilled. The largest category was chefs for example.
Small reduction in permanent residence visas
In October last year, the government announced their goal was to reduce the overall permanent residence number from 100,000 over two years to 95,000. To achieve that 5% reduction they stopped new parental visas for two years and added 20 points to the skilled work visa number.
This had a dramatic impact on the rights of less skilled people to access residency. For example, it eliminated 90% of the people working here as chefs from being able to access permanent residence.
Thousands of people who had relocated to the country in the belief they would be able to get residence felt betrayed.
Then the government last week announced the new requirement that all skilled jobs qualifying for permanent residence must meet the average wage threshold of $50,000. Most workers in many of the categories currently using large numbers of migrant workers would never pay $50,000.
However, if chefs and other less skilled workers can no longer have the possibility of transitioning to permanent residence there will inevitably be a collapse in the number of these people coming to New Zealand and an exodus of many already here. I have seen this in one Chinese family I have close contact with. One young man who has done a two-year chef’s course at a cost of $80,000 lost the chance to permanent residence when the points were lifted last year. He was considering doing a degree in hotel management to get the extra points. That is now ruled out as a possibility as the wage for a new graduate is well below $50,000. He is returning to China. Another young woman was doing a translation course and planned to do a post graduate degree here but the new system means she will give up on New Zealand and do the degree in Australia.
Another change to the system is that the maximum period of a work visa that does not pay $50,000 or more will be three years. The worker must leave for at least a year before being able to access a work visa again. Nor will they be allowed to bring a spouse or children like they can now. Those already in the country will get a maximum three-year extension before being forced to leave.
Being only being able to come for three years and then leave for a year will be a huge additional barrier for many. Why waste your time.
Those coming under that temporary category would probably be from places where workers are so poor and desperate that even three years may seem to be worthwhile. But creating a system of indentured labour where businesses are recycling people every three years is just extraordinarily inhumane. The probability that workers brought here under such systems will be exploited mercilessly because they are so desperately vulnerable should be obvious.
That is not a system that should be supported.
Tens of thousands of fewer work visas likely under National
I actually think these changes will result in “tens of thousands” fewer people coming each year. The government will achieve the Labour Party leader’s promise.
That seems to be their intention.
By allowing those already here to stay up to another three years it creates a cushion for the policy to take effect.
There are probably 100,000 people here working in lower wage sectors on temporary visas who have had their dreams smashed.
There will be tens of thousands of students who have invested their families life fortunes in coming here who will have had their hopes destroyed.
There is a huge sense of betrayal from these people. There is no question that the government and their employer mates were using the desperate plight of people to improve the lives of themselves and their families to create an export education sector and use temporary work visas to prop up low-wage sectors of the economy like aged care and agriculture.
It is cruel and inhumane to simply throw these people out.
The government has changed the rules on people after they have invested their lives in the search for a decent education and jobs in this country.
It is a betrayal of the promises, implied and direct, that were made to them. People came here to work on visas that under the old rules would have given them a chance at permanent residence.
Let them stay!
Why not simply give it to them if they want to stay. They already have jobs. Often the bosses desperately want them to stay. They have often already established relationships and thrown down roots. Children may be going to schools.
Why throw people out and simply replace them with another temporary migrant. That makes no sense.
Giving them the status or permanent residents will mean they can also stand up and fight for their rights. It is their deliberate employment in a status as dependent workers that allows the exploitation to happen.
The government policy will also see a huge jump in the number of people inflating their salaries by refunding the boss in some way to pretend they are an “executive chef” or whatever.
I actually think the government’s system is rather neat in the way it achieves the objectives it wants to achieve. They will deflate the numbers coming here. They will keep a “temporary” system for low wage sectors where the workers will be even more vulnerable than they are now because of the fear of losing the one chance of a three-year visa.
But they will “succeed” at the price of substantial misery for those already here and those brought here as temporary slaves in the future.
I repeat, why not let them stay? What harm would it do?