Prime Minister Bill English appeared yesterday to open the door to a “U-turn” on the Government’s earlier proposals to clamp down on immigration.
He did so as Labour called for a massive tightening up of immigration.
Labour has risked alienating its Indian community support base in Auckland with a call for a crackdown on foreign students in particular.
But while Labour’s move was obviously designed to win votes in Auckland off New Zealand First, the Government has been coming under pressure from the rest of New Zealand to keep immigration flowing because of the difficulty finding workers in the tourism, dairy and construction industries.
In April the Government announced a crackdown on immigration.
The most contentious part of that was a provision that any jobs paying under $49,000 a year would not be considered skilled and therefore not eligible for immigrants.
The Government called for submissions on the proposal which is supposed to come into effect on August 1.
The Prime Minister said yesterday at his weekly press conference part of the decision making around the submissions would be whether the Government would relax the $49,000 limit.
“That’s what we’ve got to consider,” he said.
“The submissions have only just come in, and we’ve got to have a look at them.”
Asked if that meant there was a possibility the Government could pull back from the proposals he said: “It’s technically possible because it hasn’t been finalised.
“We’ve yet to see how persuasive those submissions are.”
However, he sounded as though he might be sympathetic to calls to relax the restrictions.
“They are real submissions from real people.
“We, out on the road, hear from people who have got a strong demand for skills.
“I think that is a much more realistic view than the one you are getting out of the Labour immigration policy today.”
Labour has proposed that it strengthen the Labour Market Test for work visas “so they are not being used for jobs Kiwis can do.”
In a proposal that is likely to win support, particularly in the South Island, it is proposing that skills shortage lists be more regional so migrants coming in under them can only live and work in areas where there is a genuine skills shortage.
It says these moves will cause work visas to drop by 6000 – 8000.
But it gets its big immigration cuts in cuts to student visas.
Labour would stop issuing student visas for courses below a bachelor’s degree which were not independently assessed by the TEC and NZQA to be of high quality.
Labour would also limit the ability to work while studying to international students studying at Bachelor-level or higher. For those below that level, their course would have to have the ability to work approved as part of the course.
An immediate reaction from the “Indian Weekender” newspaper which the immediate cost of the policy would be borne by thousands and thousands of prospective international students in destinations like India “who have been visualising New Zealand as a favourable international education destination.”
“Likewise, it is also for Mr Little and the Labour party to explain,” it said.
Labour has already been facing problems within its Indian support base in Auckland with the decision by well-known Indian leader, Sunny Kaushal, to withdraw his candidacy.
National Party sources have told POLITIK that they have talked to him about supporting them.
Labour Leader Andrew Little said National’s immigration policies had created a backdoor to residency via low-level study and low-skill work.
“These have had the perverse effect that a 23-year-old with a New Zealand Diploma and three years’ experience in retail can get more points towards residency than a 45-year-old Oncologist who wants to migrate here,” he said.
“ A third of international students studying at Private Training Establishments say they plan to work or seek residency here after study.
““Closing off the ability to work during and after study for people who do low-level courses will stop backdoor immigration.
“We will end the culture of exploitation and corruption that’s grown up to prey on people using this route to come to New Zealand.”
Labour is offering to provide some extra visas for the construction industry which has been importing workers at a high rate to cope with the construction boom in Auckland.
Residential construction firms could hire a skilled tradesperson on a three-year work visa without having to meet the Labour Market Test if they paid a living wage and took on an apprentice for each overseas worker they hired.
The number of places would be limited to 1,000 to 1,500 at a given time.
Some business lobbyists believe that Labour is under pressure from unions to propose a tightening up of immigration while it is obvious National is under pressure from its business supporters to do the opposite.