Figures out yesterday show that the country is losing people.

Statistics show a provisional net migration loss of 11,500 people in the 12 months ended June 2022, the 16th month in a row that an annual net migration loss has occurred, Stats NZ said.

Ironically the figures have come just as the Government has begun to rev up its new simplified working visa system to attract migrants.

Underlying the new system is the “immigration reset”, which critics say is simply a cover for reducing migration numbers.

But the new Minister of Immigration, Michael Wood, who has been in the job eight weeks says far from it; the immigration reset is about getting more of the right migrants who can help grow the New Zealand economy.

If any politician should understand migration, it should be Wood. Over 50 per cent of his Mt Roskill electorate was born overseas; 49 per cent are Asian, mostly Indian or Chinese. That makes it New Zealand’s most Asian electorate.

He is enthusiastic about picking up the portfolio from Kris Faafoi just eight weeks ago.

“It’s one of those portfolios that sit at the core of how New Zealand’s economy and job market functions,” he told POLITIK.

“You can get very poor outcomes or some very good outcomes depending on how your immigration system is run.

“The immigration system changes people’s lives.

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“It offers opportunities to people if it’s done well, and again, if it’s done poorly, it can be quite destructive to people’s lives.

“So running a system that is humane in fear and gives opportunities and in the sweet spot is where it gives migrant communities those opportunities, and it meets New Zealand’s needs.

“That’s actually a pretty unique thing to be able to do.”

But at the heart of the reset are two controversial propositions. One is that New Zealand has relied for too long on low-wage migrants and the other is that immigration has been ripe with migrant exploitation.

So now, working visas go to either a list of preferred occupations – the so-called “Green List” — or through a system called the Accredited Employer Work Visa.

The Green List 85 includes 85 hard-to-fill, high-skill roles that provide a priority pathway to residency. People who work in one of the Green List occupations, and have a job offer from an accredited employer, can apply for residence from September this year.

The Accredited Employer Work Visa first requires that the employer be accredited by Immigration New Zealand. Depending on who you talk to, this is either a relatively simple or unnecessarily bureaucratic process.

Immigration New Zealand says that as of August 2, it had received 8215 applications, processed and approved 7434, and each application had been approved within five days.

But that is the relatively easy bit.

The employer must then pass a Job Check test which means the job must be advertised for 14 days and must pay at least the median wage. ($27 an hour).

Job Check applications opened on June 20, and as at August 2, Immigration NZ had received 3,469 applications, equating to 23,054 jobs.

Of those, 966 Job Check applications have been approved, equating to 7,108 jobs.

ImmigrationNZ says that, on average, these are being processed in 13 days.

But 50% of Job Check applications assessed so far have required us to seek further information from the employer before they can be decided.

And the potential immigrant has to go through a final hoop and get a visa which will require checks on identity, character, health and qualifications, as well as a controversial requirement that they provide a copy of a signed employment agreement with the New Zealand employer.

The Green List and the median wage requirement are obviously designed to restrict low-wage migrants.

Wood singles out the hospitality sector and parts of the retail sector where up to 25 per cent of the workforce were temporary migrant labour and said that New Zealand had become more reliant on migrant labour than virtually any other country in the developed world.

With the low wages has come exploitation.

“Some of our previous settings, which evolved over a period of time, were something of an exploiters charter,” he said.

“We have a lot of cases of migrant worker exploitation that we’re still continuing to deal with the tail end of.

“These are often very vulnerable people who have historically often been tied to a single employer and have been relatively lowly paid and vulnerable to that kind of exploitation.

“So the new system is about trying to effect a decisive shift away from that.”

But some immigration lobby groups wonder whether the new tougher immigration requirements are not designed to keep out specific nationalities, particularly Asian and particularly Indian.

Among those making those charges has been Greens Co-Leader, Marama Davidson.

But Wood defends his record of working with Auckland’s migrant communities, particularly in his own electorate.

“We work really closely with the Indian community,” he said.

“Next week, Immigration New Zealand is getting an award from the Indian Central Association, which is the peak Indian community body in New Zealand, for the positive relationship that they formed.

“So my expectation as Minister is that Immigration, New Zealand and myself need to have a very close relationship with those migrant communities and need to be responsive to information and issues that we get.

“I’ll have some work proceeding on that and sort of formalising that over the next few months. “

Labour has traditionally questioned immigration, arguing that it drives wages down. Before they became Government in 2017, Iain Lees-Galloway and Andrew Little both said this.

But in April, the Labour-appointed Chair of the Productivity Commission, Ganesh Nana, produced a report which said that to the contrary, immigration had, on average, a small and mostly positive effect on the wages and employment of New Zealand-born workers over the last 20 years.

Wood accepts Nana’s conclusions but only cautiously argues that in some circumstances, immigration could still lower wages.

“Yes, that was the general conclusion that he came to, although he did say that it could be the case that in particular sectors and there might well be that impact (lowered wages), particularly if you’re going through a period where there is higher unemployment.

“So the general picture, no, but potentially in some specific areas, he was identified that there could be some downward pressure as well.

“So that’s again, that’s we were just wanting to get the balance right to make sure that these are positive and seated in the system for employers to offer decent pay and conditions and not just rely on getting the lowest cost possible migrant labour.”

However, Wood accepts Nana’s conclusion that, generally, immigration is positive for New Zealand and the economy.

Beyond immigration for people who want to come and live permanently in New Zealand, there is another controversial immigration category, investor visas.

These are particularly attractive to Chinese investors and have recently been changed and allow an actively managed investment of $5 million, but that is raised to $15 million if it is an indirect investment such as a passive shareholding in a company.

But controversially, the new visas require a “modest’ command of English even though investors will be required to spend only 117 days in New Zealand over four years.

Wood says the new requirements are about a change in thinking on investor visas, which previously facilitated a lot of passive investment.

“We want to incentivise through this category people to come in and make investments in businesses and opportunities that will create jobs and growth,” he said.

“And overall, we think it’s more beneficial, and more likely we’re going to get that if the people that we’re dealing with are able to communicate in English.”

 Getting back to his electorate and its high migrant population, Wood, said he had lots of people there talk to him about how coming to New Zealand had changed their lives.

“So there’s lots to feel positive about immigration.”