For the second time this week, the Government relaxed more immigration settings in what may be an indication that it is backing off some parts of its immigration reset.
The new Immigration Minister, Michael Wood, appears to have a more accommodating approach to his portfolio than his predecessor, Kris Faafoi.
In unveiling yesterday his opening up of skilled worker visas and allowing parents of migrants to enter New Zealand, he repeatedly encouraged his audience, containing many migrants and employers, to come and talk to him if they had problems.
There was very little criticism of the moves he announced.
But there are still questions about whether the immigration system is not biased against Indians.
Wood’s reforms announced yesterday will do little to ease any bias in the system, but they will open up the way for substantially more skilled migrants to enter New Zealand.
And what will please migrants already here is that a limited number of places will be available for them to bring their parents here, provided they can show that they earn at least 1.5 times the median wage.
That move will be particularly important for Chinese migrants because of that country’s previous one-child policy.
Fine-tuning the immigration policy is a delicate political task because of the rhetoric over the years from Government Ministers saying National had favoured a high immigration policy because it kept wages down.
Wood recited the statistics yesterday; around about 30% of New Zealand’s population growth since the 1990s came from immigrants, in particular by increasing numbers of temporary migrant workers and students.
Prior to the pandemic, temporary work visa holders made up about 5% of New Zealand’s total labour force. That was the highest figure “by a very significant margin” in the OECD, he said.
“Often these temporary workers were low skilled and low paid, with nearly half of all essential skills visa approvals in 2019 at the lowest two skill levels.
“Businesses in some of those sectors have been able to rely on low-skilled and lower paid workers rather than investing capital in productivity-enhancing measures or employing and upskilling New Zealanders or paying better pay and conditions.”
So yesterday’s announcement took the limit off the number of skilled worker visas but increased the number of points needed to qualify from 160 to 180.
Points are gained according to qualifications, skill levels, work experience, English ability and other considerations like where the job might be located.
But that the visa is unlimited and will offer a path to residency may go a long way to addressing some of the criticisms that have been directed at Immigration policy.
However, Stanford said there were serious doubts over the ability of Immigration NZ to process the residence visas, given that migrants were already facing major delays across every visa category.
But business sources spoken to by POLITIK said processing times for entry visas for skilled migrants had improved to between six and ten days.
The Immigration Department is the operational body tasked with administering immigration and is distinct from the policy body, which is part of the Ministry of Business Innovation and Employment’s overall labour market group.
It has been under fire for being slow to digitise — it only completed its digitisation last year, and there are also suspicions that it has doubts about Indian migrants because of the number who have been involved in migrant exploitation prosecutions.
Figures supplied by Wood to National immigration spokesperson Erica Stanford, in response to a written question, show that, overwhelmingly, more student visa applications from India were rejected in the period beginning August 1 than from any other country.
209, or 18.4 per cent of all applications were rejected.
The next highest rejection number, 122, was from China, but the rate, 3.85 per cent, was much lower.
Figures from another source show that the Indian applications were spread across educational institutions; private training establishments, Te Pukenga and universities.
POLITIK understands that the treatment of Indian migrants wanting to come to New Zealand is a major impediment to any trade agreement with India.
That was hinted at during the recent visit of India’s Foreign Minister, Subrahmanyam Jaishankar.
He said the strong Indian population in New Zealand was one of the greatest connectors between the two countries.
“They have done so much to be a living bridge between us,” he said.
But better access for Indian students to New Zealand, and a better treatment of them by Immigration New Zealand, would only strengthen those bonds, he said.
Wood yesterday was asked at his presentation in Auckland what he could do about the large number of immigrants living illegally in New Zealand who were open to being exploited.
“If people have been exploited. It is not the fault of that migrant worker, and it is not the fault of Government policy setting,” he said.
“If people are being exploited, it is the fault of the. employer who is doing the exporting regardless of a person’s status.” (applause).
“Our immigration system, by definition, needs to be based on fair and consistent rules that we apply,” he said.
“And in some ways is, the only way that we can be fair is to say that these are the rules that people have to abide by it.
“L definition says that if you have broken the rules and gone outside of that, you will get a free pass.
“And one of the more difficult things, if we go down that path, is what do I then say to the person that we identify as one of, I think inside the person who played by the rules and left New Zealand voluntarily and misses out.”
Wood said he would not be rushed, but he would be open-minded in making a decision about the illegal migrants.
It sounds like a second immigration reset.