Saturday, June 28, 2014

Getting immigration right

The NZ Labour Party has already announced a lot of great policies, and will right up to the election. Labour’s immigration policy is one of those, one that’s quite close to my heart, of course, so I’m glad it’s so good.

Labour says of immigration (a copy of the full policy is available at the link):
“New Zealand is a country built on immigration. Labour is committed to immigration that not only meets economic priorities but which contributes to social objectives and to New Zealand’s vibrant multicultural society. Boosting regional development and lifting New Zealand’s economic performance toward a high-skilled high-income economy are key components of Labour’s immigration policy.”
The current government’s immigration policies tend to favour wealthy investors at one end, and short-term, cheap labour at the other. While the wealthy can bring investment capital into New Zealand, the low-skilled workers, many of whom are paid badly by New Zealand standards, drive down wages paid to New Zealand citizens and permanent residents. Added to this, many of these temporary workers are kept on temporary permits for a very long time, which prevents them from making long-term plans or putting down roots.

I can say based on my own experience how temporary everything feels when living here with a succession of temporary, short-term permits, as I was for nearly four years. There’s also the fear that a change in policy can take everything away, forcing one to leave New Zealand. Temporary residence doesn’t exactly encourage settling down or happiness.

So, Labour says that in government it will “ensure that the immigration system promotes a high-skilled high-wage economy rather than exploiting cheap labour that undercuts wages and undervalues training,” and they will “revitalise the settlement programme and seek to reduce the numbers of migrants on temporary visas for long periods.” This is great stuff.

Labour has already committed to raising the minimum wage within it’s first 100 days in Government, at will do so again in 2015. Over time, Labour will move to promoting a living wage. This, combined with a reorientation of immigration policy, will ensure rising standards of living for all New Zealanders, and it will also end the exploitation of immigrant workers. This is a win-win for all New Zealand workers, whether they were born here, live here permanently, or are on sponsored work visas, like mine was.

Before I could get my first temporary permit and visa, Immigration had to be satisfied that no one in New Zealand could do the job I was being sponsored to do. That meant I was bringing skills into New Zealand, not taking a job from a Kiwi. Labour’s policies will emphasise this again for new migrants.

Labour will also “use the points system and other tools to manage the number of immigrants entering the country on work visas to even out the peaks and troughs in the immigration cycle.” This has been a constant problem, affecting things throughout the economy, including housing prices. It’s worth trying to smooth this out a bit. But Labour also plans to “reward skilled immigrants who live in the regions, where their skills can unlock growth and job opportunities for the community,” which will benefit places outside of the main towns and cities. Taken together, these two commitments are about managing immigration so it benefits New Zealand and the nation’s economy as a whole, which is good.

Labour has also committed to making it easier for Pacific families to be reunited, given New Zealand’s unique relationship with Pacific island nations. This, combined with Labour’s commitment to raising the number of refugees that NZ accepts—the first time the number will have been raised since the 1980s—means that the immigration policies of the new Labour-led government will ensure that NZ meets its international obligations.

As an immigrant, I feel government policies in this area a little more keenly and personally than policies in other areas. The immigration policies of the new Labour-led Government will be better than the ones in place when I arrived in New Zealand in 1995, and I really like that.

To get better and fairer immigration policies—and a better and fairer New Zealand—we first have to vote to change the government. On September 20, I’ll be doing exactly that when I cast my Party and Electorate Votes for Labour. These policies are part of the reason why I’ll be doing that.

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