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Immigration – the Green Party perspective

One of the many brilliant people I know is Pengjun Zhao. He is from China and we worked together at Otago University on urban sustainability. He came to NZ and was welcomed because we need his skills as a transport modeller to help us consider the consequences of different policy decisions on people’s mobility and carbon footprints. He has also helped us create links with policy and academic communities in China.

Over the last couple of weeks Labour has suggested immigrants are causing our housing crisis and that we should cut the numbers of immigrants coming in, NZ First has suggested too many unskilled migrants are coming and taking our jobs and National wants us stop those boat people. All this adds up to unhelpful and potentially stigmatising conversation.

I wonder how Penjun and his family and all the other migrants like them are feeling in NZ right now.

Immigration seems to be a difficult topic to discuss sensibly. It has been a trigger for racism here in the past and very worryingly we are seeing the rise of racist political parties in Europe targeting migrants. I don’t want to see such conversations leading to anyone in this country feeling as if they are not valued or are missing out because another group of people is getting more.

Let me say clearly now: the housing crisis is not the fault of recent migrants; the unemployment rate is not the fault of recent migrants; and asylum seekers are not a threat to us.

The housing crisis is primarily a predictable result of successive government’s decisions to leave housing to the free market and refusing to institute a capital gains tax. The Green Party does however want to put restrictions on home ownership for people who are not permanent residents because offshore speculation in our housing market has contributed to the increased price. We didn’t support the National government’s decision introduce (25th July 2011) “Residential Property Development” to the list of acceptable investment types for wealthy overseas investors to apply for visas here.

The unemployment rate is a result of this government not prioritising and incentivising people into training straight after the Christchurch earthquake. It is also a result of increased marginalisation and inequality as people with mental illnesses, alcohol and drug problems, disabilities or sole parenting responsibilities either struggle more and more to manage their health or find a job with decent enough conditions to allow them to manage commitments/health and work. The building industry and IT industries amongst others currently need skilled labour.

Admittedly there are people with visas who aren’t here to fill our skills shortages and who are doing jobs that permanent residents/citizens might otherwise do.

  • Overseas students, who are propping up our tertiary institutions and contributing a significant amount to our economy.
  • backpackers from countries we have reciprocal agreements with. Their ability to get jobs here means some young people from here can get jobs overseas in their countries
  • people from Pacific countries that we have quota agreements with. They need to have a job offer before they can come and the chances are they will be part of an extended family in NZ that they will help support and they will be sending money home reducing the pressure on NZ’s ODA budget.
  • partners of New Zealanders.

Let me also say clearly that just because some people smugglers said they were going to try to get to NZ doesn’t mean they are a threat to New Zealand. First of all it is unrealistic that the kind of boats used would ever be able to travel so far. But aside from such practicalities we have a duty to offer shelter to people fleeing persecution – god willing we never need that protection ourselves. NZ is ranked 88th in the world for hosting refugees per capita. Our quota hasn’t increased in 27 years and the number of people granted asylum each year is declining. If we properly support refugees they end up contributing wonderfully to NZ.

We need to be very careful before we start scapegoating people who are contributing so much to our society and economy.

Migrants contribute a massive amount economically to this country. They also contribute a lot socially and culturally. Our country is clearly a far more interesting place now than when we were less diverse.

If we offered more support for new migrants and invested in some bridging capital to enable cultural/ethnic communities to connect and share more, then we would all get much more benefit from each other.

People migrate for a number of reasons, including obtaining freedom, opportunity, or wealth, or escaping oppression, poverty, or other limitations.

Aotearoa/New Zealand is an attractive migration destination for many more people than we have the ability to absorb.

It is our duty to design an immigration system in which the hopes and aspirations of potential immigrants are met to the maximum extent, while recognising the limitations on our capacity to absorb new immigrants. We know that more recent migrants to New Zealand understand this. This conversation should not be a ‘them and us’ conversation.

The Green Party would:

  • Consider immigration more at a regional rather than national level and involve tangata whenua in the decision making.
  • Prioritise those who have the skills to fill shortages, especially ‘green’ skills.
  • Look critically at the investor category and ensure there is very good vetting and evaluation of the benefits.
  • Invest more in support and education for new migrants and monitoring of immigration advisors.
  • Employ more labour inspectors and be more pro-active to guard against the exploitation of migrant workers.
  • Increase our refugee quota so NZ is doing our fair share internationally.

We need immigration systems and other systems that will allow for the ebbs and flows of returning NZers, immigration from Australia, our relationships and connection in the Pacific and our humanitarian duties to people fleeing from persecution and internally displaced people as a result of climate change as well as the reality that as developed countries populations age there will be increasing competition for skilled labour and skilled NZers will be able to attract higher salaries off shore. Our point of difference in keeping and attracting skilled people will be our environment and our society. That’s in all our benefits.