What is the future for Immigrants under the new Labour/New Zealand First/Green Coalition Government?
New Zealand First appears to have conceded its more extreme immigration policy to Labour. It is also good to see that no New Zealand First parliamentarians will hold the position of Minister of Immigration or Associate Minister of Immigration. The new Minister of Immigration will be the former Labour spokesman for immigration, Iain Lees Galloway, and the new Associate Minister of Immigration will be Kris Faafoi.
Labour seeks an annual reduction of net migration by 20,000 – 30,000. In the year to September 2017 net migration was 71,000 according to Statistics New Zealand. This number includes Kiwis returning from overseas as well as Australians, who have the right to reside in New Zealand crossing the Tasman. The diagram below illustrates how these numbers are made up:
Labour intends to reduce these numbers in the following visa categories
The Crystal Ball
Now, let’s have a look into the Crystal Ball. Please note, these are predictions, not advice based on immigration law or instructions. My predictions are mainly based on the immigration policy from the Labour Party website, but experience tells us all that what political parties promise and then deliver is often quite different!
Labour’s policy makes a clear distinction between high-quality and low-quality courses. The definition of low quality appears to be everything below a Bachelors Degree level not taught by a Government institution such as a polytechnic or university.
There has been too much media attention on students with worthless business diplomas being exploited by ruthless employers. Labour sees a reduction of between 6,000 and 10,000 students per annum and say that they have modelled this reduction as coming entirely from PTEs.
Expect to see some of the lower-quality PTEs squeezed out of the market over the next few months. Those with the quality standards to offer Postgraduate qualifications will continue, but their sub-Bachelor degree courses may be discontinued.
You may have also noted the massive 9,000 -12,000 reduction in post-study work visas in the table above. Once again, this will come from the PTE students who are studying sub-Bachelor level programmes.
So, if you are studying at a university or polytechnic or a postgraduate course at a PTE, then you should not be concerned. However, if you are not, then it is possible that you may not be able to obtain a post-study work visa once you graduate.
Will this apply to students currently studying a Level 7 course at a PTE? Here the Crystal Ball gets quite opaque. Past convention is that immigrants who are on an established visa pathway are allowed to complete it. However, there is a strong political motivation to stop the number of students with low-quality diplomas looking for work, so the past convention may not apply this time.
There is a clear intent from both Labour and New Zealand first to try and direct migrant labour away from the major centres and towards the regions. Because of Labour’s trade union affiliations, we can expect see more rigorous testing of rates of pay. The unions have long suspected that migrant labour is undermining the ability of their members to get a fair rate of pay.
Also, the Government has committed to increase the minimum rate of pay from $15.75 to $16.50 by April 2018 with further increases to $20.00 by 2021. Whether they can deliver this level of increase by 2021 remains to be seen, but New Zealand is certainly going to become a more attractive place for low-skilled workers in the next few years.
Family Category Visas
This policy is an point of principle for Labour and the Greens. They believe that it is important for successful settlement that families have the ability to reunite in New Zealand and, although it is not stated policy, I expect to see this category of visa reinstated very soon.
The increase in age for 30 points from the current 39 to age 45 is intended to attract higher-skilled and experienced workers from overseas, recognising that people with these skills and experience will often be older.
Given the reduced migration targets of both Labour and New Zealand First I see little prospect of the 160-point threshold being reduced anytime in the foreseeable future. However, it may become easier to reach that threshold for applicants in the regions if the Government decides to offer more points for employment in the regions.
Back to Reality
Now, setting the Crystal Ball aside, it is clear that immigrants are in for turbulent times as we adjust to a new Government with a radically different policy agenda. However, what is important to remember is that the nativist trends we have seen recently in countries like the United States and the United Kingdom are not prevalent in New Zealand.
New Zealand is still a welcoming country for immigrants and Kiwis as a whole appreciate the contribution that new arrivals make to our society. If you have good skills, qualifications, experience and attitude, the welcome mat will always be out in Aotearoa.