Pacific Island Immigration

There has been a lot of debate about a Massey University study by into Pacific Island achievement and . The Dom Post reports on the study.

The Herald also reports on the backlash from “political correctness bullies”. It has been condemned by Race Relations Commissioner Joris de Bres, despite admitting he had not read it. The same goes for Labour MP Su’a WIlliam Sio who calls the paper disturbing despite also not having read the study.

Now I haven’t read the report myself (but have asked for a copy so I can comment later in more detail), but will make the assertion that there is nothing new about the fact that in areas of education, employment and crime etc Pacific Islanders do not perform as well as the rest of the population. This is not generally disputed.

But what is vital is that one does not just see the hundreds of thousands of Pacific Islanders in NZ just as part of a group. The majority of Pacific Islanders make a positive contribution to New Zealand.

Now how does this tie into immigration policy? Should there be some discrimination against Pacific Islanders because on average they do not achieve as well as other NZers? Absolutely not. I am a strong supporter of a colour blind and country blind immigration policy. We should have objective criteria which intending migrants should meet, and I don’t care if they come from China, the UK or Tonga.

But here is the problem, or the challenge. We actually have specific quotas for immigrants from the Pacific. Now there are public policy reasons for this which I will touch on later, but the fact these quotas exist is why the issue of under-achievement as a group is legitimate to look at.

If we had a truly colour blind and country blind immigration policy where individuals are all treated the same, then the nationality of the applicant should be irrelevant. Every applicant should be treated as an individual, not as a member of a “group”.

But as I said, we do have some specific quotas for Pacific Islanders where applications are decided by random ballot. As far as I can tell they are a Samoan quota of 1,100 a year, a Kiribati quota of 75, Tuvalu 75, Fiji 250  and Tonga 250 for a total of 1,750.

There may be family members on top of that as permanent and long-term arrivals in the last year from was 1,482 and 773 for Tonga. But that may be family reunifications or other factors.

Now as I said above there are some public policy reasons for having special PI quotas – certainly in the case of Samoa. In 1982 the Privy Council ruled all Samoans are entitled to NZ citizenship. The Government passed the Citizenship (Western Samoa) Act 1982 to over-turn that ruling and restrict citizenship to those already lawfully in NZ. As “compensation” for doing so a Samoan quota was agreed to as part of a Treaty of Friendship. We are morally bound to keep our word under that Treaty.

The other Pacific quotas can be justified on public policy grounds also – as the “big brother” to the South Pacific, it is argued we should help out our small neighbours, and we do with most aid going there, and also the special immigration quotas.

The issue is though, that because these special country quotas exist, it is legitimate to debate the impact of immigration from those countries. I do not believe it is particularly valid to question the impact of immigration from China (for example) because no-one from China gets in purely because they are Chinese. They get in because they have met the same objective test as everyone else in the world wanting to come here. Well that, or they were mates with Taito Philip Field.

Now as I said there are valid public policy reasons to have special quotas for Samoa (beyond doubt – that is an obligation) and other Pacific countries. This Wikipedia article lists the large number of Samoan NZers who are “notable” for their contribution, and NZ should in my opinion do its bit to help our Pacific neighbours.

But the existence of those special quotas means it is legitimate to look at issues such as under-achievement in employment, education and crime for migrants from those countries. A sensible debate can be held on whether the quotas are set at the right level. Even in the case of Samoa the quota of 1,100 is a maximum and applicants still need to meet other criteria like having a job offer. The Government relaxed those criteria in 2004 as not enough applicants were being accepted. It is in no way racist or wrong to debate whether or not that was a good idea, and whether the level of quotas is too high, too low or about right.

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