David Howells on immigration and prosperity

had a competition for people to submit their vision or views on what we could change to make New Zealand better. The five finalists presented their essays to the ACT conference, and delegates voted on the one they most thought deserved to win. There were questions from the audience, to which the five finalists had to answer and respond to.

All five did well and won $500, with the winner getting $3,000. That was for his speech. He probably got the most hostile questions but answered them well, and still won the vote. I thought his essay deserved a wider audience.

More , More Prosperity

New Zealand is a country built on immigration. We have more ethnicities in New Zealand than there are countries in the world – quite an achievement for a population of only 4-and-a-half million.

Our immigration regime has come a long way:

In 1944 New Zealand abolished the poll tax, which for decades was a discriminatory tax imposed on all new Chinese immigrants. In 1987, New Zealand came to the realisation that not just British citizens would make good immigrants. We have now stopped accepting immigrants based on British heritage, and now look at ones skills, and family connections when considering new immigrants.

This has led to people from a much wider range of nationalities being allowed to become New Zealanders.

But despite this, today in our schools, in history and social studies classes, it is always taught that New Zealand is bicultural nation.

Perhaps this is a useful description of New Zealand society in the 1800s. But history can only explain how things were – it is not a guideline for how things ought to be.

The idea of New Zealand being a bicultural society is outdated. We need to recognise New Zealand is home to diverse range of cultures. 

In our economy, immigrants bring skills to the workforce that New Zealand companies need. 

With technology advancing and more free trade agreements accelerating the process of globalisation, it is impossible for governments to be able to predict our future competitive advantages or even what skills will be in demand in the future.

In a globalised world it is now more important than ever to have flexible labour markets. An open immigration system is key for future New Zealand business to be able to get the skills they need to grow.

Immigrants also own businesses that employ New Zealanders. They work hard, sometimes in multiple jobs, to give themselves and their family opportunities that they might not have in their home country.

There are many opponents to our current, relatively open, immigration regime. The objections are not unique to New Zealand – the same arguments are used as justification to oppose immigration all over the world.

 On the surface the opposition to immigration often comes across as plain xenophobia. But underpinning what on the surface looks like simple xenophobia, are some of the oldest economic ideas around.

It is often expressed in the form; if an immigrant gets a job, or purchases some capital asset – it is at the expense of a local. This is the same kind of economic thinking that views the economy as a finite amount of pie, where for someone to get a bigger slice, someone else has to have smaller slice.

Immigrants do not take the “pie” from locals – they help grow it for all of us. 

The benefits immigrants bring are not just economic. Diversity enriches society by exposing us to a broader range of people with backgrounds, perspectives and languages we might not otherwise encounter. (And my god – fantastic food!).

And while we should be proud of our relatively open immigration system – there is more to be done.

I know of small businesses having to jump through burdensome regulatory hoops with immigration services to prevent good employees from being sent back to their home county.

I recently met a man who has lived and worked here in New Zealand for two years. He is seeking a better quality of life for himself and his family. But he has not even seen his wife or son for two years – waiting for immigration to grant them visas.

This kind of sacrifice is admirable – but it shouldn’t need to be made.
If you are willing to come New Zealand, stand on your own two feet and work hard, you should be allowed to come, bring your family, and stay.

I want New Zealand’s immigration system to become even more welcoming to immigrants and new-New Zealanders. An open immigration system will be a cornerstone of future prosperity and enrich our communities.

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