This week The New Zealand Initiative launched its report on immigration, The New New Zealanders: why migrants make good Kiwis. In it we make the case that while concerns about immigration are valid, we need to assess whether the facts bear these fears out before we make policy decisions.
In short, it was an attempt to verify or debunk whether immigration is really the cause of all the problems it is reported to be. In short, while we note the immigration system could be improved, it is hardly the bogeyman it is made out to be.
So it was hardly surprising to see NZ First leader Winston Peters rail against the report on his official Facebook page. After all, Mr Peters has made a career of fanning anti-immigrant sentiment into a populist inferno.
Predictable it may have been, but it nevertheless deserves a fact-based response.
Responding to Winston with facts – novel!
Second, while the 125,000 figure is startling at first, when you break it down it looks substantially less formidable. For instance, of these 125,000 people, 29% were returning New Zealanders and Australian citizens who aren’t affected by immigration caps.
A further 22% arrived on student visas, 31% on work visas and 5% on visitor visas. Here is the rub though: these are temporary visas, and the vast majority of these people will return to their home countries over time. A portion will transition into permanent residency, just under a fifth all in all, but this is what the immigration system is set up to do – establish a low risk mechanism through which migrants can prove they are a fit for New Zealand.
The remaining 12% of arrivals, or just over 15,000 people, are here on residence visas. That number is far less frightening than the 125,000 figure. We’re going out on a limb here, but we suspect this is the reason why Mr Peters has not delved below the headline figure.
The level of residency visas has shifted very little over time.
Then there is the claim that our analysis is wrong, and migrants do in fact steal jobs. The evidence? A dated report by the OECD and Mr Peters’ own experience at service stations, supermarket counters and in hospitality.
Mr Peters could be right if migrants were only workers. Unfortunately for his argument migrants are also consumers. They spend money on housing, clothes, food and a host of other goods and services – just like everyone else. That creates an opportunity for Kiwi businesses to satisfy this increased demand, for which they will need staff. Looked at this way, it could be said that migrants create jobs, not steal them.
And as the NZ Initiative pointed out we get the tax and the consumption from the migrants without havign had to pay for 18 years of education for them.