A guest post by a reader:
International Education and a Land of Broken Dreams.
It is an industry worth $5.1 Billion, but most of its traversers will tell you it is modern day slavery. Over the past decade it has run amok throwing all care to the winds. Today, over 300,000 of its constituents confront an uncertain future and the more desperate are inches away from starvation. Does New Zealand have any empathy for its migrants?
Since the change of governments in late 2017, immigration has become that elephant in the room which refuses to move out. Other than David Seymour’s regulatory system (“Own Your Future”), there are two perspectives on immigration in New Zealand politics. The “they are on their own and we will pay for their tickets back if they complain” line of thought, and the “we need a more humane approach” line. The former is indicative of the “suck them dry, spit them out” tendency which many temporary migrants are beginning to believe various New Zealand governments favour, the latter is still only a vision. Both ignore one fundamental truth; New Zealand has taken no steps to regulate the commercialization of its international education sector abroad. Take for example the various Indian students who seem to be falling prey to their own countrymen vis-à-vis exploitation. Offshore agents sell them dreams of a better life, a virtuous people and a chance to raise their kids far removed from the hustle-bustle of a developing world. Most often persuade their families to part with their lives’ savings to pay for what they believe to be the best path abroad, education. Once they arrive here, they realize they have been duped. The solution? There is no solution. Innate failures of various governmental departments have isolated many migrant communities whose distrust is highly evident. It is no great wonder then, that these students are then picked up by unscrupulous employers who wring every penny out of them. As for governmental policies, it is often the victims who are penalized and not the employers.
Another ugly corollary which has emerged in the last few years is the phenomena of migrant workers. The country is welcoming them with open arms with the lure of a “new life,” read Residency. We have bakers, chefs, carpenters, electricians, managers, transport officers and what not now employed in various capabilities. Some have gone the hard yard. Let me relate to you the example of my handyman. He arrived in the country still an adolescent, his caretakers were unable to meet the system’s requirements. How could they? Their employer simply vanished after his business burnt down in seemingly mysterious circumstances. The relevant authorities proved blind to their plight and his parents left.
“They currently live on a small farm in almost feudal circumstances back home,” he told me. As for him, he was left here to study and contribute towards the country. Since then, he’s become a proficient jack-of-all trades with almost a decade of experience behind him. “Every time I go to apply for Residency,” he told me, “the laws change.” The day he acquired his 140 points, the government lifted them to 160. When he got his 160, the rate went up to $25.50. When he got the $25.50 rate, he was laid off due to the Covid. Blast me for being a softy, but here is a young man with skills which many builders will kill for. His accent is Kiwi (“yeah-nah” he told me when I asked him why he was not married yet) and he is able to integrate with various ethnicities. “Not a single day off in a year” his previous employer told me proudly. “I paid him $27.00 per hour to work 5 days,” the man elucidated. “Why don’t you find a Kiwi?” I inquired. “In this world,” I was gruffly told, “we have to make do with what we get and if there is such a skilled individual available then of course we will jump to have him even though the legal hurdles are many. And we were offering training along side the $27.00, the few local kids we had turn up did not really last long. It was the safety net which they had which prevented them from displaying any passion.”
But my handy man is not the only victim of a broken system. His circumstances are shared by many. Strangers in their own homes; to be cast adrift while in New Zealand. “This entire system,” a lawyer once told me, “runs on one thing.” “Money, money, money, money.” “International students are paying upwards of $20,000 per year (semester in some cases) in fees. Where does this money go? Towards Kiwi kids. And what do the foreigners acquire? A somewhat quality education, but the initial trap used to lure them from their own homes’ snaps shut in their face. They are pretty much told, ‘thanks for giving us your money. Yes, we allowed some people representing us to make big promises, but we frankly do not care about you beyond your wallet. There is the door, please pull it shut on your way out.’” From the large hue and cry which is raised after any exploitative employer is concerned, two things emerge. The ‘we will go harder’ line from the powers that be who unwittingly abet the culprit rather than the victim. And the fact, that the victims have totally denuded themselves at home. Their assets, properties and bank balances are empty; all in pursuit of a dream sold to them. Some will return to whatever fate awaits them. Others will overstay. And the main factor? Hollow promises. Come on New Zealand, we are a country which shirks from purchasing merchandise from sweatshops but cannot see the virtual slavery in our front yards. And this is a booming trade. Application fees, taxes, medical fees, annual visa renewal fees, rents, bills and whatever these temporary migrants purchase. All go towards financing Kiwis among who a certain portion will cry during election times, “enough is enough! Kick them out!” And the shameful fact? Temporary migrants work themselves to the bone, day and night, to be allowed to live the Kiwi Dream. Most have acquired their experience and skills in country making them proficient teachers to teach our future generations. But in testing times, their voice is the first to be strangled.
And now with the Coronavirus pandemic, the migrant voice has effectively been kicked to the curb. And no, I am not talking about Winston Peters. His smugness is justified. His bluntness immaterial, the man had probably envisioned such a scenario a decade prior. And now that migrants are expectantly looking towards that government to help them whose words brought them to our shores, the empathy and kindness suddenly seems to have evaporated. “The message we are essentially getting,” one concerned activist informed me, “is that we are not welcome anymore. That suddenly we are not good enough to be declared Kiwis and that we will receive nothing from the government.” How shameful was it to see on one hand the media saying that “yes, migrants can approach Civil Defence for aid” and on the other Newsroom running a piece where a migrant is given “two cans of beans” to last the lockdown. “Am I a thing?” a child of a migrant family next door asked me. Her mother is an IT specialist and her father a glazier. Both have lost their jobs. Their companies went “under” along with their fortunes. “We are relying on charity to eat from day to day,” the father told me. I left their house wondering, why indeed would a five-year-old be forced to inquire whether she is an object? Come on New Zealand, we are better than this.
“Now of course the economy is tanking,” a young Filipino labourer tells me. “But hey, we are essential to that economy. Do you really think that after a decade of relying on us, employers are suddenly going to be able to train Kiwi tradesmen by themselves and in time? Their workers will be the teachers and we are those workers” he proudly affirms. “The Immigration system is shattered, everyone knows this” a young Sikh tells me. “And it needs to be rectified. Over the past two years, the Labour government has taken steps towards fixing it.” “But,” as my newfound friend tells me, “migrants are like fish in a leaking tank with the cracks increasing.” “How long,” he muses, “before someone in the higher-up’s decides ‘right, damn it all. Let us just shatter the tank and began anew.’ What happens to the fish?” And this fear is beginning to gnaw at the migrant community’s heart. The acquirement of Emergency Powers by the Immigration Minister a few weeks prior has elicited much fear than relief. “We are truly scared for our futures,” a young Italian woman tells me. “Are they going to constrict the rules further so that we are forced to depart anyway? Is there some mass exit policy in the works? What do we return to when we are forced out from here?” “There will surely be winners and losers,” another studious lawyer tells me, “but we are requesting some form of amnesty for at least those temporary migrants who are working in fields essential to the country’s economic recovery. The tradesmen, doctors, nurses. Those who have been here for 5 years or more. Some of these people are now refugees. Things will never be the same again in their own countries, and as for New Zealand they are instrumental in their fields. Do we really need to show them the door at a time when the economy is our primary concern?”
And the call for amnesty is now not solely a migrant call. Imagine my surprise when I pulled up the Daily Blog on Saturday night only to read Martyn Bradbury, the country’s most opinionated man, supporting calls for a general amnesty for migrant workers. Some salient quotes:
“We can’t entice migrant workers here, have them exploited by unscrupulous bosses and then tell them to piss off back home.” And,
“We should offer an immediate amnesty to all migrant workers in NZ to become permanent residents and make Union membership compulsory for those workers BUT right after that amnesty, we must close all immigration until a vaccine is widely available.”
Hear, hear! Why is this man not a politician yet?
So, what is the main point of my rambling story? There are four actually:
- No human is an economic unit to be used, abused and then discarded during testing times as now. We seriously need to rethink our Immigration system but not by sacrificing those migrants in the country who are crucial to economic recovery. They should be granted amnesty immediately and then the Immigration system rectified.
- No human is a piece of garbage that we rip as much out of them as possible and then dump them into the tipping bin. Minister Galloways, please read this. This is for you sir. Here is your chance to go down in history. Do not strangle already present migrants in the country for economic/electoral gains. All Kiwis are out of work but not all Kiwis will return to work or the same industry. Is it better to invite migrants over with callous words through unregulated agents and then expel them under the veneer of “reform?” Or is it better to allow them to wholly integrate with the country, work shoulder-to-shoulder with Kiwis in rebuilding it while you sort out a broken Immigration system?
- Kiwis cast a glance at yourselves. Migrants confront a precipitous future because of you. They have been exploited and robbed off their every penny in your name. Find it in your heart to bless them with sympathy and forgiveness, whatever their sin. Let the ones crucial to your economic betterment join you and stand alongside you on the frontlines of recovery.
- Again, Minister Galloways and Prime Minister Ardern. You stand on the cusp of history. Believe me, it is no big lie to assert that today’s Labour party has punched above its weight. Why stop now? If indeed you want to fix the ever-shattering tank of our current Immigration system, now is your chance. Heed Bradbury and the various Unions he is quoting. Gift that amnesty to those people who-despite their paperwork-are still rending their heart and soul for a better New Zealand. Do not drown the fish while you shatter the tank. Let our $80 Billion shame become our $80 Billion mercy. It is the least we can do for the people wiping our geriatric butts, rebuilding our leaky homes, manufacturing products for our exhibitions, vaccinating our kids and praying for our success. It is a given, temporary migrants outside the country will need to be sacrificed. But that will cut numbers and free up jobs here. But the ones here should not be herded out like lambs to the slaughter.
“Be kind,” “compassion,” “they are us,”- these statements follow Labour like ants after honey. But are these principles for voiceless migrants? The ball is in the government’s court.