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Dalziel Speech: Immigration: Where we are heading

Lianne Dalziel Speech: Immigration: Where we are heading

Address to NZAMI Conference Ellerslie Convention Centre Auckland

Good morning and thank you for the opportunity to again speak to the NZAMI Conference. I said in my introduction to the NZAMI Annual report that I was surprised to be invited to contribute to the report given the matter of the legal proceedings that arose out of last November’s changes to immigration policy and the 1 July announcements of this year. However, I also said that if the invitation represented a desire to maintain a dialogue even when we disagree with each other, then I can assure you that that desire is matched on my part.

It could not have pleased me more, therefore, to see your Conference focussed on the future and the title of Recognition, Reputation & Respect applied to your proceedings. This said to me that there is a genuine willingness to move on, and this was confirmed reading Sylvia Bassett’s first contribution to the Annual report as your CEO. And it was further reinforced in Bill Milne’s annual report, and I reciprocate in expressing my regret that we could not resolve matters without resort to legal action.

As an aside I did note in Bill’s report that two political parties have approached NZAMI for assistance with writing their immigration manifestos. I suppose it would be too much to hope that one of them is NZ First.

I mentioned NZ First so I could make one point about the man whose face and fingers adorn taxpayer funded billboards around the country, and it is the only reference to him I intend to make.

There is nothing he says or does that drives me to do anything I do. As I have said previously, I have never shirked debating immigration issues. My only caveat is that the debate is informed, rational and balanced. His contributions to date do not meet even one of these three requirements. Consequently, he has declared himself irrelevant to the debate, and he does not and cannot influence this government.

This government is committed to an active immigration policy, with the reconfirmation of the 45,000 places in the 2003/04 NZ Immigration Programme, and a further commitment to use this figure as an indicative basis for the three years ahead. This signals a stability in settings, but it does not mean there will not be further changes. The Business Investor category is being actively reviewed, and I have made many statements since the Evaluation of Business Immigration Policy to signal that there will be changes focussed on the nature of the investment to ensure that there is a clear benefit for New Zealand in maintaining this category. There are changes in the pipeline for the health pre-requisites for all categories, and again these have been well-signalled.

We are also working on a settlement strategy, which will build on the settlement policy we developed in our first year in government in the year 2000. It will be informed by: the introduction of Immigration’s Customised Service, the changes to the skilled migration policy, the regional immigration initiative piloted in Wellington and Clutha/Southland and the settlement pilots. This afternoon I am attending the launch of the Manukau City New Settlers’ Policy and Action Plan, and the next Auckland Mayoral Forum will be receiving a report from their CEOs on the proposal I took to them last month to develop an Auckland regional Settlement Strategy.

The development of a settlement strategy will add value to the skilled migration work we have done, and will ensure that settlement outcomes are the focus of Customised Service, so that we are at every level matching advice to what is actually deliverable.

I am looking for a win-win – for New Zealand and for the skilled migrant. As I said to you last year:

“The worst thing that can happen from an immigration perspective, is that a migrant arrives with high expectations, that are not met once he or she settles in New Zealand. I have met too many people who have ended up working outside their professional field or well below their skills and experience. This does not make for successful settlement for the migrant, nor is it good for New Zealand when talent and skills are wasted in this way.”

That is still my position. The new approach says lodge an expression of interest, and we will rank you on an objective, transparent points-based system, and we will invite you to apply for residence. Under this system, when you apply for residence you know that you not only have excellent prospects of gaining residence, but also, you have been assessed as having excellent prospects of doing well here. With additional points being allocated for qualifications or experience meeting endemic skill shortages and skilled, relevant job offers, as well as further points for such job offers outside Auckland, you can see that the intention is to reshape the Skilled Migrant Category to meet New Zealand’s priority needs first.

The problem with the current system is that residence under the General Skills Category has become regarded as a right upon gaining the requisite number of points.

And what’s more it is driven off push factors, rather then pull factors, and we continue to have a steady stream of applicants, who have no idea whether their skills are even required here.

The new system will let them know straight away whether there is a realistic prospect of success in their chosen field.

And, if there is no objective measure of settlement prospects, because there is no job offer or prior period of study or work in New Zealand, then we can manage that risk through a 2-year work-to-residence option.

It is my view that this is how the skilled migration category in its various forms was always intended to operate. Prior to the 1991 points-based General Category being introduced, the focus was on occupational priorities. So this stream of migrants was always intended to ensure that migrants matched New Zealand’s skill shortages. It was by no means perfect, and I accept some of the criticisms I have heard about it.

Unfortunately, the shift to the points system went too far the other way, by shifting the emphasis from New Zealand’s actual priorities in terms of skill shortages to the assumed employability and potential contribution of the skilled migrant.

This was the policy that gave us the ‘doctors-driving-taxis’ scenario; something the government of the day took four years to address. But they only fixed it for those who needed professional registration to practise in New Zealand.

Other policy changes in the 1990s and the unwillingness of the government of the day to focus on settlement outcomes, meant skilled migrants came to New Zealand without a hope of ever finding opportunities to match their skills and experience. Some of those people are still struggling today.

The new approach is about turning the policy around so that we get the best of both worlds.

We retain the points system, with bonus points that emphasise New Zealand’s needs, and we prioritise those who have registered an expression of interest, who have the greatest potential to meet those needs.

This is the most significant change to skilled immigration policy in more than a decade, and has been welcomed by virtually all sectors of the community.

It has been welcomed by the business community, as it meets the objectives they have established for innovation and growth. It has been warmly received by the union movement, as they have been concerned about skilled migrants under-cutting wages and conditions of employment, having been forced into unskilled and semi-skilled work, well beneath their fields of expertise, as they struggle to find skilled work in New Zealand. It has been welcomed by many well-settled ethnic communities, who have seen newer members faced with insurmountable barriers.

And it has been welcomed by the good immigration consultants, (of which there are many), who either provide or who have links with post-arrival settlement programmes, because they are already working on an outcomes basis, with a recruitment focus.

Other consultants, who think their job is done when the residence permit is stamped in the passport, and that all they have to do is to create a device to avoid government residence policy, will not survive these changes, and that is good. Afterall, what do those consultants actually do for those migrants – other than reinforcing a belief that we are stupid or corrupt? And what do they do for New Zealand when we get migrants who cannot settle here, because they have been brought in through a backdoor route or have been given an overly optimistic assessment of their chances of success.

I know that many of you believe that I have a poor attitude to immigration consultants. But that is not true generally speaking.

There are some for whom my opinion is unprintable, and although the use of the word ‘rogues’ in the Herald was not mine, it is moderate compared to my view of their unethical and damaging practices. I am convinced that licensing is the only way to go, however, this is a matter that will have to go to Cabinet before any final decisions are made.

I am pleased that Laurette Chao has joined you again, because I had an excellent meeting with her and her team at MARA in April this year. There I floated the idea of an expanded jurisdiction for MARA across the Tasman. I received a sufficiently encouraging response to raise it with Bill Milne and his team, and that produced a highly favourable response. So I raised it at Cabinet and then with the Australian Minister of Immigration.

As a result we have started a process, which I admit may lead nowhere. But on the other hand it could lead us to a mutually satisfying conclusion. Since I became Minister of Commerce I became more aware of the implications of the Trans Tasman Mutual Recognition Arrangement should New Zealand go down its own path. I asked myself, ‘why reinvent the wheel’, and I was impressed with what I saw at MARA. Why would we want to develop from scratch, something that already exists and can be built on, and in the process miss the opportunity to develop a truly Trans Tasman regulatory and standard setting body? It represents an opportunity on both sides of the Tasman to address the risks we both have from overseas consultants who evade whatever regulatory framework we have in place in our respective countries. But to suggest that the only risks exist off-shore is a deliberate turning of a blind eye to unacceptable practices in New Zealand.

Officials from NZIS and DIMIA will begin that process and will engage on both sides of the Tasman so that hopefully this single gap in my manifesto commitments is finally filled.

In conclusion, thank you once more for having me back. I know that this year has been a testing one in terms of our relationship, but relationships can emerge stronger when they are tested.

As I said at the outset, I have taken your invitation to participate in your Annual Report and now your Annual Conference as a signal of a desire to move on. And I invite you to accept that my willingness to write that introduction and attend your Conference represents my desire to do the same.

I will always remain willing to engage with NZAMI, but that does not mean that we cannot have differences of opinion – we will. And I hope that you accept that I have a duty to take action against those who seek to undermine government residence policy. It is actually to your benefit if I can expose those who seek to rort the system, because all of your reputations are on the line when such practices occur.

There will be more focus on verification and fraud detection. I have spent this morning launching Advance Passenger Screening, which is an important part of this government’s commitment to managing risks, which is entirely appropriate in these times of heightened international security awareness. We have allocated significantly increased resources to our Fraud Unit and to our B&I services.

That being said, as is so often the case, the majority of people who come to New Zealand, temporarily or permanently, do so for genuine reasons, and have been entirely up-front with NZIS from start to finish. It is always the minority, and in these cases they are a miniscule percentage of that total, that will ruin it for the rest.

The culture of NZIS has changed in the time I have been Minister – the mindset has shifted from border control to facilitating entry, while managing risk. Customised Service is going to represent an important new step, as it merges risk identification and management, as well as settlement outcomes, into the whole interaction with the applicant.

I know many of you have had experiences that have been less then satisfactory, and the huge backlog has not eased the frustration experienced by potential migrants and consultants alike. I heard the interview on Nine-to-Noon yesterday, and I have sought to follow-up on the matter so that we can learn from this man’s personal experience. It does not validate how he felt he was treated, but it can provide important lessons that we can learn from.

We are not only willing to change the way we do things, but we are expressing our strong desire to do so, because it is the way of the future.

I stand by the comments I made last year, that this is a government that can stand proudly on its record of achievement in immigration. In addition to the first term achievements, last year I recorded our 2002 Manifesto commitments and already we have delivered on most of them:

Further develop NZ’s capacity to actively recruit talented and skilled migrants to NZ; (Skilled Migrant Category and Customised Service)

Review Business migration categories, including an evaluation of how to improve opportunities for making investor funds available to local economic development initiatives; (Completed by end of this year)

Review the Immigration Act 1991, to ensure that it is modernised in the light of changes to policy, and the location of and criteria applied by the immigration appeal authorities; (next year)

Develop an Adult ESOL strategy to complement the Adult Literacy Strategy; (Launched)

Review immigration policy relating to students to ensure that international students are able to continue to access quality education and appropriate pastoral care (e.g guardians’ visas, extended working visas for students); (Soon to be announced)

Review the effectiveness of Limited Purpose Permits and Bonds in managing risks of non-compliance with temporary entry policies; (Later)

Broaden consideration of ways the proposed register of Immigration Consultants could be managed; (Approach to MARA)

Establish an appointments database in the Office of Ethnic Affairs; (Established)

Develop NZ-wide telephone interpreter services; (Pilot established)

Maintain close relationships with the Pacific Region in terms of immigration and settlement policy (Ongoing commitment)

That is not bad after only 12 months in government, and represents the commitment this government has made to an active immigration programme, which measures success against settlement outcomes and benefit to New Zealand.

I took the title for my address from your Conference Programme, ‘Immigration: Where we are heading’. Linking that back to your Conference theme, Recognition, Reputation, Respect, these are all words that carry with them a mutuality that must exist for them to be meaningful. Recognition of our respective roles, enhancing New Zealand’s reputation and respecting each other, as well as the migrants for whom we owe a mutual duty of care, this is where we are heading.

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